True Crime

The mural of the story

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Artist Matt French has a criminal history.

When he was a wayward youth growing up in Ferndale in the early 1990s, French was arrested for malicious mischief after spray-painting graffiti on a downtown commercial building. The sentence was severe for a nonviolent offense—30 days in jail, as well as financial restitution—but he didn’t let it cramp his creativity.

Instead, French spent his time in the slammer drawing on envelopes instead of edifices. Remarkably, that jailhouse art was concurrently published in Thrasher Magazine, a long-respected skateboarding publication focusing not only on the sport’s roots, but also on its evolution. That opportunity led to the beginning of a career in the skateboard industry, and was also a validation of his burgeoning artistic skills.

Fast-forward, and French is a local boy done good. For the past 15 years, he’s been the art director at Pocket Pistols Skateboards. His freelance work also includes designing shoes for Nike, creating collections for Volcom and Vans, and a recent standing-room-only exhibit in Tokyo—where he hopes to return to promote SK8FACE, a movie on the history of skateboard art that is coming to Netflix next year.

Another accomplishment worth drawing attention to is that instead of being handcuffed for painting on buildings, French is now getting paid to do the same thing. In fact, the Ferndale Arts Commission recently hired him to create a new mural in the downtown core on the exterior facade at 2050 Vista Drive. (In another twist, French’s uncle used to work in the building when it was a machine shop.)

With financial assistance and a thumb’s up from the building’s current owner, work on “Train Terrain” (pictured) commenced near the end of June, adding to the seven murals the FAC has already commissioned in the recent past in order to bring “life, interest and beauty” to downtown Ferndale.

Much like other murals, paintings and drawings French has created over the years, the new work on Vista Drive is eye-catching and colorful, thematically intriguing and more than a little trippy. A blocky red train—seemingly miles long—is bracketed by windswept pine trees, pale-white mountain peaks, ropy blue waves, dramatic Pacific Northwest clouds and a surrealistic sun that appears to be spreading its rays far and wide.

“You’ve now arrived in the place of your dreams,” the painting seems to announce to passersby, inviting them to stop for a moment and think about the journeys that are possible just beyond the tracks.

That’s what I see, at least. Others might have a completely different take on “Train Terrain” or one of the other murals the Ferndale Arts Commission has been savvy enough to secure. Maybe you even know someone—or are someone—who’s looking to either host a mural or paint one. If so, reach out to the arts
commission and let them know.

Not everyone will have as interesting an origin tale as French does when it comes to their painting process, but the mural of the story is that every artist has a moment when their life is changed—even if it takes place in the back of a squad car.

To contact the Ferndale Arts Commission, go to


ALLIED ARTS: Through July, view “Precisely Abstract” at Allied Arts, 1418 Cornwall Ave. The exhibit features abstract, multimedia artwork from local artists Christopher Morrison, David Syre, Kevin Coleman, and Mitchell Van Duzer. The gallery and thrift store hours are 11am-4pm for the foreseeable future. Safety guidelines will be in place.
For more info:

ARTWOOD: Hours are currently 11am-6pm Wednesdays through Saturdays at Artwood Gallery, 1000 Harris Ave. Please wear a mask when entering the gallery; gloves will be available for guests who need to handle the merchandise.
For more info:

GALLERY SYRE: Peruse “David Syre: Envisioning a Better Future” from 11am-4pm Tuesdays through Thursdays (and by appointment) through Nov. 7 at Gallery Syre, 465 W. Stuart Rd. The works Syre created during quarantine have a unique language and message for a better future. Mostly abstract and painted with powerful colors, these recent canvases inspire people to take a leap into the unknown, to think about new forms of living together—and a new world in which humans can coexist with nature again.
For more info:

GOOD EARTH: Shelly Stark’s “Eclectic” exhibit can be viewed online or seen in person from 11am-5pm Thursdays through Saturdays, 12pm-4pm Sundays, and 11am-5pm Mondays through July at Good Earth Pottery, 1000 Harris Ave. No more than six patrons will be allowed inside the gallery at a time, and customers and employees will be required to wear a mask. Gloves and hand sanitizer will be provided for handling pottery, and a sneeze guard/barrier is installed at the cash register. Curbside pickup is also available.
For more info:

FOURTH CORNER: Paintings by Brooke Borcherding can be viewed through Sept. 12 at Fourth Corner Frames and Gallery, 311 W. Holly St. Masks should be worn in the shop, and hand sanitizer will be available.
For more info:

I.E. GALLERY: See Rachel Maxi’s newest body of work, “Divine Mind,” from 11am-5pm Fridays through Sundays through mid-August in Edison at i.e. gallery, 5800 Cains Court. The solo exhibit features pieces by the former realist painter who’s now doing abstract work.
For more info:

MATZKE GALLERY: A variety of paintings and sculptures can currently be viewed from 11am-5pm Fridays through Sundays on Camano Island at Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park, 2345 Blanche Way.
For more info:

PERRY AND CARLSON: “Looking Forward/Looking Back,” a retrospective exhibit of works by fabric artist Kathryn Glowen and painter Ron Glowen, shows from 11am-5pm Thursdays through Sundays through July 31 in Mount Vernon at Perry and Carlson Gallery, 504 S. First St. Call (360) 889-5032 to schedule a private viewing of the shop or gallery.
For more info:

SMITH & VALLEE: Peruse works by painters Julia “Joules” Martin and Nicki Lang through July 26 in Edison at Smith & Vallee Gallery, 5742 Gilkey Ave. The exhibit can be viewed in person from 10am-5pm Saturdays and Sundays. The number of visitors in the gallery will be limited, and guests are asked to wear masks. The venue will be open weekdays by appointment with free curbside pickup for online purchases.
For more info:

SCOTT MILO GALLERY: View the Northwest Pastel Society’s signature “Member Show"from 11am-4pm Wednesdays through Fridays through Aug. 4 in Anacortes at Scott Milo Gallery, 420 Commercial Ave. The exhibit spotlights the work of 30 members via 57 original pastels. The show can also be viewed online.
For more info:

WHATCOM ART MARKET: Works by Whatcom Art Guild members can be from 11am-3pm Fridays through Sundays through August at Whatcom Art Market, 1103 11th St. Due to public safety concerns, masks are required for all customers, and hand sanitizer will be provided.
For more info:

WHATCOM MUSEUM: Due to concerns about COVID-19, Whatcom Museum’s campus—including the Lightcatcher Building, Family Interactive Gallery, Old City Hall, and Syre Education Center—will be closed until further notice. Museum staff are preparing for safe reopening during Phase 3 of Governor Inslee’s plan. Meanwhile, the museum is hosting virtual programs designed to educate and engage audiences of all ages; offering a selection of downloadable at-home activities; updating its YouTube channel with curator-led virtual gallery tours, collection highlights, and educational activities; updating articles about the museum’s art collection; offering curbside pickup from its Museum Store, and more.
For more info:

WHIDBEY ART GALLERY: View the “Welcome Back Whidbey!” exhibit from 11am-4pm Fridays through Mondays in Langley at the Whidbey Art Gallery, 220 2ns St., Ste. 102. The group show features pieces artists worked on in the last few months. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the venue, there will be one-way traffic, and masks are a must.
For more info:

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