Art and Politics In A Time Of Crisis

Like most everyone else out there I have been trying to figure out how to respond to the madness of our current political situation. If you have followed my work at all you know that I have made plenty of art that makes fun of how our culture “does politics,” and that I have attempted to use satirical art to challenge the insane rhetoric that is flung around in our contemporary monkey cage. Much to my chagrin, work that was intended as outlandish satire has turned out to be less shocking than reality. Everyday a new story or rumor emerges that would have sounded like an exaggerated late night comedy skit a few years ago. It’s tough to know how to satirize a “post-truth” culture that satirizes itself.

This has pushed me to think hard about what I am doing as an artist – what impact do I hope to have on the world through my art? Most of my favorite artistic influences were attempting to criticize and change the corrupt/unjust systems they found themselves in, but sometimes all they accomplished was bearing witness to the terrible tragedies of human history. What should an artist do in a time of crisis? What can art actually accomplish?

So I thought I would give myself a challenge for the next year. I intend to post an example of political/social criticism once a week from the 2017 Inauguration forward. In the end I hope to have 50 or so examples of artists who dealt with the madness of their times – and a nice record of political art that might be useful to others. The scholarship will be sloppy – the attitude flippant – but hopefully it will be cathartic for me and it might provide viewers with some comic relief from the circus of our current politics (and perhaps some solace in knowing that there is nothing new under the sun).

I though I would start with one of my favorites. An anonymous artist made this great print of the Pope and the Emperor wrestling for power in their underwear. Art attempting to bring low the high/powerful/proud/pompous.


Annon German – 15th Century. Allegory of the Meeting of Pope Paul II and Emperor Frederick IIIc. 1470woodcut, hand-colored in green, red lake, yellow, tan, and orange


Escalation and the Stinktown2 Collective – Exhibits/Performances – Summer 2016

There is plenty of interesting activity coming out of the studio this summer. If you are in the Spokane/Seattle area I would love to see you at one (or both) of the exhibits I will be a part of… #1 – The Stinktown2 Collective (a collaborative project by Scott Kolbo and Lance Sinnema) will be exhibiting a new body of work in Spokane in August 2016. #2 – We will be  staging a special election year performance in Seattle at the Soil Gallery on August 7th.The info is below, it would be wonderful to see you there!

#1 The Escalation: The Surveillance Project

Escalation Surveillance Drawing 03 (detail 02)smSaranac Art Projects
25 W Main Ave. Spokane, WA
August 5 – August 27, 2016
FREE OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, August 5, 2016. 5 – 8 pm.
Admission is free and the gallery is open to the public Thursdays from 2-6pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 12-8pm.

The exhibit will include a new video project and a series of collaborative drawings centered on the theme of surveillance and the widespread distrust we all appear to have for the other side of the political divide… The work will include plenty of our usual slapstick comedy/moments of catharsis, but the meaning of the project has taken an unexpected turn in light of recent social and political events. We hope it will prompt plenty of laughter, but also some reflection on the state of the world we have created for each other.

This project was generously supported by the Washington Artist Trust and we are grateful for the equipment it allowed us to purchase – and for time this grant gave us to work together again.

Alongside the Spokane show we will also be preforming at the Soil Gallery (in conjunction with all the activity surrounding the Seattle Art Fair).

#2 “Does Live Art Have to be Experienced Live?”

YP Exhibit 011

Escalation: Election Year Battle
SOIL Artist-Run Gallery, 112 3rd Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104, USA (map)
Sun, August 7, 9pm – 10pm
(We are currently scheduled to perform at the time listed above, but make sure you double check the schedule on-line – and think about taking in some of the other performances that will be happening that weekend). 

Escalation, performed by Scott Kolbo and Lance Sinnema is a collaborative performance/project inspired by the increasingly volatile language that surrounds our current political discourse. The artists will explore of the tensions produced by our current situation – living in a state of constant surveillance mixed with a sense of on-line anonymity. For this performance the artists will monitor social media forums where political argument takes place and catalog the phrases and words that appear regularly. This anonymous language will then be transferred onto foam letterpress clubs and boxing gloves and used as a means to impress this aggressive political speech onto human bodies. When a word that is on one of the weapons appears on the one of the current presidential candidate’s social media streams the appropriate combatant will be allowed to use it on the body of the other. This will encourage the audience to participate by discovering words (or perhaps tweeting words themselves to activate the performance).

Lastly… The Elements Project – Some Videos To Look At

Elements Rehearsal sm

I have posted some of the videos from the Elements Project on my portfolio page (a collaboration with Brian Chin, Ben Thomas, and the Band “Torch”) . The videos are missing the amazing musical soundtrack they will have in the end, but this should provide you with something to look at until the final documentation of the project is completed. The videos are currently being edited and the sound mixed – we will have more information soon about a potential multi-media album, future performances, etc.

The “Elements” – Performance dates are finally here!

The performance dates for “The Elements” are finally here. We will be preforming the entire set of new compositions this weekend. Here is a short preview of “Earth.”

THE ELEMENTS will hold two different showings, one in Bellevue and one on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

Resonance at SOMA Towers
288 106th Ave NE Suite 203
Bellevue, WA 98004

Velocity Dance Center
1621 12th Ave
Seattle, WA 98122

It has been a wonderful experience to collaborate with such a talented group of musicians. I’m learning something new/mind blowing every day.


The first act will feature tunes that Torch enjoys playing, then in the second act we will move into the four “Elements” (original music composed for this project with video/animation projected at the same time). The third act will be a live improvisation where the band plays music related to the mysterious fifth element, “Aether,” and I do some live drawing using three overlapping projectors. Here is a still from one of our practice sessions:


If you are interested in even more information feel free to follow the links below (but consider yourself warned about my bad camera presence and muttering!)

We will be releasing more images, music, and video footage over the next few months, I hope you enjoy experiencing it all as much as we enjoyed making it for you.

Upcoming “Elements” Musical Performance

I am pleased to announce an upcoming new project in collaboration with my colleague Brian  Chin and his jazz/classical/hybrid band “Torch.” The musicians will be preforming original compositions  written around the theme of the five “Elements.” Fire, Earth, Air, Wind, and the mysterious fifth element we are calling Aether. I have created a series of video pieces that will be projected during the performance that relate to the elements and other themes that I have been preoccupied with over the last ten years. We have been working on this project for almost a year and I am really excited to share it with the world in a few weeks.

This is one of the most ambitious and challenging projects I have ever been a part of and I’m honored to collaborate with such talented artists. The first set of the performance will include pre-written videos and music, the second set will be more improvisational and surprising for all of us. There should be a lot to look at and listen to – I think the audience will be entertained – don’t miss it…

If you are in or around Seattle/Bellevue May 20th or 21st save the date! More info included below. Some stills from the video pieces are included in this post.

Tickets will be available soon:


The Elements
An interactive event with visual artist Scott Kolbo and the iconoclast band Torch.

Friday May 20th
Resonance at Soma Towers
288 106th Ave NE
Bellevue, WA 98004

Saturday May 21st
Velocity Dance Center
1621 12th Ave
Seattle, WA 98112

Lots of Activity in the Summer of 2015

Anacortes Arts Fest Install 05

Scott Kolbo Domestic Futility – Anacortes Arts Festival Installed 2015

It has been a busy summer in the studio. In addition to settling down for the long term in the Loyal Heights neighborhood of Seattle (yes, moving is the worst…) I completed a number of new pieces and started work on even more, resulting in a pile of exciting new projects that will be exhibited in the next year.

Domestic Futility Cat Etching Hand Colored

Scott Kolbo Domestic Futility Cat Intaglio, Stencil, Charcoal, and Watercolor 9″ X 12″ 2015

Anacortes Arts Festival

I was honored to be selected to exhibit new work in the “Allen Family Focus Gallery” at this annual ArtsFestival. After a few years of working on the “Alley Kids” project I decided to do something different for this show. So… I went with cats. As my long-suffering students will testify, I spent years railing against the lameness of cat art, but hey… they rule the internet, two of my favorite bands put cheesy cat images on their latest album covers (Built To Spill and Wilco), and everyone I know spends half of their day staring at videos of these creatures. Rather than fight against our new overlords I decided to just give in… The pieces I exhibited are a part of a new series I am calling “Domestic Futility.” These works are about the small little battles most of us have in our “domestic” settings – in this case I was inspired to poke fun at my ongoing battle with our family cat. I created a huge new video projection/drawing and three new monitor pieces telling the story of a cat who refuses to drink out of anything other than a running faucet – and the tragic consequences for a “Heavy Man” and his toothbrush. There is a limited edition etching on the way soon so keep your eyes peeled on my website if you want one of these to commemorate your own domestic battles.

Scott Kolbo Domestic Futility Toothbrush Video Still 2015

Scott Kolbo
Domestic Futility Toothbrush
Video Still

Take Three Film Screening
I am going to be showing a short animated version of my “Domestic Futility: Cat Hair Toothbrush” piece at this wonderful little annual film screening in Seattle on September 17th. It’s always a great time – get your tickets before they are gone.

http://www.universallanguageproject.comEscalation Surveillance Project

I also managed to get over to Spokane for a short artists residency with Lance Sinnema, my collaborative partner in the Escalation Project. We were graciously awarded a Grant for Artists Projects by the Washington Artists Trust, so we bought a surveillance drone and went to work satirizing the absurdity that continues to surround the political culture in the U.S.A. The Surveillance Project utilizes drone footage and a “Spy vs. Spy” narrative strategy to ridicule our desire to see other people (who we consider to be untrustworthy) placed under constant surveillance – yet expect to have our own privacy protected. The project also pokes fun at how little real energy we are willing to put into fighting against our pervasive culture of surveillance, especially if it means giving up any of our precious glowing devices… You can find the first teaser trailer for our project here. We will be having an exhibition of this work at Saranac Art Projects in Spokane in August 2016.

The Elements Collaboration
I will be collaborating with my colleague in the Music Department at SPU, Brian Chin. We are cooking up some exciting new pieces that will involve his music and my video projections, with performance dates scheduled for May 2016. You can find out more information about this at the Universal Language Project as the year goes along.

It will be a full year – keep on the lookout for propaganda from me with more details. I have been neglecting these more formal updates in favor of social media (I’ve even started using Twitter! Who knew it would be so much fun?). So if you are a part of that madness feel free to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

2014 Artist Trust Grant for the Stinktown 2 Collective

Lance Sinnema as "Escalation Blue." Archival Digital Print, Charcoal, Ink, and Colored Pencil on Paper. 22" X 22" 2012.

Lance Sinnema as “Escalation Blue.” Archival Digital Print, Charcoal, Ink, and Colored Pencil on Paper. 22″ X 22″ 2012.

I’m pleased to announce that the Stinktown 2 Collective has received a 2014 Artist Trust Grant for Artists Projects. The collective is composed of myself and my great friend and collaborator, Lance Sinnema. I am so pleased that the work that Lance and I have been engaged in for the last few years is being recognized and that we will receive some funding to make the political nastiness of this world look even more ridiculous than it already does. Here is a link to the on-line announcement:

The Stinktown 2 Collective is one of the best things I have even been a part of, a true collaboration in every way. Make sure you say congratulations to Lance as well, and keep your eyes peeled for more Escalation projects in the next year…

Late Summer Update

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 2.41.26 PM


I thought I would post a late summer update about my art activities and a few other matters… Most importantly I have a new website. I started my old site in 2000 with a Dreamweaver manual and a lot of luck… and updating that thing was torture. So like many other creatives out there I have switched over to a new platform that will make it much easier to add images and videos. The old domain will continue to work for the next year or so, but this is the place for the latest and greatest. Don’t worry, I will do my best to keep it boring and simple just like the old one, just with more frequent updates. The links are on the left, images and videos can be found under the “Portfolio” page… It even has an e-commerce feature I plan on trying out soon. Keep your eyes peeled.

I was honored to finally have the chance to put all of my Alley Kids Artworks into one exhibit. It was a great way to achieve some closure for that project, and the Spokane period of my life. The Gallery 4Culture People were amazing to work with and the response to the exhibit was really positive. The show got some good PR, it was recommended by the Stranger, and positively reviewed by the Seattle Weekly. The coolest thing ever was opening the Seattle Weekly print edition and seeing that “Our Alley” won a “Best of Seattle: Gallery Show (Native) award. I always feel embarrassed to highlight this stuff, but I keep hearing that it’s important so here you go… Achievement Unlocked!



I used to work with the really cool guy named Fred Johnson. He’s a genius English Professor and has great taste in music, art, and most importantly comics. He wrote an essay about using the language of comics to understand rhetorical communication strategies, and he asked me to contribute some of my work to help illustrate his ideas. We worked on this thing forever and it finally came out in the Web-based publication Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. It’s a huge accomplishment and Fred did all the work to make it happen, I’m just honored that he squandered so much of his time looking at, and thinking about, my work…


….plus got to draw “Heavy Man” as Batman. Another Achievement Unlocked!

Last thing is the publication of an essay about my work in Image Journal. My old friend and one of the best mentors I have ever had, Cameron Anderson, wrote an insightful essay about my work and generally embarrassed me with praise. I have loved Image Journal since I was a fresh-faced undergrad looking for some way to be an artists and stay engaged with the life of faith, and I so respect their ecumenical and multi-faith approach to engaging with the literature, art, and creativity of our time. Get your hands on a good old fashioned print copy if you want the real-deal-experience. Final Achievement Unlocked!

It’s been a busy and fruitful period of artistic life, but I’m exhausted. Forgive me if you don’t hear from me for a few months, I gotta go lie down somewhere….