Hero Worship

Portraits for the people

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

When Art Walk strollers make their way inside Novato Shop & Studio on Fri., April 1, they can expect to see a whole lot of familiar faces gazing back at them—among them Macho Man Randy Savage, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Morrissey, Milo Aukerman, Jon Stewart, Bob Ross, and local artist Steeb Russell. The slew of paintings by past Best of Bellingham winner Toby Stanger and Novato owner Logan McQuaig have one thing in common; all the portraits in the “Make•up” exhibit are inspired by people they consider heroes. We caught up with the artists to find out more.

Cascadia Weekly: Did the two of you discuss who your heroes were before you started creating the works in “Make•up,” or did you just take the idea and run with it? 

Logan McQuaig: Toby and I talk pretty regularly about what we’re up to with painting. He was working on a little series of portraits, which was really the genesis of the show. I knew I wanted to do a “team” show for the shop’s first birthday, so I basically piggy-backed on the idea and we went from there. I knew of a couple of his ideas and we’ve definitely stayed in touch about what we’re doing, but we’ve mostly been hammering out stuff on our own.

CW: It seems like you’re both fans of each other’s work—do you see heroic tendencies in each other?

LM: Toby is, without question, my art hero. He’s supported and helped guide my painting life for as long as anyone outside of my immediate family. When I wanted to move it off the dining room table, he invited me to share his studio with him, which I happily accepted for two years before starting Novato. He’s helped me with all the logistics, like getting shows and pricing work, which was easily the hardest part when I first started. I’d be a drastically different artist and the shop would probably not exist without Toby.

Toby Stanger: I’m a huge fan of Logan’s work. He has raw, natural artistic talent. We shared an art studio for a couple years that he never actually painted at, but I have enjoyed watching him get better and better in just a short period of time.

CW: How did you two meet?

LM: I bartended at Uisce for eight years and Toby’s studio was across the alley behind the bar, so he’d come over to sketch and drink whiskey after working. We just got along really well, bonding over old punk rock bands, Irish booze and dirty jokes.

CW: Toby, what’s so great about two of your subjects, Randy Savage and Bob Ross?

TS: The Macho Man Randy Savage was not so much great as he was awesome! That guy was a great showman and all-around badass. I could go on and on about Bob Ross. He is probably one of the most underrated painters of our generation. Who doesn’t love Bob Ross? The guy was a genius. I would love to own an original; it would hang in my living room with pride.

CW: Logan, what’s so great about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Jon Stewart?

LM: Jon Stewart helped make a generation of people question the things they were being force-fed, and did it while consistently being the funniest thing happening at any given time. Ruth Bader Ginsburg rules. That woman has been busting ass for her gender, profession and all of us, really, for longer than most people have been alive. We should clone eight more of her.

CW: What’s heroic about fellow artist Steeb Russell?

LM: If there’s a close second on the scale of influencing my art world, Steeb is it. He curated the first show I ever got to do, has supported the shop from its inception, and is always available with advice and encouragement when it’s needed. Talk about someone we should clone a bunch of.

TS: Steeb is probably one of the most genuine and nicest people I have ever met. He doesn’t know I painted his portrait—or at least he won’t until he reads this or sees it at the show. I hope he likes it. I painted him green in honor of one of his paintings, “The Incredible Hug.”

CW: On the Facebook invite to the show, you say the exhibit is a “peek behind the curtain of what made them who they are as artists, and in life in general.” Can you elaborate?

TS: These portraits are just a small glimpse into what has shaped me, my mind, views I have and share, and what I like and what I’m into at different periods of my life. I wish I had more time to paint on this subject, because I wanted to do more paintings of people who I believe to be innovators, geniuses or people that just have “it.”

LM: We really wanted the show to reflect not just who we are as painters, but people as well. And really, my art is just as influenced by people like Jon Stewart and Milo Aukerman as it is by any actual painters or visual artists. My favorite art is simply an extension of the artist’s personality, so to me, they’re essentially one and the same.

CW: What do you hope people come away with after viewing “Make•up?”

LM: Hopefully, a painting. But really, I just want people to enjoy the work in some way. As always, I’ll be happy if people laugh a little.

TS: I guess I just hope they don’t think my paintings suck. I worked really, really hard on these. I think it’s some of my best work yet. It would be cool if some sold, but that’s not why I did this series. I love seeing my own personal progression—and the look on people’s faces. 

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