• Wednesday, November 01, 2017 11:47 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    There Goes the Neighborhood

    I was remembering something I heard the other day. Two women were sitting on the bus discussing how much Seattle has changed. “When they tore down the Lusty Lady,” one of them said, “I thought to myself, now there goes the neighborhood.”

    I whipped out my pen. This probably crosses all kinds of old-school lines for some, but when I see or hear something that affects me, I don’t reach for my phone. I’m a writer. I don’t see the point of not writing. There’s still something to be said for letting emotional reactions fill the pages of a notebook.

    Then I overheard: “No, I’m not doing eyelash extensions. I have a lot of self-doubt. But not about my eyelashes.” 

    I was all ears. Excessively-long eyelashes are everywhere lately, so I love it when someone has the guts to push back against the latest trend that makes us feel like our faces are a problem to be fixed.

    My friends and I talk a lot about this, how sometimes we just have to push back against popular trends, beauty and otherwise, when we know things have gone too far.

    Take this morning. At two in the morning I pushed back. I pounded on my neighbor’s door.

    Wait, did I say “neighbor?” Because I don’t have a neighbor. I used to have a neighbor. His name was Dean. We shared a wall for a six years. We looked out for each other. I was surprised, outraged, when his landlord served him notice in order to turn his apartment into a vacation-rental. 

    Apartment by apartment, my Belltown building has become less of a vertical neighborhood and more of a hotel.

    I was working in San Francisco when vacation rental regulations were a city-wide debate. In the Mission, I went to listen to a group of Latinos talk about losing their hotel jobs. Not to work in hotels, not to have hotel jobs, is an incomprehensible way to live for these working people. VRBO/Airbnb is affecting their livelihood in ways — many ways — that I hadn’t thought about.

    Talk about coincidence. On my way home, I stopped at a bar in Noe Valley where a man argued, “No one’s going to tell me I can’t rent my place in the city by the week while I’m at my ranch in Wyoming.” 

    Now, there were at least three other things this man said that made me see how his argument summed up perfectly all the contradictions and inequities of contemporary life. How those with less charmed lives, without a spare house, or even a spare room, still need to work in exchange for a paycheck.  

    Still, I doubt the man who is buying up condos in our building in order to turn them into short-term rentals would consider himself someone who is contributing to the lack of affordable housing, but, in a less talked-about way, he is. And it’s funny, because the Airbnb promotional materials like to boast how you get to live “in a real neighborhood.”

    The trend is everywhere.

    When my friend and her infant son needed to find an apartment in Port Townsend, there were only four long-term rentals available. Yet, on the same town’s vacation-rental websites, there are hundreds of listings.

    And, try as I might, I cannot see a real neighborhood in that.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Sanelli, author and speaker, lives in Belltown. Visit

  • Wednesday, November 01, 2017 11:46 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Paul Horiuchi

    Northwest Master – 1906-1999

    In his new country, after long struggle,

    after enough money finally trickled in,

    the artist built a home on a Seattle hill

    looking over Lake Washington

    to the erect snows of Mount Rainier.

    Mount Fuji, in his childhood world, 

    rose beyond Lake Kawaguchi. He’d come full circle.

    The Japanese have a word, natsukashii,

    for a longing that runs deeper than mere nostalgia.

    Immigrants and exiles of all times understand.

    And so he made his life among natural affinities:

    the intricacies of saltwater, rocky shores, misted pines. 

    Salmon as sacred to the Puget Sound tribes as to the Ainu.

    Kuroshio, the Japanese current, brushes the West Coast

    where Basho is also at home.

    Every year the now honored artist returned to Japan.

    Near the end, in Seattle, he wondered aloud 

    if he dreamed in Japanese. The boy who left home 

    at fourteen had arrived at a borderless country

    where there was only one lake. One mountain.                         


    Mike Dillon

    Indianola, Washington

  • Tuesday, September 05, 2017 3:03 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

  • Tuesday, September 05, 2017 3:00 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    why i can’t always paint

    i have completed

    my mountain hermitage

    there was to have been a waterfall

    outside my window

    but my brush faltered

    each sheer plunge of water

    refuses to flow

    rather hangs

    in mid-air

    resembling chunks of concrete

    it must be my american influence

    the top of the painting

    seems endless

    white space

    holding on

    to pins of air

    a wall of silence

    so immense

    it covers the sky


    Alan Chong Lau

    Alan Chong Lau is a poet and painter exhibiting his art locally at ArtXchange Gallery in Seattle, Washington.

  • Sunday, July 02, 2017 12:12 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    I have a confession. At the time of this writing, I have not seen “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” at the Seattle Art Museum. In fact, I’ve never seen Kusama’s work in a museum or gallery. 

    And yet, I have seen it. The images of Kusama’s work precede her. They’re everywhere: I’ve seen them in my art history books, on the Internet, in the barrage of promotional materials from SAM over the last few months. Oh, and of course, on Instagram.

    Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms, the artworks for which she has become best known, are a selfie-lover’s dream come true. The rooms are fully immersive spaces where visitors enter one or a few at a time, close the door behind them, and are surrounded on all sides by mirrors. Often, the spaces are filled with sculptural objects like her signature polka dot pumpkins or stuffed tubers. Once inside, these intimate spaces can simulate a feeling of being in the infinite (or so I’ve been told). One of my friends even described his first time in an Infinity Room as a “cosmic experience.” 

    Kusama made her first Infinity Mirror Room in 1965. And she’s continued making them. Today, a kind of frenetic craze has built up around them. Kusama is also a prolific painter, sculptor, performance, and video artist, but right now, her Infinity Rooms are all the rage.

    When the exhibit was at the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, the museum broke all kinds of attendance records, with 32,500 visitors in the first week alone. In Seattle, the buzz has been building for months, and when advance tickets for the SAM show went on sale last month, they sold out in less than 24 hours.

    What’s the draw? What is it about these Infinity Rooms that’s getting people to stand in line for hours to get inside one of Kusama’s mirrored rooms, knowing they might only be allowed 20 seconds once they’re in? Why the hype?

    I think the answer has something to do with social media, and a lot to do with Instagram. It’s not a stretch to say that Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms have become an Internet sensation. Search the hashtags #yayoikusama or #infinityroom and you’ll get over 400,000 posts—hundreds of thousands of selfies and video shorts of people standing in these expansive-looking spaces, surrounded on all sides by sparkling lights or pumpkins and polka dots. Someone at the Hirshhorn even broke one of the pumpkins in an Infinity Room back in February, reportedly because he was distracted while trying to take a selfie. Everyone wants to get their photo inside an Infinity Room. Because let’s face it, they photograph pretty dang well. That’s how Kusama intended it.

    Kusama is known for her embrace of the camera, unabashedly promoting herself and her work through images. Much like her fellow pop artists Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, Kusama has found a popular following that lives outside the traditional boundaries of the art world. Her astute understanding of the powers of publicity has lead to her immense popularity—in 2014, museum attendance records identified her as the most popular artist in the world. Over the course of her 65-year career, Kusama has worked hard to craft an identity that can be easily dispersed and digested in a culture of images.

    Today we often look to images to locate our sense of self-identity, but for Kusama, this duplication and mirroring is a means of melting away the boundaries of self. It is a means of merging with the infinite. In the 1960s, this line of thought had a lot to do with that era’s counterculture movement. Her early performances from that time were just as much about making a political statement as they were about making art. Then, Kusama’s fantasy of a shared body and erasure of individual difference could be read as a means of fighting against the flattening effects of capitalism. “Become one with eternity,” she wrote in 1968 for her first “Self-Obliteration” performance. “Forget yourself. Self-destruction is the only way out…”

    But today, Kusama’s work and the craze for its reproduction in selfies is hitting a different note. Rather than expanding social consciousness or serving as a vehicle for political commentary, it just feels flattening. Her work is being reduced to an image, and not in a good way. Snap a pic inside one of her rooms, post it to your Gram, and watch the likes roll in. Kusama’s Infinity Rooms have become yet another example of our unquenchable thirst for the easily-consumable image.

    But perhaps this is what Kusama’s work has been about all along. From the beginning of her career, she’s been exploring reproduction as a means of self-dissolution. And isn’t that exactly what the selfie is doing today? We are duplicating ourselves, ad infinitum, on that tiny screen on our phones. Our identities have become a series of images and profiles that live on the Internet—on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat. More so than ever before, our conception of self lives in a reproduction, in an image.

    Kusama’s work asks us to examine this reproduction, to question where the reality lies. Her Infinity Rooms beg to be photographed, but as soon as we do, we’re faced with our own reflection—we see ourselves taking a picture. Seducing us with the promise of the perfect selfie, Kusama forces us to catch ourselves in the act of looking. At ourselves.

    Lauren Gallow

    Lauren Gallow is an arts writer, critic, and editor. You can read more of her work at

    “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” is on view through September 10 at the Seattle Art Museum, located at 1300 First Avenue in Seattle, Washington. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through Sunday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.; Thursdays from 10 A.M. to 9 P.M.; and closed Tuesdays. For more information, call (206) 748-9287 or visit

  • Sunday, July 02, 2017 12:07 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

  • Sunday, July 02, 2017 11:53 AM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Then, Only Then

    I tell you something that I’m tired of?

    I’m tired of people whipping out their phone to share photos, no matter how hard I try to ooh and ahh at every image.

    It’s not often that I get to see my friend Lynn. She’s independently wealthy and travels a lot. I’m not, so I work a lot. The last time we met one thing was clear: Lynn’s latest adventure is her phone.

    “Why are you taking pictures of that?” I asked.

    “To share with my daughter.”

    “It’s a salad. Surely she’s seen one before.”

    “To show how pretty it is.” And, like that, she begins to scroll through a million salad photos. Okay, that’s a teeny exaggeration. But there were many. So many, in fact, my first thought was, there’s silly, and then there’s ridiculous. But never mind. Obviously my fatigue is beside the point.

    Or maybe it is the point. 

    Because it prompts the other side of my brain to kick in, the questioning side. My favorite dance teacher once said that most people are followers. “But an artist’s job is to question everything.”

    Honestly, that was all, positively all, she had to say. I’ve questioned copy-cat behavior ever since. It used to drive my mother crazy. “Can’t you just go along with it like everyone else?” she’d say, often. About so many things.

    “No. Mom. I. Cannot.”

    I still believe the best reason to come together for dinner is to ignore the rest of the world, not to include them, and I said as much to Lynn.“Lynn, I want to share stories about what we’re doing and what we want to do next, not listen to pings.” 

    Oh, I miss uninterrupted conversations! We are designed for fewer interruptions, I think.

    Plus, I’ve learned to trust myself when she just knows when something is wrong, when, no matter how much money it makes for some, it’s just not better for everyone, especially people with addictive tendencies. You figure this out pretty quickly when your  friend who’s fought long and hard to give up alcohol (and pot ... and pills) is snapping photos of everything around you instead of talking to you. 

    Finally, she put her phone on the table face up. I reached over and put it face down. “You seem different,” she said. “As much a stickler as ever, but more relaxed.”

    My mind raced, flicking through what she just said for some little prize to make my point. I wish I could say this isn’t stickler behavior, but it is.

    “Well,” I said, “this always-on/never-off thing is too much interference for my stress level, so I leave my phone in my purse. Are all the photos really necessary?”

    “Well, they don’t make me happy, but they don’t make me any less happy.”

    I thought this was such a real thing to say, that it spoke of such personal honesty. 

    “Well, there you go,” I said. “Now that your phone isn’t having more fun than we are, I get to hear you say the kinds of things I love you for.”

    “Oh my God,” she said. “You’re right! I’m brilliant.” 

    Then, then, laughter and intimacy began to catch up to us.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Sanelli works as a writer and speaker. Her latest book is A Woman Writing

    For more information, visit

  • Monday, May 01, 2017 1:07 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Painting as a Form of Love

    Brush in hand the painter

    first dances in surroundings sees 

    signs of feeling in flight at a touch 

    tracks its motion deep into 

    stirred weedy thickets skips away

    caught in an illusion a denial

    spread flat in its particularity

    what is it he seeks but to reach 

    around blind touch the living

    catch what he can as it flees

    where he makes a quick sketch 

    to find one true line a caress 

    as an entrance to love then

    paints it all out rapidfire

    underpainting all in grays

    that will bury each stroke 

    beneath others he means to refresh 

    with color as each stroke is lifted

    turned wet to the light of its being 

    and coaxed to the surface set free

    —homage to Rob Herlitz

    Paul Hunter 

    Paul Hunter is a poet, farmer, teacher, and shade-tree mechanic. His new book CLOWNERY: In lieu of a life spent in harness, is kind of an autobiography in prose poems.

  • Monday, May 01, 2017 1:05 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Different Time, Same Story

    It’s hard to explain to people today, when it seems that everyone wants to be Italian, that our neighbors once targeted my family. 

    We’d only lived in Connecticut a few weeks. Because, by God, my father wasn’t about to raise his kids in the big, bad apple. And then, in broad daylight, someone painted “DIRTY WOPS!” on our garage door. 

    I think the way in which I perceived myself changed the very moment I saw those words.

    My mother thought it was one of the neighbor kids. I remember her saying something like, “kids do crazy things.”

    I didn’t believe it was a kid at all, but I didn’t argue. Not on your life. My opinion was called talking back. So I kept silent about a certain neighborhood grownup who shook his head whenever our car drove by. Even at my young age, I could detect his contempt for all the European problems he never had to face. And for all the Europeans he did.

    My father has said that imagining the “American dream” was the only thing that got him through the Second World War. But he didn’t carry the streets-paved-in-gold generic illusion. He defined the “dream” as living in a peaceful country. I’ll never forget the look that came over him when he saw the slur on our door, as if part of his dream had been ground out like one of his cigars. As if he’d finally witnessed something he’d been afraid of all along. 

    It was a different time then, of course, when lots of us still believed that the police always did the right thing, and so my father might have pretended to agree with my suggestion to call the police, but he never did. “It’s nothing,” he said, “a joke.” And then he got out the hose and a scrub brush.

    And now I wonder: do we all see what we want to see, or can handle seeing, and make light of the rest just so we don’t have to turn a small but obvious cruelty into something much bigger?

    That night, I heard my dad cry for the first time. I felt his tears would wash me away. I buried my head in my pillow.

    My mother cried too, but I was used to that.

    There was another clue that my father was a little less secure in our new neighborhood than he let on. He likes to say that everybody in this country loves to eat, but nobody wants to farm. He was proud of his garden, yet he planted it in our shady backyard, not in the sunnier front. See, all of the men in our neighborhood wore suits to work. My father left the house in overalls. He still does. 

    And today, with all the renewed discriminatory rhetoric we face, well, I hope something else my dad likes to say is true: this too shall pass. 

    It’s the little memories that have the largest effect.

    I have my reasons for why I didn’t change my name once I married. But the memory of my father scrubbing our garage door is one of the strongest.

    Mary Lou Sanelli

    Sanelli works as a writer and speaker. Her latest book is A Woman Writing. For more information, visit

2023 © Art Access 
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software