Mike McCready is wearing his “fancy boots.”
It’s not his typical workwear, at least on an off-tour morning when the Pearl Jam guitarist is nimbly hopping around cerulean blue and yellow paint splotches on the recycled Home Shows merch boxes spread out on the concrete floor.
It’s a precious sunny winter day, but McCready and artist Kate Neckel are in the bowels of Pearl Jam’s warehouse, fine-tuning the performance aspects of their upcoming exhibition at Winston Wächter Fine Art gallery. A photographer snaps away (hence the snazzier kicks) as McCready swipes a curvy teal stroke across a large canvas. Off to the side, Neckel’s gaze oscillates between the guitar she’s gently strumming and McCready’s movements.
Armed with a paint brush and Polaroid camera, McCready bounces between the canvas and the decorated mannequins seated at a nearby card table with increased urgency, avoiding the acrylic puddles on the cardboard beneath him. As if sensing his energy shift, Neckel’s playing intensifies, with harsher tones growing louder. Eventually, the two trade places and as the audiovisual art piece continues to build, a natural sense of order emerges through the media-blending pastiche.
“It’s always different,” Neckel says after completing the trial run through what will be a portion of their exhibition. “There’s no real rules.”
Hence the name of their boundless mixed-media collaboration, Infinite Color & Sound, which debuts at Winston Wächter with sold-out opening performances March 22-23 as part of an exhibition called “Sway.” Some of the musical elements will be for sale on a few 45s. The fixed pieces will run at the South Lake Union gallery through May 18.
The duo who make up Infinite Color & Sound first met at last year’s Seattle Art Fair where, enamored with her work, McCready wanted to know the story behind each piece — something he never does, he says. McCready’s wife was already familiar with Neckel’s art and the couple commissioned her to do an abstract family portrait for their home.
As they got to know each other, McCready — a son of an art teacher — mentioned he’d always wanted to do a project combining music and visual art in the vein of Andy Warhol’s The Factory. Neckel, a veteran of the New York art scene who moved to Seattle two years ago, shared the same vision and the two began collaborating.
“It’s scary and vulnerable,” McCready says of the “soul-opening” experience, taking a seat on a folding chair. “I’ve never painted before, I’ve never drawn or been comfortable with any of that until this project. Kate brought that out of me. …
“Do I have paint on my face?”
His boots survived the morning’s art romp unblemished, but his cheek did not, and Neckel pops up to grab a wipe.
“Mom, no!” McCready jokes, fake squirming as Neckel scrubs the teal streak off his face.
“You don’t want this getting in your skin,” she says.
There were no real limits or expectations to their fertile sessions, which, from the sounds of it, had the childlike spirit and energy of creative play dates between new friends. One day they’re at Alki Beach, painting rocks and tracing each other on a canvas and the next they’re hauling the mannequins, a guitar and some snacks to a Seward Park amphitheater McCready never knew existed for an impromptu jam session/photo shoot exploring their new setting.
“You know when you’re a kid you might go to friend’s house and take two chairs, grab a sheet off the bed and make a tent?” Neckel says, describing their work style. “You just start creating an imaginary world with a friend, seeing what you have around in your room — ‘All right, let’s make a tent. This is gonna be a spaceship now, launch it to the moon!’ That’s the mentality that we have.”
The title of the exhibition, “Sway,” stemmed from McCready’s favorite Rolling Stones song “Sway” — particularly the line “It’s just that demon life has got me in its sway.” For whatever reason, he and Neckel found themselves writing the word on each other’s arms or someplace each day as they worked, and it ended up in the title.
“To me, it’s about, how do you navigate life when adversity comes your way?” McCready says. “What happens? Do you crumble? Do you rise above it? Do you learn something from it? As a human being, how do I keep learning from the sway of life?”
For both Neckel and McCready, embracing new mediums came with trepidation and excitement. McCready, no stranger to big stages, admits to some nervousness before the morning’s practice run in front of a reporter and a few members of his camp. But thanks to each other’s encouragement and creative synergy, the rock great and accomplished artist have been empowered to explore new creative avenues they previously thought they couldn’t.
“It’s opening my mind to art and life,” McCready says of their collaboration. “It’s given me a confidence that I hadn’t had before, in terms of artistic ability or changing the way I’m thinking — like, ‘Wow, I guess I can do this stuff’— instead of negating it in my brain.”
“It’s like I’ve found a whole new aisle in the art store,” says Neckel, who only knew a few chords before they connected. “I’d never written songs before or even attempted to write lyrics, and now these things just come to me, through [working with] Mike.”
Infinite Color & Sound: “Sway” exhibition; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, March 22-May 18; Winston Wächter Fine Art gallery, 203 Dexter Ave. N.; free; seattle.winstonwachter.com