Artis is an unknown, a soul in progress, world famous. Ask a passerby on the street his name and chances are you'll be met with a shrug of irrecognizance. Allow me to guide you through his universe. I first met him over a decade ago. I was publishing a small independent zine called Black and White Blood. Needing material, I scoured the local scene for artists and others who felt that they could contribute. Artis was among them.
I asked him to be part of the project. I had seen him twice, initially on a Soundgarden video, then as a performer at Bumbershoot, around '94. Even then he was recognized as an enigma. Though the "Spoonman" video won a Grammy, he could still walk down the streets of Seattle without the undue pressure of fame. Catching his show was an experience. His hook was that he was the "…best spoonplayer in the whole damn universe," as Pete Seeger has quoted.
There are very few who try this difficult skill and even fewer still have any mastery of it. Playing the spoons requires a fundamental knowledge of rhythm and a resolute sense of melody. The rattle and ping of these instruments becomes rapidly hypnotic as he begins using all his body parts in their manipulation, playing them off one another, his legs, arms, and even face. At the Bumbershoot where I saw him, he even drew blood from his lip in the heat of the moment, to the ghoulish applause of a large crowd.
Responding to my request for material, he sent me a publication, “Artis-Aspirations to Manifestations from the Womb to the Void”. Published by the Hulogosi group in '93, it contains ninety-five pages of his poems, lyrics and short stories. On the cover is a digitally enhanced headshot. Shown is a man in his elder prime with a shaved head, full moustache and goatee, sporting a dangling earring in his left lobe, and looking for all the world like a hipster version of World Wrestling Entertainment's character, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The book came to me in the mail with a note, pointing out the more perfunctory anecdotes. I never did get around to printing those. Cosmic machinations, I suppose allowing for some dissemination of his work, but not in an undue amount. Being the unwitting vessel and eventual proselyte of the lore strengthened me. He's a hardy weed, popping up in the media, here and there, like a mushroom that some errant rogue has kicked in disrespect, only to scatter its spores and return the next day to find the ground littered with hundreds of what he had thought destroyed.
His website, www.artisthespoonman.net
, reads like the bio of a war vet who has seen action all across the globe and been sufficiently lauded for his efforts. Purple hearts of sound, text and vision, the Spoonman even spent a period of his life in the Navy. His path includes a series of efforts in the media, with recognizance from camps ranging across the globe. There was an article in Real Change, Seattle's Newspaper of the Poor and Homeless, on which he graced the cover, sporting a mohawk, closely cropped to his skull, and an interview dubbed "Spoon-taneity: The Spoonman Speaketh."
Last year, I once again attended Bumbershoot at the Seattle Center Fairgrounds. In a small grove, adjacent to the fountain, I stumbled across a small gathering watching Artis onstage. He was like a bodhisattva of existentialism in manner and demeanor. Straddling lines of being, he spoke for awhile and then played his ubiquitous share of life on the pernicious metal instruments for which he is so well known. It was a quixotically sanguine experience to once again be in his presence, having followed the path he's blazed for over a decade. After the show was over, I was rewarded with a copy of his CD, "Artis - A Livin' Spoonful", a compendium of appearances he has made over the years. He signed it for me, and even though I had less money than it was worth, he graced me with it regardless.
This piece of media has a whopping twenty eight tracks. Some of it is just him speaking, others are straightforward socio-political songs. The rest is a smattering of spoken word poetry, philosophy, and of course the spoons. Communication is a multidirectional shot in the multidimensional environment, by multitudinous characters.To Art Main...