The Hill has been home to many world-renowned artists over the years, including John Cage, Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. Moving to the current generation, three Hill artists are cutting a brilliant swath through the lethargic Seattle art scene. The trio known as SuttonBeresCuller, [SBC] are firmly rooted in the Capitol Hill creative community.
John Sutton, Ben Beres and Zac Culler met at Cornish College of the Arts in the late '90s. As students of David Nechak and Cris Bruch in the sculpture department, they were thrown together at a critical time in the history of the College. In the incubator of an art school, they were exposed to the history of Modernism in both Europe and the Americas. They are as familiar with Futurism, Surrealism, Cubism, Constructivism, Dadaism, and the singular genius of Marcel Duchamp as any museum curator.
By embracing the lessons learned from the avant-gardes, their work emerges with a true chorus of visual voices. Each artist of the trio works on his own projects. What makes this group of artists special is in their ability to work as an ensemble. Art is not a competition. When three artists can collectively raise their voices in perfect visual harmony, we are all the better for it. The trio of Sutton, Culler and Beres achieve this end with grace, dignity, humor and great aplomb.
The lack of space in the old Saint Nicholas School forced the trio to look outside the campus for venues, which could highlight their interest in installation. The first of these appeared in Duval, at the site of the former Horsehead exhibition. The piece entitled "Trailer/ Ground Zero" marked the debut of the use of a large found object (a small vacation trailer) as the basis for construction of a site where the artists spent each weekend in the summer. Another piece was entitled "Raised Earth," where an installation of sod and tree was placed on a platform set on stilts above the ground.
This fascination with trailers led to "Trailer Park," a delightful miniature park on wheels. In a city ringed with an Olmstead-designed park system, the trio have come up with the concept of the mobile micro-park. In their park, there is a bench, a meandering path, a fountain and a sturdy shade tree.
The fountain is derived from the classic English grotto. The stacked stone appears to be artfully haphazard. The lush green grass and the winding path provide a view which when sitting on the park bench allows the sitter a space or moment for thought. The trailer is attached to a van with an artfully altered city seal which is in a sense the signature of the artists. Using a re-contextualizing process, they have created new meaning to the old adage "parks for all."
Public reaction to the piece has been mostly through people stopping, usually with comments like "did you see that?" and automobile drivers scratching their heads. Sutton, Culler and Beres received a Grant to Artists Program [GAP] grant from the Artist's Trust to make this project possible. At the invitation of the Seattle Art Museum, "Trailer Park," was the first sculpture displayed at the Seattle Art Museum's new Olympic Sculpture Park before the outdoor venue was closed for construction.
At the now-defunct Consolidated Works, the trio not only helped build the galleries but also created a critically acclaimed series of installations. As the first artists in residence, they capped their stay with "Residence" a solo exhibition that featured their trailers, portraits from the Sears Studio and various performance pieces. This mini-retrospective really put them on the radar in the Seattle arts community. They followed up with a residency at the Bemis Center in Omaha, Neb.
Last fall, the trio was recognized with a Stranger Genius Award. Their floating island off the 520 bridge was launched only two days after the announcement, causing an uproar because the work interfered with the sacred commute.
They used the Genius funds to attend the inaugural Aqua Art in Miami. This art fair occurs during the first week of December to coincide with that city's larger Art Basel event. They were on hand for the debut of Lawrimore Projects, a new gallery that launched in Miami and opened in Seattle last July.
Their installation project for that new gallery was hidden within a giant crate while they worked on the piece inside. When the crate was unpacked, a miniature Asian restaurant was revealed complete with a couple at a table on a date. This event was the high point of the summer art season.
Their work was also featured last fall on the lawns of the Seattle Center for Bumbershoot. Currently, they are exhibiting a beautiful minimalist sinking house at the University of Washington's Henry Art Gallery as a part of the "Taking the Cake" exhibition, a celebration of current and past Stranger Genius Award winners. In the near term, the trio are returning to Aqua Art Miami next month and will exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum's 8th Northwest Biennial next year from Feb. 10 through May 6.
As they continue to excel with their provocative art installations, these three artists are very much the product of Capitol Hill where they met, went to school and still reside. This trio of artists represent the very best of what the Hill has to offer in terms of both creativity and community. As they go from triumph to triumph, we can only lead the cheering chorus that enjoys seeing these local boys doing well.
The next time you see an unusual trailer, floating island or three crabby old men around the neighborhood, be careful, keep in mind that it just might be art.
Capitol Hill resident Steven Vroom writes about visual arts each month. He is the host of Art Radio Seattle, a weekly visual art news podcast at www.vroom journal.com. He can be reached at editor@capitolhill times.com.