William Wikstrom was born and raised in Seattle. He has done all kinds of art all his life.
Early in his career, his drawings were published in Yellow Dog Funnies in the late 60s San Francisco Bay area. He was visual artist for Moon Food, a pioneering performance art group in the Seattle area in the 70s. He painted large backdrops during performances at the Rosco Louie Gallery ,Washington Hall and other locations.
He painted Andy Warhol's portrait in Washington D.C. in the Spring of 1979. Since the mid 80s, he has owned and operated the Arthead Gallery in the Greenlake area of Seattle.
Beginning in 1999 he produced various public access video programs in which he performed musically as well as painted demonstrations.
Appreciation & Assessment
The history of the Seattle cultural experience would be incomplete without an essay on the contributions by its native son William Wikstrom. Born into immediate proximity of a circle of remarkable artists, he would absorb and transform many influences and techniques over his long career.
Born June 26, 1952 in Seattle, William is the first of 5 sons born to Robert and Dorothy Wikstrom. His father was highly skilled in commercial design and was a noted art director in the Northwest. The studio he maintained in their Magnolia home was a stimulating environment for William who eagerly experimented with various pens, papers and other tools of the trade that his father employed.
He sought methods of discovery that would reveal the natural world in more organic forms and this more direct relationship would inspire and inform his work.
His father was an active member in one of the most unique art organizations that the Northwest has produced. The Puget Sound Group of Northwest Painters (PSG) was founded in 1928 by a group led by Eustace Zeigler, highly respected for his naturalistic treatment of Alaskan and Northwest scenes. This group has remained exclusive to males as the women students of Zeig would shortly thereafter form the Women Painters of Washington.
The PSG has an active series of programs including scholarships, grants and awards and regular exhibitions. The annual fine art auction began as a modest affair with close friends and fellow artists donating paintings for the benefit of the group but soon grew to include a raucous burlesque play performed by members. William, at 2 weeks old was the youngest child to ever attend the group’s annual picnic held at a member’s property in the San Juan Islands. Later he would attend regular sketch trips with his father that the PSG conducted around the Northwest, notably to the picturesque towns of Roslyn and Index.
William also developed his early interest in jazz through his father’s extensive record collection that featured traditional artists such as Sidney Bechet and Coleman Hawkins as well as progressive artists Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. He began studying drumming but soon switched to electric bass and experimented with saxophone before settling on harmonica. He would form various garage bands and even pursue his interests by hopping freight trains to attend the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival in Michigan in 1971 where he could hear famed Chicago Bluesmen who rarely traveled to the West Coast.
Friends / Lovers / Collaborators
While attending Queen Anne High School William was swept up in the vibrant cultural explosion of the sixties. The music, philosophy and radical politics appealed to his individualistic tendencies and he became actively involved in underground activities of many kinds. Most of his contacts were located in Seattle’s University District where artists, musicians and dancers joined the literati to create a unique social scene that was fueled by an idealism and dissatisfaction with the status quo and in particular the U.S. actions in Southeast Asia.
William was a constant presence on the Ave sketching, debating and learning theories of artistic representation from others and using the comprehensive art library at the UW as if he were a registered student. His early works would hang on the walls of Puss & Books, a legendary bookstore where he was a regular and where he would make lasting friendships with intellectuals and political rabble-rousers. He became a close friend of photographer Randy Hall whose insightful black and white photographs would document the cultural happenings in Seattle and painter Joseph Reno who continues to be a force in the visual arts of the area.
His most significant relationship would be his partnership with dancer, painter and pioneering performance artist Sharon Gannon. Together they would establish a home in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood where artists and musicians were welcome to explore various creative impulses in an open and supportive environment. Sharon’s brother Marty was a talented musician and natural showman and he and William would form the nucleus of different bands with gifted sidemen including Steve Turner and George Zoll, both guitarists and Bill Grauss on drums.
Sharon’s experimental and improvisational performance troupe Moon Food would offer William the opportunity to present his painting skills to a larger and more diverse community. Though he had exhibited his work in Seattle’s Kokoro Gallery early in 1973, it would be his large-scale 'Live' paintings that he produced during performances at Roscoe Louie Gallery and other venues that would bring him to wider recognition among Seattle’s cultural participants.
Rescue in New Orleans
William’s younger brother, Brom was also pursuing a career in art albeit in a completely different way. He studied commercial art in college and had been employed locally as a sign painter and also as assistant in his father’s business. The opportunity to travel to New Orleans presented itself and he worked various menial jobs there before attaching himself to the largest industrial sign maker in the region. After living, working and enjoying the rich cultural happenings in the Crescent City for six months he sustained a devastating injury to his spinal cord while swimming and became paralyzed from the shoulders down.
His parents were unreachable as they were on a road trip through Yellowstone National Park. William did not hesitate and with borrowed funds was immediately aboard a plane to assist in any way he could. He stayed at Brom’s bedside until his mother arrived a week later and they would share shifts to make sure Brom received proper care. He aided the doctors and nurses in their procedures and scoured the adjoining wards to secure the necessary supplies of gauze, catheters, tape and other materials that were essential to his brother’s survival. He had little time to appreciate the music and architecture of New Orleans but with the help of a friend of Brom’s he had a comfortable place to stay and was introduced to Southern Hospitality in a very real way.
Six weeks of critical care had resulted in a stabilization of Brom’s condition and a transfer to the rehabilitation unit of the University of Washington Hospital was put into effect. After a year of rehabilitation Brom was discharged to his parent’s home and would begin rebuilding his life. William served as his personal care attendant for two years and together they would begin an outreach program to visit schools as guest instructors and to participate in local arts festivals.
They received an invitation to attend the first VSA arts Festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. With the financial assistance of the Seattle Arts Commission they were able to travel and in the course of their presentation were able to meet artists Jamie Wyeth and Andy Warhol who were also participating at the festival. William sketched Andy Warhol while he was conducting his workshop and presented it to the clearly pleased artist.
Experimentation & Development
The paintings and sculpture that William produced during this time reflected his restless mind and probing nature. His early forms based on regional artists he admired, namely Kenneth Callahan and University of Washington guest instructor Alexander Archipenko gradually gave way to an individual approach that was based in nature but re-examined in the traditional subjects of still life, musicians and portraiture.
Oil painting did not come easy but he applied his love of the medium and a dedicated spirit to learning the craft and began making increasingly larger and more complicated compositions. His efforts utilizing printmaking techniques yielded strong results and his preferred subjects of musicians and still lives rapidly expanded to include figurative forms based on his preoccupation with dance.
These works came to the attention of a regional art critic who upon seeing them at the Jackson Street Gallery in Seattle wrote in West Magazine Building on the necessarily spontaneous nature of the monotype medium, Wikstrom has attained a remarkable freshness and intimacy. Though the work is small in scale, there is a depth and enigmatic intensity to the individual images which make up for an absence of monumentality or structural conviction. He further cites William’s close harmony of image and material and these he will continue to develop over the course of his career.
His sculptures of wood, stone and cardboard have a raw and emotional quality that provoke and seduce. Often creating a tableau for a drama to occur that projects from the wall in sharp contrast. Various figurative pieces are smooth to the touch and invite caress.
Curatorial Activities and Arthead Gallery
William’s active involvement in numerous creative circles soon expanded to include installations in galleries and festival venues. He had learned the craft of framing at a local shop and worked in art supply stores where he met fellow artists, advised them on presentation options and supported their efforts to broaden appreciation of their work. He was assistant curator at the Bumbershoot Arts Festival and helped lead efforts to save the Pike Place Market by joining an effort to paint murals around the Seattle landmark.
In 1981 he was assistant to a former print shop in North Wallingford that had been developed into a modest gallery and frame shop. Tangletown is a convivial neighborhood of markets, coffeehouses and cafes and William was pleased to move into the small studio space behind the Gallery. He began to be more involved with the operation and after mounting modest exhibitions and framing for a year he realized the opportunity to purchase the business. Lean years followed and though overextended many times he managed somehow to keep the place active.
Over the years the Arthead Gallery has produced and presented a wide array of styles and artists. Group and thematic exhibitions have been conducted that inspire and educate. Noted Northwest artists Mary Henry, Phillip Levine and Lyle Silver have had exhibitions along with dozens of others to make the gallery one of the longest running exhibit spaces around.
A Continuing Presence
William adopted new forms of communication as they presented themselves. While still active with painting and drawing, sculpture and collage he would soon add camera and computer to his repertoire. His weekly public access TV program, now called Grunge Jazz has gone through various incarnations as it sought ways to document Seattle’s best musicians and artists. He has been a regular fixture on the club scene with camera in hand to capture the ephemeral quality of music for later generations. Some of the subjects he has captured include Wayne Horvitz, Bill Frizell and jazz great Michael White.
He became proficient with Adobe’s Photoshop program and the dynamic possibilities of representation were immediately apparent in the works he produced.
A stronger business partnership has allowed Wikstrom to mount regularly scheduled exhibitions and these have added to the cultural vitality of the area. At a time when quality and compassion has diminished he has helped to promote emerging talent, rediscover neglected masters and create his own significant body of work.