After a long winter, we are almost ready for Humboldt's favorite Memorial Day weekend event: the Kinetic Grand Championship. As we gear up for the fun at the end of the month, the Epitome Gallery in Old Town is getting the party started with a May-long exhibition of work by the muralist, visual artist extraordinaire and kinetic sculpture living legend Duane Flatmo.
Even if you don't think you are familiar with Flatmo's work, if you live here, chances are high that you are. His murals are everywhere from Bucksport Sporting Goods to Los Bagels in Arcata to the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts and more, making Flatmo locally famous for his public art installations. However, he is perhaps even more widely known for his "El Pulpo Mecanico," a 26-foot-high steampunk mechanical octopus complete with fire-shooting tentacles and bulging eyeballs that debuted at Burning Man in 2011. The beloved El Pulpo — built mainly from parts scavenged at Arcata Scrap and Salvage — did stints at more than one Burning Man and toured through several festivals and whatnot before being sold to a collector in Austin, Texas. But Flatmo did not leave us high and dry with that sale. Instead, he created a second, even larger creation. "El Pulpo Magnifico" debuted at Burning Man in 2022 and came home for locals to gawk at during an Arts Alive event last December.
It's only fitting that Flatmo's first local art show in five years would be right before the kinetic race, and that it would be at Epitome, a contemporary art space showcasing art, poetry, music and spray paint. The associated store focuses on street art, mural supplies and other cool stuff that jives with all things kinetic. The brainchild of Julia Finkelstein, herself a longtime local artist and one of Flatmo's informal mentorees, the gallery also syncs with Flatmo's bold, colorful creations.
The exhibit debuts 10 new paintings, most of the work done with airbrush and stencils, created this past winter. "When it was raining a bunch in the last four months, I just decided I was going to start painting," says Flatmo. "I've tried out some new stuff and I'll be doing a demo on using pencils and airbrush" during Arts Alive.
"I'm super grateful that Duane agreed to this show at my space. He's been a huge inspiration for me as a muralist and artist," said Finkelstein. "He's somebody who has mentored the artists in this community — me included — and his enthusiasm about a local show here ... is just another way of him yet again supporting our art community."
Flatmo brought his friend and kinetic compatriot Scott Cocking along for the ride. A graphic designer by education, Cocking showed up in Humboldt in 2003 and was in the Kinetic Lab shortly thereafter. He has been making sculptures and fire art pieces (in addition to his "day job" silk-screening and consulting on artwork) here ever since. He's known for the fire flower sculpture in front of Café Brio on the Arcata Plaza, as well as for stickers and printed art made of "fake" fuse beads, some of his Burning Man kinetic rides and a host of other works. For this show, Cocking is displaying what he has called a "slice of fun things." The exhibit also features the work of local street muralists Blake Reagan and Lucas Thornton.
"The timing of this is really to highlight the kinetic race and celebrate the work and achievements of these guys in our community," said Finkelstein. "All the artists are part of Duane's core kinetic crew. They are guys that have helped him with the kinetic sculptures, they've been builders and operators of those. They are our friends; they are collaborators and it is time to celebrate them."
"I'm looking forward to showing with a lot of my friends," says Flatmo. "We have an art camaraderie."
Psst: There is a "secret" show at at the gallery, too, this month, which we won't spoil here. In addition to the art on the wall, there will be 100 shirts and sweatshirts featuring Flatmo's work for sale.
The opening reception for the Flatmo show is Saturday, May 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. during Arts Alive. The show will run through May 28. Epitome is located at 420 Second St. in Eureka. For more information visit theepitomegallery.com.
Tamar Burris (she/her) is a freelance education writer and relationship coach. Her book for children of divorce A New Special Friend is available through her website tamarburris.com.