Alien Alphabet

A WoodFish state of mind

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Randy Clark is standing in the middle of his colorful home gallery in Bellingham’s Sunnyland neighborhood when he holds up a photograph of his longtime friend and fellow artist, Tom Wood. In the picture, Wood is standing outside under a summer-blue Pacific Northwest sky. He’s wearing sunglasses and a hat.

“This is the one I’m using to help paint your portrait,” says Clark—also known as FishBoy—to Wood. “It’s gonna be a lot of fun. Your hair’s going to be green, if you don’t mind.”

“I’ll loan you the color,” Wood says.

“I have my own colors,” Clark responds.

“I was going to loan you your own colors,” Wood answers without skipping a beat.

“And then you’ll charge me for them. I’ll get billed!” Clark adds with a flourish, before reassuring everyone else in the room that they’re not fighting. This spirited back-and-forth, he says, is just how they work.

In the course of the next two hours, I’d discover Clark wasn’t joking. And, although I didn’t see them paint together, watching the duo in conversational action as they described what led them to collaborate on their upcoming “Alien Alphabet” exhibit opening Feb. 17 at the Lucia Douglas Gallery made it clear that, even though they’re completely different artists, in many ways they’re on the same creative wavelength.

The short story of how a craft-oriented oil painter who tends to take his time when focusing on landscapes and etchings (Wood) joined up with a fast-and-furious folk artist who mainly paints with acrylics on recycled wood (Clark) is that, in 2008, they collaborated on a series of cut-outs Clark called “18 Heads” and Wood called “Psycho Killers.”

Not long after, they were in the FishBoy studio and worked together to come up with a piece called “Red River.” In it, a man is wearing a big black raven like a backpack. It’s weird, and it’s also quite wonderful.

Looking back, that may have been when their shared entity, WoodFish, was born. If the extra personality wasn’t fully formed then, the past few months of working on the 40-plus pieces for “Alien Alphabet” cemented the collaborative aspect of their 20-year friendship, and saw both artists working outside their typical parameters to come up with shared visions.

While they weren’t standing side by side for each and every painting, each work was made collaboratively, and both artists had the authority to nix what they thought wasn’t working. In some cases, one would arrive to work on a painting that had been started to find out that it had completely changed overnight.

“Once in a while, I’d paint something out and he’d be like, ‘Way to ruin my painting.’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, man, I did,’” Wood says. “There were times I was attached to something, and I came back and it was all blacked out. Mostly it was an improvement.”

“In that sense, we’re like an old married couple,” Clark says. “It’s like, ‘I trust you to do the right thing, baby.’”

After getting a sneak peek at a number of the paintings for the show, I can happily report that WoodFish is one creative fella. The works are not instantly recognizable as either FishBoy or Tom Wood paintings and etchings, but instead are an amalgamation of the two (the one caveat being that they were mostly painted with Clark’s fast-drying acrylics instead of Wood’s slow-drying oil paint). There are icons galore, animals doing things they normally don’t, men riding fish and so much more.

“We got to know each other through artwork,” Clark says. “And by having a chance to do it together, we’ve both grown, and we’ve both really enjoyed it. It’s been a pretty amazing process, even though sometimes I’m crazy and sometimes he’s sometimes a train wreck. Am I right, Tom?”

“You’re right,” Wood says with a smile.

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