Art review: Richard Diebenkorn figures it out

In the Portland Art Museum's "Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942-1955" we witness the development process of the Bay Area master

Thirty years ago I saw The Drawings of Richard Diebenkorn at the Museum of Modern Art. It was an amazing show of works that seemed effortlessly done, works that left me wondering how he could always, (at least in those drawings) always stop at the perfect point, often with just a few marks on paper. So, I was excited to find that the Portland Art Museum was having a big exhibition of Diebenkorn’s work, Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942-1955, paintings and drawings from the first phase of his career. These works show the development of Diebenkorn as an abstract painter. His next phase would be 12 years of figurative painting, and then, for the rest of his career, he returned to abstraction with his iconic Ocean Park series.

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1945. Watercolor on paper, 15 ¾” x 12″/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

The works in the exhibition illustrate Diebenkorn’s progress from age 20 to 33. But equally important is the exhibition catalog ’s essay by Scott A. Shields. Like Roger Hull’s essay for the Hallie Ford Museum’s Louis Bunce retrospective in 2017, the essay is highly readable and does what good biography does: puts the subject in the context (of the people, institutions and ideas) that shapes them.

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The Art of the Pandol

An Oregonian from Sri Lanka strives to create America’s first giant, Sri Lankan-style Buddhist shrine -- in his Beaverton garage

By MARIA CHOBAN and BRETT CAMPBELL

One hour to sunset. Beaverton’s Sri Lankan New Year festivities known as Vesak pick up momentum. Cashew curry, dal curry, fish balls crowd the counter while coconut sambal and a pot of spiced rice march up the driveway and through the garage into the kitchen, carried by women from Washington County’s small Sri Lankan community, which numbers about 500.

In the garage, a growing squadron of fellow Sri Lankan-Americans offers advice to the two engineers working on a seafoam blue drum criss-crossed with inch-wide strips of shiny metal, coiled like a geometric Minoan bracelet around Cleopatra’s arm. About four feet across and ten inches in diameter, the drum is part of a mechanism that resembles a player piano roll.

“Screwdriver! No! Flathead!”

The only English words as one engineer’s son digs through a tool box. The squadron of eight Sri Lankan-American men staying out of the way erupts in advice, but we don’t understand Sinhalese and the two engineers continue dancing around each other; quiet, efficient, calm.

About one million blue coated wires connect the drum mechanism to the twelve-foot tall yellow shrine looming over the driveway, blocking the house’s front door, because it’s also ten feet wide.

Thirty minutes to sunset, marking the beginning of Vesak on May 26th this year — the celebration of Buddha’s life, enlightenment and passing — to be inaugurated with the lighting of this massive yellow shrine.

Jeevan Kasthuriarachchi and his Flasher

The shrine is called a Pandol. The seafoam blue drum mechanism is called a Flasher. Four-hand drawn and painted four by four foot panels show the story of Sama: one panel for each chapter. A banner at the bottom credits the family and community members who helped design, draw and build this work of sacred art. Buddha perches atop, serenely blessing all 1,800 lights attached to the panorama that honors him. Above him flutters an American flag.

Driven by the drum mechanism with its 79 bicycle spokes, like cat whiskers brushing against the criss-crossed metal strips as it rotates, the lights will dance around the shrine like a kaleidoscope. If, that is, everything goes as planned.

Red ribbon warns us to stay on this side of the Pandol-in-progress. One of us is on the forbidden side snapping pictures of the sheets of three by three foot, precisely drawn plans stapled to the garage wall. A white piece of 8.5 X 11 inch paper hanging on the red ribbon instructs, “In case of fire: Dump sand stored in the pail on the fire.” If this doesn’t work, “Contact Jeevan immediately and / or call 911.”

This is the story of Jeevan Kasthuriarachchi’s quest to create what he believes to be the first Sri Lankan Pandol in America.

Jeevan is not, officially, an Artist. He has no degree in art. He does not speak of his “practice” or “making work” or hang out in Portland’s art hipster neighborhoods. He earns a living for himself and his family by working as a civil engineer in a Washington county tech firm.

But if you define artist as someone who creates art, who sees the world in a different and more original way than most others, who diligently, even obsessively, applies craft and skill to that slant vision, and who builds an object of beauty that dazzles and moves others, what other word applies?

What if you yearn for an art form from your birth land and there’s nothing like it around you in your new homeland? What if you’re meticulously rigorous as an engineer, but your artistic sensibility doesn’t quite fit the corporate culture mold? Someone who steps outside the expected stereotypes — tech company number cruncher, middle-class suburbanite, first-generation-Asian- immigrant professional success story? How long does it take to make Art in a new home where it has never existed before?

For Jeevan, it took six months, or possibly 37 years. He has 15 minutes left.

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Growing Voices

Founded by a pair of Oregon opera stars, VOXnorthwest Voice Studio gives young singers a recipe for success

By ANGELA ALLEN

“I’m not feeling the high note now,” says Karsten George, shaking his head while rehearsing at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall one late-May afternoon.

He’s singing a song from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and he isn’t quite nailing the top note. His soprano voice is starting to change. He’s 13 and just completed seventh grade at All Saints School in Portland.

“Spin, sing, spin. Take a big rest before the note, then spin, spin, spin,” says Matthew Hayward, Karsten’s voice teacher and co-founder with opera singer Angela Niederloh of Portland’s VOXnorthwest Voice Studio. (Later, Hayward explains through email that “singing is all about the breath and how we use the breath to support the sound. ‘Spin spin spin’ means moving more air at a faster rate through the vocal apparatus, and that helps with freeing the note and letting the body relax.”)

Karsten George and Matthew Hayward at VOXnorthwest Voice Studio. Photo: Angela Allen.

Hayward, a lyric baritone when he’s performing and not teaching, moves away from the piano, sits down with Karsten, and encourages him to relax and reach for notes in Sondheim’s demanding “Not While I’m Around,” which none other than a boy’s pure soprano voice on the verge of maturing can properly render. Karsten loves the song and will perform it at a concert on June 30, the culmination of an intensive classical-music performing camp for kids June 25-30 at PSU. Debuti camp grew out of VOXnorthwest Voice Studio, and several of its students, including Karsten, will participate. For the camp, three theater, dance and music faculty members will teach alongside Hayward and Niederloh.

The hour-long VOXnorthwest concert begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at PSU’s 220-seat Lincoln Hall Recital Hall, where students will present excerpts from Carmen, La Traviata, Sweeney Todd, Magic Flute, West Side Story, The Mikado, among others. There is no charge for tickets.

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Brian Doyle and the language of the stage

The late Oregon writer's novel "Mink River" is a sinuous stream of words as music. Can its lush language be adapted for the theater?

Language, says Portland director Jane Unger to explain why she spent two years pursuing the stage rights to Brian Doyle’s loquacious and widely beloved Mink River, a summary-defying novel stuffed with plotlines, descriptions, lists and riffs on everything from the different types of Northwest wood to the nature and location of time.

Language, says Seattle playwright Myra Platt to explain why she agreed, on spec, to adapt a book that features a talking crow, a bear that rescues an injured boy, a seemingly inexhaustible cast of major and minor characters, and even a miscarried fetus riding a river to the sea.

Language, say reviewers on Amazon and GoodReads to explain why a nonfiction writer’s first novel—an episodic, and at times essayistic, attempt to render in prose the moment-by-moment life of an entire coastal Oregon town—thrilled them more than other books.

“Mink River” author Brian Doyle. Photo courtesy Mary Miller Doyle.

Language, said Doyle himself in numerous interviews to explain what he loved most about writing essays and stories. “I sometimes think there is no writer as addicted to music and swing and rhythm and cadence in prose as me,” he once told Ruminate magazine. “I really do want to push prose as close to music as I can, and play with tone and timbre in my work, play with the sinuous riverine lewd amused pop and song of the American language.”

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And the Drammy goes to …

Broadway Rose, "Tender Napalm" and a not-so-friendly gong rule the Portland theater scene's 2018 Drammy Awards

How about that gong? This year’s Drammy Awards ceremony Monday night at The Armory may have been an epic affair packed with tearful acceptance speeches, technical difficulties and even bingo, but the unofficial star of the night was the golden, disc-shaped gong that was on hand just in case any long-winded winners needed a nudge to get off stage.

In many ways, the gong embodied the spirit of the show, which honored the best achievements on Portland area theater stages in the 2017-18 season: It was playful, but added a simmering tension to the night. The show was two hours shorter than Artists Rep’s Magellanica (which should have been a contender, but Artists Rep, like Portland Center Stage, doesn’t participate in the awards) but felt longer and didn’t exactly spread the wealth around (at times it felt like the Drammy Committee’s main goal was to honor Broadway Rose and Broadway Rose). But there were entertaining, human moments as well, thanks to some powerful speeches as the comedic verve of host Claire Willett.

Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia in Broadway Rose’s “The Addams Family,” winner of the best musical production Drammy. Photo: Sam Ortega

So who won? The aforementioned Broadway Rose took home an armload of prizes for two musicals, The Addams Family (best production/musical)and Trails. Dancing Brain’s Tender Napalm also dominated with awards in, to name a few, the best production/play, directing, acting, and fight choreography categories. And the biggest loser of the night was easily Donald Trump, who was the subject of several oblique but unmistakable criticisms (side note: did the night really pass without a single thank you to Ronni Lacroute?).

At the end of the day, what I savored the most were the moments that peeked through the show’s structure. I’m thinking of Trisha Mead’s fearless onstage reckoning with her mortality (Mead founded Fertile Ground, which received a special achievement award). I’m thinking of Charles Grant winning best actor in a musical for his performance in Oregon Children’s Theater’s A Year With Frog and Toad and describing the letter that a young black girl who saw the show sent him: “Dear Frog: I love you and you are dark-skinned.”

And then there was Fertile Ground Director Nicole Lane, who delivered the best line of the night: “Please don’t gong me, Agatha.” It was a perfect moment because it was a reminder that the Drammys are capable of delivering the kind of onstage action that makes them an entertaining play in their own right.

The nominees and winners in each category, with the winner listed in boldface:

 

Best Actor in a Musical

Charles Grant, A Year with Frog and Toad, Oregon Children’s Theatre

John Ellingson, Cinderella, Northwest Children’s Theatre and School

Joel Walker, Trails, Broadway Rose Theatre Company

James Sharinghousen, A Year with Frog and Toad, Oregon Children’s Theatre

 

Best Actor in a Play

Josh Weinstein, Tender Napalm, Dancing Brain Productions

La’Tevin Alexander, And in This Corner: Cassius Clay, Oregon Children’s Theatre

Wrick Jones, Two Trains Running, PassinArt: A Theatre Company

Ted Rooney, Quietly, Corrib Theatre

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‘World Builders’ review: when worlds collide

Badass Theatre Company’s production of Johnna Adams’s play explores alternative mental universes before falling back down to earth

As the audience files in, Whitney and Max sit silently at opposite corners of the stage, lost in thought.

In fact, we soon learn they’re deeply immersed in their respective fantasy worlds — the condition that, Whitney informs us in relatively clunky blatant exposition, landed them both in this sterile patient lounge. As part of a research project they’ve been reluctantly enrolled in, they and the (unseen) other patients must take their prescribed experimental medication intended to eliminate their fantasizing — or face involuntary commitment to a mental institution.

Dunkin and Tidd in Badass Theatre’s ‘World Builders.’ Photo: Russell J. Young.

But what if they don’t want to give up their imaginary worlds? And even if the treatment works, how will these damaged people cope with mundane, messy reality?

That’s the provocative set-up for Johnna Adams’s World Builders, which Badass Theatre is staging through June at southeast Portland’s Shaking the Tree Theatre. It’s a fascinating concept and a promising play that offers tantalizing glimpses into alternative mental realities, before losing its way when reality returns.

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Dance review: The 10th New Expressive Works residents performance

New work by Decimus Yarbrough, claire barrera, Sarah Brahim and Shaun Keylock: "I am not what you supposed, but far different."

The New Expressive Works tenth residency cycle has just been completed, and according Suba Ganesan, the residency’s founder, “it’s the strongest example of my vision coming to life.”

The four choreographers come from all ends of the movement spectrum, but the danced images related to each other in more ways than one: discovering and celebrating identity, attention to intra- and interpersonal relationships within movement, and a genuine desire to create a safe space for artistic expression. Through the various approaches and stylistic influences, each choreographer incorporated these thematic elements in different and thought-provoking ways. This diversity allowed for the audience to witness the “rich, multicultural professional artistry that inhabits Portland,” explained Ganesan.

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