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Washington Voices

Book depicts artist in flux

Thu., Dec. 31, 2009, midnight

Tom O’Day, shown at a piano in his west Spokane studio, has written a book about his art and “anti-art.”Courtesy of Tom O’Day (Courtesy of Tom O’Day)
Tom O’Day, shown at a piano in his west Spokane studio, has written a book about his art and “anti-art.”Courtesy of Tom O’Day (Courtesy of Tom O’Day)

“Actions – Disposals – Transitions – Transformations” is the title of artist Tom O’Day’s recently published book of photos documenting the last 20 years of his antics.

His work goes through transitions and transforms into new work. The objects are in a constant state of flux, reflecting the reality of our own changing lives, O’Day said.

As a youth, O’Day made models, painstakingly building them as they were meant to be and then he took them outside, shot them with a BB gun and blew them up with fireworks. Later, in high school, O’Day focused on black and white photography. “I got hooked on making images,” he said.

He went on to receive a master’s degree in fine art from California State University at Northridge. In 1985, after living in a studio in downtown Los Angeles, O’Day moved to the Spokane area. He did odd jobs until he began teaching at Spokane Art School, curating shows, and running children’s programs. He also began working part time at Spokane Falls Community College. In 1998, he was hired full time. He runs the college’s art gallery and teaches drawing technique, fundamentals, and composition, design and an experimental workshop that includes installation art.

Imagine stepping into a “gallery” space where things hang from above and move, and perhaps there are sounds of crickets or projections of changing images or pencils dangling on strings, meant to be used by viewers to mark a displayed image. Or imagine stepping onto an air strip and watching as a large pile of artwork is blown high into the sky with plastic explosives, fertilizer and gasoline. As things land and the flames and smoke diminish, it looks like a major catastrophe has occurred, but the “items” will get new life as they are collected and transformed into new representations.

That explosion occurred in 1994 and the event’s remains have since been transformed into installations on blue Plexiglas displayed at a California college or turned into “Remains in Archival Bags” and displayed as ancient artifacts would be – handled delicately and catalogued.

O’Day ritualistically buried 30 works of art at Whitworth University in 1988 and unearthed them 20 years later. He flambéed a piece of work as it hung on a gallery’s wall, shredded unpurchased limited edition prints and set them free in a helium-filled weather balloon, began an art disposal service, and let pieces decay (or simply change to be framed later) in a host of liquids during the run of an exhibit.

Parts of past disposals and his piece “We Are Everywhere,” which began as sheets of drawings cut into smaller pieces and installed at Koehler Gallery at Whitworth University and became something different for a showing in California, will be included in his installation at the Tinman Gallery, 811 W. Garland Ave., through January. His book will also be available, a necessity to even begin to understand the art of “anti-art” and O’Day’s subtle commentaries on the fickle nature of the world in which we live.

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts. If you know an artist, dancer, actor, musician, photographer, band or singer, contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by e-mail

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