Sabina Poole

Sabina.... enthusiast ~ photographer, writer, observer ~ passionate humanitarian ~ history of art and architecture academic ~ dancer, yogi, mother, dessert maker, tea drinker

 

There’s A Dog In My Studio…..

This week Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art takes a quick diversion to reveal some of the closest and best friends of the Oregon artists featured on the studio tours and photographed by Sabina Poole.

We are taking a different tack this week:  an unabashedly minimalistic approach, a photo essay, if you will.  This will be a bit of a divergence from a focus solely on the artist and the studio.  Mostly, because in more than a few studio spaces there was another living, breathing, very essential being…one who observed, protected, interacted with a loving keenness and remarkably attentive attitude.  We, are of course, talking about the artist’s dog. And in one case, cat.  From Spanky to Gretta, from Saga and Yarn to Jacques Louis, the dogs peered at me, barked at me, and sooner or later settled into a calm curiosity or a blaise indifference.

I hope you will enjoy a brief meeting of a canine companion and a short stroll through the studios of

Vanessa Renwick
Eva Lake
Shelley Jordon
Christine Bourdette
Brittany Powell Parich
Julia Oldham
Susan Murrell
Sandy Brooke
Daniel Duford
Laura Vandenburgh

Click on any of the images to view in larger format.

Vanessa Renwick.

Vanessa Renwick.

[Editor’s Note: University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts’ Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios in 2014 to illustrate a new book published by The Ford Family Foundation with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts, Connective Conversations: Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014. You can read her introduction to this series here. On behalf of The Ford Family Foundation and the UO, Poole travelled around the state to photograph artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014, The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts Curator and Critic Tours and Lectures program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. She travels light, only one camera, no lighting equipment, one lens. Her goal is to show these artists in their environment—authentic, uncontrived, at ease. Learn about the project,Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 and the release of the book October 2015.

Poole has been posting weekly, if you have missed any of the articles, catch up here with Renee Couture, DE May, Ryan LaBar, Julia Oldham and Blair Saxon-Hill.]

 

Vanessa Renwick.

Vanessa Renwick.

 

 

Shelley Jordon.

Shelley Jordon.

 

 

Shelley Jordon.

Shelley Jordon.

 

 

Christine Bourdette.

Christine Bourdette.

 

 

Eva Lake.

Eva Lake.

 

 Studio of Brittany Powell Parich.

Studio of Brittany Powell Parich.

 

 

Julia Oldham.

Julia Oldham.

 

 

Susan Murrell.

Susan Murrell.

 

 

Sandra Brooke.

Sandra Brooke.

 

 

Studio of Daniel Duford.

Studio of Daniel Duford.

 

And only because, the world can never have enough photos of cats…..

Laura Vandenburgh.

Laura Vandenburgh.

Blair Saxon-Hill : Fit To Be Tied

Photographer Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios around the state for a new book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art. This time, she ties Blair Saxon-Hill.

I love extraordinary evenings. Even an ordinary evening can seem special, just because of the heightened focus between what can and cannot be seen in that evening’s darkness. But set that evening inside an artist’s studio deep in Portland’s southeast industrial district, place the artist, wrapped in paper and tied with rope, on a pedestal, light her with the bright spotlit glare of a humming 1980s era projector, and this little theater becomes fantastic.

Place the artist, wrapped in paper and tied in rope on a pedestal, light her with the bright spotlit glare of a humming 1980s era projector...

Place the artist, wrapped in paper and tied in rope on a pedestal, light her with the bright spotlit glare of a humming 1980s era projector…

[Writer’s Note: In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014, The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts Curator and Critic Tours and Lectures program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. I travel light, only one camera, no lighting equipment, one lens. My goal is to show these artists in their environment—authentic, uncontrived, at ease. Learn about the project,Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 and the release of the book October 2015.]

Thus started another Connective Conversations photoshoot, this time with Portland artist, Blair Saxon-Hill.  It’s worth taking a moment here to pause and contemplate Blair’s description of the work she makes, in her own words:

[Blair’s] work examines materiality and the relationships between photography and sculpture through the use of outmoded print technologies, the verbiage of our time (such as scanning and digital printing), and the evocation of the haptic. The resultant works appear as impossible documents and emotively activate the viewer’s perceiving body in considerations of material, space, presence and absence.  Blair creates site-specific installations, artist books, sculpture, photographs, paintings and prints. Co-Owner (with artist John Brodie) of Monograph Bookwerks, she is represented by Fourteen30 Contemporary.

Back to the matter at hand:  images of Blair in her studio….We had decided the week prior to meet again, for a second photoshoot. Our first meeting had been in the tame daylight of a late fall morning.

In her SE Portland studio, Blair Saxon-Hill.

In her SE Portland studio, Blair Saxon-Hill.

We had worked around the studio, Blair showing me her work, her favorite pieces, and her various work areas throughout her two-room studio space. It had been a foggy, rainy day, outside the wet Oregon gray light licked at the windows.

Blair sits comfortably on any surface in her workspace, it is like a theatrical home for her.

Blair sits comfortably on any surface in her workspace, it is like a theatrical home for her.

Blair, while completely cooperative, suggested we try and get together a second time when the light of day would not detract from the equipment she was making use of in her work at the time—namely, the overhead projector. We needed darkness, she explained.

"I often perform in my studio. It's those performances that assist the work and expand how I see possibility," says Blair.

“I often perform in my studio. It’s those performances that assist the work and expand how I see possibility,” says Blair.

Standing at the far room in her studio, in a long overcoat and holding a tall crook.

Standing at the far room in her studio, in a long overcoat and holding a tall crook.

Not one to miss an opportunity, I eagerly agreed. When I arrived on the appointed night, Blair greeted me with her customary warm hug, and showed me up the stairs to her studio where the projector was whirring away, a frayed net splayed over its surface.

Arranging the frayed and well-worn fishing net on the projector.

Arranging the frayed and well-worn fishing net on the projector.

“Here’s my idea!” Blair explained. She asked me to wrap her in a large roll of paper, closing the paper around her like a gift and tying it with a  well-used rope right about where I imagined would be the mid-section of this bundle of Blair. I helped her up onto a rickety, paint-stained stool and made sure she lined up “just so” with the net projected from across the room. The shadow of the netting blanketed her like a captured mermaid, a siren pinned to the studio wall.  Once she was situated, I couldn’t decide if she was more aloof 16th-17th century-Elizabethan, more powerfully victorious Nike of Samothrace (but notably with head in place) or more hedonistic-Botticelli maiden restrained under a mantle of paper.

The shadow of the netting blanketed her like a captured mermaid, a siren pinned to the studio wall.

The shadow of the netting blanketed her like a captured mermaid, a siren pinned to the studio wall.

She could have easily been all three.

Her image, to me, captured an essence of Blair, a reserved realism and a fierce female strength. She was fully covered yet her expression was confronting, revealing, a bit sensual, inviting in its transparency. “It looks like you have no clothes on,” I said offhandedly, and she giggled, maybe at the effect we had created. The portrait, I feel, realizes Blair as an exceptionally strong individual within her studio space: comfortable, vulnerable, susceptible. For a moment, we, as audience, are  allowed in to see a side of her that is inherently connected to her art and ethos. It is Blair in character, but playing herself and playing herself with honesty and integrity.

Blair Saxon-Hill's well-equipped studio.

Blair Saxon-Hill’s well-equipped studio.

That, I believe has been the real crux of this project to photograph the Oregon artists for Connective Conversations. We have been allowed to see an artist in their space, portrayed in a way that incorporates their work and aesthetic, and this view can give us a new understanding, knowledge and appreciation of both artist and work.

Within her studio, materials of her work.

Within her studio, materials of her work.

During my photoshoot with Blair, she explained her method: “Experiment, make something with the experiment and then use it for something else. I believe the studio is on some sort of holy ground. I felt that way about my last studio as well. Both spaces have looked south.”

Wearing a hat perched on her head of long flowing hair, Blair Saxon-Hill.

Wearing a hat perched on her head of long flowing hair, Blair Saxon-Hill.

Directing her here and there, photographing Blair revealed her sense of timing and self-depiction. Being “in character” for Blair is a truth, a lifestyle, a constant state. She is no other way. Whether standing at the far wall of her studio, in a long, dark overcoat and holding a tall crook (items pertinent to her recent work), wearing a hat perched on her head of long flowing hair, or sitting demurely on her studio couch, holding a red-fleshed apple as if it were a scarlet, wild rose, Blair was quirky, and intriguing. Every shot seemed a part and scene.

Blair Saxon-Hill sitting demurely in her studio holds a red-fleshed apple as if it were a scarlet, wild rose.

Blair Saxon-Hill sitting demurely in her studio holds a red-fleshed apple as if it were a scarlet, wild rose.

This intention became perfectly clear later when she explained to me, “I work in parts and scenes that then become whole works. Simultaneously thinking as a sculptor and a painter, I work with both precise and radical moves in the studio.” She continued, “I often perform in my studio. It’s those performances that assist the work and expand how I see possibility.”

As I photographed her, Blair moved around the room interacting with it as a theater that she had designed, a set ready for something to happen: arranging the papers on the studio table, her crook, the old netting. Each item was handled as if it was invaluable, though she paid particular attention to things that were not quite perfect, flawed in some way-—the broken, unusual, or different. A severed square in part of the net monopolized her attention for quite some time as I watched her arrange it to her satisfaction.

Collaborating with Blair Saxon-Hill, the artist showed me her own unique version of “all the world’s a stage.” Although I would slightly alter Shakespeare’s observation in this case: “all the world’s a studio…”

All the world's a studio...Blair Saxon-Hill in her SE Portland studio.

All the world’s a studio…Blair Saxon-Hill in her SE Portland studio.

Ryan LaBar: In His Craft and Art

Photographer Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios around the state for a new book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art. This week meet, Ryan LaBar.

From Portland to Enterprise you drive past Hood River, right on through The Dalles, watch the landscape change from lush Northwest Columbia River Gorge to the leveled plains of Central Oregon. Wind your way past Pendleton, too, and into Enterprise. What you will notice most are the mountains, the Wallowas.

[Writer’s Note: The Ford Family Foundation and University of Oregon Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art photography project took place over a the course of a year.  Inevitably, the lives and locations of the artists involved were going to change. That’s what happened with ceramic artist Ryan LaBar, whom I met in 2014 in his Eastern Oregon studio.]

Ryan LaBar stands outside his Enterprise, Oregon LH Project studio.

Ryan LaBar stands outside his Enterprise, Oregon LH Project studio.

I arrived in the late afternoon. Right as the mountains were beginning to surrender to a late summer sunset. By the time night arrived, the sky had become an inky black peppered with flakes of gold. I could imagine a life here, forever. But, I was not in Enterprise to enjoy the nocturnal sky nor fantasize about daring relocations, I was here to meet artist, Ryan LaBar.

LaBar uses an exacto knife to cut patterns and designs in the newly made piece.

LaBar uses an exacto knife to cut patterns and designs in the newly made piece.

About Connective Conversations: In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014, The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts Curator and Critic Tours and Lectures program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. I travel light, only one camera, no lighting equipment, one lens. My goal is to show these artists in their environment—authentic, uncontrived, at ease. Learn about the project, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 and the release of the book October 2015 at this year’s Oregon Arts Summit.

Ryan LaBar | Image Sabina Poole

LaBar works with clay, and his creations are something to behold—large or small they twist, contort, tangle, and intertwine in ceramic layers glazed and fired to produce works of intricate complexity. LaBar, for this visit, was the reigning executive director of the LH Project and invited me to come to the studio (the home of the LH Project and utilized by both LaBar and several artists-in-residence) and then to tour the grounds.

Just glazed pieces being put into a new work of art, next step, firing.

Just glazed pieces being put into a new work of art, next step, firing.

LaBar’s studio is housed in a red barn, surrounded by grassy fields, an oblivious grazing deer, a trickling creek, and, it is hot. The dry summer heat doesn’t seem stifling, instead it feels slightly forceful, a bit tempestuous as to inspire. The studio is bathed in the summer sun, windows letting in light, inviting brightness to wash over the throwing areas, shifting and shadowing over surfaces, shelves, and furniture. The space is teeming with his work—and a large screen TV (perfect for those lonely, long nights in the studio, LaBar commented). As the sun snooped in through windows here and there restlessly reflecting and playing with the patterns and cutouts in his ceramics, LaBar made himself comfortable in his studio chair.

My gaze and my camera wandered around the neat, clean and organized place. Shelves held drying ceramics, kilns stood outside under weather-sheltering overhangs, rows of five-gallon plastic buckets filled with glazes ready to be mixed with an electric paddle bit balanced within a bucket.

Mixing glazes and then dipping a piece.

Mixing glazes and then dipping a piece.

LaBar proudly showed me the various kilns; and handing me protective glasses, invited me to put down the camera and peer into the small round hole of the studio’s largest, raging hot baking master. Pulling out the little blaze and light-blocking plug, and stooping over to look into the firey depths, heat pouring out of even this small hole with unexpected intensity, LaBar demonstrated how to check temperature, how to look for signs of ceramics ready to remove, and showed just how incredibly powerful this firing contraption really was.  

LaBar carefully removes the plug to view the pieces within the kiln.

LaBar carefully removes the plug to view the pieces within the kiln.

As he prepared a new batch of clay, making it malleable and evenly smooth,  LaBar talked  about the dark, cold, desolate winters in Eastern Oregon, the isolation of the studio and how that contributed to his prodigious productivity level. He also confided a desire for more human contact and his dream of having a family—-which he didn’t think he had much of a chance of finding in a remote Eastern Oregon town. Still, he had a charming rascally way of revealing a real, deep love of this remote region. Comments kept slipping into the conversation about the beauty of the mountains, the glow of the sunlight, the warmth his ceramics got from the afternoon sun, and the materials and equipment in the studio that made it feel like home. After all, he was here, and had been for several years. And he looked incredibly happy.

LaBar works with a sense of joy and appreciation--one of his works installed on the wall behind him.

LaBar works with a sense of joy and appreciation–one of his works installed on the wall behind him.

LaBar continued the tour of the studio. Throwing the sensual earthen clay on the studio wheel came next; then, when the desired shape was attained—in this case, a convex vessel—LaBar picked up an exacto knife to cut intricate designs and patterns into the piece. Taking me outside, he demonstrated how, at times, he will let a piece cure slightly to a firm drying point out in the Eastern Oregon summer sun—simply by placing it outside the barn-studio door and letting it bask in the warm light.

LaBar carries a new piece outside for afternoon sun baking.

LaBar carries a new piece outside for afternoon sun baking.

The artist dipped and dunked clay pieces into his buckets of waiting glazes that would produce colors reminiscent of the earth tones of Eastern Oregon’s Painted Hills—cobalts, ochres, siennas. The glazes were pale versions of the colors of the earth and sky—whitewash-looking liquids waiting to be liberated by the fire and heat of the kiln. And, then while pieces lay in the sun, and baked in the kiln out back, LaBar showed me the storage container he keeps in the field behind the studio that houses his projects and serves as a place to prepare pieces to be shipped around the world.

LaBar's container where his work is stored and prepared to ship around the world for exhibitions.

LaBar’s container where his work is stored and prepared to ship around the world for exhibitions.

It was time for us to make our way to the LH Project. The LH Project is a short 20 minute drive away into nearby Joseph, Oregon. Tucked away under the shelter of a cathedral forest and bordering on land that stretches into a view of the Seven Devils mountain range, LH Project is a mecca of kilns, cabins and gallery space, all designed and built in styles found around the world, a ceramicist’s nirvana.

The LH Project’s owner-founder Jacob Haßlacher talked about the gallery space, the exhibitions, the residencies and the work.  LaBar got involved with the LH Project in 2009 and by 2010 he was appointed the program director.

LaBar stands with one of his pieces on exhibition at the LH Project gallery.

LaBar stands with one of his pieces on exhibition at the LH Project gallery.

LaBar stands with one of the kilns at the LH Project, Joseph, Oregon.

LaBar stands with one of the kilns at the LH Project, Joseph, Oregon.

LH Project was a fascinating place and made all the more intriguing by the remote location. But what was truly engaging was LaBar’s dedication to the work and his productivity, in both locations. At the studio, he was focused, intent, in full creating mode, enthusiastically showing his space and his work. At the LH Project, LaBar was equally enthusiastic—talking about and showing other artists’ work, explaining their use of the kilns.  

A few of the magnificent kilns at the LH Project.

A few of the magnificent kilns at the LH Project.

The impressive 18' long Toadagama kiln at the LH Project in Joseph, Oregon.

The impressive 18′ long Toadagama kiln at the LH Project in Joseph, Oregon.

LaBar at the LH Project Toadagama kiln with work by other artists in the background.

LaBar at the LH Project Toadagama kiln with work by other artists in the background.

Gazing out across the valley at the barely visible distant jagged edge of Seven Devil’s mountain range chiseled against the sky, the mysteries of Hell’s Canyon only a vague concept in the distance, and the beginning of Idaho just beyond view, the location of LaBar’s studio and the LH Project brought a singular quality to both places. Here was tremendous work being done by remarkable artists,  isolated yet more connected to a greater global perspective than most of us where kilns and techniques exemplified an array and collaboration of international methods both modern and historic. As I drove away, it was with a sense of melancholy. The beauty I left behind, the quiet, remote, dedication of an artist’s retreat was extraordinarily captivating.  

UPDATE: It wasn’t until September 2015 that I heard from Ryan LaBar again. While the update he gave me was, indeed, foreshadowed in our conversations at the Enterprise studio, it was nevertheless, a bit sobering:

“Since we last met, I have moved permanently to Portland. I spent the summer at Oregon College of Art and Craft and am heading to China for two months come the 16th. I was invited by the porcelain capital, Jingdezhen, to help inaugurate a new studio/museum complex. I will return to Portland mid-November, 2015. I hope to find a permanent studio by then; currently my studio and work are held captive in a shipping container on the edge of town.”

 

Working in the studio, LaBar creates a piece that will soon be put outside to dry slightly before taking on a glaze and being fired in one of the studio's kilns.

Working in the studio, LaBar creates a piece that will soon be put outside to dry slightly before taking on a glaze and being fired in one of the studio’s kilns.

In my mind I will always associate LaBar with the farthest reaches of the Connective Conversations program and imagine those studios and the hot summer sun.

Julia Oldham: Girl Masqued

Photographer Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios around the state for a new book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art. This week meet, Julia Oldham.

In a moment you will meet the woman you see in the portrait below.  First, I must explain a few things about myself.

I am not vegan. I was gifted my first-ever pair of Birkenstocks at age 47 (I love them). I do not own a single tie-dye item. I probably would not be able to tell the difference between a tune by the Grateful Dead and Phish. I have never seen Animal House. I have yet to attend a Ducks football game. Yet, I have a fondness for Eugene. I’ll just admit that straight up.

Julia Oldham Portrait. Image Sabina Poole.

Julia Oldham Portrait. Image Sabina Poole.

My academic years were spent there and many a positive experience took place there in the years that followed. It is a charming, tangled up in bohemia, earthy, unpretentious place. I might be predisposed to like the people, there too, I’ll forewarn you. Quite a few of the artists I photographed for Connective Conversations were based in Eugene/Springfield: Michael Salter, Colin Ives, Rick Silva, Laura Vandenburgh, Tannaz Farsi, Brian Gillis, Sylvan Lionni, Christopher Michlig, Amanda Wojick, Michael Boonstra, to name a few. Many connected to the University of Oregon, some not.

Writer’s Note: In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014, The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts Curator and Critic Tours and Lectures program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. I travel light, only one camera, no lighting equipment, one lens. My goal is to show these artists in their environment—authentic, uncontrived, at ease. Learn about the project, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 and the release of the book October 2015 at this year’s Oregon Arts Summit.

In my extensive social media amblings and readings of artistic happenings, I bumbled upon this singular, off-beat, idiosyncratic woman who looked as if she called Eugene home. Based solely on location, I was inclined to think she was fantastic. I had blithely scrolled into a post on Facebook (a friend of a friend had liked or shared or did some such viral-media spreading action), and there it was—this tremendous photograph of a woman with a coal-black, jaws gaping, teeth-bared wolf mask perched on her head. Dazzlingly brilliant platinum blonde hair cascaded out the back of the mask, her skin a pale translucence that seemed a bit otherworldly. The wolf-mask looked papier-mache, PETA-approved. The woman’s name was Julia Oldham, an artist sharing her time between Eugene and New York. OK, so I instantly adored her—here was an appreciation of drama, humor, and brilliant commentary. And, as she would tell me later, she had a love of Eugene, too.

Julia Oldham, an afternoon studio visit with Yarn and Saga. Image Sabina Poole.

Julia Oldham, an afternoon studio visit with Yarn and Saga. Image Sabina Poole.

Wolf-mask aside, I was lucky enough that she also happened to be on my list of Connective Conversations artists who had been visited by one of the program’s curators|critics. I was enthused—a photo shoot in Eugene with someone I could fully investigate via social media in the weeks that led up to her photo appointment. So, I did what anyone with a shred of investigative, voyeuristic curiosity would do, I trailed her from afar via her social media presence—which I might add, was nothing short of mesmerizing. Each post progressively displayed her as someone with a distinctively quirky sense of costuming and theatrics. It might have been sort of lurker-like on my part, but it was well worth it.

At work in her studio, artist Julia Oldham. Image Sabina Poole.

At work in her studio, artist Julia Oldham. Image Sabina Poole.

I discovered a lover of nature, an appreciator of all living things in all forms and some not living things (hello, NASCAR!?), a dog-owner, a collector of small skeletal remains of diminutive, once timorous beasties, an experimentrix, a feral-like waxen wanderer. I stumbled along behind from the vantage point of an Instagram account, feeling less and less interesting myself and more and more self-diagnosed with FOMO (“fear of missing out”) should I fail to see one of her posts. I discovered her adoration of the decomposing and decaying of natural things, the beauty of a swampy field, a spider, insects copulating in a “#sexytime” embrace, simple masked self-portraits of her body wrapped, clothed or integrated into a selfless, fearless expose. In the everyday, Oldham was finding intrigue, drama and beauty. And she seemed to be passionately infatuated with every minute of it, every post, every shared image.

Julia Oldham in her Eugene, Oregon studio with companion, Yarn. Image Sabina Poole.

Julia Oldham in her Eugene, Oregon studio with companion, Yarn. Image Sabina Poole.

Above all, I was watching an artist self-promoting with social media being utilized at its best intentioned–revealing herself as natural, provocative, seeking indigenous connections to her environment and openly inviting her extended worldwideweb network to appreciate this journey right alongside her revelry. Bravo! It was captivating and I couldn’t wait to photograph her.

Prior to our scheduled photo shoot, I received an email from Julia:

I have two rambunctious dogs. I can keep them penned upstairs of you like, though they are a big part of my studio practice so if you are OK with dogs maybe they could be there too?

In her Eugene, Oregon studio, Julia Oldham works under the watchful eye of her two dogs. Image Sabina Poole.

In her Eugene, Oregon studio, Julia Oldham works under the watchful eye of her two dogs. Image Sabina Poole.

When I arrived at her south Eugene residence and studio (a well-foliaged place tucked up in the southeast hills, suitably quirky and down-to-earth), Julia greeted me, as did her two energetic confidantes, Saga and Yarn. Saga is a large, black wolf-like creature; Yarn, a tumble of overly loving black and tan hound. “Shall I put the dogs away?” Julia asked. No, absolutely not. They seemed just as important to the photograph as Julia’s collection of bovine skulls, prodigious computers and film editing equipment.

As she talked to me about her interest in collecting skeletons and observing the natural world around her, I was struck with her sense of compassion and empathy. Each piece of bone, each decaying form was peered at delicately and handled with extreme gentleness with a reverence for what had once been, an ethereal sense for the form and the once living creature.

Oldham examines a recently obtained skeletal skull that she will use for inspiration in her work. Image Sabina Poole.

Oldham examines a recently obtained skeletal skull that she will use for inspiration in her work. Image Sabina Poole.

And, if that is not enough to showcase her deeply ingrained aura of compassion, let me suggest you attempt delving into the work she has done revolving around the Soviet space dog, Laika— this work will catapult you into an emotionally-wrenching cosmic spin.

As our photoshoot drew to a close, Julia talked of her regular NYC trips, and connections and work done on the east coast. I soon found out that love keeps Julia firmly anchored to Eugene as a homebase and for her studio location (her husband is a physics professor at UO), but her professional associations take her eastward.  She says “I love living in Eugene because it’s the right place for me and I love nature.”  She spends several months a year in NYC doing residences, exhibiting, and making work with her Brooklyn-based collaborator, Chad Stayrook.  

Her bi-coastal sensibilities made her only more alluring.  In the softly-beatnik south Eugene utopia, striding about her studio in cowboy boots, graphite colored lycra shorts and a silky shirt, a black feather tattoo climbing up her bare shin, she casually chatted– selectively merging a knowledge of and familiarity with New York, alongside a distinct appreciation for things, social interactions, and exhibition opportunities NYC’s urban environment has to offer. All the while Julia maintained a grounded, naturalist-next-door love of nature, proudly adored her affectionate dogs, and described in great detail what she discovers from a simple walk in the woods.  As I listened, charmed by her approachable openness, she continued explaining how much she loved Eugene:  “I would describe Eugene as a gentle, lush university town with great restaurants, glorious access to nature, and the friendliest, quirkiest people I’ve ever met.”  And although we didn’t share the same enthusiasm for sport, (she divulged: “I’ve been to Ducks basketball games and watch Ducks football games out at bars with friends. I haven’t been to any track events yet but plan on it. I had never been a big sports fan before moving to Eugene but am now devoted to the Ducks!”).  I still wanted to know more. So, I asked Oldham to tell me a bit more about herself.

One of the inspirational pieces Julia works to collect and examine at her studio in Eugene, Oregon. Image Sabina Poole.

One of the inspirational pieces Julia works to collect and examine at her studio in Eugene, Oregon. Image Sabina Poole.

Here’s what she revealed:

  1. She has been professionally trained as a snake handler.
  2. She likes to collect roadkill and dead birds and clean the bones for her large collection of animal bones and skulls. There are frequently dead birds in her freezer and on a few occasions she brought home dead squirrels in her purse. A friend recently called her because there was a dead opossum in the friend’s yard and she wondered if Julia wanted it. (Julia did.)
  3. She is exceptionally good at bleating like a goat, but could never do a cartwheel.
  4. She loves car racing. And movies about car racing.
  5. She likes to know the end of every book she reads before she starts because otherwise she gets really anxious. Same with movies.
  6. She loves insects (and other invertebrates) and finds them endlessly fascinating, but she has an irrational and all-consuming fear of wasps. While she was an artist in residence at Bernheim Arboretum in Kentucky, she got so upset about a hornet that had gotten into her cabin that she called the forest ranger. Everyone at Bernheim found out and teased her terribly.
  7. She tried to learn how to whittle and had such high hopes but gave up after realizing she was only capable of making pointy sticks.


Julia Oldham, Arts Watch readers, surrounding herself in the best of both worlds, Eugene and New York and….a force for nature.

 

 

DE May: Inside a studio, darkly

Sabina Poole's survey of Oregon artists' studios around the state continues with Salem's mysterious DE May

The assignment to photograph D.E May was met, at first, with little enthusiasm. Only because I looked at the address written on the Google Document: Salem, Oregon, it said.

It is not like I am a stranger to Salem. I’m not, I lived there for 10 years, and I’d always thought of it as tediously flat and uninspiring. But then, I had never met May, either.

May will entirely change your opinion of what he calls “Islandsalem” in a heartbeat.

Artist D.E. May, who, by choice, works in relative darkness in his studio. Usually a thick blind is pulled down over the window in the left of this photo. /Sabina Poole

Artist D.E. May, who, by choice, works in relative darkness in his studio. Usually a thick blind is pulled down over the window in the left of this photo. /Sabina Poole

I am an analog-appreciating girl. So when I received from May’s gallery representative, Jane Beebe (PDX Contemporary) the proper directives and etiquette to be in touch with the artist, I listened intently.

Writer’s Note: In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014, The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts Curator and Critic Tours and Lectures program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. I travel light, only one camera, no lighting equipment, one lens. My goal is to show these artists in their environment—authentic, uncontrived, at ease.

May reluctantly answers his phone. (“You have to call, let the answering machine pick up, and start talking…He will either pick up and take the call or leave it. In any case, leave a message, he might call you back. Or he might not.”) I would learn later that he got his first phone in 1999 at the age of 47—it was a landline. Add to that he doesn’t “do” email, and there seemed no real electronic way to communicate with this man. I was instructed that if I did dare call, no contact should be attempted prior to 1:00 pm (“You know, because he stays up really, really late. He does that night thing.”) He was sounding more and more interesting. And, all of this in Salem?!
After a few post-1 pm calls to the aforementioned answering machine during which I talked away to myself quite happily all the while imaging May in a room vacantly listening-in, there was an out-of-breath pick-up. Within a short amount of time we had arranged to meet and photograph May at his studio. Then he read me his actual address, a a downtown Salem location, and, he added, “It’s kind of hard to find, I’ll put up signs.” Undeterred, I packed up my camera and made the drive down I-5 on a brilliantly sunny, summer day. The broad and bright light of day would make a perfect, natural light source, and I was confident. This was going to be good.

I arrived, realized I was precariously near a Salem theatrical landmark, parked my car at the city curb, and looked for the door. The location was in a downtown cluster of mixed-use buildings, in a rather non-descript area I had never really noticed before. The number I was instructed to look for was stickered on a glass door heading up a flight of stairs. And there, true to his word, stuck to the door with looped over masking tape, a 3 x 5 cardstock handwritten sign: “Sabina—Upstairs.” I pulled the sign off the door, and ventured up the narrow stairway; another sign waited for me on another door, “Sabina: This Way” it instructed with a small arrow. Then another that finally said: “Sabina—Knock.” I knocked, and the door was instantly opened by a gentleman in a porkpie hat. Quite dapper, I thought. “DE May, I presume?”

And, there I was inside the two small rooms that comprise May’s studio. I won’t try to describe the detail and organization of the space—it was intricate, to the point of beautifully obsessive: fantastically catalogued materials, brilliantly coordinated, tabulated, classified, boxed, stacked and shelved. Pieces and parts of a mind and thoughts represented in snippets and piles of maps, papers, stamps, blocks of wood, of the most eccentric quality and quantity; a place of imaginative cleverness and ingenuity. I was stunned, then, oddly comfortable in a very ‘spirit of efficiency’ kind of way.

Work laid out for more attention by the artist, D.E. May and his studio space./Sabina Poole

Work laid out for more attention by the artist, D.E. May and his studio space./Sabina Poole

This studio defied narrative. Instead it filled one’s head with intentions of being elsewhere—travel and adventure and possibility—was it the maps, entirely covering one wall? Or the books of collected stamps? The small pieces of paper, letters and notes to be or never to be written? The prospect of what might go on those pieces of paper: ideas to be recorded; notes to be printed? Parts and parcels to be conveyed? Or maybe pieces joined, stacked, assembled, categorized together in some way as yet unimaginable?

In May’s studio, there were punctuated light sources, mostly table lamps on desks, but, curiously, all the windows were boarded up, covered with brown perforated fiberboard, thick shades pulled over the fenestration. Light struggled to find ways in from the glorious summer day outside, barely making the room any lighter than a solitary desk-lamp-lit room late at night. Obviously, this was light May was accustomed to and preferred—the shelter of eclipse. That’s when May began to tell me about how he loathes daylight. He described how he and his friends sleep the day and function during nighttime—a nocturnal existence. He blocks out the light, if he has to be up during the daylight hours, to find it tolerable.

Finding pieces to work with, D.E. May keeps his materials intricately organized and boxed./Sabina Poole


Finding pieces to work with, D.E. May keeps his materials intricately organized and boxed./Sabina Poole

What else did I learn? May hasn’t had a car since 1977, but if he drove one now he’d prefer one from the Citroen DS series from the 1950s. He visits a local dive bar almost every night and visits the city library almost as often, but he admits, he is not a reader of books. He mentions a current search to obtain a 1965 Val Surf skateboard, and a casual yet ongoing attempt to pen a screenplay for the past 30 years. It’s a murder mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes and Marcel Duchamp together in New York City.

May collaborated with the shoot, sitting here and then there, showing me his work-in-progress, placing himself at his work spaces, letting me shoot from angles and distances throughout the studio, talking about his work and the darkness in the room. I encouraged him to turn off whatever lights he did not normally have on and pull shades all the way down on windows as he would have if I were not there. At that point, we were left in a dimness; the lights cast very concentrated spheres of illumination. May’s porkpie hat threw a silhouette of distinction.

When I got home, I jotted down some notes to remember May by and my visit to his Islandsalem studio. I wrote:

“HATES daylight, only likes to be up and about in the dark—hence his darkened windows, and all the shadows. He wants to be in shadow…. darkness is key to his work, and ethos. Interesting relationship with goldfish.”

And, no, I will not be saying anything about the goldfish.

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NOTES

DE May’s exhibition of new work, No Specific Region, opens November 5 at PDX CONTEMPORARY gallery, 925 NW Flanders. I’ll see you there.

DE May, untitled (674 front view), 2015 graphite, colored pencil and ink on found postcard 3 1/2" x 5 3/8"/Courtesy PDX Contemporary

DE May, untitled (674 front view), 2015
graphite, colored pencil and ink on found postcard
3 1/2″ x 5 3/8″/Courtesy PDX Contemporary

Next week: artist Julia Oldham.

The Ford Family Foundation with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts are pleased to announce the upcoming October 2015 release of the book, Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014. Connective Conversations is The Ford Family Foundation’s Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture Series program, conducted in partnership with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. The full-color book will be available at the 2015 Oregon Arts Summit’s Visual Arts Ecology workshop, supported by the Foundation; and, subsequently, available for purchase [locations TBA]. The book is a collaborative work representing the series launched in 2011, which brought national curators and critics to visit Oregon artists in their studios across the state, to present lectures and to participate in community dialogue. The book contains images of the 70 Oregon artists and their studio spaces visited between 2011-2014.

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014 | The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon Curator and Critic Tours: Edited by Kate Wagle | Design and Layout by Pace Taylor | Photography by Sabina Poole | Advised by Carol Dalu and Kandis Brewer Nunn.

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art is part of The Foundation’s seven-pronged Visual Arts program launched in 2010 to honor the interests in the visual arts by the late Mrs. Hallie Ford, a co-founder of The Foundation. Principal goals of the overall program are to help enhance the quality of artistic endeavor and body of work by Oregon’s most promising visual artists and to improve Oregon’s visual arts ecology by making strategic investments in Oregon visual arts institutions. Some program components The Foundation directs; others, it elects to work with regionally-based institutions such as it has done in partnering with the University of Oregon with the first four years of the Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture series. Such collaborations are invaluable in maximizing the delivery and impact of the program components for which The Foundation is most grateful.

Introducing ‘Connective Conversations: Inside Oregon Art’

Photographer Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios around the state for a new book

In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. From the list of addresses, I knew the 70 artists would be sprinkled throughout the state, and for me, this was a chance to enjoy and observe artists in their own spaces, to go deeper into the place we call home and meet people here who are doing amazing work.

The book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 The Ford Family Foundation and University of Oregon

The book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 The Ford Family Foundation and University of Oregon

Here’s the official announcement of the new book that resulted, in part, from those visits:

The Ford Family Foundation with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts are pleased to announce the upcoming October 2015 release of the book, Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014. Connective Conversations is The Ford Family Foundation’s Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture Series program, conducted in partnership with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. The full-color book will be available at the 2015 Oregon Arts Summit’s Visual Arts Ecology workshop, supported by The Foundation; and, subsequently, will available for purchase [locations TBA].

The book is a collaborative work representing the series launched in 2011, which brought national curators and critics to visit Oregon artists in their studios across the state, to present lectures and to participate in community dialogue. The book contains images of the 70 Oregon artists and their studio spaces visited between 2011-2014.

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014 | The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon Curator and Critic Tours
Edited by Kate Wagle | Design and Layout by Pace Taylor | Photography by Sabina Poole | Advised by Carol Dalu and Kandis Brewer Nunn

I knew it would be an adventure to document the homes and studios of the 70 artists involved. Realizing this was an absolute privilege, I embarked upon the project with a keen sense of enthusiasm and a little bit of adrenaline. Despite being familiar with their artwork (some more than others), most of these artists, as people, were complete strangers to me, and I had never before visited some of the locations of their studios. Before each photo shoot, I did not have any idea what I would encounter, and the unexpected nature of these visits made the project all the more attractive to me.

My method was, I hoped, unobtrusive. I organized a shoot primarily via email—leaving the choice of time and place up to the artist. The studio, the place where the work was done, needed to be tantamount. I chose to arrive simply, unencumbered—no lighting equipment, one camera, no superfluous accessories. My role was to document the artists in their unique environment—in the lighting they were used to, in the rooms they lived and worked in, surrounded by the things they loved and cared about, even if that meant dogs and children or other unanticipated creatures.

What you will see in the weekly posts that follow are little snippets of these studio photo sessions: close encounters with remarkable people who have chosen to live in extraordinary places, while doing exceptional things with independence, creativity, resolute determination, confidence, and success while surrounded by things they find captivating, in locations of inspiration, all with a quintessential Oregon-ness.

A favorite pastime for Renee Couture: sitting outside her studio in the evening light, doing research and planning next projects. The first installment of this series features Couture./Sabina Poole

A favorite pastime for Renee Couture: sitting outside her studio in the evening light, doing research and planning next projects./Sabina Poole

Above all, the 70 people I photographed were not only artists of amazing calibre but also individuals who help define this region. In the coming weeks, Oregon Arts Watch will introduce some of the artists included in Connective Conversations from a closer perspective. The book will show you a photo or two of each studio, an image of each artist, and several examples of their work. The book will illuminate career highlights and biographical information. Here, in an Oregon Arts Watch exclusive, you will get a closer glimpse of each artist’s work space, the objects that surround them, the light sources they rely on, and the things that make each studio a unique place to create in. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. These Connective Conversations studio portraits will, I hope, enable a greater understanding of these artists and how their work relates to and is made within the studio.

To get started, you can jump immediately to the first subject: Renee Couture and her “trailer” studio in Peel, Oregon. See you there!

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art is part of The Ford Family Foundation’s seven-pronged Visual Arts program launched in 2010 to honor the interests in the visual arts by the late Mrs. Hallie Ford, a co-founder of The Foundation. Principal goals of the overall program are to help enhance the quality of artistic endeavor and body of work by Oregon’s most promising visual artists and to improve Oregon’s visual arts ecology by making strategic investments in Oregon visual arts institutions. Some program components The Foundation directs; others, it elects to work with regionally-based institutions such as it has done in partnering with the University of Oregon with the first four years of the Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture series. Such collaborations are invaluable in maximizing the delivery and impact of the program components for which The Foundation is most grateful.

Renee Couture: A trailer with a view

Sabina Poole's series of studio visits to artists around the state starts with Peel's Renee Couture

“I’m very much tied to my property; my life ebbs and flows with the seasons.”Renee Couture, Oregon artist living in Peel.

Peel, Oregon. It’s near a place called No Fog. No kidding.

Peel is a bit of a drive eastward from Roseburg, past the only place in the world where rivers collide, the Colliding Rivers of the Little River and the North Umpqua, and down the road from the recession-knocked about town of Glide, (population about 1700 in 2010—it seemed less when I drove through). Miles and miles of human-planted forest spanning mountain upon mountain are visible from the road: Despite the lack of old growth, the forests still hold up the sky out here.

Real work is done in these parts: As in days gone by, burly men wear suspenders over plaid flannel shirted-shoulders and have work-worn, oil and dirt stained hands. Here, for summer fun, the teenagers throw themselves off the cliff into the emerald cold of the Colliding Rivers, much to the stunned Instagram-delight of tourist passersby. On a drive through Glide, rivers rumble right next to the roadside and thundering logging trucks lurk around the next corner.

 Renee Couture looks up at her artist studio “trailer” situated on acreage in the central Southern Oregon region./Sabina Poole

Renee Couture looks up at her artist studio “trailer” situated on acreage in the central Southern Oregon region./Sabina Poole

I arrived at my motel around 5 pm and find that my room key had been left under the doormat of my room’s front entry (motel staff had left me a voicemail). I drove up to Renee Couture’s homestead property around dinnertime. She was outside cooking in well-seasoned cast iron pans on a stove and kitchen she had set up beneath a breezeway connected to a cabin-like home. She told me she loves to cook—and even more so if she’s cooking food she has grown in her garden. A couple of big, fuzzy dogs provided a cacophony of canine sounds while Renee and I got acquainted.

[Editor’s Note: Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios last summer to illustrate a new book published by The Ford Family Foundation with the University of Oregon, Connective Conversations: Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014, due out in October. You can read her introduction to this series here. She will publish a new installment each week at ArtsWatch. Stay tuned!]

Renee explained the outside kitchen was necessary in the heat of summer; and she proceeded to saute homegrown vegetables—it smelled delicious, both home-cozy and wilderness camp-like. Once dinner was made, but with her husband yet to arrive to join us, we took a tour of the property. The big attraction was her studio—which she had informed me was in a “trailer.” By tour, I should clarify, it was more of a hillside hike.

Continues…