That Wally Shoup was a man unlikely to experience spectacular commercial success was apparent early. Arriving in Seattle in the mid-’80s, he managed to get some of his painted-silk scarves--with their distinct muted colors and aboriginal-like patterns--into some area boutiques. But then shopkeepers would say, “We want more of these, and we don’t like these,” he recalls. “And I’d say, ‘Well, that’s your opinion.’” Likewise, store reps wanted pieces that customers could order in advance. Shoup’s response: “Well, I’m an artist.” How could he know what he’d come up with tomorrow? Needless to say, Shoup’s future in retail was limited.
Then again, anyone who turns to Shoup for something preordered and prespecified could not be barking up a more poorly chosen tree. Shoup’s entire cellular structure pines for the spontaneous, the unplanned, the unruly. And not just in visual art. For two decades he’s been at the center of Seattle’s free-improvisation scene--a fertile but perpetually obscure underground, where the intense energy and volume of guitar rock meet the open soloing of jazz, but without any formal structures of rhythm or song. It’s always a hard sell, and “the problem is, I’m not a salesman,” says Shoup.
But he’s been doing something right lately, as this fall he’ll have a critical mass of public exposure that’s damn near unprecedented. It starts with a major exhibit of his paintings at Wall of Sound (beginning Oct. 5). Then he’s got a series of shows around town with his trio, courtesy of a city of Seattle grant--the 63-year-old artist’s first. (“I haven’t really participated in the grant game,” he says.) Finally, he’s got a high-profile quartet gig with the Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle’s invaluable three-week celebration of jazz and world music (Oct. 19-Nov. 4). While Earshot brings in big names from New York and around the globe, the fest also provides home-based artists a more visible platform than they’re typically afforded.