The Seattle Times Entertainment & the Arts

Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Motorcycle accident kills Seattle artist Fajans, known for public pieces, realistic style

By Sara Jean Green

Seattle Times staff reporter

It was Michael Fajans' proudest work: a three-story mural in the new federal courthouse in downtown Seattle depicting, among others, a garment worker, a heavy-equipment operator and a Metro bus driver as jurors.

"He was always looking at how people interact," said Cathryn Vandenbrink, a fellow artist and Mr. Fajans' partner of 20 years.

"All those details of life were fascinating to him ? everything had a reason and everything fit together."

Mr. Fajans, 58, a nationally respected painter known for meticulous detail and realistic style who also painted a mural prominently displayed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, died Monday morning after an accident on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, according to Seattle police.

Seattle police spokesman Rich Pruitt said Mr. Fajans apparently lost control of his motorcycle as he merged from the Columbia Street onramp. He fell off his bike and was hit by a car, Pruitt said.

Mr. Fajans died at Harborview Medical Center sometime after the crash, family and friends confirmed.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Fajans was on his way to his studio at Federal Center South, a sprawling compound on the Duwamish River where the FBI and a host of other federal agencies share space with artists, Vandenbrink said.

Mr. Fajans was the first artist to move into the complex, operated by the General Services Administration, which also commissioned Mr. Fajans to create the courthouse mural, said Nick Fennel, an oil painter and Mr. Fajans' close friend who also has space in the complex.

According to Mr. Fajans' Web site, he was born in Philadelphia and grew up in New York City. After college in Ohio, he moved to Seattle in 1977.

In the late 1990s, Mr. Fajans was commissioned to paint the official portrait of then-Gov. Mike Lowry.

He was an experienced motorcyclist and was as mechanical as he was artistic, his friends said. He was in the midst of fixing up a 1950s BMW motorcycle for his adult son, Pepper Fajans of Seattle, Fennel said.

"He'd been riding motorcycles forever," Fennel said.

Mr. Fajans loved being in the studio and hung a sign on the door urging fellow artists to drop in. "Human beings were a huge part of his passion," Fennel said. "He was an extraordinary guy and was very concerned with ordinary people."

For the past year, Mr. Fajans had been working on a piece inspired by the war in Iraq, with a focus on issues of death, Fennel said. The work was to feature bodies draped in sheets.

"One of my biggest regrets is that he won't be able to finish the project he dreamt up," Fennel said.

"He was in the midst of drawings and doing prep work. It was totally on spec ? there was no buyer for it or anything. It was this huge, huge dream he had."

The Sea-Tac airport mural by Mr. Fajans hangs in Concourse D and repeatedly depicts a magician ? which is in fact a series of self-portraits of Mr. Fajans ? who makes a person disappear. The work is about the transformative nature of travel, said Jack Mackie, also a local artist who serves on the Port of Seattle Art Oversight Committee.

In addition to his public art, Mr. Fajans and Vandenbrink together have been instrumental in securing housing and studio space for numerous local artists, Mackie said.

"Michael's gifts to this region, they cannot be matched," Mackie said. "He gets people, he gets who they are, not what they look like. He gets their individuality and expresses it through his deftness of paint."

In addition to Vandenbrink and his son, Mr. Fajans is survived by a sister, Trudi Fajans, also of Seattle.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or

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