Spafford is one of the Northwest’s most original and compelling artists. Always struggling against the facile and fashionable, Spafford has created a unique, monumental style that is a synthesis of powerful imagery and brilliant formal invention. He draws upon his masterful draftsmanship and rigorous formal skills to create paintings that are psychologically penetrating.  His vision is a timeless one conveying both an affirmation of life and a deep awareness of mortality. Spafford’s paintings are provocative, emphatic statements that haunt memory.”

 – Bruce Guenther, curator of Contemporary Art for Documents Northwest, The Poncho Series; Michael Spafford, Seattle Art Museum January 1986


“Michael Spafford abbreviates and freely alters the stories that interest him, ignoring the convoluted and decorative. What’s left are the primary passions, the excavated pressure points of human consciousness…. Myth is Spafford’s catalyst.  He doesn’t want to shake the history off rape, romance, murder and phallus-worship, the pathological underpinnings of the heroic.  In myth he finds access to extreme situations that cannot be dismissed as contemporary aberration. He is after the pause before slaughter, the moment of cataclysmic fusion, the reverberation after. He paints pictorial currents, beyond personal grievance or moral judgment.”

 – Regina Hackett, Art Critic, for Michael Spafford: Origins – Selected Paintings and Drawings. 1961-1990  Exhibit at Bellevue Art Museum


“Spafford uses myth to explore the darker side of the heroic. The myths he dislodges from history are contemporary critiques of male power… Spafford’s mythic males are trapped in the imperatives of their natures.  They rule and run amok, fulfilling their destinies through the strength of Spafford’s style… Scraped down and worn as if from too much handling, the images have the spare grace of elementary forms. The hero’s labors have been reduced to verbs, decisive acts stripped of extraneous story… Like Leon Golub and Georg Baselitz, Spafford is a power painter. He makes coherence of chaos and brings to modern figurative painting his own deeply affecting stamp.”

 – Regina Hackett, for What’s Happening, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December, 1995


“Spafford’s dramatic, blocky, pared-to-the-bone Modernist style has always seemed a perfect visual language to describe the Greek myths.  His heroes, gods and giants, are frequently in silhouette, without features. The result is that his paintings and prints suggest a universality that makes them archetypal. Without reading the names of the works, the viewer has no idea when these events occurred, or to whom. Indeed, it those who worry that we, as a society, by leaving little patrimony for future generations may easily see Spafford’s latest work as an allegory for our society’s malfeasance to his children.”

-Robin Updike, for Tempo, The Seattle Times, December 1995


“To depict the immanent meanings these archaic tales, he developed a visual format poised between the figurative and the abstract, between Dionysian expressionism and Apollonian rationality.  These contrary systems of rendering are played off one against the other in a series of compositions until grand themes and narrative details are collapsed into elemental silhouettes. Formally re-enacting the conflicts and transformations that animate classical legends, Spafford creates mythography by linking the actions of his heroes and heroines with the process of visual realization itself. They are strong visual images, executed on a large scale, for the most part, in a bold graphic style.  Spafford creates many levels, both within the physicality of the paint and within the symbolism of the subject matter.”

– Patricia Failing, Visiting Lecturer, University of Washington and Contributing Editor for ARTnews, for Essay accompanying The Mythic Themes of Michael Spafford, Western Gallery at Western Washington University and The Whatcom County Museum of History and Art