Missoula's Total Fest is all about listening. Each year, the three-day independent music festival showcases bands from the far corners of the country (and beyond), with styles ranging from sludgy two-person outfits to raucous experimental party bands to straight-up metalheads to spastic punk rockers to the occasional pop-punk acoustic guitarist.
In addition to this sonic onslaught, a visual art aspect seeps into the event. For several years, Seattle-via-Missoula artist Tom Dewar has created popular poster prints to advertise each festival. And during the fest, you can find the DIY aesthetic among the merch tables where bands show off their screen-printed T-shirts, patches, album art, buttons, tote bags and koozies. Additionally, an anonymous low-brow zine called Dog Dick sometimes shows up for attendees to peruse.
Last year, however, art made a much more high-profile appearance when Missoula native and current Brooklyn artist Amanda Browder sewed together a "rock" cave installation called Spelunca. The art piecemade of more than 100 donated rock-themed T-shirtsserved as a backdrop for one of the Total Fest stages, and all weekend the colorful stalactites and stalagmites added visual spice to the concerts.
This year, Total Fest organizers have decided to set up a First Friday exhibit in a downtown band practice space featuring DIY art that pairs well with the festival's philosophy. Visual Audio Club: The Art of Total Fest XII is a kind of random assortment of punk and amateur art inspired by music.
"We wanted to make Total Fest more total, and have an art side to it," says Kari Workman, the Total Fest art coordinator. "There are always musicians coming through that are also artiststhey press their own records or make their own shirts. So we wanted to take the whole Total Fest mission and translate that into art work, exposing independent DIY artists that don't really have a chance to show elsewhere in Missoulato bring something new to the valley."
The 14-piece exhibit features collage, paintings, woodcuts, drawings and one 3D work. Images include a painting of a tiger with the legs and breasts of a woman, holding a tambourine. Another is a photograph of a bloodied Mark Heimer from No Fi Soul Rebelliona former Missoula, now-Bellingham band that often plays Total Fest. In the spirit of punk bricolage, a few pieces feature things like dried noodles and everyday garbage rather than more high-brow materials used by the average gallery artist. There's a Xerox style to other works that hearkens to the way zines were made before blogs became popular.
Some artists in Visual Audio are primarily known in the music scene as either regular show-goers or members of bands, such as Lukas Phelan of J. Sherri and Dane Hansen, a KBGA DJ and the musician behind Bad Naked. Some of the exhibit's artistsAdelaide Every and Jack Metcalf, in particularare already established in the Missoula arts community.
"I don't think any of us make a living off of art," Metcalf says. "Most of the artists work at record stores, bars, radio stations and coffee shops."
Metcalf, whose work was exhibited a few months ago at the Crystal Theatre in a show titled A Synthetic Spring, has designed the stage on which the exhibit will be displayed. Ultimately, the entire exhibit will be relocated to the VFW's stage where, like Browder's installation, it'll be showcased during Total Fest, which begins August 15.
Visual Audio was juried by Ian Vanek and Matt Reilly of the Brooklyn band Japanther, which has played Total Fest a handful of times. The decision to have them choose the pieces makes sense: Vanek and Reilly formed their band while attending the Pratt Institute and are known to play at art museums.
There's a rebellious feel to the pieces in the exhibitthe kind of "art-school-sux" attitude and crass humor that often goes hand-in-hand with the punk scene. But even in Visual Audio's most provocative pieces there's a sweet playfulness; you won't find any G.G. Allin-inspired shock art here.
"I don't think there's anything offensive," Metcalf says. "It's pretty all-ages, just like Total Fest is. The [art pieces] range from sarcastic to satirical to just really colorful. And it doesn't take itself too seriously."
Visual Audio Club: the Art of Total Fest XII opens with a First Friday reception Fri., Aug., 2, from 5 to 9 PM in the band practice space in the alley between Spruce and Pine on the block west of Higgins. J. Sherri plays and there will be live T-shirt screening. Free.