in partnership
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(Image courtesy of Mary Coss).

Artist of the Week: Mary Coss

Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you!

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? Do you work with other mediums?
My grandma was an artist and my first memories are scribbling with oil pastels. I was mesmerized by the colors and couldn’t get enough of the deep rich hues.

I am a multidisciplinary visual artist and use a variety of mediums depending on the project and subject matter. I experiment with building materials and all things three dimensional. I draw in space with wire and metal rod and often envelope it with a skin of paper or fabric. I also use light, sound, and projection.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
I’m researched based and work in the world of allegory. My projects start with drawn studies, structural sketches and small scale sculpture while I collect artifacts and experiment with materials. I think of these small works as studies. I exhibit them and consider how people react and respond while I continue to research and develop the ideas.The work evolves further into a project commonly in the form of an immersive installation or sometimes simply into a larger body of work. I tend to work on a large scale, at times monumental.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art come from?
I’m inspired by the stories of contemporary culture. I’m drawn to the existential questions. I use common imagery and artifacts to tell a story in a metaphorical way. I use an altar to talk about gun violence, a ghost meadow to talk about global warming, wire figures to talk about a sense of being invisible.

Do you have a specific “beat” you like best – nature, food, profiles etc?
In my work, I explore identity and the human condition. Thematically, I am interested in memory, time and life cycles, reflecting on the past, questioning the present, and challenging the future. Topically, I work with issues of social justice: gender, race, threats to the environment. I’ve done numerous projects around water, particularly with my public artwork.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
I have a few favorite projects. They are the ones where I’ve collaborated with others. There is a special bond that forms when you go through the creative process together. I created Traces with my daughters, Layers of the Hijab with a dynamic group of young women, and Kiss Fear with a poet and another artist that resulted in long lasting relationships.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
I was raised in an environment of politics, creativity, and inquiry. These inform and form me and my art practice. My mother is a quilter and a voracious reader, also reading tea leaves. This nurtured my interest in making things and a love of nuance, allusion, and metaphor. My dad was an unintentional Rube Goldberg style of creator from a long lineage of artists and an outspoken judge. His unrelenting questioning inspires my art form.

If we want to see more of your work where should we go to find?
The installation, Traces, is currently up at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art through June 3rd. I have a trilogy of exhibits about Global Warming that is evolving. It started at Museum of Northwest Art this fall in the exhibit Surge, moved to 950 Gallery in Tacoma (up through the 21st of February), then transforms to METHOD Gallery. I’ll be doing a residency at METHOD. The installation on First Thursday in March will transform dramatically for First Thursday in April. You can see more of my work at or on Instagram @marycoss_studio.

What is next for you? Anything you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about?
Yes, I have a monumental scale project I’m working on for Tacoma Parks. It will be on commencement Bay and I’ve been fortunate to do some partnering with the Puyallup tribe as a part of my research. It will have a sound component. And in May I head off to Ireland to attend two Artist Residencies! I’ll be researching my favorite topics water and gender and interviewing several local women for a new project I’m launching “The good old days”.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee? We ask everyone!