VISUAL ART

Portland’s Grand Central Station

Everybody comes to Powell's, and photographer K.B. Dixon's new exhibition and book find volumes in the mix of people and place

Photographs by K.B. DIXON

Powell’s City of Books is Portland’s Grand Central Station, the teeming crossroads of the city’s cultural life: not just one of the nation’s great commercial repositories of literature and language, but a busy transit center of people and ideas. Kids, teens, singles, doubles, parents, grandparents. Locals who drop in for an hour and spend the day. Serious scholars doing research. Tourists who treat it like a shrine. Foreign visitors looking for something in their native language, or something to help them brush up on their English skills. People on their way to someplace else. People on their way back from someplace else. Browsers, buyers, passersby. Like Rick’s, it seems, eventually everybody comes to Powell’s.

 

Entering the temple: the south entrance on Burnside.

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IT IS ALSO, LIKE THE MULTNOMAH County Central Library just a few blocks away, one of Portland’s best people-watching places, an almost endless fascination of faces, connections, and enthusiasms. Something about a great bookstore encourages people to be very public and very private at once – lost, publicly, in the obsessions and curiosities of their own minds. Portland photographer and writer K.B. Dixon believed Powell’s was an ideal spot to pursue his own obsession for creating interesting and culturally telling black and white images. He gained permission to spend hours and hours in the aisles, following his eye where it led. The results of his project are now on view in a sort of meta-exhibition: images of Powell’s at Powell’s, in the bookstore’s Basil Hallward Gallery, upstairs in the Pearl Room, through October. Images here are from the exhibition or the larger selection of photographs in Dixon’s accompanying book, titled simply The Bookstore.

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A conversation with painter Stephen Hayes

Since 2015, Stephen Hayes has painted the mundane sites of horrific tragedies

Tad Savinar, writing in the catalog for Stephen Hayes’s 2013 retrospective at the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College, said, “I believe good artists are good scientists, constantly searching and testing in order to refine and express their pursuits.” Over the past three decades Hayes has moved his painting from a controlled, uniform touch to wildly brushed, smudged, scraped and daubed compositions as free as improvisational jazz. His recent work focuses on seemingly mundane scenes, but locations of horrific tragedy.

A new group of Stephen Hayes paintings is at Elizabeth Leach Gallery from October 5-28.

So how long have you been a painter?

That’s kind of a trick question. It’s interesting you ask that question because I’m currently writing a fellowship proposal, and in there I wrote that when I graduated from grad school and went off on my journey to make work, I was not a painter, so I recognize that I was wasn’t a painter coming out of school.

What did you think you were?

Somebody who got his MFA. I focused on drawing primarily. I did painting, but then I spent a couple years in Cyprus trudging the hills and painting en plein air. I learned a lot about what it was to make a painting. I traversed a whole bunch of sort of hackneyed ground, but also discovered what the material was, how much I felt connected to it, how much I didn’t know about it. That was 1980 to ’84. I was not really thinking of myself as a painter, but I was trying to learn something about painting.

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Alison Saar: Racial history and its implications

Alison Saar's exhibition of prints and sculpture at PNCA deals with layers of racial history and current realities

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

In its simplest form, an exhibition consists of a selection of work pulled from a collection by a curator. The show Crepuscular Blue: Prints and Sculpture by Alison Saar from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation currently at the Center for Contemporary Culture (CCAC) at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) is the result of a far richer process. Instead of a collection and a curator, this show’s generation involved an artist, a daughter, a printer-turned-curator-turned-collaborator, and a fortunate institution.

This exhibition brings together 19 of Saar’s prints from Schnitzer’s extensive collection and four sculptures and one woodcut from the L.A. Louver Gallery in Los Angeles. The curator, Paul Mullowney, is a Master Printer and owner of Mullowney Printing Company in San Francisco. Mullowney met Saar through her daughter, Maddy Leeser, a PNCA alumna and former student of Mullowney’s. Mullowney was already set to curate a show from Schnitzer’s collection when he met Saar and soon shifted his approach so that the show concentrated solely on her work.

Alison Saar, “High Yella Blue”,lithograph/Courtesy of Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation

Saar and Mullowney collaborated on three of the prints in the show during the summer of 2017 at Mullowney’s studio (Muddy Water, Topsy and the Golden Fleece, and Eclipse). Both Mullowney and Saar were at PNCA in mid-September and worked on High Cotton alongside students in PNCA’s MFA program in Print Media. Saar gave a lecture at PNCA on September 19 as part of Schnitzer Visiting Artist Lecture Series. Crepuscular Blue continues at PNCA’s 511 Gallery through October 14.

Saar is a sculptor who is also a printmaker and consummate collaborator. Her work engages with racial stereotypes, American history, Modernist tropes, Greek mythology, and contemporary events with equal tact and finesse. Saar is the daughter of an artist but, in turn, she is the mother of artists. No element or identity is treated as more or less worthy of consideration in her work; all are of value.

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Crow’s Shadow’s art of the land

The Hallie Ford Museum's generous retrospective of 25 years at the innovative eastern Oregon print center reveals a vital sense of place

Ghost Camp, a four-piece suite of lithographs by James Lavadour from 2002, all but jumps off the wall as you wander through the generous new exhibit Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts at 25 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem. Lavadour prints and paintings have a way of leaping like that: they have what curators and dealers like to call “wall power.”

But something else is going on in this suite, too. In that familiar Lavadour way Ghost Camp is partly abstract and partly taken from the spacious hilly land of eastern Oregon and Washington near Pendleton, where he lives. A scrawl of lines seems almost arbitrary until you look a little closer and realize they are deft intimations of shapes on the horizon or buildings breaking up the open spaces. Searing streaks of color suggest trees, red and glowing and perhaps – who knows, in a runaway fire season like this one? – on the way to being charred.

James Lavadour (Walla Walla, b. 1951), “Ghost Camp,” 2002, ed. 16, suite of four, four-color lithographs with graphite pencil on Arches 88 white paper, 34 1/4 x 43 3/4 inches overall, CSP 02-114 a, b, c, d. Photo: Dale Peterson

Oh: and, sticking up from the top right print like a towering forest snag, the jagged teeth of a giant crosscut logging blade grind relentlessly at the sky. The suite is inspired by Lavadour’s memories of a forest he used to wander as a child – a forest that’s since been clear-cut, and essentially no longer exists. The lithographs are at once an honoring of the past, a preservation of history, a documentation of a present state of mind, an act of beauty, and a lament. The more you look the more you see; the more you see the more you feel.

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Jordan Clark: The painter’s spaces, inside and out

A new set of paintings by Jordan Clark reflect the painter's deep sense of space

By PAUL MAZIAR

There are eight new Jordan Clark paintings in oil and flashe on view at Stumptown on Southeast Belmont. The exhibition, titled abridge, a breeze, comprises all abstract works — seven on paper and one on unprimed canvas. All of Clark’s pictures are full of life—especially this show of new, brightly-colored work—but they don’t bear any of the typical realism that you might expect from something inspired by life.

Jordan Clark, “breeze”,
16×20”, acrylic, flashe, spray paint on paper

I talked with Jordan about his artistic practice and some of his affinities over a couple of pints at a local watering hole. The conversation lasted a couple of hours and, after being transcribed, took up nine typewritten pages. You could say our meeting was congenial, a good time. Having talked with Jordan, it seems clear that despite the supreme effort it apparently takes an artist to cultivate and keep up such prolific work, these things are a byproduct of lived experience. They occur in a continuously balanced cycle of work and play, thought and action, solitude and interaction.

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Jef Gunn on the coming and going of his art

The Augen Gallery show reflects Gunn's process, creative and spiritual

Jef Gunn moved to Portland in the late 1990s. Over the past 30 years he has participated in numerous exhibitions in the Northwest and has wide ranging teaching experience. Gunn paints in a wide variety of nominal styles. He enjoys using encaustic (pigments in beeswax) because, as he says on his website (www.jefgunn.com): “With encaustic, I can bring together all of my other methods: oils, papers and inks, fabric, tar, and gold. My work draws on multiple lineages of art, culture and spiritual meaning.”

Jef Gunn in his studio, August 2017/Photo by Paul Sutinen

An exhibition of recent paintings is at Augen Gallery through September.

When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?

I was 13 years old. I remember it. I had always been drawing, but in our house there was no talk about art. We didn’t have a whole lot of books—not that we were poor, but nobody read. Then my mom remarried and on my stepfather’s shelves was everything that Time-Life published. I just started looking at books and I pulled up a volume of Rembrandt from the Time-Life series and I just knew—I just saw—‘oh I get it!’

I want to do that?

No, it’s more like, ‘That’s what I’m doing. Oh, I see what I am now!’

That’s really cool. How did you pursue that?

I drew all the time. I didn’t know they were etchings. I wasn’t reading very well, so I just saw drawings. I could relate to drawings, but they were etchings. So I copied his etchings out of the book.

Then did you move on to other artists after Rembrandt?

Velasquez and Goya. They were in the same series.

Did you take art in high school?

Yeah, I took art in high school. That was like all I could do. I did very poorly in everything else, even gym.

So art was the thing where you thought, ‘This is me and I this is what I do and I’m good at it.’

Actually, in my senior year in high school they said, ‘You’re not doing very well in high school. How about how about you take the last half of your senior year and go up to Pasadena City College and take art classes?’ I said, ‘Yup.’ I went and took color and design and drawing and found out that I wasn’t the only artist in the school. In high school I was the artist in the school. I spent a year not knowing what the hell to do and went back to PCC and then transferred to Cabrillo College. Before Marylhurst [BFA 2005] that was the only college I had—junior college painting classes, and I did a building technology program at the same time.

During your time in high school and college were there teachers or important experiences for you?

I learned most from this one fellow at Cabrillo in Santa Cruz named Tom Allen. I remember him saying the most important people he looked up too were Hans Hofmann (I didn’t know who that was at the time) and Paul Klee. One time he took us on a field trip to the museum at UC Berkeley. There were a lot of Hofmanns.

Jef Gunn, “Ranch Next Over I”, 2015, oil on panel,
12 x 24 inches

What did you think of the Hofmanns at that point?

By the time I started painting I was really interested in Monet and Matisse. I hadn’t gotten into Cézanne yet. I didn’t know what to make of Hofmann because when I was drawing as a teenager it had to be tight. It had to be real. It had to be believable. I was drawing fantasy stuff like people riding dinosaurs.

I took my first painting class in 1975 when I was 20. It was in the mid-’80s—I was in Seattle then—I started looking at Picasso, and I had what I called ‘my cubist epiphany.’ I kind of went to it by way of [Lyonel] Feininger actually.

Yes, I liked Feininger early on, too. There’s something about those lines that describe something that’s there, but not quite there. What do you think about paint? What is your relationship with paint? There are painters who have a relationship with paint itself and there are painters who just want to make an image with paint.

I love everything about it. I love color and form, but also material—I don’t only use oil paint and encaustic—primarily I do that. It’s material, the thing itself. Oil paint can be a lot of different things. It can be dry and wispy or it can be scratchy or wet and gooey. And it reveals your hand. It reveals a momentary gesture. It’s like your mind thinks something, your hand does it, and—something about the springiness of the brush, the viscosity of the paint—it appears as your thought.

When you’re talking that way it makes me think of a violinist with the relationship of their bow and a string on the violin and the thought through the hand.

It’s direct.

Jef Gunn, “Ranch Next Over II”, 2017, oil on panel,
37-1/2 x 61-1/2 inches

Do you have an idea of when you first had that feeling about paint?

I think it took a number of years after I started. In the first five years I had a few kind of interesting paintings. I could create an image that was believable, might have some realism to it, but it becomes really about the paint in the early ‘80s landscapes and portraits and things.

Someone asked Tom Allen how important a likeness is in a portrait painting. He said the first duty of a portrait is to be a good painting and if it’s got a likeness, so much the better. The point is don’t sacrifice good painting for a likeness.

Do you feel there are any painters or painters’ works that that have had a particular influence on you?

Well, all those people we’ve talked about. Picasso and Motherwell, at one point after I started looking at Picasso. Monet previously. But when I got to Barcelona in 1986 (I was there for a year and a quarter), I kept seeing this fellow named [Antoni] Tàpies. So that year was huge because of looking at Tàpies, and he was like something you had to deal with. Every painter in Barcelona has to deal with Tàpies.

He was very prolific.

Outrageously prolific. I used to say the Zen of it just made me stop in my tracks, totally arrested. It was like, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to address this guy?’ On the other hand I was dealing with all that stuff up on the hill—that Romanesque stuff from the 700s, the 900s, was there.

Was there something about Tàpies’s materiality that affected you or something else do you think? It’s very much about thick stuff and other kinds of collage elements.

It was also his marks—marks you could tell carried metaphor—and everything about them. The metaphor that’s often talked about with him is the wall and what a wall could be. And the walls in Barcelona are highly textured, there’s graffiti, sometimes going all the way back to Roman times. And Tàpies used that to create these huge spaces with strange marks that looked like honey, or straw—the Dada of it was a huge force in it as well.

Dada, meaning?

The absurdity of it.

The feeling of chance?

There’s a great deal of chance, but there was always some sense of spiritual import behind it all that I could feel when I first saw it. I couldn’t make sense of it, but I could feel sort of like—if I say this it’s going to sound really ridiculous—a Zen master stands right in front of you. You’ve got to get around him. How are you going to get around him? It really feels like a challenge.

I realized all the things I carried around with me, what made art important—color, design, fine lines, technical dexterity and all these damn things—that’s not really what carries the power of a piece of art. All that’s fine and good and it might have all that, but if it doesn’t have this sort of gravity then maybe it’s just nice, but I got really got interested in stuff that had gravity.

When you say gravity you mean some sort of seriousness and meaning?

Like life and death. Like being and non-being. That’s what Zen is all about, what Buddhism is all about. I wasn’t a Buddhist at that time. I’d done meditation practice, but it felt like those sort of very primal human practices.

Are you Buddhist now?

Yeah.

Does that have anything to do with your painting?

More and more and more, actually.

There are a couple ways to think about that. One is your approach when you’re making the painting and the other is the artwork and what the viewer receives.

For instance I had a show in May of this year at Traver Gallery [in Seattle]. It’s entirely different from oil painting—mostly prints of small objects on Chinese papers mounted onto panels. Very very serene. Very very very very methodical. The same print from a nut shell over and over and over, and each time I printed there’s no thinking about it. There is no deliberation. There’s no philosophy behind it. It’s simply this moment, press, this moment, press, this moment, press— it goes on in a mantra so it’s like a whole visual field of mantra. No one needs to know what the mantra is, but I made it more explicit in my statement for the show. The act of painting is very much like that of meditating.

Do you begin a painting with an idea of what you’re going to do?

Sometimes I do that. Sometimes I see something. I still go out and paint landscapes. Then I come home and I’m dwelling on that landscape.

You paint landscapes on site?

Sometimes they’re finished right there just like classic landscape painting, but more often they’re better if I they cook in the studio and I keep puttering with them and looking at them. Sometimes I’ll look at them for a year. There’s one on the wall there—I thought, “Oh I know what to do,” so I kept it.

The classic abstract expressionist question is how do you know the painting is finished?

It just feels that it’s done. You know Chagall’s answer? I always liked Chagall’s answer: My wife tells me.

You talked about doing drawing from Rembrandt and things like that. Do you still do drawing?

Not as much and I feel guilty about that.

Drawing guilt?

It still feels to me true that it’s the foundation. I used to draw incessantly. I’ve got boxes and boxes of old stuff.

Why do you think that dwindled away?

The more I started painting and the more I started going into the sort of repetition pieces on paper. The more I paint I think more like painting than I think like drawing. There’s an interesting correspondence between Matisse and Bonnard. When Matisse was feeling depressed about his painting, he said that a colorist who is a drawer is not the same thing as a painter, and that made me look at those two painters differently. And even in Bonnard’s drawings he draws like a painter. He draws shapes and textures and squiggles because he’s working the shape and texture in the field of the shape whereas Matisse draws and then puts big flats of color around to the drawing more or less.

The painter Robert Ryman said, “It seems that the main focus of painting is to give pleasure: if someone can receive pleasure from looking at paintings, then that’s the best thing that can happen.” Is there more than pleasure that you want someone to get when looking at your work? Is there an emotional aspect that you seek?

Nowadays what I’m looking for in the work, and maybe it relates to how I know it’s done, is when I start feeling—even if we don’t want state it as drastically as life and death—but is it coming or is it going? That’s a Zen phrase. It’s a Buddhist phrase, but Zen uses that more than others. Is it there or is it not there? Is it somewhere between useless and useful or alive or dead? It’s got to be alive. Painting has to be alive for that to happen, but it should have this—I don’t know if I want to call it at tension because it’s too common a word—no one really knows what it means—but it’s got to arrest me and make me consider my existence for a few minutes. But then again I don’t want to it to be unjoyful. I’m really I’m really interested in joy right now.

How long have you been interested in joy? Was there a time you were interested in something else other than joy?

No, I enjoy painting especially in the landscape paintings, especially the ones I do outside. I have a real joy in painting them even if I am screaming at them and it’s all falling apart because I really enjoy that tussle.

A couple years ago I did something in painting that I’ve never done before. I just had a big canvas and started filling it up randomly, just putting paint on with no design in mind. Over time the painting started looking like a landscape I’d seen a couple years ago, obviously subconsciously showing up on the painting, so I developed it. And it was a really good painting. It had a joyful feel, strong colors and crazy, ludicrous, really free. So I’ve been trying to do more of those.

Be more wild and crazy and joyful?

Really spontaneous. Spontaneity is one of those qualities that comes with joy and Zen.

Do you visit the Portland Art Museum much?

No. I have a membership, but I don’t go very often. I’m a busy person. I work for a living so I don’t end up with a lot of time.

Jef Gunn, “Ranch Next Over III”, 2017, oil on panel,
24 x 40 inches

I was just wondering if there are any particular things you like to look at the art museum, something that you can revisit, that connects for you.

There’s one little Monet that I’m really fond of, the brushwork on it. It’s little, looks like the bank of the river with some trees, big sky. I usually go up to the C.S. Price room and those old Portland people. I always go to the Asian section. Asian art is really been a huge influence on me for two decades at least.

What do you think about being a painter in the age of video and computer generated art?

There’s a part of me that feels like one day the electricity is going to go out and everyone’s going to not know how to sharpen a pencil. Some of my hobbies include edge tools—chisels and gouges, saws and things like that. I’m a carpenter, so I’ve got a huge collection of chisels and planes and things. I like to know how to keep them sharp. There are a lot of things you can do just as fast with hand tools. I love hand tools. I love tools of all kinds. So I’m very interested in non-electric and non-digital things—not just to preserve them in a museum. But, I have a feeling that it connects one to the moment in a way that screens don’t. Screens can’t actually.

You paint landscapes as landscapes and you paint other paintings that are paintings as paintings.

Sometimes they are paintings as paintings and hidden in there is a landscape. Or I paint paintings just as marks.

What are the similarities or differences between those approaches? Do you approach a landscape painting differently from one that is just marks?

They’re similar in that they’re all about materials and marks, the materiality of the thing, and the marking and the shapes are all very important as themselves. But, in a landscape painting they will reference a landform like metaphor, like it’s a hill, or it’s a river or it’s a lake, or it’s a sky. Those all can have metaphorical significance. I used to say the landscapes come from walking and these other pieces come from sitting.

Governor’s Arts Awards, revived

After a 10-year hiatus, the governor's awards return with five honorees. Plus: some highlights from September's gallery shows.

With school in session and Labor Day in the rear view mirror, Thursday is the first First Thursday of the fall season (even if autumn doesn’t officially arrive until Sept. 22), and art galleries across the city are busily installing new exhibits.

We’ll get to that. But first, some good news from the state capitol in Salem: After a 10-year hiatus that began when the state and national economies cratered, the Governor’s Arts Awards have returned. Gov. Kate Brown’s office announced Tuesday morning that the revived awards, which also coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Oregon Arts Commission, will go to two individual artists and three organizations.

Governor’s Arts Award winner Arvie Smith’s “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” (2015, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, collection of Nancy Ogilvie) was part of his APEX retrospective exhibition at the Portland Art Museum in 2016/17.

Portland painter Arvie Smith and Yoncalla storyteller Esther Stutzman are being honored with lifetime achievement awards. Pendleton’s innovative Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, Portland Opera, and the James F. and Marion Miller Foundation are also being honored.

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