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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane artist whose passion grew out of traumatic brain injury opening downtown studio: ‘I don’t think I could dream of a better journey’

Dylan Lipsker was neither an artist nor interested in art seven years ago. But after a brain injury caused him lasting severe insomnia, he found a new passion and career as one of Spokane’s most promising artists.

He is now opening his own gallery, Big City Art, Friday in downtown Spokane at 164 S. Washington St., Suite 500.

“If I could dream,” Lipsker said, referring to his inability to enter REM sleep during which most dreams happen, “I don’t think I could dream of a better journey.”

Lipsker gets about three hours of sleep every night, said his physician, Dr. Jeff Emery. He said Lipsker’s sleep habits are “neither healthy nor advised.”

“I can’t tell you why he’s not having more dysfunction, because you’d expect him to be having significant psychiatric manifestations,” said Emery, who treated Lipkser for about seven years at Northwest Neurological medical clinic.

“To be as accomplished as he is as an artist, opening a business, all of that, while only getting three hours of sleep is remarkable.”

Emery treated the artist for much of his early career. When the physician accepted a job at another clinic, Lipsker gifted him the first piece of artwork he let out of his possession.

“I hadn’t ever seen anything like it,” Emery said.

The piece remains as a centerpiece to Emery’s family living space.

“It was extremely meaningful because his pieces are a part of him, and to let them go – it is like he is letting a piece of himself go.”

The accident

Lipsker was injured in an ATV accident that left him with 78 broken bones, rib fragments in his liver, six punctures in his right lung, three in his left lung and a severe concussion.

He experienced surmountable adversity during the yearslong recovery process, he said.

As Lipsker’s interest in art grew, he was rarely short on luck and benefited from the encouragement and generosity of strangers.

In one instance, a shopper at a home improvement store bought him hundreds of canvases. Another person from the Chicago Art Institute shipped a stockpile of expired, yet expensive, art supplies. Lipsker only had to pay for the shipping.

Lipsker showed his works for the first time at the behest of the owners of Gordy’s Sichuan Cafe, a popular South Hill restaurant where Lipsker used to work.

A month later, his pieces appeared in the Tsuga Northwest Arts gallery in Spokane. Earning wall space at different restaurants and coffee shops, he eventually put on a solo exhibition at Barrister Winery in 2020.

As the coronavirus lockdowns limited public exposure, many artists struggled.

Not Lipsker.

“I thought the pandemic would destroy me, but I kept getting busier,” Lipsker said. “People came out of the woodwork to specifically be supportive of the arts – I darn near tripled in sales during the pandemic.”

A year later, he began showing at the LiveforBlu art gallery in Coeur d’Alene. After 18 months of impressive sales, he earned a permanent residency during which he showed alongside prominent Spokane artist Ben Joyce – an idol of Lipsker’s.

It was a motivating experience for the fledgling artist.

“I shouldn’t have lived through the accident, I shouldn’t have healed as well as I did and I shouldn’t have been at that gallery,” Lipsker said. “That’s when I really put my mind to it and it all started happening.”

As is typical in the industry, when artists quickly gain popularity they may run out of pieces to sell.

But Lipsker has an advantage.

“I usually have about 21 hours every day that I’m awake, and I use a good amount of that to time creating,” Lipsker said with a laugh. “It’s safe to say I have plenty of inventory.”

The art

Prior to being an artist, Lipsker installed countertops and remodeled the interiors of homes. And since the accident gave him additional hours every day to be productive, he began taking up projects to entertain himself.

One such project is a shabby house he bought. After fixing foundational issues, he wanted to do something different with design – something fun.

He began experimenting with textures, mixing paint and even adding sparkles to it.

Eventually, he finished his home and had many leftover supplies. With all the time and supplies he could need, Lipsker began experimenting.

“Not having any art background, I had no idea what I was doing – I was just having fun,” Lipsker said.

He rarely uses typical art supplies and instead opts for materials typically found at a Home Depot.

But his trademark look is made capable by a substance Lipsker keeps a secret. The manufacturer of the product has never seen it applied artistically and is so interested with what he can accomplish with it, sends him free supplies whenever he needs it, Lipsker said.

He describes his artistic process as more closely resembling a science experiment because of his use of chemical reactions and controlled flames.

Rarely does he pick up a paintbrush. Lipsker’s style is his own take on fluid art. By pouring up to 17 layers of acrylic and resin, and then applying heat, he creates striking depth to his pieces.

When Denny Carman, owner of Chrysalis Gallery in Spokane, first saw a Lipsker piece, he was moved.

“It’s hard to even pinpoint what it is, I just fell in love with what he did,” Carman said. “His work just draws you in, and you can tell he creates from his heart – people will see his stuff and say ‘Hey, that’s a Dylan.’ ”

In addition to his style, the gallery owner said he had never met someone like Lipsker during his 17 years in the industry.

“His look, the way he dresses, the way he is always smiling, what can I say? He’s just a one-of-a-kind guy.”

Carman said opening a solo gallery is something only a few artists accomplish.

“Opening a gallery is not easy, so for him to even step out and try shows his courage and his faith in his work,” Carman said. “Some artists spend 30, 40 years in the arts and don’t get close to where he’s at already, so he’s going places – there’s no doubt.”

Lipsker recognizes that opening a business is difficult, but he believes he is highly capable because of his lack of sleep.

“People always say, ‘If only the day was longer, I could get more done,’ ” he said. “That’s all everybody wants is more time – and I got it.”

Lipsker’s pieces range from $1,000 to over $5,000, and this year he expects to surpass $250,000 in total sales – a feat Lipsker is still trying to grasp.

Though he faces chronic pain in his limbs and suffers recurring headaches, Lipsker is grateful for the near-fatal accident – not for helping him to find his purpose in life and giving him extra time to pursue it, but because of what it taught him.

“I am in constant pain and, yeah, it’s kind of superhuman that I have extra time added to my life. But my positive attitude is what actually taught me how to live it,” he said. “That made all the difference.”