Greetings from Seattle! About a month ago, I packed up my car and drove away in the beautiful Milwaukee sunrise to arrive in Washington, and have since been generously able to continue writing for The Milwaukee Art Shore. I’ll be writing from now on about all rad artistic gems within the Pacific Northwest, and I hope this perspective widens the scope for what is possible as an artist and art community. Art has no location or boundaries, but by learning from other spaces, maybe we can all make ours a little bit better. And that’s it; that’s the goal.
Wandering around the Ballard neighborhood of northern Seattle, it could be somewhat easy to miss the relatively new art studio resting at the foot of a hill, but that doesn’t stop eager artists and admirers from discovering it. Push/Pull, a name which reflects the artistic process itself, pridefully showcases exclusively underground art and comics from local artists in the area. For those unfamiliar with “underground art”, it is essentially art that pushes the limits to what is typically accepted as art. Artists aren’t valued based on their education or professional experience, but are rather valued as professionals based on their art itself and commitment to expand the limits of what art is. To quote their website, “Push/Pull exists to show the alternative possibility of what an art gallery can be.” It’s a cooperative, and employees are all contributors to the art and comics supply within the store. Basically, each of the members are given a six-month contract and trial process; after that time passes, the member can choose whether they would like to stay or move on to new ventures. They run the desk, produce new art, host and create free community events, and generally promote the store in any way possible. This experience gives them a space to show their work, earn a generous commission from it (more than almost any art gallery/studio I’ve encountered), and meet new artists and illustrators in the greater Seattle area. It’s a step forward into the challenging realm of a working artist, giving their members a chance to share their work and jump into the community.
In addition to support for their team members, they also hold community events for people to view and create alongside them. Most recently, they held a miniature pinball craft night, a marathon comic-creations class, and a ladies figure drawing night. They also hold teen and youth classes which cover a variety of topics such as, print making, collages, life drawing and drawing basics, and comics/zine classes. They have a relatively large studio space and fit “as many people as we can without exceeding capacity limits,” says member Lara Kaminoff. She was a delight to talk to, by the way, and discussed in further detail how Push/Pull works to connect the community through art. She talks about their origins in Greenwood, Washington as essentially a team of ideas without a studio space. They moved to Ballard in November, and have been advertising the gallery consistently since. Lara tells me that a major focus for Push/Pull is to support and encourage women artists and illustrators in Seattle by providing a fair space for them in the gallery. “At least fifty percent of the work is produced by women, and we have women-specific classes to provide a space for women to create together,” says Lara. They are passionate about welcoming women into a scene where they have been denied access for so long, and it’s inspiring to see such a positive response to this from the community. The community is also reacting quite well to the content they display, which I was surprised to learn. With nonconforming illustrations covering their walls, I sort of anticipated a more complicated response. “People aren’t expected to get it right away, but we try to be as welcoming as we possibly can. Underground art is creepy and weird, and for some people that is a huge shock. But we take the time to explain what we do to people who walk in nervously, and that seems to make them more comfortable,” Lara explains. They also have a reading and pinball area before entering the gallery itself, which allows people to get a feel of the art before committing to the full experience.
Personally, this is the type of gallery/studio space that Milwaukee could seriously benefit from. Underground artists aren’t given nearly enough credit in general, but the diversity in Milwaukee could add an interesting cross-section between academic-based art and that of the underground art. This is entirely feasible, as Milwaukee already has the Riverwest After School Special, a group dedicated to creating art and supporting local artists. This can happen anywhere, but in a city so segregated, I feel an open-door, cooperative, and local art space could connect the city and inspire artists in all areas. Voices that don’t currently have a space to be heard, could be, if this were to develop in the city. It’s an idea, and certainly no one has to take my advice, but Push/Pull excited me about Seattle and I feel it could provide the same excitement in Milwaukee as well. Check them out for yourself here!