For the week of July 21, 1999 thru July 27, 1999
Seattle graffiti artist soaks up Sun Valley summer
By MARILYN BAUER
It was the villa in France, not the near arrest in Seattle, that finally launched Ejack's career.
With a full week stretching ahead of him in the southern town of Caunes Minervois, he could finish painting the home for his hosts and patrons then travel into the city center to paint the street scenes he was known for. Soon he'd travel to Prague, Paris, Barcelona and London before returning to his family's home in Seattle.
He'd return again to Europe to pick up the 20 canvases he would complete that week. He hung them on a clothesline to dry both sides and stacked them sandwiched with tissue paper, then rolled them into a tube-shape and carried them on the plane home.
When those canvases along with the others he painted overseas were shown in Seattle's Friesen Gallery, every one sold out before the show officially opened.
Andria Friesen, the gallery's owner, knew she was on to something, so she arranged for the 27-year-old artist, whose real name is Ethan Harrington, to paint scenes in Sun Valley. Hes been seen regularly around town on Sun Valley Road, in front of Otter's restaurant, on Main Street, atop Baldy, in the Pioneer, or down by the river. The Elephant's Perch rigged a contraption to his bike to carry oils and canvasses from site to site.
Harrington's life is painted on a large canvas. A Seattle school kid, son of the painter Jack Harrington, he moved from art class to public art as the graffiti artist Ejack.
"When I was real little I got in trouble for writing my name on walls," Harrington laughed. "And spent a summer painting my name off of walls. I had a couple of different things I wrote -- when I was 14. I wrote truth, and a couple of other things, and finally settled on Ejack which is a combination of my first name and middle name, which is my father's name."
He signs all his canvases Ejack.
"I gave it a rest for a while," he said. "There was the threat of an arrest. The police never really got involved. It was between people's parents and my father."
When Harrington graduated from high school in 1990, he started working on murals. He did characterspeoples faces or figures on walls or the sides of buildings--by climbing onto rooftops.
There was no abandoned building too remote or difficult to scale for the young artist. But the conspicuous activity led Harrington into the night and the continued choice of painting 'round midnight or 3 a.m.
"I'd do, like, a cool painting of a woman's back," he remarked. "It would be eight-feet tall, but it would be in sort of a fine-art style and then it would be right next to this kind of cool graffiti-style lettering that some of my other artist friends would do. It was fun. There is kind of a whole culture that goes along with that.
"Pretty soon people knew who Ejack was. They didn't know I was Ejack, but they knew who Ejack was. Our Seattle graffiti scene was coming in late to what was happening in New York or London or whatever. But we were doing our best."
Harrington was caught by the police atop a rooftop in downtown Seattle accessible only by fire escape. He was given a warning from one of Seattle's finest, a technicality, Harrington says, as he was told the reason for the uniformed visit was that the fire escape had been condemned.
"He didn't take us to jail, but it was put on my record temporarily," Harrington said. "It wasn't really worth it and at the same time I started doing shows and stuff."
During this time period, he was working in acrylic on canvas. He started showing his work at cafes and other alternative spaces and begin pursuing plein air painting--at night.
"That was kind of cool," he said. "It was sort of the same feeling as being outside at night doing graffiti except I was bringing my own wall with me.
"I brought the same attitude to it that I did with the graffiti. I'd listen to music with a beat--rap music, dance music--anything with a beat.
"So I've got Rakim on my headphones. I'm paintin' and kinda dancin' around and I'm right downtown in Seattle painting street scenes--buildings illuminated by light. The thing that's really kind of fun is the people who come up to me."
Ejack would draw a crowd even at 3 a.m. The cloak of night and the type of people out that late worked in his favor. He was less inhibited, less embarrassed to have others see him at work.
The work from this time is exquisite--luminous street-scapes bathed in an otherworldly light. Colors bursting onto the canvas yet somehow subdued. Strong brushstrokes, mature interpretations and an eye so fresh each painting is a rebirth in his interpretation.
Harrington started holding his own art exhibitions in a 1,200-square-foot warehouse he rented downtown. He'd band together with other young artists, bring in a jazz band and soon developed a following of the art avant garde.
"For one night we'd print up invitations and send them out," he said. "We got some great crowds. Over the course of an evening we had 150 people milling in and out of there. I was fortunate to have hooked up with artists and musicians who were pretty connected socially so all the good-looking people in Seattle were there."
Friesen and her gallery director David Davenport attended one of these happenings and selected a painting for one of their upcoming group shows. This changed everything for Harrington.
"I remember," Harrington said, "when I was at the show and saw the people looking around there at the art, the night of the reception, I thought, "This is the way I want it to be." People were nice, respectful, dressed up, you know. It was cool. So I started thinking along the lines of wanting to be more serious."
It was one of the gallery's clients who would be so taken by Harrington's work that she would commission him to paint her villa in Caunes. She had hoped he could paint from a photograph, but when Harrington explained his plein-air procedure, she sent him abroad.
"I really didn't know what to expect," he said. "The house was gorgeous. It had five levels and three terraces and a bathroom with a great shower and a bidet--very French and very classy.
"It was a small village and no one spoke English. It was weird. It was a weird experience.
"I was trying to do things in the same old way. I was bringing my city attitude to this quiet, peaceful place. I've got my music on, and I'm trying to dance around, but it doesn't feel right because it's so peaceful, so I have to slow down my pace."
Slowing down is a challenge for Harrington, not only because of his exuberant personality but because he works fast in order to capture shadows and light. Every painting is done within one seating lasting about an hour and a half. Davenport said this work was the best Harrington has done and aptly titled the sold-out show "Harrington in Europe."
Now valleyites will be able to view "Harrington in Sun Valley" when his one-man show opens Aug. 6 in Ketchum's Friesen Gallery in time for Gallery Walk. "Theyre absolutely the best painting of his career," Friesen said. "He has yet again achieved a higher level."
Harrington will be painting until he leaves tomorrow. He returns to Caunes Minervois Sept. 4-18 to teach a painting class entitled "Plein Air with Attitude." The class will be held at the villa and there is still space available. You can register by calling: 206-441-7397.
A villa, painting outside, good regional wine, and Ejacksounds like a perfect summer.
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