Skagway artist to be featured in Alaska State Museum


Daniel Papke is cooler than you.

I know, I know – it’s a tough pill to swallow. At first, I had trouble accepting it too. But, it’s reality.

Daniel Papke is cooler than all of us.

He looks like a heavy metal version of Rasputin, rides a sweet motorcycle and lives in a cabin in the woods. When he was 19, he burned all his possessions and spent his subsequent years hitchhiking and hopping freight trains around the country.

So incredibly cool.

He hates being the center of attention, but plays in multiple bands, hosts two radio shows and regularly talks me into avant-garde performance “art” that involves our wearing very little clothing in front of crowded bars.

Admittedly, a little twisted, but still pretty cool.

Papke has been sharing the contents of his weird, beautiful brain with Skagway for nearly two decades, and now he has set his sights on the rest of the state.

Beginning November 3, the Alaska State Museum in Juneau will run a solo exhibition of Papke’s large-scale oil paintings – the exhibit is titled “Lost Language.” The show is the first of eight solo exhibits the museum will feature through 2019, which will feature artists from all over Alaska.

“Lost Language” consists of an entirely new body of work, which Papke began painting upon being selected by the State Museum in 2016.

The work is massive both in size and scope. Papke’s modest studio space is currently packed with nine giant canvases that he works on simultaneously. The paintings, with two exceptions, measure 77.625 inches by 48 inches.

“Golden rectangles,” he explains.

While working on a large scale isn’t new to Papke, he says the paintings in this collection are the biggest he has ever done.

“It’s a better painting experience when your field of vision is surrounded by the painting, when it’s all you can see,” he says. “A giant blank canvas is terrifying, it needs something.”

Done in Papke’s signature montage-style, each canvas is a multilayered amalgamation of ancient and modern, fact and fiction, realism and graphic-design. Each is inspired by one of the nine Greek Muses, but the imagery draws influence from a broad spectrum of subjects both mythological and mundane.

When viewed together, Papke explains, the paintings can be loosely interpreted as following the evolution of a nebulous female character, wandering the world while searching for the lost language of her grandparents.

He notes that this is not necessarily intended, nor the only interpretation of the work. The story, which he outlined long after he started painting, is more of a tool for maintaining thematic unity throughout the pieces than an explicit statement.

“I think it’s more fun if people don’t know and superimpose their own meaning on top of that,” he says. “I have my own story, but it’s boring.”

A native of California and a graduate of Portland State University’s art program, Papke’s work has previously shown in galleries up and down the West Coast, but this is his first major exhibition in the state of Alaska. He was one of eight artists selected from an original pool of 58 that submitted portfolios in hopes of a solo exhibit in Juneau.

“Lost Language” has an opening from 4:30-7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 3 at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. At 7 p.m., Papke will talk about his work. The opening is free of charge, regular winter admission is $7 per adult. The exhibit runs through Feb. 3, 2018. For additional information contact the Alaska State Museum at (907) 465-2901 or visit