CULTURE

Craft or art? Who cares? HEATWAVE fiber art is amazing

The show at Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center demonstrates that fabric art is so much more than "just quilts"

I have an embarrassing confession, but that’s actually a good thing, because it goes straight to the heart of an important artistic question that is raised — or perhaps I should say, is powerfully answered — by an exhibition at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

It’s an occasion for a teachable moment.

“Hot Flash!” A collaboration by Sherri Culver and Mary McLaughlin. Commercial cotton and silk fabrics, threads. Raw edge, fused, machine appliqué; machine quilting; hand embroidery; fabric paint and inks (for eyes). 37 x 35.5 inches. Photo by: Hoddick Photography

HEATWAVE is a themed exhibit produced by High Fiber Diet of the Columbia FiberArts Guild, which has been around for nearly half a century in the Portland area. What I must confess is that when I clicked my way to the page for this exhibition on the center’s website and saw that it’s a show of “art quilts,” I felt … well, a little underwhelmed.

“Oh,” I thought. “Quilts.” A bias that I wasn’t really conscious of was triggered, one perhaps based on distant, faded memories of being bored as a child while my mom took forever in a fabric store. I was mildly disappointed that this exhibition in the Parrish Gallery was just quilts — not painting, or sculpture. Not, well, art.

Sheryl LeBlanc’s “Fire in the Log Yard.” Disperse dyed polyesters, silk chiffon, trupunto. 29.5 x 32.5 inches. “Like a storage of ordinance, I have often wondered what a fire in a full log yard would look like on an extremely hot and dry day … perhaps during a severe drought, when the logs have not been recently sprayed with water.” Photo by: David Bates

Then I went and saw it.

I’ve seen it three or four times now, marching in on each occasion to look specifically at that exhibition, to spend a few more minutes with this piece or that. I am repeatedly drawn to the intense crimson, yellow, and green in Diane English’s Remembrance, which uses the imagery of blooming poppies as a “symbol of remembering those who have passed in the heat of wars.” Sheryl LeBlanc’s Fire in the Log Yard is, quite simply, one of the most extraordinary images I’ve seen in any medium recently.

Detail from “Fire in the Log Yard.” Photo by: Jon Christopher Meyers

The work is astonishing and beautiful and, occasionally, mysterious. One afternoon mid-November I had my 9-year-old son with me. Anything but bored, he ran around the Parrish Gallery, exclaiming, “Look at this one, Daddy!” Then, darting around a corner, “Look at this one!”

Back at home, I dived into a study of the Arts and Crafts movement and, specifically, an inquiry into what I quickly came to regard as an artificial and mostly semantic divide between art and craft, this idea that the two are somehow separate, that “craft” does not rise to the level of “art”. When I suggested to an ArtsWatch editor that he dispatch someone with a deeper background in visual arts to cover the show, which runs through Jan. 5, he kindly advised, basically, I do my job.

“I think there’s some explaining to be done about how people approach it, how it fits into the world of ‘fine’ art, which so often treats it like a stepchild,” he said. He pointed to the historically sexist and even classist attitude about this — one that I, perhaps, had at some level internalized, one that was surely at the root of my “Oh … quilts?” moment. Fabric and other non-painting and sculptural forms are too often seen, somewhat dismissively, he added, as “women’s art” or “folk art.” Or a “craft.”

Continues…

From ‘Hands Up’ to ‘Cop Out’

Red Door follows its show about racial profiling and police violence against African Americans with a deep delve into the cops' own lives

Two years ago the August Wilson Red Door Project started its run of Hands Up, and it made the rest of Portland theater seem damn near frivolous. It was bare-bones theater, as fundamental as it gets. Set, pictures of victims of police shootings strung along the back wall – and maybe a chair. Lights up, lights down. Costumes, everyday clothes. Sound, at a minimum. An actor walks to the middle of the stage and tells the truth. That was it. No flash, no dazzle, no spectacle. Not even illusion. Hands Up was as direct and resonant an experience as an audience was likely to encounter. In a starkly secular society, Hands Up’s frank illumination of a national conversation felt like church for people who don’t go to church and the news for people who don’t watch the news. Real life was put on stage and there wasn’t a metaphor or a symbol in sight. These were burning headlines given living, breathing life.

A collection of seven monologues by seven different playwrights performed by seven different actors, Hands Up explored the fears and anxieties of the Black community around racial profiling and police violence against African-Americans. In the two years since, Hands Up has been seen by more than six thousand Oregonians and had some 60 performances in various sites around the state. But the numbers don’t tell the entire Hands Up story. More than a play, it was an event, a town hall meeting, a public testimonial, and an opportunity to bear witness.

Kevin Jones. Photo: Owen Carey

This weekend the Red Door Project follows up the eminently powerful Hands Up with an original piece of its own devising, Cop Out: Beyond Black, White & BlueCop Out follows the formula of Hands Up. It’s a collection of monologues built around the stories of real people – in this case, cops. Kevin Jones, artistic director of the Red Door Project and director of Cop Out (Damaris Webb and Phil Johnson are co-directors), insists that the piece is not a rebuttal to Hands Up or a “defense” of cops. What Cop Out is, he says, is an “opportunity for healing”: “We felt that we had polarized on one side, that being the experience of the African-American. We felt that there was an important part of the story that needed to be told. The idea being that many in the public saw the police as a monolithic entity comprised of equal parts power. I thought it was time to recognize that these were human beings. And by telling their stories we could help humanize them.”

Continues…

Photo First: Tuba Christmas

Three hundred big brass horns playing Christmas songs in Pioneer Courthouse Square? Brace yourselves: It's a Portland tradition

Text and Photographs by K.B. Dixon

Improbable as it sounds (pun intended), Tuba Christmas is a real thing. An inspired creation, it is a mix of Santa Claus and Surrealism. An annual event in Portland since 1991, it features some 300 or so tubas galumphing their way through the Christmas songbook—Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, The First Noel, etc., etc. It is a performance-art piece transfigured by the comedy of its cockamamie premise into an old-fashioned bit of mainstream fun.

This showcase for big winds was originally conceived (in what must have been a psychoanalytically significant fever-dream) by Harvey Phillips, “Titan of the Tuba,” in New York in 1974 as a tribute to William Bell, his teacher and mentor. Initially a sort of public-relations stunt to gain the poor old put-upon tuba (the Rodney Dangerfield of the brass section) a little harmless recognition, it evolved quickly over the years into a national phenomenon. There are Tuba Christmases everywhere now from Kennebunkport, Maine, to Elkhart, Indiana, to Sacramento, California.

Mr. Phillips—the first tubist to be inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame—was dedicated to this sea-creature of an instrument. He formed a foundation (the Harvey Phillips Foundation) to address all things tuba. It is active to this day with scholarships, lectures, clinics, and public performances financed by Tuba Christmas registration fees. If every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings, every time a sousaphone oompahs Silent Night a subsidized tuba player gets a cleaning snake (or a jar of tuning-slide grease).

Mining the preposterous for pleasure, this basso extravaganza has become a treasured local tradition. The Tuba Christmas in Pioneer Courthouse Square this year will be Portland’s 28th. The sound of B-flat thunder rumbling slowly up through 18 feet of intestinal tubing on its way to Frosty the Snowman will put a smile on even the most curmudgeonous face.

Tuba Christmas

  • Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 S.W. Sixth Ave. Portland
  • December 8, 1:30 to 3:00 p.m.
  • Free

Conference, 2012

Continues…

“Ye think sin in the beginning full sweet,

Which in the end causeth thy soul to weep,

When the body lieth in clay.”

— from The Summoning of Everyman: a treatise how the high father of heaven sendeth death to summon every creature to come and give account of their lives in this world and is in manner of a moral play.

“Hey, everybody. Don’t be so crazy in life. Like, you may think all that ‘craziness’ is great initially because it’s really fun but, when you die, you may regret all that fun, because — though we honestly don’t know what happens when you die — we have this hunch that you could wind up someplace which is objectively worse than this one — and let’s call that ‘Hell,’ this state of eternal, unfathomable suffering. And this craziness, let’s call it ‘sin’ — this ‘sin,’ or at least too much of it, is our idea of how you wind up there. We think.”

— from Everybody, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Everybody dies.

Oh, so sorry! I forgot to say “Spoiler alert!”

Because when I say “Everybody dies,” I don’t mean — only — that anyone who reads this column will die (because that sounds rather threatening, and I actually love readers), or that all humans eventually will die (at least it seems that way so far). I mean that Everybody, the title character of the Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play Everybody, which opens Saturday at Artists Repertory Theatre, dies.

Facing Death with (varying degrees of) dignity: Ted Rooney (as Death, at left), John San Nicolas, Andrea Vernae, Barbie Wu, Michael Mendelson and Sara Hennessy in “Everybody” at Artists Rep. Photo: David Kinder

Everybody follows a similar template, albeit with a much breezier, funnier tone and a less doctrinaire path through the philosophical questions involved. Compared with the tricky satire of racial representations in An Octoroon, Everybody should be controversy free; but it presents a different kind of challenge: How do you cast somebody — anybody — to portray Everybody?

The clever, if complicated, solution that Jacobs-Jenkins employs addresses the issue of representation — not choosing a white male or any single type to stand in for all of us — but also the randomness of death. Out of a 10-person cast, five of the actors play varying roles, with an onstage lottery early in each show determining who will perform the role of Everybody, who will be Friendship, Kinship and so on. This means that those five actors have had to learn and rehearse five roles and be ready to drop into any of them at a moment’s notice — and that they (and the audience) have 120 potential combinations.

Continues…

Swinging into Nehalem

Jazz singer Rebecca Kilgore & Her Band bring the Great American Songbook -- and a few holiday tunes -- to the Oregon Coast

She’s been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, the Jazz Society of Oregon’s Hall of Fame, and honored as a Jazz Legend at the San Diego Jazz Party. She’s played famed American jazz venues from New York to L.A., as well as performing in Holland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Norway – not to mention on jazz cruises around the world.

And now, Rebecca Kilgore is coming to the Oregon Coast. On Saturday, Rebecca Kilgore & Her Band will take the stage at the NCRD Performing Arts Center in Nehalem to present a night of the music that’s earned Kilgore countless accolades, including “one of America’s leading song stylists … of the Great American Songbook.” Her discography numbers more than 50 recordings, her repertoire more than 1,000 songs.

Portland singer Rebecca Kilgore says she loves small venues for the intimacy they create with the audience.

In a phone interview days before her performance, Kilgore and I talked about music, performing and the highlights of her career. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nehalem — I’m guessing this is a relatively small venue for you?

Rebecca Kilgore: Yes, and I love small venues. It’s intimate and you can really create a relationship with the audience. I am not one of those singers that emotes a lot. I really like to just have fun with the music because I love it so and I want to impart that to my audience.

What can audience members who haven’t seen you perform expect?

RK: If they’ve heard of Ella Fitzgerald or Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, or any of the singers of the classic Great American Songbook, that is kind of my wheelhouse. I learned from them. Those are the people I was inspired by. I do a lot of jazz standards. I also tend to sing less-well-known things. That’s good in some ways and bad in some ways. If people are unfamiliar with the genre, they will be really unfamiliar with what I sing. I won’t do a lot, but I will throw in a few holiday songs.

You’ve also done shows performing songs from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland.

RK: Yes, but I don’t imitate them and I don’t dress up like them. I pick things from their repertoire and borrow their arrangements.

Does the size of the audience affect your performance?

RK: I’m planning my program this week. Sometimes when you are in a venue like that, you can tell what people are responding to. If they like a particular type of song, I may change things on the spot.

Continues…

River and Elliott: Remembering two troubled princes of 1990s Portland

River Phoenix and Elliott Smith brushed Portland and maybe Portland brushed them

There’s a name you keep repeating
You’ve got nothing better to do

— Elliott Smith, “Alphabet Town”

From James Dean to Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain to Heath Ledger, we have immortalized a constellation of famous artists—especially musicians and actors—who died young and, then, through a combination of their talent and the public’s grief, lived on. Robbed of the futures we imagined for them, yet frozen in time and thus never to suffer the indignities of aging or late-career artistic mediocrity, their luminosity—and our love for them—intensifies as if in proportion to the tragedy.

Portland and Oregon haven’t traditionally produced a lot of bold-type names that have endured in the international pop zeitgeist. Far from America’s entertainment capitols, this is arguably a place where talents are nurtured, not where one becomes a full-fledged star. The most high-profile artists, such as the great abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko or Simpsons creator Matt Groening, have tended to move on and live their career-defining creative moments elsewhere. Yet even if their time here is fleeting, sometimes these artists don’t just remain culturally relevant long after their deaths but also come to represent something essential about a particular time in the city.

Last month brought reminders of two such one-time Oregonians and what they left behind. October 21 was the 15th anniversary of musician Elliott Smith’s death, at the age of 34 in 2003, while Halloween brought the 25th anniversary of actor River Phoenix’s death, at the age of 23 in 1993. They died a decade apart, but each moment of mortality came in Los Angeles, and the two sites are less than nine miles away from each other: Phoenix outside West Hollywood’s Viper Room club after an accidental overdose, and Smith by stabbing at his home in Silver Lake (a presumed suicide but never officially determined).

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho

The coincidences don’t end there. River Phoenix and Elliott Smith were born within a year of each other: Smith in Nebraska (he was raised until age 14 in Texas) and Phoenix in Madras, Oregon (raised mostly in Florida). Each arguably made his most famous work in collaboration with director Gus Van Sant. Phoenix co-starred (along with Keanu Reeves) in Van Sant’s 1991 film My Own Private Idaho and Smith was nominated for an Academy Award for the song “Miss Misery,” on the soundtrack to Van Sant’s 1998 film Good Will Hunting. Each struggled with drug abuse, which in different ways led to each artist’s untimely death. River Phoenix and Elliott Smith presumably never met, yet each is a kind of fleeting prince of ’90s Portland, and their work acts as time capsule and talisman for the days many locals now look to longingly: a grittier, more affordable and off-the-radar city that predated Portlandia, a succession of swooning New York Times stories, and an ensuing wave of tourism and gentrification.

Like Rothko, neither stayed here for good. But also like Rothko and many of the city’s other most famous sons and daughters, Phoenix and Smith were transplants to the city who saw Portland with fresh eyes. Like rain clouds that give way to bright sunlight almost daily for much of the year, each artist’s Portland-based work is personal and often deeply melancholic, yet also joyful, lyrical and instinctual. It’s not always pretty, yet we are drawn to their work again and again.

Continues…

Penny Arcade, back in town

The performance artist, a hit in Portland a year ago, brings her gentrification show and a pair of new works for a three-day Boom Arts run

Ruth Wikler first met Penny Arcade in Melbourne, Australia, in 2016 where Arcade was participating in a panel on political theater. “We got to talking and I learned that she had never performed in Portland despite touring for five decades,” says Wikler, producer and curator of the presenting company Boom Arts. “I offered to rectify that!” She was thrilled to get the legendary performance artist to Portland the next season.

Watching the audience reactions to Arcade’s February 2018 show Longing Lasts Longer, a critique of New York’s gentrification, Wikler knew that Portland hadn’t gotten enough of the Arcade. “Sometimes we see audiences leaping to their feet for standing ovations the minute the show ends, night after night,” says Wikler. “That’s when we realize that the one- or two-weekend run we planned just wasn’t enough.” So Wikler has asked Arcade back this season for an “encore performance.”

Penny Arcade, in a Boom Arts performance in February. Photo: Friderike Heuer

The last artist Boom Arts brought back was dancer/acrobat/comedian Adrienne Truscott, in 2016. “The pleasure for me as a curator making that kind of invitation to an artist was that it signaled an evolution in our presenter/artist relationship, in which I could engage with her oeuvre, her body of work, not just with the show with which she had had significant touring success,” says Wikler. “Our invitation to Penny is very similar. It’s an invitation for her to evolve with us; it’s a gesture of faith, support, and championship.”

Continues…