Bherd Studios is a special place. For five years, it has worked to support and promote Seattle artists. Now it has published a book that solidifies all that effort, called Look Up Here, with color plates and statements by 33 local artists and an essay at the front that introduces the full story.
It's pronounced "be heard," but if you say Bherd like "bird," owners Michele and John Osgood are okay with that, too. (Plus, birds have turned out to be a theme for several artists associated with the gallery.) Michele is the friendly, collaborative, and organized gallery director, and she also maintains a blog devoted not only to Bherd happenings but also to "urban and contemporary art" across the Northwest. John is a talented painter who creates compelling surfaces barely containing mythic but relatable characters. He creates both studio canvases and street murals that blend graphic-influenced figuration and atmospheric abstraction. And he paints collaboratively sometimes.
In general, Bherd is a place where artists work together. It inhabits two rooms inside the great subterranean warren that is Greenwood Collective.
Greenwood Collective is another world. You enter from the street into a long hallway floored with spring-green Astroturf. The main floor is broken into a series of eccentric set designs that can be used for events and double as gallery space: an eerie log cabin sitting room lifted from Twin Peaks, a tiki room guarded by a life-size lion named Lamar, on hinds and poised to attack. The basement is a grotto of galleries—Bherd, Echo Echo, Urban Light Studios, and some rooms that seem to be awaiting their names, like the one with wood paneling, fireplace, rug, and pair of fellows who silently beckon visitors to look at their paintings.
Bherd is the most developed of the galleries. Its greater goal, beyond sharing what their artists make, is to create a space for their kind of work. In some ways, it's easier to say what their work is not rather than what it is, because it's pretty diverse. It's not academic, dusty, or dry. This is not to say that the "urban and contemporary art" of Bherd is good and the art of MFA programs is bad. There's plenty of bad and predictable to go around in any given category of art. But Bherd represents a type of energy Seattle would be lost without.
It involves monsters and robots and lowriders and rainy streets and animals with naked-lady bodies. It involves characters like the artist Marty Gordon, a former minister whose collages are layered with references to holy books as well as outer space. Some of the painters who show at Bherd have loose and flowing brushwork (Kate Protage, Chris Sheridan), while others are as tight as Dutch masters (Ego, Joe Vollan).
Coming up next at Bherd is Vignettes, featuring Kellie Talbot, Siolo Thompson, John Osgood, and CASH. The show opens during the annual Big One PhinneyWood Art Walk, on May 11 and 12. You should go.