Boomerang gallery exhibits works by children — and one famous parent

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

• What: Kids' art and "Systems Meet Chaos: Art in the Family" exhibits. • When: Reception 5-9 p.m. today. Exhibits continue through Aug. 25. • Where: Boomerang Fine Arts, 808 Main St., Vancouver. • Cost: Free. • Information:;;

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Monte Wolverton’s father, Basil — the mastermind behind early comic-book creations including “The Strange Adventures of Meteor Martin” and “Professor Ploop’s Parade of Peculiar People” — didn’t teach him to draw. But he did provide his son the tools and the sensibility, building Monte his first tilted drawing table and allowing him the thrill, one time, of inking one bold line of the MAD Magazine he was working on.

Likewise, Monte Wolverton didn’t teach his daughter, Monika Spykerman, to draw, just provided the tools and attitude — including his own living example of art as a real pastime, not frivolous self-amusement.

“Dad was always drawing and there were always drawing materials everywhere,” she said. “I engaged with it naturally. I felt connected to my dad and my family history.”

Spykerman hasn’t taught her daughter to draw either, but 14-year-old Annika is busy filling sketchbooks with Anime-style characters. She has her own artistic inspiration, but there’s no doubt that generations of family artists have been “generally influential. It’s hard not to do art” when you grow up in this family, she said.

“I knew I did a good job as a parent when Annika said to me one morning, ‘I just need a really good inking pen,’ ” Spykerman said.

One of the joys of raising a young artist, she said, is “getting to know her as her own person” through her art.

Father, daughter and granddaughter are all showing their work this month in a couple of overlapping exhibits at downtown Vancouver’s Boomerang Fine Arts charity and art shop.

“System Meet Chaos: Art in the Family” focuses on the funny, fantastical fine art of Monte Wolverton and the realistic, patterned designs of Monika Spykerman; the other is a wide-open 18-and-younger show that was generated by a public call for young artists. Annika is one of many who responded.

“We hope to bring an ever-more-creative spirit to the first Friday downtown art walk,” said Boomerang curator Tom Relth. “Hosting young people’s artwork is a perfect fit” with Boomerang’s community-boosting mission, he said. And this show is so diverse, colorful, unpredictable and fun, he quipped, “I like to think of it as brain science versus rocket surgery.”

The show opens today, and you can meet all the artists — three generations of this family plus lots more young talent — during a First Friday Art Walk reception from 5 to 9 p.m. There will be live music and light refreshments.


Wolverton is famous for his syndicated “Wolvertoons,” which occasionally appear in this newspaper — although, he said, he tends to lean a little left for your typical Clark County political sensibility. He’s less famous for whimsical, fantastical artwork that seems to inhabit a different planet in the same system; instead of satirizing pompous politicians, Wolverton’s silly machines, cartoony creatures and tuberlike abstractions seem to satirize reality itself.

Wolverton was doing graphic design and illustration — and contributing to MAD Magazine, like his dad — long before the absurdity of politics prompted him to start sketching its perpetrators. That was during the 1990s, he said; by then he was also hanging out with abstract artists, trying their techniques and striving for his own fine-art shows.

Abstract art tends to irritate or even threaten people, Wolverton noted, but he’s always been “ambiguity tolerant.”

Eye and hand

” ‘Make friends with ambiguity,’ ” is some of the best advice Spykerman ever heard from her dad, she said. That hasn’t been easy for the writer and editor, whose profession requires accuracy and clarity. (She’s the editor of “North Bank Now,” a local culture website.)

Her artwork has always been different from her dad’s, she said: she never indulges in flights of fancy, but studies real objects that she portrays from a variety of angles in repeating patterns — like wallpaper.

“My approach is the complete opposite of his,” she laughed. “It’s a single idea. It’s an actual thing. What it is, is excessively clear.” (She’s the “system” in this show, she said; her dad is the “chaos.”)

Spykerman started doing art early in life; she said she remembers lots of philosophical conversations with her dad: “Why art? Why does it matter?” But then she got busy with other things, and didn’t get back to it until she became the stay-at-home mom of then 4-year-old Annika.

“The days were cold and long and rainy and I needed to fill them up with something,” she said. Mother and daughter started drawing together, she said.

Spykerman filled up a whole notebook with detailed designs, she said, before she ever considered trying for a gallery show. She didn’t show her pieces to her famous father. “What would dad think of this?” she wondered. “Am I really ready?”

Relth thought she was. He wanted to pull both artists together in a father-daughter show; the previously scheduled kids’ exhibit was sheer serendipity, he said.

Spykerman’s designs may foreground focus and control, but her father spies the wild Wolverton imagination underlying it. Bedtime reading for little Monika used to be Basil Wolverton’s comic-book horror adventure, “The Eye of Doom”; when her dad looks at Monika’s repeating patterns of figs or eggs or sea anemones, he said, he sees sci-fi eyes staring out at him.

He sees his father’s technique in his daughter’s work, he said, pointing out the backdrop of tiny sky-blue lines behind one profusion of clementines.

“Look at this,” he said. “The crosshatching makes me itchy. It’s very Wolverton.”