David Bates

 

Stretching from cultural borders to the state’s borders

In Salem, George Rodriguez's ceramic sculptures comment on community and identity; in Newberg, Brad Isom's watercolors explore the glory of Oregon

We have another gallery show in Newberg this week, but before that, please indulge a brief diversion as we drop in on Salem.

My ArtsWatch colleagues may write more about this later, but for now you should know that the Hallie Ford Museum of Art on the Willamette University campus opened a new show last week that’s worth a visit: Embellished Narratives by Seattle ceramics artist George Rodriguez, a native of El Paso, Texas.

The show, which occupies several rooms in the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery, is an exploration of the artist’s Chicano heritage and the myriad of political and social issues bound up with the U.S.-Mexico border — both metaphorically and literally. The largest single piece, Instrumental Divide, is a row of nine larger-than-life musicians, sculpted with glaze, steel, and vinyl, lined up in such a way that they form a wall cutting across the room.

"Instrumental Divide" by George Rodriguez (2009, stoneware with glaze, steel, and vinyl). Photo by: David Bates
In “Instrumental Divide,” artist George Rodriguez turns a group of musicians into a wall (2009, stoneware with glaze, steel, and vinyl). Photo by: David Bates

Organized by curator Jonathan Bucci, this is a major exhibition. There is much to take in, and the detail work invites close scrutiny. From the program notes:

“Ideas of ceremony, ritual, and cross-cultural mythology all combine in Rodriguez’s bold yet whimsical artwork. Inspired by childhood memories, international travel, border politics, and the history of art, his richly decorated and tactile sculptures draw the viewer in with a mixture of humor and gravity to address concepts of community and identity in our global culture.

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The alchemy of photography, sans camera

In a show in Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center, Rachel Wolf works transformations using paper and film, light and chemicals

Our lives are saturated with photographic images — pictures taken by tens of millions of people daily on phone cameras, photos that are then Facebooked, Instagrammed, and Tweeted into the world, where our eyeballs are bombarded with this digital hail. Those who shoot pictures with a camera that uses film, I have to believe, have become a tiny minority.

In that small company of analog photographic artists, Rachel Wolf stands virtually alone.

“Flight” by Rachel Wolf (chromogenic chemigram - archival digital print)
“Flight” by Rachel Wolf (chromogenic chemigram – archival digital print)

Wolf takes pictures — or perhaps I should say she makes pictures — with lots of film, but no camera. The results of her work (and it’s clearly a lot of work) landed at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg last week in a show titled Unconditional that runs through Aug. 3. Wolf has shown her work in New York, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Portland, where she lives, so once again we have an instance of Chehalem’s curators bringing an urban art experience to rural Yamhill County.

The product of camera-less photography is called a photogram, chemigram, or luminogram, depending on what combination of object, light, and chemicals is used to make it. Photograms use an object on paper to create the image, Wolf said, while the images in chemigrams come from chemical reactions, and in luminograms the images are from light. The images in Unconditional are chemigrams.

There’s no precise date for the invention of photography itself, as precursors go all the way back to ancient times, but the first photo engraving dates to 1822, and about 20 years later a book illustrated with photograms was published. In the 20th century, the number of artists known for this kind of camera-less photography is pretty small; they include: Man Ray, Adam Fuss, Susan Derges, and Christian Marclay.

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Bonnie Hull’s ‘Little Me’: Memories of a life

A sympathetic curator helps connect the dots for the Salem artist's Minthorne Gallery show in Newberg

Not to be hyperbolic about it, but my first impression stepping into the Roger and Mildred Minthorne Gallery at George Fox University in Newberg was one of visual perfection.

Occasionally, one walks into a show where a cavernous space swallows up everything — installed, perhaps, by a curator who wants the pieces to “breathe.” The other end of the spectrum, of course, is to cram too much in.

But with Salem artist Bonnie Hull’s Little Me exhibit, showcased in the Minthorne through July 19, one finds a happy balance. The show comprises about two dozen pieces, mostly paintings and a couple of quilts, which fill the small cube-shaped room, with neither dominating the other. Outside, through floor-to-ceiling windows, you see the greenery of the 134-year-old campus. Perfection.

The Minthorne Gallery strikes a happy balance between space and content in its exhibition of Bonnie Hull’s work.  Photo by: David Bates
The Minthorne Gallery strikes a happy balance between space and content in its exhibition of Bonnie Hull’s work. Photo by: David Bates

Hull is well-known in Oregon artistic circles. A painter, preservationist, gardener and quilter, Hull, with her husband, Roger, is affiliated with Willamette University in Salem. A list of her shows fills several pages of single-spaced type. A few recent, local highlights: In 2010 and again in 2017, Hull was artist-in-residence at Bush Barn Art Center in Salem. This is her second Minthorne show; in 2015, she and fellow Salem artist Kay Worthington showcased quilts here.

We’ll get to the circumstances leading to her return in a moment. First, here’s Hull’s words on the show: 

“Memory and image define my work from the last two years,” she writes. “All the ingredients of the work I’ve been making all my life are here: narrative, pattern and texture, the drawn line. The addition of memory and the interpretation of memory in the process of imagining new work has made this an interesting period for the maker: me.”

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Where earth meets sky

Clairissa and Colby Stephens' multimedia exhibit at Chehalem Cultural Center explores horizon lines

This is the late spring lull before Yamhill County’s summer stage productions come to life. The Aquilon Music Festival is still a month away, though the wise would do well to buy tickets now. Tickets are also on sale for the 8th annual Wildwood MusicFest on the beautiful Roshambo ArtFarm in Willamina, like Aquilon, also set for July. A crew started working on the set for The Graduate at Gallery Theater in McMinnville last weekend. We’re still awaiting the final schedule for music downtown in the plaza, and Willamette Shakespeare’s As You Like It, set for August, feels like forever away.

If you’re in quieter, more contemplative mood, here’s a show for you: Stratifying the Unknown, an exhibition and installation by the husband-wife team of Clairissa and Colby Stephens. You’ll find it occupying the Parrish Gallery of the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg through June 28. I visited it last week and encountered a Portland TV crew preparing a feature on the place.

Stratifying the Unknown explores “the ways horizon lines shape our understanding of place and space and one’s location within it,” according to the exhibition notes. It’s a collaborative effort by artists who obviously understand what neuroscience and psychology tell us about architecture: that our physical environment, the very space we occupy, affects how we see, think, and feel about the world.

“When Earth Becomes Sky 360° ” by Colby Stephens (photograph on watercolor paper)

The Stephens did a lot of their thinking about 520 miles southeast of Newberg, in the Black Rock Desert — the supposed setting for the 1955 John Sturges thriller Bad Day at Black Rock. (The film actually was shot in California in a “town” that was built for the movie.) The couple was living in Reno in 2011, which gave them an opportunity to explore a physical space completely different from the Willamette Valley, where wooded hills, farmland, and subdivisions mark the outer limits of our field of vision.

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UFO Festival: Keeping McMinnville weird for 20 years

Parade marchers on Saturday will include extraterrestrials of many stripes, while ufology buffs can attend presentations by scientists, authors, and witnesses

Portland prides itself on keeping weird, but this weekend, McMinnville owns bragging rights for Oregon Weird. Saturday afternoon on Third Street, the restaurant-and-tasting-room-thick thoroughfare downtown, the weird will be out in force during a parade celebrating the city’s annual UFO Festival.

Every May, McMinnville draws an increasingly large crowd to mark one of ufology’s iconic events. On May 11, 1950, a farmer named Paul Trent snapped a couple of photographs of what appeared to be a flying disc over his rural Yamhill County property. Remarkably, he didn’t get the film developed right away, opting instead to finish the roll.

In the early 2000s, I talked to Phil Bladine, who in 1950 was the young publisher of his family-owned newspaper, the Telephone-Register (the forerunner of the McMinnville News-Register, where Bladine served as publisher until 1991). His recollection: Trent didn’t even think to rush down and alert the newspaper; he mentioned it to a McMinnville banker who in turn told the Register. For what it’s worth, Bladine didn’t think Trent was the sort  to perpetrate a hoax.

Paul Trent’s 1950 photo of what appears to be a flying disc above his Yamhill County field is the inspiration for this weekend’s UFO Festival.
Paul Trent’s 1950 photo of what appears to be a flying disc over his Yamhill County field is the inspiration for this weekend’s UFO Festival.

In ufological circles, Trent’s photos rank among the best photographic evidence of UFOs from the 20th century. (The acronym has lately fallen out of fashion in favor of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, which is possibly a nod to more exotic theories that they are not necessarily physical objects, but visual evidence of some other-dimensional intelligence. That’s the theory I find most credible, anyway, and explored a couple years ago in a piece for the News-Register.)  

Trent’s mysterious images predate by many decades the era of big-screen-quality special effects that nearly anyone can pull off today with Photoshop. Even in the absence of high-tech tools, the photos (to use today’s vernacular) went viral. Following their appearance on the front page of the Telephone-Register, they were published in Life magazine and The Oregonian. For years, you were virtually guaranteed to see those pictures in any book about UFOs.

In 2000, McMenamins Hotel Oregon launched the festival to commemorate the event’s then-50th anniversary. It has, one might say, taken flight. It’s reportedly the second-largest gathering for UFO enthusiasts in the country next to one held in Roswell, N.M. If you’re still with me, you surely know what that’s about.

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Lines everywhere on the Yamhill County arts horizon

You'll find them in exhibitions exploring horizon lines and ikebana, and the plucked strings of a guitar. Plus, McMinnville Short Film Festival has a new leader

It’s one of those weeks where there’s so much going on, we have just enough space to squeeze in enough about everything for you to click ahead and decide whether to investigate further. Let’s go.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER IN NEWBERG has rotated in a new exhibit worth checking out. Oregon City’s artistic duo Clairissa and Colby Stephens are Stratifying the Unknown with a collection of drawings, paintings and sculptures “that explore the ways horizon lines shape our understanding of place and space and one’s location in it.” According to the artists’ statement:

"Field of View | Black Rock Desert" is part of the “Stratifying the Unknown” show by Clairissa and Colby Stephens in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

“Field of View | Black Rock Desert” is part of the “Stratifying the Unknown” show by Clairissa and Colby Stephens in the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

“We became captivated by horizon lines when we moved to Reno, NV, in 2011. Distinctly different from our Western Oregon stomping grounds, we were captivated by the desert and the 360-degree view of horizon lines that it offered. As avid backcountry explorers, we use a compass for navigation: a process that is heavily dependent on horizon lines. And so we began to consider the various ways that horizon lines impact our lives. But lines do not simply demarcate the boundaries of three dimensional space: They also trace the ways that humans, animals, plants, and water move through it.”

You’ll find it in the Parrish Gallery through June 28. And don’t miss the Art for All Youth project in the Community Gallery, the fruit of an artist-led partnership with Providence’s Outreach program to work with students on ceramics, paint-pouring and watercolor. Runs through June 1.

Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman is on board as executive director of the McMinnville Short Film Festival, which is accepting entries for the 2020 event.

Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman is on board as executive director of the McMinnville Short Film Festival, which is accepting entries for 2020.

THE NEXT McMINNVILLE SHORT FILM Festival is nearly a year off, but there’s news to report. Portland filmmaker Justin Zimmerman, whose work has appeared in more than a hundred festivals around the world, has been named executive director of the event. Festival co-founders Nancy and Dan Morrow, who operate The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville, will remain involved in the expanding, filmmaker-friendly enterprise as board members, but this will mark the first time a professional filmmaker (and Portlander) has been in charge of steering the ship.

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Remembering what is lost, kept, altered, and shared

Linden Eller’s collages on display in Newberg explore the melancholy of childhood amnesia, while reinforcing the value of staying present

The artist’s statement that accompanies Linden Eller’s Little Small exhibit, on display through June 1 in Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center, makes a fascinating point about the nature of individual memory, which is integral to the images she’s given us.

Amnesia is popularly regarded — when it’s regarded at all — as the result of trauma: physical trauma, such as a blow to the head, or psychological trauma, a natural psychological defense mechanism that shields us from recalling some experience too painful to revisit. Those, to be sure, are variations of amnesia, but ignore a crucial fact: Most adults’ first memory is from around age 3 or 4. The first years of our lives are lost to us.

Eller developed an interest in this “childhood amnesia” when she spent a year working with children at a kindergarten in Maebashi, Japan. She responded, as artists do, artistically: A project was born, which began with drawn recollections by children ranging in age from 2 to 6 and culminated with Eller’s sewn-collage versions of those drawings. The pieces were paired and were first exhibited in Maebashi. Now the exhibit has taken up residence in the cultural center’s Central Gallery. Eller writes: “This project is a reflection on what is lost, kept, altered, and shared during the first years of life.”

Artist Linden Eller attempts to replicate the quiet hazy environment from which a memory is recalled, according to her website. Her “Little Small” exhibit is at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

Artist Linden Eller attempts to replicate the quiet, hazy environment from which a memory is recalled, according to her website. Her “Little Small” exhibit is at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

Eller was born in 1984 and grew up in Phoenix, Ariz., before heading to Southern California, where she earned her BA in studio art. She has traveled a great deal; besides living and working in Japan, she’s lived in New England, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. My interview with Eller, who has returned to Phoenix, was conducted by email and has been edited for length and clarity.

I’m always interested in origins, beginnings — and, of course, this goes directly to an interest of yours: memory. What do you recall about your own introduction to art and creativity? How did you choose to make it a career?

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