September 28, 2008 in City

Come watch an artist who digs his work

By The Spokesman-Review
 

With the banks crashing around us like revelers at a kegger, you’ll be relieved to know that there is still one savings institution you can count on.

Me.

That’s right. Your valuables are safe at the Bank of Doug. Just ask Tom O’Day.

“If anybody questions you,” O’Day said while sipping coffee on a Friday morning, “you can send ’em to me.

“I’ll set them straight.”

This remark came moments after I handed the Spokane artist the white box of color slides he had given me to look at during our last interview – in 1992.

The images document one of O’Day’s most ambitious and intriguing art projects. And I couldn’t have picked a better time to remember where they belonged.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how I managed to hang on to the slides. In the last 16-plus years I’ve managed to lose a laptop, two really cool jackets, a cell phone and most of my hair.

The slides date back to a September day in 1988.

That’s when O’Day held a mock funeral on the Whitworth College campus.

He placed 30 of his mixed media pieces in a makeshift coffin and buried the box six feet under.

Faux mourners – many dressed in black – paid their last respects. An accordion player performed Slavic-sounding dance tunes while O’Day filled the yawning cavity with shovels full of dirt.

But this was no ending.

O’Day told the attendees he would return to the gravesite in 20 years and reclaim his artwork from the earth.

Well, that comeback is about to occur.

Mark your calendars for Oct. 2. The happening place to be is outside Whitworth’s old fine arts building at 8 p.m.

Ben Mitchell, art curator for the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, is scheduled to say a few words.

Then the digging will commence. Once the body of artwork is exhumed, a procession will head back to O’Day’s studio for further fun.

Is that cool, or what?

This is the kind of hip event that upends the old rap that Spokane is a boring burg.

OK. Maybe Spokane is a boring burg. But we do have our moments.

O’Day plans to reassemble his art and show the pieces in February at Whitworth’s brand new Oliver Gallery.

His hope is that spending two decades underground has embellished the art with some telltale rot and decay.

But he’s a little worried. Did he do too good a job in covering the items with plastic?

It would be a bit of a bummer if everything comes out looking as fresh as it went in.

On the other hand, O’Day added, the plastic “may actually increase the mold factor.”

This is no ordinary artist. O’Day has spent nearly as much time destroying his work as he has creating it.

During one show, for example, O’Day ran his unsold prints through a shredder. Then he sent the shredded artwork sailing away on a weather balloon.

He finished another art show by setting one of his drawings ablaze.

Two times he blew his art to smithereens via high-powered explosives.

“I went out with 50 pieces and came back with 500,” O’Day said of his last boom fest.

When I interviewed him in ’92, O’Day wondered if he’d still be kicking when the time came to unbury his art.

He told me he had a signed guarantee from an archaeologist who agreed to handle the excavation in the event he was taking his own dirt nap.

Turns out the artist had nothing to worry about.

O’Day, now in his 50s, looks great. His hair is wavy and thick. He’s trim and quick with a quip.

O’Day teaches art and runs the gallery at Spokane Falls Community College. He’s got a book coming out in a few weeks that explains his philosophy of disposal and transformation.

True, he hasn’t blown up any of his creations in a while. But the whole Homeland Security mood of the country has sort of ruled out explosives as a medium, he said.

But there’s lot more performance art drama left in Tom O’Day.

And you can take that to the bank.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.

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