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For 25 years this Seattle gallery has sold beautiful art just dark enough to disturb your dreams

Roq La Rue Gallery began as an experiment. Now it's the nation's leading purveyor of "pop surrealism." #k5evening

SEATTLE — On a recent Saturday night, artists, art lovers and art students crowded into Roq La Rue Gallery in Seattle's Madison Valley as wine was poured and a DJ played music. They were celebrating Kirsten Anderson's 25th year of selling art -- a particular kind that might just have the power to disturb dreams.

"It's always been really technically excellent work," Anderson said. "The subject matter is always fantastical in some ways, not fantasy, but more of a magic realism that often sort of has a darker bent, but it's always beautiful. It's not particularly gruesome or macabre or anything like that."

Roq La Rue began in the 90s as an experiment, showcasing underground artists who took their cues from things like comics and Tiki culture.

Credit: KING TV
Kirsten Anderson at the Roq La Rue 25th anniversary party

"When I first stumbled upon it it was known as low brow," Anderson said." And some of the artists were saying 'We don't know that we want to be called that anymore because we put so much time, energy and effort and blood sweat and tears in our work that we don't want a term that could be seen as denigrating.'"

So Anderson came up with the term "pop surrealism" when she literally wrote the book about the rise of underground art. The scene has gradually become more respected in the mainstream. 

In 2006, Travis Louie, whose art often features an imaginary world where creatures pose in Victorian outfits, had his first gallery exhibition at Roq La Rue. Now his art has been featured in museums from Paris to Wyoming.

"The artists that she tends to exhibit are incredibly high caliber, and they are doing things that you don't see anywhere else," said Seattle artist Kari-Lise Alexander. "So it makes it really exciting to be an artist that gets to show with her. It's a huge privilege."

Alexander's paintings feature flora and the female form. "Break Through" seems to have flowers blooming forth from a woman's severed arm.

"It's up to the viewer to decide whether that's a beautiful thing that is happening or not," said Alexander.

Credit: KING TV
Laurie Lee Brom's "Daisy" at the Roq La Rue party

Another up-and-comer, Ben Ashton, paints mind-bending portraits of aristocrats in distress

"It's sort of dark, but it's also quite funny," Anderson said. "I think it's funny."

With art that bends towards the darkness, Roq La Rue isn't for everyone. But for 25 years it has catered to clients with a certain taste.

"It's amazing to me how often somebody comes in and says I've never bought a painting before, but I have to have that," Anderson said. "That happens a lot."

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