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Wall Projections & Watercolors: 11 Visual Artists Creating The Look Of Seattle Music

Perry Porter.
West Smith
Perry Porter.

Music is multidimensional. Poring over an era's album artwork, music videos, press photos and live shows, you can start to piece together the full story of what it was like to live and breathe that particular moment in music. When it comes to Seattle's heyday of grunge, plenty of images come to mind: flannel, ripped jeans, "thrift store chic."

The look and feel of these bygone eras weren't just immortalized by what musicians wore, but in the aesthetics being crafted around them by photographers, videographers and graphic designers working alongside musicians to complement their work. These visual elements sometimes even reach potential listeners before the music does. So while we've already talked about the artists shaping modern Seattle and the labels supporting them, we'd be remiss not to mention the multimedia artists who are defining the visual presence of the city's music scene in 2019.

From projectionists to directors and photographers, Seattle has only gotten more creative in how it presents itself visually. Just as the music is far-ranging and eclectic, don't be surprised if you find neo-gothic, lo-fi VHS and hyper-minimalist aesthetics all being utilized to accompany the city's music. Decades from now, when generations look back at the style and vibe of today's Seattle, surely they'll encounter these artists' works. —Dusty Henry

Kevin Blanquies

The right lighting and visualizations can level up any performance, but what does goes above and beyond. With a degree in Material Engineering and clever light-projection techniques, Blanquies transforms bands and the spaces in which they perform. Notably, Blanquies was more or less a member of the noise-rock band CHARMS, infusing its sets with hypnotic mirrored projections that transformed stage movements into psychedelic, dystopian visuals. His trademark style has made him sought-after in Seattle's underground, leading to live collaborations with acts like avant-garde jazz duo Bad Luck and the experimentalists in Zen Mother, as well as work with local festivals like Freakout Fest and Big Bldg Bash. —Dusty Henry

Una Blue

is a master of what one might call "ethereal goth." Her photos and videos have a signature dark-and-misty haze to them, making anyone and everyone captured by Blue look like a stunning dark angel. Some of those fortunate enough to have been immortalized on film by Blue include DoNormaal, Youryoungbody, Guayaba, Maiah Manser, Nightspace and CHARMS. Her 2016 video for DoNormaal's "50 Jasper Horses" is absolutely iconic. In recent months, Blue has expanded her artistic palette to include making filters for Instagram; her latest filter, ONTOGENESIS, explores concepts of death, rebirth, evolution and emergence from the chrysalis. —Jasmine Albertson

Claire Buss

Pittsburgh-bred, Seattle-based director made a name for herself directing music videos for artists like Julia Shapiro, Versing and Tacocat, but before that, she'd established herself with the DIY game show . The project began in the living room of her Greenwood home before expanding to the Northwest Film Forum, SIFF Cinema Uptown and other locations around town. Described as "Double Dare for depressed people," The Future Is 0 pits artists against each other in a series of challenges, such as "Are You F****** Kidding Me," in which contestants guess if a news headline is true or fake. (The Future Is 0 returns this summer with six new shows, each shot in a secret backyard location.)

Most recently, Buss was the recipient of the "Seattle Story Award" and premiered her short film I'm Sorry, Happy Birthday at the 2018 LA Film Festival. She's also produced and directed videos for Nike, Snapchat, Netflix, Google Arts & Culture, Visit Seattle, Disney, Intel and more. —Janice Headley

Gordon De Los Santos

Like many artists on this list, is also a musician. A member of the democratically run group Darto, De Los Santos has helped define the band's aesthetics with the eerie, mountainous video for "No Self" and the cover of its album Human Giving. Within and outside of the band, his work has an uncanny way of tapping into the feeling of a sound and mirroring it in various visual formats. His music videos for Northwest bands like Versingand Big Bitecapture the ominous ethos of their respective songs. He's also ventured beyond the region with videos for the Los Angeles band Wand. Also dabbling in illustration, photography, sound design and even neon lighting, De Los Santos crafts mesmerizing accompaniments to all of his multimedia pursuits. —Dusty Henry

Cheryl Ediss

There's a profound sense of community coursing through the softly colored tones of Cheryl Ediss' work, whether it's via the flashing lights of a concert setting (Thunderpussy's "Velvet Noose"), a group of friends screwing around and inexplicably playing tennis in the rain (Brakebill's "Back Seat") or folks sitting on a couch holding up lyric cards (SISTERS' "Queer Life"). The director/producer's music videos are also extremely well-choreographed, as evidenced by "Welcome to the Disco" (also by Thunderpussy) and her collaboration with Carrie Robinson, a short film (Breathe, Just Breathe) that features a host of names from Seattle's music and dance communities. —Martin Douglas

Future Crystals

Armed with a grainy, warped VHS aesthetic — imagine art-damaged skate videos after they've been left out in the sun too long — Future Crystals is a fitting match for some of the esoteric rappers its members have worked with (including Seattle-dwelling artists such as esoteric MC AJ Suede and multi-talented rapper, beatmaker and musician Wolftone). Their coverage of Lil Tracy's Goth Cowboy Tour encapsulates the lightning-in-a-bottle feeling the young rapper strives for in his music. It makes complete sense that Ariel Pink, king of warped art-damage, serves as an inspiration, and has had one of his 2017 live sets captured in all its weird splendor. —Martin Douglas

Carlos A.F. Lopez

Award-winning filmmaker has been incredibly prolific during his decade-long career, directing and producing music videos for independent labels like Sub Pop, Hardly Art, Kill Rock Stars, Barsuk, Suicide Squeeze and In The Red. He's also become an accomplished short-film director, with his latest work (Ghosting the Party) premiering at the 2017 Nashville Film Festival, where he received the Special Jury Prize for "Exuberance, Vision and Naughtiness."

"I've wanted to be a filmmaker since I was a teenager," Lopez says. "Playing in bands around Seattle, I found I could merge my passion for music and movies by collaborating with friends' bands on music videos. The first video I did was for The Dutchess and The Duke's first release on Hardly Art. I was working at a film lab at the time and was able to shoot on old 16mm film stock, using a coworker's camera, and employed a bunch of old-school film tricks — utilizing the lab's post-production facilities after hours/off the clock.

"After that, I found the music-video form was a great way to gain experience as a filmmaker. You have a deadline and a responsibility to deliver, which is crucial in overcoming my tendency to procrastinate on my own short-film projects. After a while, I started drifting away from band stuff, focusing more on the filmmaking side of things. I still sort of considered myself an auxiliary member of any band I was working with, charged with creating a visual complement to the music. Making music videos has been an invaluable part of my filmmaking education and enabled me to collaborate with very talented musicians and filmmakers, bringing two worlds I love together." —Janice Headley

Bobby McHugh

What started as a way to flex his creativity during an economic drought in Portland became the way Seattle artist now makes a living. After a few years experimenting with film, he earned an entry-level job at a production company and now co-owns Electric Sheep with three of his closest friends and collaborators. (He also co-hosts a quarterly showcase of local music-video creators with KEXP's DJ Sharlese Metcalf; it's called Videoasis.

Whether he's capturing the hypnotic flow of the band Ought or dredging through the snow with local duo Crater, McHugh brings a sensitivity to his films that helps him stand out in the Seattle video scene. "I feel like the luckiest music-video director ever," he says. When asked to share a highlight of his career so far, he mentions his homage to Temple of the Dog's grunge classic "Hunger Strike," filmed with the Seattle band Chastity Belt.

"There was this moment where we were filming out on the bluff in Discovery Park," McHugh says. "Julia, Lydia, Annie and Gretchen were decked out in choice grunge wear, playing instruments, while we blasted both their song 'Different Now' and 'Hunger Strike.' A crowd gathered to watch, light rain started to fall and it was so cool because even though we were poking a li'l fun at the original, I felt connected to both worlds. The artists I looked up to as a kid and the artists I admire now. Both songs felt big and emotional in that space, clearly shaped by the special place that is the Pacific Northwest." —Janice Headley

(co-directed by Briana Marela)

Christian Petersen

Infiltrating the worlds of art, music, fashion and advertising with his sometimes evocative, sometimes minimal, sometimes jarring work, has seen his vision plastered on an array of designs. He created the classic artwork for Shabazz Palaces' debut full-length Black Up, spearheaded the intellectually confrontational Generic Net Art, and founded and curated the art magazine I Want You. He's also designed wine-bottle labels and art-walk maps, all with his singular imagination and distaste for the beaten path. —Martin Douglas

Eleanor Petry

Eleanor Petry needs little help in boosting her portfolio: The photographer is more than established, not only within the Seattle scene but beyond. At 24, Petry is already more than a decade into her photographic career, which started when, at 12, she was shooting photos of her siblings. Her lens is distinctly feminine and intensely attention-grabbing, utilizing bright colors in a gauzy dreamscape to make images that stop you in your tracks.

"I want to capture stories of depth and emotion," Petry told City Arts in 2014. "I photograph people with the aim to freeze those qualities and cement them into something tangible, remembered."

That same year, Petry got in a severe bike accident that resulted in a broken neck as well as a traumatic brain injury. The experience has affected her work, which often encompasses loss and the idea of departing from love. Most recently, she's shot photos of Shana Cleveland, Jo Passed, So Pitted, Julia Shapiro and Dude York; directed multiple videos for Sub Pop signee Kyle Craft; and toured with the rootsy New Jersey prog-rock band Delicate Steve. —Jasmine Albertson

Perry Porter

A multimedia threat, Perry Porter initially came up in the scene for his gorgeous watercolor paintings, which primarily depicted women of color. Self-described as "Basquiat Meets Hov," Porter is an expert at displaying depth and emotion in a flicker of a smile or a saucy stare. You know a Perry Porter original when you see one. As of late, Porter has been making his mark as a muralist, using the walls of warehouses, cafes and hotels as his canvases. But this is only one side of Porter, who's well-known in the Seattle scene as a skilled rapper who came onto the scene as one-half of the trap duo Sleep Steady and now releases music on his own. His solo work continually incorporates painting and his relation to visual art as a thematic motif. Earlier this month, he dropped his second album, Bobby RO$$. —Jasmine Albertson

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Dusty Henry
Jasmine Albertson
Janice Headley
Martin Douglas