Bless us: Michelle Schutte back with a powerful show

by Brent Cole

There are few people in this community that I appreciate and adore more than local artist Michelle Schutte. We became friends as the magazine was getting off the ground many years ago and she’s always been there for a good laugh or to lend an ear. Michelle has also been an integral piece of the local arts community. Over a seven-year stretch beginning in 2003, she owned and operated three galleries/art spaces – Hand to Mouth, The Clinic and Jinx (now the Make.Shift space) helped give a voice to artists who didn’t necessarily have one in Bellingham.

Through the years, she’s had ebbs and flows with her own artwork; more often than not, Michelle helped facilitate others’ showings while her creativity was put on the back burner. That changed recently, and Michelle has found herself with her second solo showing this year (and another scheduled for January).

On Dec. 4, Michelle will debut her latest paintings in a series called “No Gods No Masters” at Novato Shop and Studio. “The paintings are similar to what I’ve been making all year – dramatic paintings of animals, mostly black or really dark gray animals.” Michelle added, “It’s an allegory for things going on in my life – they’re representative of more complex problems.”

The pieces, most of which involve an animal and some type of weapon, stem from a dream Michelle had seven years ago. “In my dream my friend Gabby was tattooing me and it was this rabbit with a rifle underneath with a banner that said ‘It won’t be fun when the rabbit gets the gun.’” The line comes from a country song that Michelle hasn’t ever consciously listened to, but the message is much deeper. “The tattoo is about the proletariat finally standing up for themselves,” she stated matter of factly.

According to Michelle, the rabbit has, to some extent, haunted her over the last seven years. “I’ve been working on the rabbit for a long time – I’ve been trying to figure out how I wanted to draw it. The dream was very clear,” Michelle said, “and I wouldn’t be happy with it unless it was exactly how I remember it.”

Figuring out how to draw the rabbit, though, has come in part from her recent creative burst, which began as she prepared for a showing at Honey Salon in February. Honey’s art coordinator, Shultzie Fay, really pushed her to create more work for walls.

“I was forced to do more paintings than I thought I could in a few months and luckily it was very well received,” Michelle stated with a laugh.

Couple that with a fundraiser Michelle did to help pay for her dog’s surgery that included commissioned work and she was suddenly painting more than at any other time in her life. “Turns out, when you do something every day, you get way better at it. It’s been a real lesson that proliferation is what equals talent – practice makes perfect…or at least better.” She added, “People seem interested in what I’m making right now and that makes me want to make more of it.”

Michelle is quick to note that part of her creative boost also comes from good friend and owner of The Redlight, Rebecca Ogden, who is also an artist. “We talk a lot about art and it’s helpful. It makes it interesting again,” Michelle said candidly, “in a way that it wasn’t for a long time.”

While the rabbit has been in her mind for years, the second anchor piece of her exhibit at Novato also holds special meaning and involves a big black wolf with an open trap and a banner that reads “No Gods, No Masters” (the name of her exhibit). The phrase was a pro-union and labor, anti-establishment rally cry.

“A hundred years later,” Michelle said, “it still applies to that as well as the animal kingdom and a bunch of stuff in this country that pisses me off.”

Unlike her showing at Honey Salon, which was more reflective of a sort of existential crisis, “No Gods” became a way to process Michelle’s frustration with the current state of affairs in America and the world at large. “There are weapons and tools of murder in most of the paintings. In these paintings, the animals are kind of cute and cartoony, but somehow they still speak to darker shit going on everywhere right now.”

After years of being involved in the art scene, though more on the gallery end of things, Michelle continues to love the local art community. “I feel good about it – people are still making stuff all over the place. It’s an incorrect cliché that nobody buys artwork. In my experience the artists in Bellingham, like the musicians in Bellingham, are really supported by the community. I’m consistently surprised by that.”

Showing: See Michelle Schutte’s artwork at Novato Shop and Studio starting Dec. 4, throughout the month. Along with the paintings, prints will also be available, as well as shirts and hoodies produced by Novato Shop and Studio. Michelle calls the owners “delightful.”

Published in the December 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine