One bewigged self-portrait from 1996, by Jeffry Mitchell, painted in honor of (among others) Kurt Cobain.
  • One bewigged self-portrait from 1996, by Jeffry Mitchell, painted in honor of (among others) Kurt Cobain.
Nobody remembers having seen it before this, "it" being Jeffry Mitchell's painting of a skull wearing a blond wig in the middle of a field of luscious, horizontally streaked gray. He made it in 1996 and called it Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain in the Style of Jay Steensma.

He only exhibited it once, that year, at Kate Elliott's gallery in Fremont (in a location that has since been buried under a new apartment tower). Linda Farris, the late great Seattle contemporary art collector, bought it, and she left it to her friend Judy Tobin when she died. When Mitchell heard Seattle Art Museum curator Michael Darling was organizing a Kurt exhibition, Mitchell told Darling about his painting, and the curator borrowed it for the exhibition, where it now hangs next to a tiny photograph by Douglas Gordon. It is the only work Mitchell ever made about Kurt Cobain (he was here during the Nirvana years but didn't know Kurt), and one of the few paintings Mitchell has ever made, period.

Another bewigged self-portrait from 1996, by Douglas Gordon, taken in honor of (among others) Kurt Cobain.
  • Another bewigged self-portrait from 1996, by Douglas Gordon, taken in honor of (among others) Kurt Cobain.
About Steensma: He inherited the "Northwest Mystic" moody-painting style of Morris Graves, only he was moodier; both were gay, like Mitchell. Steensma died in 1994 at age 52, of a heart attack. He left behind paintings of isolated figures and animals and houses on gray grounds—but they weren't without humor. Mitchell, last year's Stranger Genius in Visual Art, makes art that's more energetic but just as funny, and just as serious.

The same year Mitchell made his homage to Kurt, Scottish artist Douglas Gordon made a Cobain self-portrait that has become pretty famous—it, likewise, is a collapsing of identities one into the other, this time using photo-booth quickie photography to complete the pseudo-channeling.

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Its title, uncannily, is Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain, as Andy Warhol, as Myra Hindley, as Marilyn Monroe. Something about Kurt Cobain made people want to dress up as themselves as someone else.

In Kurt, the two works hang side by side.

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