Beauty and Absurdity in Tacoma: The Hard Copy 15 Poster

Editor’s Note: This is the artist’s statement for the included poster in Hard Copy #15. The use of Lantinx imagery is likely to raise some questions. The artist, Noah Struthers, took it upon himself to explain his piece:

Grit City Mag asked me to illustrate something recognizably Tacoma, featuring the Tacoma Dome. I imagined a futuristic mash-up of aspects of local culture and fantastical motifs. This illustration tells a specific story: the B&I is thriving but has been rehomed, the Dome is still hosting events, and the area is filled with neighborhoods, giant hot dogs…and giant Dune worms. It’s absurdist, like most of my work. I chose to combine imagery like Catholic Mexican iconography, bikini barista stands, ICP (Insane Clown Posse) flags, Lucha libre, Mad Max Thunderdome, and Monster Jam because they are things that I have grown up with and which hold meaning for me in some way. For me, these images are every bit as “Tacoma” as ferns and octopi.

I’d like to explain my personal connection—as a person, a Tacoman, and an artist—to some of the imagery you’ll find in this work. My parents used to hawk (and hock) tools and found objects at the Star Lite Swap Meet when I was very young. I remember running around the swap meet all day as a kid, and I continued to visit the Star Lite until it closed last year. I also grew up going to the B&I, which was next door to the swap meet. (I remember when they still had Ivan the Gorilla.) Monster Jam has been an iconic and absurd part of our country’s cultural story since 1992. I love it. I was born in 1981 and have early memories of Monster Jam commercials at the Tacoma Dome. The sand worms are of course a reference to “Dune,” written by Tacoman Frank Herbert. (Yes, I have read the book.) 

I’ve used icons and symbols heavily in my illustrations since I was a teen. With a background in construction and mechanics, I commonly draw schematics that appear logical only at the very first glance. In this piece, I incorporated dream logic with Spanish language and Mexican iconography because of their familiarity in my life and their prominence in Tacoma’s cultural landscape. As a young adult, I often heard Spanish spoken on job sites. Most of my travels as an adult have been to Mexico. I haven’t really traveled anywhere else. I’ve been a low-income working class person most of my life, and Mexico was close and cheap and different and I had friends there. I could fly into San Diego and hop the blue line to San Ysidro in under 6 hours and under 300 bucks. I could take a bus to Ensenada and I’d be in a different world. I loved it. It was an adventure. It was something I could afford to do. Sometimes I’d stay for a couple months. Those experiences grew my awareness of the blurriness/expansiveness regarding what is considered “American.” I say all this to make clear that Mexican culture and Spanish language has always been right there with me. Mexican culture is all over the west coast. It’s near and dear to my heart. You can’t describe Tacoma’s culture fully without including Mexican culture; it’s part of our DNA at this point. I want to state my attitude of respect and honor towards the Mexican/Chicanx artists and performers whose imagery I have referenced in this particular work. 

The other reason I chose to use the Spanish language is to point out that English might not always be the assumed dominant local language. But we’ll probably still have the “fuck yeah”™ Monster Jam/Mad Max/death wish fascination/titties-and-beer culture that we have today. I mean, bikini baristas exist, and people go to them regularly. Think about that. And yes, I have been once, by accident.

See more of Noah’s work on Instagram at @noah_struthers

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