Anyone walking by the Dexter-Denny intersection lately probably won’t notice the large orange and black mural that’s gone up within the last couple of weeks on the sides of 90.3 FM KEXP. In fact, many of the studio’s neighbors don’t know there is a radio station there at all – the gray concrete one-story block, affectionately called the Berlin Wall, looks far too small to house the approximately 80 employees and 200 volunteers they have on rotation to keep the non-profit studio running smoothly.
I got a chance to take a break from preparations for the fall fundraising drive to talk with artist Jonathan Wakuda Fischer as he put the finishing touches on the mural. He has been a longtime listener and donor to KEXP since he moved to Washington from Wisconsin 8 years ago. “I didn’t know I wanted to be an artist before I came to Seattle,” Jonathan says, “I found my creative self here.”
“In the Midwest, you still get beat up for the music you listen to or how your hair is cut,” Jonathan says. His favorite band is Blur, so he was very excited when he heard their music on the radio because it doesn’t get played on commercial stations. “I called in to Cheryl [Waters] to request one of the new Blur songs, and the station didn’t have it yet because it was only released overseas,” he recalls. “I bought a used copy for $18 on Amazon, ripped it to my computer, and came by and donated the CD to KEXP so they could have a copy in their archives.” Listener-powered radio, indeed.
The station receives the majority of their funding from donations from individuals and organizations from around the world, not just in the Pacific Northwest. Jonathan donates to KEXP because, “as a creative person, I owe a lot to KEXP because I use their music to help me create my art.” He told me that he spends many late nights in his studio listening to the station. His favorite is DJ Riz, who hosts an electronic dance program on Sundays and a variety mix on Mondays. Jonathan says, “When I’m working by myself at night, I’m not alone. It’s me and Riz.”
Jonathan, whose artist name is Wakuda, is half Japanese. “Wakuda is my family name that’s been around for hundreds of years.” The KEXP mural is styled on traditional Japanese woodblock-inspired stencils using modern techniques like street art and stenciling. “The interplay between Japan and America has given me the opportunity to better understand both cultures, as well as honor my past and create something for the future,” Jonathan tells me.
Jonathan recently signed an agreement with the Art Xchange studio in Pioneer Square, and has also done summer workshops for students at the Wing Luke Museum. He approached KEXP about doing a pro bono mural on the side of their studio building, and he hopes to create new art for the station’s new home on the Seattle Center campus, due to begin construction sometime in the next year or two.
For more information on Wakuda’s artwork, visit his website at Wakudastudio.com. For more official information (but less detailed) about this particular mural, check out the Seattle Times piece on it, or the article in the September issue of the KEXP newsletter Music Matters.