Happiness is not so much a theme explored but a feeling experienced by the artists who contributed to a new exhibit at The Confluence: Art in Twisp.
Curated by Sarah Jo Lightner, the exhibit “Happiness Found: Dan Brown & Friends” features artwork that made the artists happy when they were creating it, Brown said.
For Brown, an Okanogan-based artist, the show’s title has a dual meaning. Brown found happiness making art for “Happiness Found.” The “found” aspect of Brown’s contributions to the exhibit is also significant, as he repurposes so many metal pieces that had a previous life as something functional.
“I just love taking found objects and turning them into things,” Brown said. “I had a lot of fun making things for the show. As I make a piece, I usually remember who gave me the metal scrap and I get to think of them. Recently I made something that Dan Donohue of Blue Star Coffee Roasters gave me, I used an old propane tank from another friend, and a piece of trampoline frame from a friend whose last kid went off to college.”
One of Brown’s favorite pieces in his own collection at the exhibit is a slide made from an old hay bale loader, with two ravens pretending it’s a pirate ship. “My sister and I used to play on a potato digger and make believe that we were on a ship,” Brown said. “I see those ravens doing the same thing with the hay bale loader slide.”
Brown also likes how his whale turned out, the elegant marine mammal encircled by an old wagon wheel.
“Another fun one is the impala on the longboard,” he said. “I found some old metal rollers in my field and they said ‘skateboard’ to me. There’s a lot of motion in it, as well as a bit of rebelliousness.”
To populate the exhibit beyond his own pieces, Brown reached out to artist family members, starting with his father, whose creative genes were passed on to Brown.
“My dad [Dave Brown] could draw and paint really well as a high school student. As a young father he’d paint murals on our bedroom walls — mine was a guy on horseback leading a wagon train.”
“My dad worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department managing waterfowl refuges and he started carving decorative decoys,” Brown said. “Then last winter he tried carving raptors like hawks and peregrine falcons. Five of those raptors are in the show.”
Several of Brown’s in-laws contributed to what Brown calls “an eclectic” show. His sister-in-law Nancy Wagner knit some submissions; his brother-in-law Jay Schmidt, a former sculpture professor at Montana State University and member of Paintallica — a large group of artist friends who “strive to create provocative authentic art” — provided a few pieces; and his sister-in-law Kathy Schmidt contributed figurative work.
Local artists contributing to the exhibit include V-Blast, who submission is a horse skull with an elaborate background and a nesting bird in the brain cavity.
Concurrently, Patrick Hannigan’s “First Ascents” exhibit will run in The Confluence’s Community Gallery. The pairing of Hannigan’s show with Brown’s is serendipitous, as Brown’s work has been influential to Hannigan’s evolution as an artist.
“I consider him to be one of my artistic heroes,” Hannigan said of Brown. “It’s a huge honor to be in the same show space as him.”
“First Ascents” is Hannigan’s first solo show at The Confluence and it promises to be “the heaviest show ever at the gallery, by sheer weight,” according to Hannigan, who works largely in metals. “Hanging it is going to be an engineering challenge. I’m definitely going to need to find all the studs in the gallery walls.”
“First Ascents” is inspired by the legendary mountaineer Fred Beckey, who roamed the North Cascades establishing hundreds of routes from the 1940s throughout most of the remainder of the 20th century and who wrote the three-volume Cascade Alpine Guide: the definitive mountaineering guidebooks for the North Cascades.
“I spent a couple of decades as a fanatical climber,” Hannigan said. “I combed through Beckey’s guidebooks, with a fascination not just for his route descriptions but also for his meticulous documentation of the natural and geologic history of the Cascades. He had a comprehensive interest in the Cascades, not just a climbing perspective.”
“First Ascents” is comprised of three-dimensional metalwork and “sculptural stuff,” Hannigan said. Most of the materials are repurposed: salvaged steel and copper, old farming equipment and tractors, copper piping.
“There are tens of thousands of pounds of old steel on my property,” Hannigan said. “I used to call it my junkyard, but [metal artist] Barry Stromberger — who has been a huge mentor to me — calls it my ‘resource sector.’ It’s a different way of looking at all this stuff — all this creative raw material.”
Hannigan also incorporates old climbing gear into his pieces, some of it dating back to Beckey’s era. “A lot of local climbers gave me old gear for this exhibit,” Hannigan said, naming Mark Allen, Geof Childs and Brad Sawtell, among others. “Some of it is my own old gear too, and my dad was a big climber and he gave me some of his old stuff.”
“There’s all this human artifact climbing stuff,” Hannigan said. “Pitons, hexes, bongs [a type of piton]. There’s a bunch of gear salvaged from when climbers upgraded protection on routes and pulled out the old stuff.”
Like Brown, Hannigan derives some of his artistic chops through both nature and nurture; his late mother was an accomplished painter. “She is still a big inspiration to me,” Hannigan said.
Although “First Ascents” is largely metalwork, there are other elements involved. “For this show I’ve used oil, acrylic, patina, natural weathering and grindings,” Hannigan said. “I integrated iron, steel and copper grindings into paint or patina as a way of adding color and texture. They’re elemental, like the North Cascades. We’ve got this rugged topography and all these elements embedded within the mountains. The grindings are embedded in the artwork that celebrates those mountains and that topography.”
The Confluence will host an opening for “Happiness Found: Dan Brown and Friends” and “First Ascents” on Saturday (Aug. 6), from 5-7 p.m. The opening and the exhibits, available through Sept. 17, are free to the public. The Confluence is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. For more information visit www.confluencegallery.org or call (509) 997-2787.