Recommendation: “Crash Course in Activist Art”

Vashon High School art students created powerful works of protest on a number of subjects.

To be reminded of all that needs to be done in 2022, pay a visit to the Blue Heron Education Center of Vashon Center for the Arts to see “Crash Course in Activist Art,” running through January.

The art in the multi-media show was created last fall by Vashon High School art students, working in collaboration with islanders West McLean and Peter Serko, who shared their experience on the subject of how activist art helped spur action during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s.

To underline the context of the exhibit, it also includes works by islander Dana Schuerholtz, an AIDS activist and documentary photographer.

McLean and his frequent collaborator, Jessica DeWire, also deserve kudos for turning the interior of the Blue Heron back into a beautiful small art gallery, as it once was, with clean white walls, thoughtful hanging of the works, and crisp lighting beaming down on the art.

The student work on display is stunning.

While the students were initially tasked with creating work about the COVID crisis, they branched out, taking the opportunity to create powerful works of protest on a number of interrelated subjects.

Rebecca Furr’s framed work on glass, showing a deathbed scene, invites the viewer into a layered portrait of grief — a daring and brave work that must have cost her emotionally to make, but she made it anyway.

“We’re Still Dead,” by Wendy Axtelle, are portraits of the most recent six US presidents, and Axtelle spares none of them righteous judgment for their failures.

The climate crisis is encapsulated in a simple yet powerful sculptural work, “2040,” by Grace Smith and Kaiya Van Brost.

Savannah Butcher’s untitled sculpture of a mannequin’s paint-smeared torso shocks — reminding older viewers of the fierce performance art of Karen Finley, who by using her own body as a canvas for protest, ignited a congressional battle about funding for the arts in the early 1990s.

The first step to fixing anything is recognizing it is broken. We owe VHS artists a debt of gratitude for their urgent work in this show. It’s hard to shake off — like all the best art. But it is not only fodder for conversation. It’s a call to action.

The Blue Heron Education Center’s regular hours are 12 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call ahead to make sure the exhibit is open, at 206-463-5131.