VISUAL ART

Tom Prochaska: Painting in the round

Paul Sutinen continues his series of interviews with Oregon artists, this time with painter and printmaker Tom Prochaska

Tom Prochaska, who turns 73 this month, began his career with an intense involvement in printmaking, both as an artist and as a professional fine art printer. During the last two decades his main focus has become painting—paintings in which scenes and figures seem to slowly emerge from a fog of small brushstrokes.

In his current exhibition, “The Boxer,” at Froelick Gallery, through March 31, Prochaska includes paintings in a new circular format, as well as several papier-mâché figurative sculptures. Tom Prochaska will be speaking about his work at the gallery on Saturday, March 10, at 11 am.

Tom Prochaska in his studio with his big painting in process/Paul Sutinen

You do painting, you do sculpture, you do printmaking—do you think of any one of those is being your primary medium?

My primary right now is painting and it’s growing and more that way. I know where the sculpture fits. Printmaking—I was printing for other people. I was trained in Switzerland and Pratt Institute. A lot of that was the way I was making a living, printing for other people. I would include learning from that into my homework. So, people view me as a printmaker, but I’ve always been a painter.

Yes, I think that’s the way I came to know your work. How long have you felt that painting is taking the lead in your work?

The last 15 years. As I get older the printmaking becomes more challenging physically. I used to print 50 prints for somebody in a day, and I would print for myself. Now, for example, I have a show in Switzerland of just prints in September and the editions I’m printing are five because I can handle that physically. I did a portfolio as a tribute to a group of people I know. I’ll do those kind of things now, but it’s not the driving force. I would say for the last 15 years I’ve been centered on painting more and, like that painting back there [on the far studio wall], it might take me a year to finish that. I don’t have any idea where it’s going right now. It’s going a bunch of different places, but I’ve slowed everything down a bit. I’m being more patient.

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VizArts Monthly: March on

You WILL make it through the last dregs of winter, and a new set of visual arts shows will help

I’ve seen March arrive in Portland more than a dozen times, and yet still some part of me thinks “Ok, it’s spring now, right?” It’s not spring, and it won’t be spring for a while. It’s still winter, still time left in the unpredictable progression from spiteful to mightful to sometimes delightful. It’s easy to think things just won’t change. But we Portlanders go through this every year, filling the outdoor cafes as soon as the sun makes an appearance. It’s built into our constitutions to look for signs of progress and renewal when all seems lost.

Checking the news at any point is a quick reminder that the weather’s not the only thing that manages to be both unexpected and depressing in 2018. Even though the clouds haven’t parted yet, some big, colorful developments are already showing. Black Panther is smashing box office records and inspiring intelligent conversation about a comic book movie, vibrant portraits of the Obamas by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald break the stuffy monotony of official presidential portraits, and the tough-as-nails students of Stoneman Douglas have already managed to budge the national conversation about gun control more than Washington has ever been willing to.

Likewise, our local artists and institutions aren’t waiting for the sun to come back to add some color and light to our city. March is chock full of smart, complex, and beautiful shows representing diverse perspectives. This list should give you plenty of chances to jolt the grey away.

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Elizabeth Malaska: The ancient within the modern

An interview with painter Elizabeth Malaska must be wide-ranging, because that's the way she approaches her work

By PAUL MAZIAR

When I got the chance to sit down with painter Elizabeth Malaska to discuss some of what I see in her new exhibition, Heavenly Bodies, at Russo Lee Gallery, I was moved by her intensity and congeniality. It’s an unlikely pairing, maybe, and that’s consistent with her work. Her canvases bear the historical past and the immediate present, and a wide-ranging research of art history and contemporary art grounds her subjects—it also frees them.

I was also astonished to find that her answers kept covering questions that I had yet to ask. Her practice of art-making addresses her own life, the outside world, social and political concerns, and again, art history.

Elizabeth Malaska, “Reflections (1)”, charcoal, Flashe on paper/Courtesy Russo Lee Gallery

“I don’t believe in the Modern world: It’s such a thin veneer,” Malaska insists. “We’re trying to protect ourselves from the vulnerability of Being, basically, and we’re making so many concessions to do that. Any time I have a chance to point to how the ancient lives within the modern, to widen those rips within the fabric of our modern ego, I want to do that.”

Her work addresses the problem of being attentive to and open-minded about the contemporary world, while rejecting its narrowness, which is the cause of so many of its ills.

One thing I’m reminded of, having talked with Malaska, is that it seems that we always have—as creative and engaged thinkers with creative and engaged bodies—an entire history to draw upon. To reduce our concerns and attentions to the temporal only would be a mistake. Likewise, it’s just as grave an error to avoid the present.

Looking at Malaska’s paintings, I’m aware of the fact of my male form, of the power (as ever) and the sensibility of women, of the need for change in our society, the fragility of life in all forms. The handling of paint throughout this show mirrors these and other ideas, as much as it entertains, going from lush, wild and otherworldly—as in the strange, heartbreaking/heartbroken being in the foreground of Wake to Weep—to totally refined, unified, exacting. A walk through Heavenly Bodies is really a timeless walk.

I have restitched our conversation to group her thoughts on several specific topics.

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VizArts Monthly: February lights

Lighten your February load with the Portland Winter Light Festival and an abundance of visual arts exhibitions

Nearly everyone within earshot of these words already understands that one of the implications of the dramatic uptick in the cost of real estate and rents we’ve experienced lands directly on artists and the arts.

At City Hall, it’s apparent that Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Nick Fish understand it, too. “Nothing is inevitable about what we’ve achieved around the arts and culture,” Fish said at a January 9 public workshop on the issue of artists space. Fish, the commissioner responsible for the Regional Arts and Culture Council, has been working on a set of proposals—23 separate items were on his list as of January 9—to address the problem.

That plan will hit city council on February 28, and we’ll be writing about it both before and after that political event. None of the 23 items on the list require any capital expenditure by the city, which makes their passage more likely. Why the city budget is always tight is the subject for a vast treatise on political economy (I’d recommend Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire) and an analysis of where tax money goes. Don’t worry: I’m not going there. The pressing question for artists and arts groups priced out of Portland right now: how soon and how effectively can they alter the market and demographic forces creating the rent squeeze. So, we’ll have LOTS to talk about.

That’s one of the backdrops for this month’s First Thursday and First Friday art openings. The other is the passing of Portland’s Ursula K. Le Guin, a very great artist of the word, whose books did what every great piece of art does: connect us mind, body and spirit to our present reality and propose, directly or indirectly, alternate ones for us to consider. All of this while engaging us so completely that we aren’t thinking about any of this as we experience the work. Le Guin is a model for the artist in all of us.

OK, then, death and government policy: Not such a jolly way to enter the month’s art openings, maybe. I assure you, though, there’s less bread and circus and more serious grappling with our current dire political condition in the shows of our art galleries these days.

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Kellen Chasuk: Inventiveness triumphs over gloom

Kellen Chasuk's lively exhibition at Stephanie Chalfas Projects is full of the still lifes of our time

By PAUL MAZIAR

One of my favorite things about art-making, in any medium, is that the initial subject matter can be totally incidental—without prescribed meaning whatsoever—and yet deeper implications are invariably discovered, by both the artist and whomever is there to experience the thing they’ve made. I love the indeterminacy that creativity can entertain, and the comfort to be found in not knowing—for both artist and viewer.

Taking a couple of separate walks through Plastic Flowers, the new exhibition of Kellen Chasuk’s paintings at Stephanie Chefas Projects through January 27, I find an unmistakable joy in Chasuk’s paintings, an inventiveness. Taken as a whole, the show exemplifies the protean aspects of meaning and experience in contemporary life—related to joy, sorrow, boredom, and anxiety for anyone alive today in these confounding times—and it entertains the concerns and tropes of artists and art history. The readily accessible, familiar passions seen in her tableaus—living, growing things—the bright hues and lighthearted forms, the playful modelling of Kellen’s paint, all of these belie a story of gloom. That’s not quite it—a kind of story opens up, shown in its variation, like life. Here, it’s a relatable gloom, for sure, and given the year we just had, such a lively exhibition is also a triumph.

Elements of Kellen Chasuk’s “Plastic Flowers” exhibition at Stephanie Chefas Projects, through January 27, 2018

Chasuk’s work is palatable in its simplicity and strangeness. You have, on the one hand, all these vivid, humorous interior (i.e., indoors) scenes that show the simplicity of playing around with paint and the rendering of space and form; and on the other, these personal or metaphysical (i.e. the person’s inner life) aspects that are gently implied by the very same means. It’s interesting to me the way that these things become interchangeable, with the possibility of even more depth of meaning through the familiar, simplified forms devoid of pretension, and in many cases even verity.

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The Original Tesla

Harmonic Laboratories' multimedia production in Eugene, Portland and Bend brings the eccentric genius to life

Clean energy. Wireless charging. A world connected by invisible communication technology. For many, they’re today’s reality, tomorrow’s hope — but they were first realistically envisioned more than a century ago by a a Serbian-American immigrant whose name most of us only know because a new car is named after him.

Nikola Tesla, born in 1856, conceived some of the crucial underlying technology that makes it possible for us to flip a switch in our homes and light and heat and the internet and Game of Thrones magically appear. Dubbed “the man who invented the 20th century,” his nearly 300 patents include early contributions to radio, alternating current, and more. Some speculate that had his visions been realized, we’d have much cleaner, cheaper, non climate-change-inducing energy today, using renewable sources like wind, magnetism and hydro power and requiring less expensive infrastructure.

But Tesla’s quirky personality, perhaps even on the autism spectrum, made him a difficult fit for relationships both personal and financial. Many of the eccentric genius’s most visionary ideas (he had some crackpot notions too) were swiped, subverted or suppressed. Contemporary legends like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse gained riches and renown, while Tesla, after achieving worldwide notoriety and his own fortune, died penniless in 1943, his closest friends being the pigeons he consorted with in the various New York City hotels he called home.

Tesla’s tumultuous story has been told in books and documentaries (including one now running on the Discovery Channel called “Tesla’s Death Ray”), but a life so colorful and complex invites a similarly multidimensional representation. In Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, premiering January 10-11 at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater and repeating January 13 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre  and January 15 at Bend’s Tower Theatre, Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory explores the trailblazing scientist/inventor’s world and works through a combination of dance, music, animation, and onstage physics experiments.

“He’s an unsung hero,” says Brad Garner, who choreographed and directs the show. “We wouldn’t have cell phones and power in our homes without his work. He was an immigrant with an American dream who changed the world.”

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VizArts Monthly: Revolving by degree

A new year opens, inch by inch, and lines of flight are revealed

The Earth inches around the sun a fraction less than one degree between December 31 and January 1, and yet somehow I still believe that something momentous has occurred. “Thank the far-flung heavens that 2017 is over,” I exclaim aloud to myself and anyone within hearing distance. People roll their eyes in agreement, make the universal gesture of disgust (raising the index and middle fingers toward the mouth), even snarl audibly—these are the times we live in. We are hoping for better, or at least no worse, a psychological imperative, maybe.

I resolve, I resolve, I resolve. And for some minutes, hours, days, under the spell of those resolutions, I may feel a new lightness in my step. All the same, I know that the environment that produced those universal gestures of disgust hasn’t changed very much during that one degree of revolution (will someone out there check my math?).

Fortunately, the culture itself, our local culture, still has the elements that offered me support during 2017, no matter how grotesque it seemed. I’ll paraphrase Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in “A Thousand Plateaus” (and pardon me if it’s wildly inappropriate here): In 2017 there were “lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories”; but I also found “lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification.” Mostly I found them manifest and represented in the creative acts of art I bumped into during the year, and even in the society itself occasionally, often prompted by a state of mind initiated by the arts.

Lines of flight. Movements of deterritorialization and destratification. Deleuze and Guattari’s book was published in 1987. And yet…I’m sifting through the experiences the culture offers looking for those same things some 30 years later. Degree by degree, as the Earth revolves. Which maybe itself is a line of flight.

Some art exhibitions opening in January that may destratify your consciousness?

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