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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Teen finding his voice through paint

Michael Eldred paints in a classroom at Contract Based Education school in Spokane Valley. He has 20 paintings in his “Mind Frame Time Lapse” on display at the school.  (Colin Mulvany)
Michael Eldred paints in a classroom at Contract Based Education school in Spokane Valley. He has 20 paintings in his “Mind Frame Time Lapse” on display at the school. (Colin Mulvany)
Jennifer Larue, Jlarue99@Hotmail.Com

Michael Eldred is just a kid; a teenager who has felt his share of angst.

He has tattoos, wears his pants a little loose, and, depending on whom you ask, is in need of a haircut. He is at that age where he’s old enough to know better but too young to be considered a voice worth listening to. So, Eldred, 19, found a new way to communicate: through art.

“I’ve never been good at communicating myself and my ideas verbally, and with painting I can communicate any idea I have without getting stage fright or being nervous or having to worry about anybody getting offended,” he said. “We all have emotions and thoughts and dreams and pains and secrets, but they are often overlooked. But art always remembers – no matter how far in your subconscious lays an idea, art can always resurface it. Art for me is a way to express bottled up ideas and memories.”

It began a couple of years ago after Eldred had given up on school. Branded a dropout, he hung out around West Valley District’s Contract Based Education (CBE) school at Sprague and University to stay connected with his friends. Some of those friends were enrolled in Jennifer Compau’s art class.

“One afternoon I invited Michael to make some art, and he did his very first painting on an old map that was destined for the garbage,” Compau said. “He painted it standing outside the art room in the downstairs hall of the old CBE building and has not stopped painting since.”

The fact that his first piece was done on a map is fitting, as his work could be described as maps: lines outline shapes of bold color, leading a viewer to unknown territories that exist in Eldred’s imagination. The shapes become faces and figures, curving roads, cityscapes and landscapes. The occasional dragonfly or leaf appears like curious landmarks.

Using acrylic paint on recycled wood, canvas, even a cabinet door, Eldred shares his view of the world through the universal language of art. Titles like “Homescape,” “Babylon Escape,” “Shelf Life,” “Odd Couple” and “Blue” prompt viewers to begin their own personal journey as they translate Eldred’s visual diary through the veil of their own experiences. “That is what sad looks like,” Eldred explained as he pointed to the painting “Blue,” and then to the painting “Face of Love,” “and that is complicated, kind of like if love had a face.”

Now enrolled at CBE with a focus, Eldred has enrolled in Running Start. He will graduate this year, after which he plans on pursuing college and art school scholarships. He has displayed his work in a group show at Raw Space put on by the Spokane Arts Commission and had his first solo exhibit at the Empyrean.

Currently, 20 pieces are hanging in the commons room at CBE through October. The display, called “Mind Frame Time Lapse,” has been received well; a few pieces have already sold.

The piece Eldred did on the map has been gifted to Cleve Penberthy, CBE’s principal, and it hangs on the wall behind his desk. Called “My View of Our World,” the piece will forever serve as a gateway to possibilities.

When asked what his future holds, he answered, “I was thinking about doing an STA plaza series or historical figures like King Louis or Napoleo, but I need to search for more old wood to paint on. I’m running low on supplies.”

The Verve is a weekly feature celebrating the arts.Contact correspondent Jennifer LaRue by e-mail at
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