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‘I always have to be creating’: Spokane muralist makes most of downtown gig

Artist Joshua Thomas paints a mural on the old Carr Lighting building on the West 900 block of First Avenue on June 14.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Artist Joshua Thomas paints a mural on the old Carr Lighting building on the West 900 block of First Avenue on June 14. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
By Sydney Brown The Spokesman-Review

In Joshua Thomas’ opinion, the days of completely original art are gone.

As he finished the final touches of the blazing red and yellow mural that spanned the length of the former Carr Lighting building, he knew he was drawing influence from the cultures and materials that came before.

“Look at the movies coming out today. Most stories are repurposing older stories. There’s a difference between shot-for-shot plagiarism of another artist’s work and admitting that the things you grew up consuming and loving are the base for what you’re doing,” Thomas said.

Passersby last week stopped to examine one of the several kinetic red shapes, telling Thomas it reminded them of an old video game they remembered, an animated series they enjoyed or just an implacable feeling from their childhood, he said.

Everyone brought their own interpretation, he said.

Thomas said he was approached about the First Avenue mural by the Downtown Spokane Partnership nearly a month ago. Mark Richard, chief executive officer at DSP, said the mural’s funding came from leftover money Republic Services gave the organization from an earlier project.

Initially, Thomas thought the request form – the first to come through his website Lejit Designs – belonged in the spam folder. Most of Thomas’ work involves clients who found him through social media and wanted smaller-scale digital works, he said. Once he realized the email from DSP was real, Thomas said he felt glad to have an opportunity for a big project.

“I never feel under pressure about these types of things. From the get-go, they were clearly excited about my way of working and my style,” Thomas said.

Elisabeth Hooker, marketing and program coordinator for the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said DSP organizers and building owners wanted to brighten the boarded windows of the supply building with a colorful mural. Richard said the building owners had placed the boards to prevent unwanted tagging.

After seeing his work on Spokane’s Empire State Building the year before, Hooker said she almost immediately thought of Thomas for this project.

“He’s been on our radar for a while, and we knew we didn’t want it to be empty boards all along that street,” Hooker said.

Hooker said Thomas’ use of vibrant color and a more vintage style stuck in her mind, and she thought it would also stick in the minds of people walking along First Avenue. Their goal, she said, is to attract more foot traffic and businesses to the area.

The long wooden boards on which Thomas painted his vibrant, abstract designs will likely stay up for a year, and probably more, Hooker said.

“But I think this artist’s work will have a life that lasts longer than just this building and this commission,” Richard said.

Thomas said his love of anime, hip-hop culture and street art is the basis for much of his style. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, but raised “pretty much everywhere,” he said, Thomas said his exposure to a variety of art helped him develop a unique perspective.

“That’s the lifelong journey of any artist, is finding your style, but most of us already have it. It finds you. Your style leaks out in weird, odd ways, and your visual voice continues to speak to you no matter what medium you’re working in,” he said.

Knowing visual arts was “baked into my DNA,” Thomas said. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in visual communication at Eastern Washington University, with a minor in marketing.

The mural took Thomas about three weeks from the original commission date, he said.

“If I’m being generous to myself, not working the eight- to 12-hour days I was doing, it probably would take about a month,” he said. “The thing is, I’m still young and I know I can bounce back from doing those long days, so I cannot really help myself. I feel like I just have to do it, I always have to be creating. If you do any type of art, I feel like you always have that feeling.”

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