Charles Wing Krafft, Political Artist, Writer, and Provocateur dies at 72.
After a long and valiant struggle with glioblastoma brain cancer, Charles Wing Krafft died in the early morning hours of June 12, 2020.
Charles was born in 1947, to Josephine and Carl “Bud” Krafft. When Jo was pregnant with Charles, she claimed to have been startled by Salvador Dali in a park in NYC (the two collided when Dali came from behind a hedgerow).
Charles grew up in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and was an adventurous boy spending much of his time exploring downtown Seattle with its waterfront pawnshops and tattoo parlors. A fan of Elvis, he once scooped up the clippings from a barbershop floor and scotch-taped them to his face in an imitation of Presley’s sideburns. He also started smoking at age ten.
Needless to say, Charles was a rebellious kid and was often grounded. As a teen, he was expelled from the prestigious Lakeside School (alma mater of Bill Gates). Headmaster Dexter K. Strong wrote in his expulsion letter to his parents, [Charles] “has the ability to put people on edge and keep them there.”
Despite his bad behavior, his parents encouraged his creativity and sent him to art classes at the Seattle Art Museum at Volunteer Park. It was there that Charles began his life-long love of art, sneaking in as a young boy to look at the paintings – his favorite being a mysterious painting of a woman.
Charles discovered Jack Kerouac in the school library at Lakeside and inspired by “On the Road” yearned to be a writer and see the world. At 17, he ran away from home with his high school buddies, hitchhiking to Tijuana, and working as a sharecropper a few days before coming home.
It wasn’t long before he ran away again to San Francisco, at the beginning of the hippie movement. Wanting to be a poet, he sought out and befriended an older generation of beatnik writers and intellectuals. His cousin, Grace Slick, was already living there, and she refused to send him home when his mother contacted her, asking her to put Charlie on a plane. It was Grace who showed him how to do light shows by squishing raspberry jam between two pieces of mylar and putting it in a projector. He would later do light shows for Grace’s band, The Jefferson Airplane, and other legendary acts of the Sixties as a member of the Union Light Company.
Ultimately, he was forced to return home when his parents threatened to have his friend Lorenzo Milam arrested for driving him across state lines. Lorenzo ran the independent radio station KRAB, where Charles worked as a teenager. Lorenzo also provided Charles with a boat to live in after Charlie got kicked out of his family home for resisting the draft. Charles grew his hair long and became the object of harassment at a time when being a hippy was considered threatening by mainstream society.
Upon returning from San Francisco, Charlie’s parents took him out to the middle of nowhere, namely La Conner Washington, to attend community college, hoping this exile would keep him out of trouble. Instead, Charles discovered an abandoned fishing village called Fishtown and became its first resident, starting an artist colony focused on Buddhist meditation and mystic art practices. Charles was inspired by Morris Graves, Guy Anderson, and an older generation of Northwest artists called the Northwest Mystics, who became his friends and mentors.
The Fishtown colony exhibited in Seattle galleries as the Asparagus Moonlight Group. (Asparagus Moonlight was older poet Robert Sunds’ nickname for marijuana.) Charles lived without running water or electricity for over a decade, focusing on his poetry and his painting. During this time, he published two books of poetry, “In the Mouth of the Mask” and “Apprenticed to Mud.”
While living in Fishtown, Charles answered an ad recruiting young people to go to India to study meditation and spiritual practice. He attended and graduated from the Ananda Forest School in the mid-sixties, just after the Beatles had left their stay with the Maharishi. Though he ultimately became disillusioned by his gurus (except for Pilot Baba), Charles would travel back and forth to India for the rest of his life on a spiritual quest to gain higher consciousness. In 2012, Charles attended his second Kumbh Mela, a spiritual pilgrimage where holy men journey from around the world to converge on a temporary city in India built just for the occasion. Charles bathed in the Ganges as part of this holy event.
Fishtown ultimately came to an end, after the residents protested logging of the forests surrounding their home by the landowners. Losing the battle in court, they were evicted, and their artist studio shacks bulldozed. As a result, Charles moved back to Seattle in the early Eighties, living in Chinatown in an old storefront next to Higo’s department store on Jackson Street. To make ends meet, he worked as a museum guard for Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park, standing silently with a hangover day after day.
Charles lived a spartan lifestyle in Seattle, saving all his money to travel the world, and living for periods in India, Thailand, Myanmar, Romania, and Slovenia, as well as trips to France and Italy. In his twenties, he lived on the streets of Paris, dressed as a priest, picking up girls and panhandling for spare change. A dabbler in the occult, he also squatted in Aleister Crowley’s abandoned mansion in Cefalu, Italy.
Besides the Morris Graves, Charles’ primary inspiration for becoming an artist was the hot rod pinstriper Von Dutch (aka Kenneth Howard). In the 1990s, Charles sought out Von Dutch, and the two became friends, trading elaborately illustrated letters. Charlie decided to honor Von Dutch by painting a Dutch Delft tile for him and spent months taking china painting classes to learn how to do so from Vivian Hustle, and spending hours in the company of “blue-haired grannies” in Vivian’s basement. (Later Vivian would attend the art shows of his delft work, somewhat bemused by his delft paintings of death and destruction but always supportive.)
When Von Dutch’s delft tile arrived at in the mail, it was broken, and Von Dutch dubbed it Disasterware™, creating the now infamous logo branded on all of Krafft’s’ porcelain work. Eager to master his craft, Charles traveled to Holland and learned from a Hells Angel/Delft painter named Tattoo Mali and Delft Master/Tattoo Artist Henk Schiffmacher (aka Hanky Panky).
In the 1990s, Charles collaborated with the COCA gallery to bring a series of groundbreaking art shows to the Pacific Northwest, most notably the Kustom Kar Kulture show, which featured the works of Big Daddy Roth and spearheaded the beginning of the low brow art movement. It was also in partnership with COCA that he brought the political art collective NSK to Seattle. Later, He would travel to Slovenia to work with them as an artist in residence.
Through his association with NSK, he developed his most important piece, The Porcelain War Museum, a project that originated in Bosnia when he came in on a troop transport, as a guest of NSK. Inspired by the AK-47s slung on the backs of rebel fighters all around him, he began making porcelain AKs and other weaponry, painted in the Dutch Delft style. The work was first exhibited at the Ministry of Defense in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It was a project that he would continue working on for the rest of his life.
In the nineties, he also met and became friends with publisher Adam Parfrey, and was introduced to a world of transgressive, fringe subcultures. Through his association with Adam, Charles met controversial figures like Boyd Rice and Michael Moynihan. Later, when Charles was attacked for his political views, Adam wrote an essay online defending him, but privately expressed his frustration with Charles’ newfound alt-right political stance. Despite that and the fact that Adam was Jewish, they maintained a close friendship, and Charles felt the loss of Adam deeply when he died unexpectedly in 2018.
Throughout his life, Charles was an auto-didact and an intellectual and spent as much time researching political ideologies and history as he did making art. Fascinated by WWII, he visited historical archives and traveled around the world in search of the truth, visiting Eastern Europe, Romania, and Auschwitz.
It was his investigation of conflicting accounts about an atrocity at an abattoir in Romania that led him to question the historical narratives put forth around WWII. He became entrenched in the unwavering belief that we are being lied to. It was his obsession with finding the truth that ultimately got him branded a neo-nazi and a white supremacist. He was neither. His later work as a political artist sought to examine our villains, our taboos and challenge our need to hide from them. In an interview, he said, “I take full responsibility for the images I use, and I know they are loaded – that’s exactly why I use them.”
In 2012, he was the subject of a Stranger article resulting from growing Facebook complaints about postings on Charles’ account by people from the far right. Although Charles didn’t agree with these posts, he was against censorship and failed to remove them, causing people to assume they were made by himself. The article was picked up by the New Yorker, Huffington Post, and other online outlets, metastasizing across social media and turning Charles into a hashtag for hate.
As a result, Charles was banned from prestigious exhibits in Paris, London, and Switzerland. When Charles’ work is exhibited in museums, it appears with a warning label next to it. He also was harassed and threatened with physical violence until the end of his life.
Despite the devastating impact on his art career, Charles continued to support younger artists as best he could, trying to promote their work and lending financial support in the form of hiring them to work in his studio.
Many of these artists were total strangers at first who showed up on his doorstep, wanting to learn from him. To honor these artists, Charles founded The Mystic Sons of Morris Graves, a quasi-masonic order in the tradition of The Northwest Mystics.
In March 2018, Charles was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma brain tumor. Although Glioblastoma is an incurable form of cancer, he outlived the doctor’s predictions and even traveled; going to Lisbon and living for a short time in New Orleans. But in January of 2020, the doctors found the tumor had started growing again and told him there was nothing more they could do.
Although at the end of his life, Charles was approved for death with dignity option, legal in Washington State, he chose to keep living, dreaming of his next adventure; Zanzibar, or a sleeper train through India or just to sit on the beach in Honolulu. When he got too sick to live at home, he was moved to a hospice facility and even in the last two weeks of his life, still maintained his disarming sense of humor – joking with the nurses and winning their friendship. Despite COVID 19, hospice rules allowed family members to visit, and they were at his side up until his last day on earth, holding his hand, playing Indian music for him, or just sitting quietly next to him, keeping vigil. Though he was suffering, and in and out of consciousness, he held their hands tightly, only letting go when he was too weak to hold them anymore.
Charles is survived by his brother Chapin Krafft, sister Jody Anderson and son Simon Daugert.