Tantalos and the Allegory of His Tree, 2011. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Xavier Lopez Jr. is an artist, writer, and art organizer. He co-runs Echo Echo Gallery at Greenwood Collective and has a great blog at Seattlepi.com. I talked to him about risk and scaring people on a dark, rainy afternoon last week.

Monster Apocalypse, the show you're co-organizing that opens this Friday, looks like a big production.

It is a big production. It's with the Hive Gallery, a Los Angeles underground gallery, and it seems like a perfect introduction of Seattle and LA. My biggest goal in all of this is to try to make Seattle and especially the Seattle underground and alternative art scenes as big as they can be.

How many artists are there?

I think last count was about 110.

When you say "underground and alternative," what are you talking about?

It's one of those terms that allows for all the artists in Seattle who find trouble showing in places like Pioneer Square. There are a couple different kinds of scenes in Seattle. There's what I would consider over-the-sofa abstract stuff. Then, there's stuff that tries to take a chance—and, yes, is graphic in terms of being viscerally attractive—but also that deals with issues that are either urban or a little bit mad or still youthful and playful, but that might even scare some of its audience in some ways.

I want to challenge your idea that the "alternative" scene represents non-sofa art and everything else represents sofa art.

I'm not talking about the conceptual artists, because I came from UC Davis, I started out as a sculptor, and my work for several years—the work that I did going to grad school—was all conceptual/minimalist, and I love that stuff. But there's a certain level of gallery where the artwork is very, very pretty but very, very vacuous. Where you get conceptual art, but the actual message in the conceptual art is so simplistic, so mealy-mouthed, that it doesn't actually test the very things—tenets, foundations, bases of life and art—that art is supposed to do. I'm not trying to attack anyone, I'm not trying to, but I think that a lot of what happens in a certain kind of gallery, it needs to be fairly safe to sell.

I think artists should do anything they can to sell work. But this line about risk-taking—to me, it just sounds like marketing. I don't think that divide is real.

I do think the divide exists within the artists themselves.

What do you mean?

Well, I'll be honest. Actually, I think it's the responsibility of the viewers to try to challenge themselves to support artists getting a little bit less abstracted, a little bit less safe.

Talk to me about one of the artists in your crew, and why the work's not safe.

Let's talk about Ego. Ego's work is beautiful on his own terms.

I agree that it's beautiful. I've described his work as "tight as a Dutch master." But when I go to his website right now, the first big piece I see is a painting of a skull with a sword stuck through it in a coffin. To me, that imagery is predictable.

I think the market has an effect on every single level of art in this city. Basically, Ego should be making the most amazing artwork of his career. He should be able to make anything at this point. But you're right—he's being forced to paint the same thing over and over and over by this small market, forced to do a certain thing because that's what the people want. Same with me. Same with [Ryan] Henry [Ward]. Same with Joe Vollan, Starheadboy, Alexandria Sandlin, Dear Earthling, Larkin Cypher, Sensei 23. That's why I want to get more people to see this work. This city needs to become a city of art, not just a city of artists. We need to build a larger community that's interacting, talking, buying, selling, fighting, arguing, loving, fucking, all this. I've lived in places like that. My dad was a Mexican muralist in the '70s in Los Angeles, and I grew up around where people were saying, "Your art is bullshit, you're not experimenting," and the other guy saying, "Fuck you," and that was amazing. recommended