Last week in a group of artists, collectors, and writers, the painter Matthew Offenbacher handed out a stack of two folded 8 1/2 by 14 sheets of brownish paper printed on both sides and with the title LA ESPECIAL NORTE 1 across the top. It is a brand-new Seattle artist "newsletter"—a thing like a zine, but not the kind put out by snotty teenagers. It's made by artists. Career artists. Artists like Offenbacher, Joe Park, Gretchen Bennett, and Eli Hansen. Still, I worried it would be tragic. As a rule, writers are writers and artists are artists.
I was wrong; the thing is great.
The main attraction is an essay about the role of shit in Northwest art (hence the brownish paper color?) by Offenbacher, and it's better than most of what passes for essay writing in art magazines. Best of all is that it articulates big ideas about Northwest identity—read it to find out why he thinks "art that daylights shit has moral force here"—using examples ranging from Susan Robb, who is literally transforming her dealer's shit into gas power at a show at Lawrimore Project now, to studio painter Eric Elliott. (In a perfect designation, Offenbacher declares Stranger Genius Award–winner Alex Schweder "our old master of [the shit] genre.")
What else is in there? Porn and a theory of architecture by Hansen; Bennett's personal, narrative philosophy of street art ("I have spent time out here on the street, leaving my mark, and it's you I am talking to"); Park's self-conscious interview with old-time Seattle curator Chris Bruce; and a reprint of Robert Smithson's 1972 essay "Cultural Confinement," which seems to suggest that Seattle artists are bristling below their polite surfaces.
There are no pictures of art in La Especial Norte; there are drawings of art, which is better. There's a detailed scribble of Jenny Heishman's Mud Thing, for instance, and a sketch of a 2005 staged wedding between artist Steven Miller and a pile of dirt. (Bonus fact: Steven Miller married a pile of dirt in 2005.)
Copies are available, and apparently going fast, at the Pioneer Square gallery Howard House. I'm not sure where else. But the masthead-like thing on the back says to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. It also says La Especial Norte will come out two or three times a year—just infrequently enough to keep you longing.