As a member of the Olympia Arts Commission in 1990, Pat McLain helped make the first Arts Walk happen. She has fond memories of that rainy November night.
“There were a handful of stores open,” she said. “It wasn’t a big event, but we were all excited.”
Twenty-five years later, she is making art under the name Doyle Fanning and is again playing an important role in the twice-yearly celebration of creativity and community. She created “In the Night Sky,” the image that appears on the cover of the event map, a dreamlike image of a crow soaring in front of an enormous moon.
The textured image resembles a print, right down to the chop mark in the corner, but in fact, her art is alchemy. She layers and combines photographs in a process that seems to have more to do with magic than with digital manipulation.
The final image is a distillation of the many pieces with which the artist begins. For “In the Night Sky,” she combined elements from six photos, including a scan of her own left hand used to make the red chop mark she includes in some of her pieces.
“There’s an elegance to the work,” said Stephanie Johnson, who organizes Arts Walk for the city of Olympia. “It is very spare in the sense that less is more.”
“I’m using photographs to make images that don’t look like photographs,” said Fanning, whose nom de art also has layers. It combines her own maiden name with her mother’s to honor her female lineage.
“Besides, Pat McLain was an administrator,” she said. “I was a chief financial officer, and I managed the renovation of the Capitol Building. As an artist, I wanted to have a different name.”
She started making art while very young. “I had polio when I was 6 years old, and I was in a rehabilitation hospital for 6 months,” she said. “They taught us to do weaving and finger-painting and drawing.”
While she never stopped completely, Fanning found little time for art while focusing on a demanding career. She plunged back in seriously around 2007, when she began taking art classes and showing her work regularly, including at Arts Walk.
Art has been her primary focus since 2011, when she left her position as chief financial officer of the state Department of Ecology. Besides creating her print-inspired images, she makes prints, cuts paper and paints.
“It keeps your eye fresh when you are doing other things, ” she said.
And her public service continues. She serves on the Olympia Heritage Commission, volunteers at the Washington State Library and works with the community to improve the Artesian Commons.
While McLain’s work for the state required focus and precision — renovating the capitol after the 2001 earthquake was a huge project that was completed on time and on budget — Fanning takes a relaxed and open approach to her art.
“I let the images tell me what they’re about,” she said. “I try to stay out of their way.”
That willingness to listen has led her to some fascinating places, particularly in a series she calls “Behold … A True Story.” The series was part of the Her Story exhibit shown in the spring at South Puget Sound Community College.
The 10-piece series tells the story of a young girl, who appears as a white silhouette in the haunting images.
The girl is Fanning herself, in a photograph taken when she was 3 years old. She had manipulated the image, photocopying it over and over so it was degraded, and then she’d experimented by including it in a variety of pieces.
“I’d hear myself think, ‘Maybe I should put that girl in there,’ ” she said. “Every once in a while, accidentally or purposefully, I would activate that layer.”
But it never seemed to fit. Finally, she said, she asked the image, “What do you want?”
What came to her was “a sword, a crow and a dog.”
Fanning stayed up much of the night creating an image, and in the morning, she realized that she’d also written the girl’s story.
“I don’t remember writing it down,” she said.
When the series showed at the college, she said, it inspired some powerful responses, including one from a woman who’d had a stillborn daughter. “She said seeing the show reminded her that her daughter was with her,” Fanning said.
It’s when people connect to her work so deeply that Fanning knows she’s on the right path.
“I’ve really come to think of my art as an act of service — connecting people, opening up the world to people,” she said.
What: Doyle Fanning — also known as Pat McLain — melds and layers photographs to create works that echo traditional printmaking. Her Arts Walk cover piece, “In the Night Sky,” and other digital images are on exhibit for Arts Walk.
When: Arts Walk is from 5-10 p.m. Friday (Oct. 2) and noon-5 p.m. Saturday. Fanning’s work will be up all month.
Where: Childhood’s End Gallery, 222 Fourth Ave. W., Olympia.