John Boylan’s Next Conversation: “Art and Alcohol”

John Boylan’s Next Conversation

This episode: “Art and Alcohol

Tuesday, October 20, from 7 to 9 pm

Admission is free. Tell your friends.

This roundtable conversation series happens at Vermillion, a lounge and art gallery at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle ( For more information on the series, call John Boylan at 206-601-9848.

This month we’re talking about art and alcohol. We’ll be going into the wide appeal of alcohol, the part it plays in the making of art and the lives of artists, and perhaps more commonly, the way that alcohol has become integral to support for art. Stories of art fueled by alcohol are legion, for better or worse, while it has become a given that many arts venues have some sort of bar or option for selling drinks. How does all that work?

The Guests (see bios below)

Diana Adams, artist and proprietor of Vermillion

Robert Hess, historian and practitioner of the cocktail

Kelly Lyles, artist

Tim Marsden, artist

The Story

My thinking about this topic started at the bar of the Canoe Social Club at the Theater Off Jackson, musing about arts venues as bars and vice versa, and the intertwining of artists and the alcohol they consume.

Art has hung on the walls of bars for decades, and wine has long been a staple at art openings. Some arts groups eventually just cut to the chase and opened their own bars. In 2003 ConWorks had its Lucky Strike-funded bar, and CoCA soon followed suit. Meanwhile, CHAC featured a basement bar, the Lower Level, and eventually opened a second bar in the performance space upstairs.

ConWorks and CHAC have long since died, and CoCA hangs on as an adjunct to a catering facility at Shilshole (which, of course, has a bar). They’ve been replaced by a new breed of hybrid bar and art gallery. Vermillion and its neighbor Grey Lounge are both such beasts. And while art on the walls of bars can be pretty uneven (with noted exceptions; the excellent Hideout is an example), Grey and Vermillion are both good bars as well as solid arts venues. Regina Hackett recently described them as the “two galleries that are also bars that show signs of turning out to be better than B-list.” In the context Hackett’s rating of Seattle galleries, that’s a decent review.

And then there’s Canoe. A membership club for artists, musicians, theater people, and general riffraff (also open to the public), Canoe is evolving into a mini-, loosely structured version of ConWorks, with an art gallery, a projection studio, rehearsal rooms, and a large general-purpose space—not to mention a theater downstairs. But while the ConWorks bar was in the back on a loading dock, the bar at Canoe is the focal point.

Meanwhile, venues are only one way of looking at this. There are other views: for some artists, strong drink seems to fuel their lives. For others, from winemakers to skilled bartenders, alcohol is a mode of creativity. For still others, alcohol has destroyed—or come close—the lives of countless artists. For myself, I soon realized that the subject is deeply personal. I drink in moderation, but I am often amazed how ubiquitious alcohol is. And it has crept into my own work. As a storyteller, I’ve found that one of my favorite stories to tell is the true and absurdly funny tale of being arrested on a DUI charge this summer (only to be released and fully exonerated several hours later). But art and alcohol go much deeper into my life: my father was an actor and a recovering alcoholic. One of his favorite playwrights was Eugene O’Neill, for whom art and addiction were regular subjects. O’Neill’s darkness formed a leitmotif for my adolescence.

For this conversation, I’ve assembled four excellent guests: Diana Adams, proprietor of Vermillion; historian and practitioner of the cocktail Robert Hess; and Kelly Lyles, whose most recent work includes “The Twelve Steps,” “portraits of drunks and junkies in compromising situations.” (See below for details.) I also wanted an artist who has a clear voice, whose work I respect, and who drinks. I’ve asked Tim Marsden to fit that bill.

A Couple of Plugs

On Sunday, October 25 at 7 pm at the Moore Theater, Arts Corps is presenting “Why Music,” a concert to celebrate the inauguration of MusicianCorps Seattle ( For the concert, the Seattle MusicianCorps fellows are assembling an impressive collection of world, hip-hop, jazz, and rock musicians. Tickets are $20 and $50. See for more information. This will be wonderful.

I just published the Episode Eight of my serial “Ship—a weekly adventure serial, a space opera, a romance, a small diversion in trying times” at

Finally, if you want to link to this announcement, you can find it at

The Guests in Detail

Diana Adams is the proprietor of Vermillion, an art gallery and bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood that officially opened mid-2008. Diana has been curating and presenting art shows in Seattle since 2001 except for a break between 2004-2008 to build out the current venue, Vermillion. Her previous gallery space was called Aftermath, which is now where Licorous is located. Aftermath (blog archive was a live/work studio space that hosted fine art, punk rock shows and alternative site-specific performances by artists like: The Free Sheep Foundation, The Dead Science, Xiu Xiu, Amii LeGendre, WAMP Collective (founders of Cinders, Brooklyn), Michael Albano, and Joe Sorren.

Early formative years were spent growing up in North Hollywood and upstate New York in the Adirondacks, eventually earning a BA in Liberal Studies with an emphasis on photography and philosophy at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. After moving to Seattle in 1992, Diana was first active in the local art community in the mid to late 1990’s volunteering for various underground, independent arts groups like Citizen Vagrom, a guerilla video project that spearheaded the Seattle Independent Media Coalition. Later she found steady work in professional editorial photography for local and national publications and record labels such as: The Stranger, The Rocket, iMusic, Spin Magazine, K Records, Kill Rock Stars. She has an extensive back catalog of Seattle music history from the 1990’s and has also shown fine art photography at Benham Gallery, Photographic Center Northwest and Secluded Alley Works.

Except for a short stint working a 9-5 for a dotcom in the late 90’s doing digital audio production for Loudeye, she has always considered herself “a creative generalist with an entrepreneurial addiction” and has founded or facilitated several successful small businesses in the publishing, craft, photography and fine art worlds. Her diverse and artistically dedicated background has created a large network of supporters and collaborators.

Robert Hess operates and lives and works in Seattle, Washington. He traces his interest in the cocktail to a childhood fascination of bartenders, who effortlessly transformed the contents of the bottles around them into gleaming jewels of refreshment. Eventually, he took action on these early memories, absorbing all he could about the classic art of mixology. Using his culinary training as a canvas, he views cocktails as a cuisine with the same artistic flavor potentials as the food prepared by a gourmet French chef. He has since become a ceaseless evangelist of quality cocktails, working with restaurants, bartenders, and consumers to help them better understand how to advance their craft.

He is one of the founders of The Museum of the American Cocktail, which is housed in New Orleans, celebrating the long and distinguished history of this unique American cuisine. He also recently formed The Chanticleer Society, a worldwide organization of cocktail enthusiasts, which promotes a sharing of thoughts, ideas, and experiences to benefit everybody through an open discussion.

He also is the host and executive producer of The Cocktail Spirit, a web-based video series being presented through the Small Screen Network His videos provide easily accessed information and instructions on how anybody can make great cocktails. And he recently authored “The Essential Bartenders Guide”, an introductory guide to cocktails that puts quality first and foremost and in a way that is approachable to all.

Kelly Lyles writes:

A former illustrator & designer, I’ve been focusing on painting since 1996, exhibiting all over the US, as well as occasionally teaching, jurying, and curating. I also run a Seattle artscene listing service, and just returned from leading a delegation to China focusing on contemporary art. But I’m known as much for my (outrageous for the PC NW) fashion and vehicles; I drive ArtCars. First was a horse-themed Pinto PINTEAU, then LEOPARD BERNSTEIN (Subaru disguised as a snow-leopard, complete with ears, tail and hundreds of jungle felines glued inside and out). Now it’s the EXCESSORIES ODDYSSEY, a Honda decorated with women’s accessories. My cars, home, studio and art have been featured in newspaper and magazine articles, books, film and television shows around the US and the world.

Currently I’m producing 3 new bodies of work: a series of figurative watercolours of ‘SAINTS & SINNERS’ (up at the Two Bells through November). I received a 4 Culture grant for CANDYLAND (title’s self-evident), 40 small acrylics for a show in 2010. And lastly ‘THE 12 STEPS’ will debut at ArtsWest in January. These are 12 larger oils, “portraits” of drunks and junkies in compromising situations, such as “WHO ARE YOU?” (waking up to a stranger), “WHERE’S THE CAR?” (an empty garage), “RELIEF” (asleep in front of the toilet bowl), etc. These will be subtitled ‘STEP 1’, ‘STEP 2’, ‘STEP 3’ etc., mimicking the pretexts of 12 Step recovery programs. I am a recovering alcoholic/addict with over 23 years clean & sober, so am aware that alcohol and drugs affect huge segments of the population, either personally or in relationships, familial or otherwise. Therefore these paintings are both universal & personal statements, combining humor/pain in themes common to the disease of addiction.

Tim Marsden was born in Liverpool in 1964 and has traveled back and forth between Europe and North America ever since. He studied art in London, had a mural company in Glasgow, and showed with the British Council in Barcelona. Since moving to Seattle in 1997, he has been involved with the local arts community on many levels, as a member of SOIL Artist’s Cooperative from 1998 through 1999, a contributing artist for The Horsehead Sculpture Project in 1998 and 1999, and has assisted in the installation of murals by Sol Lewitt and Shahzia Sikander at the Seattle Art Museum.  He has also shown extensively in the area, from his own studio/gallery space to The Lava Lounge to Pioneer Square. On Thursday evenings Tim hosts a weekly Arts Group known simply as Artnight.

Tim’s work is a recognizable figurative style using a bold palette and cartoonish imagery. He writes, “My work has always had a narrative bent and its focus on line gives it a feeling of immediacy. While cartoon-like in style, my work also explores the darker and more absurd aspects of human existence, and I go to great pains to keep the work within an art historical context.”


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