Seattle based artist Charles Spitzack has a problem. It’s not the worst problem an artist can have — no one likes your work — but it’s still a serious one. He finds himself being invited to show in exhibits, instead of applying for entry. He’s showing at Davidson Galleries, Seattle’s premiere print gallery. The problem? His career is building momentum and Spitzack is just trying to keep up.
Originally from Minnesota, Spitzack, 24, graduated from Cornish College of the Arts with a focus in Print Arts & Drawing in 2010. “I know this may sound bad for them, but I chose Cornish because they had the shortest line (of all the colleges attending his high school art portfolio event). But it worked out pretty well I guess.”
Spitzack’s work is primarily printmaking; woodblock prints, monotypes, etchings and lithography. His woodblock prints have that traditionally strong, bold, linework of most good xylography. His monotype and lithography pieces tend more towards the symbolic and abstract. But all his works have some features in common. One, there is thought, feeling and an indescribable finesse to each piece. Two, his (color) palette is dominated by warm colors: reds, yellows, golds, greens and browns. Even the blues and blacks have a warm tone. Three, throughout the body of his work is imagery of humankind’s struggle: Men, backs bent, laboring away with pick axes. Distorted figures heavy with their own personal burdens. A train named ‘Progress’ careening down an unfinished track.
Spitzack’s tries not to consciously draw inspiration from other artists. “I try to draw subject matter from personal experiences,” referring to his creative process as an “organic experience.” When pushed further about artistic influences, he mentions his appreciation for Russian Constructivism, German Expressionism and early Bauhaus but “more as a philosophy than as an art movement.”
Spitzack looks like an artist: An unassuming young man with wild, untamable hair, a long, lanky frame and an appropriately unkempt geek-chic style. In true artist fashion, he has a small army of pipe cleaners keeping his glasses perched upon his face.
This “hands-on” artist is also particularly gifted with wood. Hailing from a family that, until recently, ran a lumber yard and a father Spitzack calls “a builder” it’s no surprise he’s an accomplished art framer. Spitzack mats and frames all of his own work. He also designs and builds sets for events and productions, does landscape gardening and other odd jobs to get by.
The affinity for wood is evident the moment you set foot in Spitzack’s studio/workshop. The studio is a garage and adjoining workspace in the lower level of a house. To enter the studio you walk through the garage door. The space is crammed with tools, wood, equipment and artwork in various stages of completion. An assortment of well used, hand-me-down tools hang all along one wall. There are piles of wood stacked on items that are in turn stacked on equipment. Against the far wall, a large selection of Spitzack’s finished work sits, collecting dust as it waits to adorn the wall of the next gallery.
Up until this point in his art career, Spitzack had been creating pretty much free-form prints only — a wholly creative process, from inception to final product with no real rules. But he finds himself forced to transition from this “it is what it is” mentality of printmaking to a more regimented style. When contacting galleries, he learned most of them expect to show only “editioned” prints.
Edition work is a new challenge for Spitzack. It’s a more formulaic and precise approach to printmaking. Galleries expect printmakers to replicate their work in a uniform and exact manner. “I did a run of 15 prints. Out of them all, maybe four or five could be used. And even those were iffy,” he told me. With rolls of quality printing paper costing $100 each, he can’t afford the misses. “Even though I’ve had some success, I’m still losing money on all this.” But he knows this is what it will take to continue his success and to grow as a printmaker.
Spitzack has also learned that being a successful artist requires taking care of business. The business side of an art career, that is. He now finds himself spending almost as much time tracking material costs, labor hours and the overhead costs of his studio as he does working on art. This has slowed down his production. “You should see the stack of plates I have just sitting around waiting to be printed.”
As hard as it is to balance work, life and art, Spitzack enjoys Seattle’s support of its art culture. He repeatedly brings up how great the community is and how he “could not do this elsewhere.” He buys art supplies and equipment from friends or the friends of friends. Not having a car of his own, he needs to borrow a friend’s car or ask for help picking up wood and other supplies. He also needs their support to get his work to an exhibit. All of these tasks have become a “social event” for him. Grateful for the help he plans to add roots of his own to the community.
“Seattle is a nurturing place. But you also need to plant seeds for yourself.”