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

Smithsonian award-winner, other favorite Spokane artists featured in First Friday this week

Patti Warashina signs a book at a previous First Friday at Marmot Art Space. She recently won a Smithsonian Visionary Art Award and has work featured in July’s First Friday at the Kendall Yards gallery.  (Courtesy of Marshall Peterson)

Spokane-native Jeff Olson left town for Seattle but still comes back to the city he was born and raised in to participate in First Friday, a monthly event featuring artists, musicians, restaurants and other creative aspects around Spokane.

Olson has been working with Marmot Art Space in Spokane for about a year, and owner Marshall Peterson said Olson’s work is one of many featured at Marmot’s First Friday exhibition this week.

Peterson said Marmon Art Space has been involved with First Friday for about 10 years, but the monthly event has been around for 30.

“We encourage people to get out. It doesn’t matter who’s showing or where you go, just get out in your community because that’s what good citizens do,” Peterson said.

While First Friday as a whole does not have a niche, each featured business does. Peterson said Marmon Art Space focuses on the best regional artists with different specialties.

Olson said his abstract paintings are inspired by the shapes of landscape. He uses bold colors, energetic brush strokes and palette knives to create texture on canvases and wood panels.

“I rely a lot on spontaneity. I don’t plan out what I’m going to do. I kind of embrace the process of discovery as I’m making the paintings,” he said. “A lot of the imagery is based on my memories growing up in Spokane and the Northwest.”

During his childhood, Olson spent a lot of time fishing and hiking in the mountains, so those memories are heavily featured in the work he does, as he tries to create a middle ground between representation and abstraction.

Olson said when people look at his paintings, their initial reaction is to see it as just an abstract painting.

“I’m really interested in that moment of becoming, if you will, that transformation when one minute it’s abstract but the next minute you see something,” Olson said. “Kind of like when a child looks at clouds and they imagine their clouds to be ships or animals. We all have that in our imagination, and I love that kind of searching.”

Friday will be Olson’s third showing at First Friday. He said the event is a great opportunity for the public to see artists and their work but to also become familiar with the art community in Spokane.

“The Kendall Yards Neighborhood is fun, lots of places to eat and drink and mingle,” he said. “It’s just an overall fun experience, not just for folks who are art enthusiasts, but folks who just like to get out and participate in the community more.”

First Fridays also give Olson the opportunity to talk with community members and potential buyers about his work.

A lot of the time, he will send his work to a gallery to go in an exhibit and he never gets the chance to interact with the people who see or purchase his paintings.

“First Fridays is an opportunity to talk to people and share with them what my vision is, what my process is, but also hear their responses to it,” Olson said. “It’s always fun to hear what other people see in the work and it’s just great to engage in that way. That opportunity to meet and talk with the artists who are creating the work is a real unique opportunity.”

Peterson said Olson’s pieces are unique and colorful, and he thought it would be special to have someone born and raised in Spokane featured in the exhibit, especially because Olson now lives across the state and will travel back to East Side of Washington for First Friday.

Work by ceramic sculptor Patti Warashina will be featured in this week’s exhibit, as well.

Peterson said Warashina, who has been creating realistic figures for more than 55 years, is one of the biggest female artists in Spokane history.

Warashina helped build up the University of Washington ceramics program to where it is today and has also worked full-time with the Smithsonian for decades, Peterson said.

“The Smithsonian just gave her their Visionary Artists Award, which is insane that someone who was born and raised in Spokane got that award,” he said.

Peterson said the Marmot Art Space is thriving and has a variety of pieces for this week’s First Friday, but he loves that the gallery can participate in the event every month.

“This is one of those things where if you live in Spokane, this is just something you should do,” he said. “You don’t have to be a lover of art and you definitely don’t have to be a connoisseur. This is a thing we do to keep our society functioning and healthy.”

Other artists featured in Marmot’s “Favorite Artists, Favorite Pieces” exhibit on Friday include painter Alfredo Arreguin, professors emeriti Keiko Hara, Ruben Trejo and Gordon Wilson; painter Gabe Fernandez; professors Frank Munns and Rob McKirdie; Shelli Walters; Sarah B. Hansen; and Montana-based artist Kelly Packer.

The gallery’s First Friday event begins at 5 p.m. at 1202 W. Summit Parkway.