Debra Baxter Defies Physics at Howard House

I first met Seattle artist Debra Baxter four or five years ago at one of the most excellent dance parties I've ever attended in the city. It was held in a warehouse/office/showroom/artist space in SoDo, and was thrown by genius local lighting designer (and incredibly nice guy) Bradley Sweek of Flux. It was one of those parties where you drive somewhere kind of odd and park somewhere kind of odder, and as you're stepping over broken bottles and squinting at address numbers on buildings you think, this is SO not going to be worth it... and then it turns out to totally rule! The mingling was lively and unclicky and the dance floor was insane. Grunge photographer Charles Peterson was there, as was Tad, of TAD. And a ton of other people completely letting loose.

Debra was one of these people, and we bonded immediately. After throwing down a while, we left the dance floor to check out her studio--at the time she was working with powder puffs, like the ones from make-up compacts. She had a huge cloud made of white cottony puffs spreading across the ceiling of her studio, and other clouds in various stages of formation all over the place. Her work was funny and lovely, as was she. I made a mental note to keep checking in on this woman and what she was creating.

These days her medium is a bit heftier, but no less witty. Now she's working with alabaster, agate, geodes, bronze and cypress—carving them into forms and visual insights that seem at first glance lighter than they are. Or heavier. Her current show at Howard House, So Proud of You, is a must-see for both her artistic skill and clever visual play with weight. She magically transforms stark white alabaster into pieces with movement and levity—the wrinkled twisting motion of "Neck Crack," the voluptuos lolling tongue of "Untitled (Gene Simmons Inspires Me)," and the palpable paper-bag crumple of "Suck It Up." A chunk of stiff cedar is somehow "stitched" or tied into a knot. Alternately, a punching bag is contructed of glass and weathered foam resembles an unweildy chunk of cement. The show's title comes from an agate made softer by the sweet, scratchy handwriting of her grandmother, copied and carved across its surface. It's all beautiful and you should see it before it closes June 27. It might even inspire you to do a little dance.

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