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The Verve: Mixed-media messenger

Nikai Birchler poses for a photo with some of his recent works of art on Sept. 5 at his home studio in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Nikai Birchler poses for a photo with some of his recent works of art on Sept. 5 at his home studio in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Artist Nikai Birchler has a lot to say, and his work is his soap box.

Birchler creates poetic images in a multitude of mediums, beginning with a mark or a scribble that then becomes an elaborate doodle that becomes people, places, things, and views on current affairs.

A mix of graffiti, collage, pop art and surrealism, his work touches upon religion, consumerism, sociology, man, and nature. Whether he’s sending a message or simply working out his own feelings, the final products are thought-provoking, filled with both truth and make-believe.

“It is cathartic to express yourself creatively, it is a productive way to convey and record your inner and outer experiences. Sometimes the subject matter will come from the headlines, sometimes from my dreams, sometimes they are purposeful juxtapositions meant to inspire thought, and sometimes they are purely random,” he said.

Random or purposefully thought out, his work tells stories – visual record keeping of our times. A good example is a series of mixed media pieces called “Protest Songs” that resulted from a trip to New York he took last year just days before the Occupy Movement began. The series includes sheet music, flowers and scenes of war from vintage magazines cut and formed into abstract and tangible shapes including a hand grenade, a tank, a gun, and a skeleton that represents both the beauty and brevity of life.

Birchler, 36, grew up in the Cheney area. He attended Eastern Washington University for a couple of years and, about 10 years ago, moved to Oregon where he attended Lane Community College in Eugene to study education and art.

He exhibited his work occasionally and did some commissioned work including “Misty Mountains,” an installation in a private home that consisted of six 3-foot-by-3-foot panels that give the impression of looking out windows at mountains on which red trees grow. He returned to Spokane a year ago after reconnecting with a high school sweetheart, Shannon Dineen, through Facebook.

Now, at the South Hill home he shares with Dineen, he is motivated to become more prolific and more involved in the local art scene.

“I have been at this for 20 years now and this is my first chance to see what I can do when all I have to do is create art.” In a basement studio, Birchler cuts stencils, sketches ideas, and works with liquids including mod podge and the highly flammable compound xylene. Action figures line shelves in the studio, some even finding themselves portrayed in a work of art.

Looking at his work, you cannot help but recognize that he thinks deeply about the here and now, struggling with society’s contradictory actions, platitudes and scandals as well as true acts of bravery and love. One of his goals is to create works that serve as his witness.

“I have often said that these art works are my pyramids, the evidence that I existed,” he said. “In the end at least there will be a record of how I saw the world and hopefully something of value can come from that.”

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 email