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Difference Makers: Chris Bovey’s art style celebrates what makes Spokane unique

Dec. 20, 2021 Updated Tue., Dec. 28, 2021 at 9:45 a.m.

Chris Bovey poses for a photo surrounded by his artwork on Friday.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
Chris Bovey poses for a photo surrounded by his artwork on Friday. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Chris Bovey is having the last laugh.

While toiling as art director of The Inlander, Bovey developed an art tourism concept that was presented to Visit Spokane in 2015.

“I had this idea of a poster series on Spokane that I thought could highlight how unique and cool it is here,” Bovey said from his Medical Lake studio. “Spokane was going through this big inferiority complex. What I came up with was to combat the notion that Spokane is not as cool as Portland or Seattle.

“My take is that this is not just a cool city but Spokane is a fantastic city. I had this idea, microtourism, Spokane for those who are also from this area. I pitched making a cool print of Indian Canyon, so people might explore it. I talked about doing a cool dive bar in Spokane Valley that maybe few had ever heard of. But Visit Spokane laughed me out of the office.”

Instead of becoming discouraged, Bovey dug deeper. He assembled his own screenprinting setup and instead of wasting time watching television, he honed his art skills after-hours and made myriad prints from iconic local treasures, such as the Monroe Street Bridge, The Shack and Bigfoot Pub and Eatery.

The art changed his life and career path. When Bovey created a print, he would hang it at his Inlander cubicle. However, exception was taken when Bovey displayed a print of The Spokesman-Review Building.

“I decided I was going to do a print of The Spokesman-Review building, which was viewed as our competitor,” Bovey said. “But what I was doing was creating a print of a building that is over 100 years old. I created it during my own time. The editor saw it and he went off on me. I didn’t understand it.”

Bovey, 42, had what he called an epiphany and quit his full-time gig and embarked on a career as an independent artist. It was quite the leap of faith for the married father of two children.

However, the esoteric artist had the last laugh.

Benefactors, such as Andy Dinnison, the owner of Atticus Coffee and Gifts and Boo Radley’s; The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and Ace Hardware Wandermere purchased his work.

“We have had many wonderful Spokane artists over the years, but in my opinion, nobody has done a better job capturing what it means to be from Spokane,” Dinnison said. “He celebrates our area, from its seediest spots to our most celebrated monuments.”

Bovey’s print of Ms. Kitty’s, an adult sex shop in Spokane Valley, stirred some controversy.

“The son of the owner of Ms. Kitty’s loved that I included their place in my project,” Bovey said. “I won’t ignore a side of Spokane that some would like to ignore. I love that this project can go from The Davenport to Al’s Motel on Division where you could rent by the hour.

“It can go anywhere. I don’t cut out the seedy parts. I think way too often we want to pretend that stuff doesn’t exist.”

Spokane has reached new and unexpected levels of style thanks to Bovey, who took a chance most folks avoid. “I decided to go for it,” Bovey said. “It’s the best decision I made.”

Bovey’s work ranges from neon signs to murals to prints of Spokane landmarks.

He speaks through his art about how passionately he feels about his beloved city. Bovey worked in the corporate world in Seattle during the ’90s, but he lives to proselytize all that’s cool about Spokane.

“This is home,” Bovey said. “Where else would I go? I will stay here and I will die here. We (wife Liz and sons, Jonas, 13 and Elliot, 11) love it here. When I lived in Seattle, it wasn’t for me, it’s way too big.

“Yes, Spokane is developing, but you have these unique pockets like Millwood and the Garland District. They’re not being taken over by condos. Those neighborhoods have that small town feel that I hope never goes away. And there is so much beauty here and I try to convey that in my art. Nobody did what I was doing in Spokane and I’ve created this whole different market.”

Bovey is hoping to inspire fledgling artists to take a chance and try to realize their dreams.

“I absolutely want that,” Bovey said. “The cool thing is that Spokane embraces their art and artists. It wasn’t always that way. I remember seeing Spokane postcard racks at supermarkets in town and it was pathetic. I would go to Hillyard to see old matchbox covers to get inspired.”

He said Spokane has changed and the arts scene is taking off.

“The word renaissance is overused, but we’re coming into our own in this town and I’m so excited to be part of that,” he said.

Six years after feeling disrespected by Visit Spokane, the next cover of the local tourism department’s publication will be created by Bovey.

“Visit Spokane reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we love your art. We want to hire you to do the cover of the Visit Spokane publication. We’re having a meeting in the New Year about the same thing you pitched years ago,’ ” he said.

Nobody is laughing at Bovey or his art now.

“I live in a great city, and I just want people to know how cool it is here,” Bovey said. “I think people get that from my art. Spokane isn’t Seattle and Spokane isn’t Portland. Our city is its own thing and it’s pretty great.”

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