Arts Walk: Katherine Smith and Jess Tanguay — The Duality of Fantasy and Reality

by Jonah Barrett for OLY ARTS

The work of two visual artists will collide in a single show at Arts Walk this weekend. Local multimedia virtuosos Katherine Smith and Jess Tanguay create works of art that function as polar opposites in subject matter, but harmonious in style. This dual show will be presented by the Olympia Film Society within the mezzanine of the historic Capitol Theater.

Smith, a former Evergreen student, operates in the realm of the fantastique with the use of acrylics, woodcuts, and the anachronism that is MS Paint. Anthropomorphic monsters scour their canvases in forms that feel utterly alien whilst simultaneously errily familiar. With spindly fingers, stretched faces, and monstrous complexions; Smith’s artworks seem like visions from a hallucinogenic nightmare.

On the opposite of the spectrum lie Tanguay’s vivid depictions of every day life. Tanguay, a self-described military brat, deals in the mediums of animation, sculpture, painting, and comics. Growing up base to base, Tanguay had no choice but to develop his artistic abilities on his own, albeit with the encouragement of his artist mother, who works in textiles.

“I wanted to be a writer before I became an artist. So comic art is my main concern right now. I love being able to tell a story where pictures can do what words can’t, and vice-versa,” said Tanguay. It’s Tanguay’s background in animation that so informs his present use of comics. When he works on a comic page, Tanguay can see the action clearly in his head, as if it were an animation sequence. “I’m able to draw the ‘key frames’ on a static page, but they have this liveliness to them that wouldn’t exist without my animation background,” he said.

Smith’s work on the other hand, deals less with movement and more with a perverted form of portraiture. “Each one of my paintings has a hint of a character, or mood, or movement,” Smith said. Some have proposed that their pieces are possible reflections of the id, that instinctual lizard-brain in all of us that would constantly scream for what it wants if we let it have its way, but Smith agrees more with the theory of personal expression. “This was something I developed to be more comfortable in social situations,” they said.

Smith stated that they deal with a number of anxiety issues, tending to overanalyze situations and coping with social anxiety. It was when they began to bring a notebook everywhere that they stopped running away from social gatherings. “I think my drive is really rooted in the fact that I have a lot of anxious disorders and things I want to say all the time,” Smith said. “I honestly can get really twisted up in my thinking, too. Drawing’s not necessarily something I think I should be doing, it’s something I have to do.”

Coincidentally, drawing in notebooks around downtown Olympia helped Tanguay discover his artistic voice as well. Like Smith, art functions as a form of healing for him, as his art has made it easier to communicate with people over the past few years while he documents everyday life.

“I don’t work in an art field right now. At night I’m a grocery stocker—I stack cans at night! It seems like one thing I’m processing is not getting disheartened by my circumstances in life. Things don’t always have to have a negative narrative, even though adulthood has all these constant anxieties,” he said.

While Tanguay deals with reality in a positive aspect, Smith dwells in the chaotic and strange. They believe there is a duality in everything, and this is how they go about their day: living in a dual state of anxiety and confidence. Their art helps them deal with this. Smith’s twisted creations also exhibit a form of duality, mixing the disturbing with humor. They like to poke fun at themself with their work, and some of their pieces literally just start as a pun in their head. “Sometimes I’ll get an idea and be like, ‘Oh man, that’s so societally critical but also weird imagery,” they said.

The concept of life being incredibly entwined with chaos runs through Smith’s artwork like veins. Part of Smith’s humor is their conversations with certain taboos, impolite depictions of things many people might take offense to. “I like to push certain boundaries, often I’ll laugh at the fact that the thing I either just drew is ridiculous, and I don’t even really understand it,” they said.

Duality exists as well within the combination between Smith and Tanguay’s work. The internal fantasies and external realities of these artists’ art do not clash as one may expect, but mix together in a cohabitated space. Smith stated how thrilled they are to exhibit with Tanguay together.

“It’s a fun experience to collaborate with another artist when discussing space and how to share it. Jess and I have two very different styles and motivations for our work, and yet they coexist very effortlessly. The quirks come together in a delightful visual conversation that says a lot of what defines us as individuals and binds us as artists,” they said.

Tanguay also added how excited he is to present his art with Smith. “It’s so nice to have a centralized voice in a city environment like this, where we can be kind of isolated through our devices and jobs, or even just our physical spaces. People know where the Capitol Theater is and they know what we’re going to do here. There’s a history here that’s ever changing. Every artist, filmmaker, and writer that passes through here alters the space and builds something intangible, and to contribute to that just seems like a good idea.”

At the Capitol Theater, the Olympia Film Society will also present a free concert with local Oly bands monkflower, Cedar Sap, and Molten Salt on Friday evening, April 27. The mezzanine will be open with the artists’ work and alcohol provided by Three Magnets, where Smith and Tanguay will be to talk with visitors. The following day on April 28 will see a Zumba class and a free screening of The Book of Life at 1:30 p.m.

Disclosure: Writer Jonah Barrett is also employed at Olympia Film Society as Marketing Director. This article was commissioned and edited by OLY ARTS. 


WHAT: Spring ArtsWalk at the Capitol Theater

WHEN: April 27 and 28

WHERE: 206 5th Ave SE


LEARN MORE: Olympia Film Society Arts Walk Showings

Katie Smith’s art:

Jess Tanguay’s art:



Skip to content