Christopher Rauschenberg: The beauty of the bucket

Portland photographer Christopher Rauschenberg has spent his career paying deep attention to the beauty around him

John Cage said, “Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look.” That seems to be the point of Christopher Rauschenberg’s photographs for more than 40 years.

Beyond that work as a photographer, Rauschenberg was one of the five founders of Blue Sky Gallery—now one of the premier photography institutions in America—back in 1975. He founded the Portland Grid Project in 1995. As the website states: “Christopher Rauschenberg took a pair of scissors to a standard map of Portland and cut it into 98 pieces. He then invited a group of 12 Portland photographers, using a variety of cameras, films, formats, and digital processes, to all photograph the randomly selected square each month. By 2005 they had covered every square mile of Portland and shown each other over 20,000 images.” The Grid Project is now on its third round of photographing the city.

Christopher Rauschenberg, Warsaw, 2016

In 1997-1998 he spent time in Paris rephotographing 500 scenes shot previously by Eugene Atget, who Rauschenberg considers “the greatest photographer of all time.” His website portfolio includes photographs from travels to Europe, China, Tanzania, Thailand, Brazil, and Guatemala. From March 26-April 19 a selection of recent photographs from Poland will be shown at Elizabeth Leach Gallery.


Art notes: Maryhill springs up

Plus: Final call for 'Mother' and Louis Bunce, Goltzius x 3, kickoff for Art Passport PDX, Portland Open Studios' be-a-patron plan

Sunday was shirtsleeve weather in Portland. The torrents returned on Monday, but the temperature’s been inching above 55. The hellebores and daffodils are pushing up. And if you want a sure sign that it’s almost spring (the calendar says it starts next Monday, the 20th) here it is: Maryhill Museum of Art opens for the season on Wednesday, with a big celebration on Saturday.

The museum, in a concrete castle that stands above the Columbia Gorge about a hundred miles east of Portland on the Washington side of the river, battens its hatches every winter when the storms grow fierce, and its reopening every March is a true regional reawakening.

Théâtre de la Mode: “My Wife is a Witch” (Ma Femme est une Sorcière)—A Tribute to René Clair, with 1946 fashions and mannequins; original set by Jean Cocteau, recreated by Ann Surgers; Gift of Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art

The 2017 season, which runs through November 15, appears to be focusing on the museum’s own eclectic collections, with a new installation of its international chess sets, a show of ancient Greek ceramics from the permanent collection, some spruced-up dioramas from it weird and wonderful Théatre de la Mode models of post-World War II French fashion (including the Jean Cocteau design), and an exhibition of recent works added to the permanent collection, including pieces by, among others, Lillian Pitt, Rick Bartow, Betty LaDuke, Fritz Scholder, and R.H. Ives Gammell, the American realist whose symbolic/mythological series of large paintings The Hound of Heaven has long been in the permanent collection.

Angela Swedberg (American, b. 1962), Cheyenne-Style Elk Ladle, 2008, hot off-hand sculpted glass, brain-tanned leather, antique Italian glass seed beads, porcupine quills, silk ribbon and red ochre paint, 28” x 6”; Museum purchase, Collection of Maryhill Museum of Art

Visiting the esoteric blend of passions and aesthetic compulsions that make up the museum – they range from brawny Rodins to furniture designed by Queen Marie of Romania to celebrations of the iconic dancer Loie Fuller to American realist paintings of the 19th century to a significant collection of Native American and Western art – is almost always a blast, and getting there on a nice spring day is half the fun. You can plan your own route and take as much time as you like. I’m partial to a coffee stop in Mosier, then winding through the hills on the old highway into The Dalles, maybe stopping for lunch, and getting back on the freeway for the final lap. The Gorge beckons. Heed its call.


‘The Odyssey of These Days’: From tragedy to hope

Visual artist Wesley Hurd and composer/performer Eliot Grasso’s multimedia collaboration responds to personal and public loss


In the summer of 2015, Wes Hurd was in a melancholy place.

“My mom and dad had passed away, and artistically, I wanted to work on some fresh territory,” says the Eugene artist.

Hurd decided to challenge himself with a series of large, abstract paintings, each with the same size — 51 by 47 inches — and a unifying palette of black, white and gray.

“Through these works, which are process-oriented, I was working through grief and sadness,” Hurd recalls. “I’d finished five paintings and was pretty happy with them. Then the shooting happened.”

First in Wesley Hurd’s series: ‘Between the Knife and the Heart.”

On Oct. 1, 2015, a gunman opened fire inside a Snyder Hall writing class on the Umpqua Community College campus, killing nine people and wounding another eight before turning the gun on himself.

“The last two paintings in the series are a direct response to the shooting,” Hurd says.

Sixth in Wesley Hurd’s series: ‘The Ghost of These Days.’

Eugene composer and musician Eliot Grasso was also moved to reflect on the events that unfolded that day, too close to home. The pair met at an arts event in Eugene, and found they had a lot in common, artistically, but something more. Both artists were looking for answers.

“I first saw Wes’s paintings online and they inspired me to create solo flute sketches in reaction,” Grasso says. “But to see the paintings in person — the texture, depth, the shadows — we met and we both thought, ‘What can we do?’”

Composer/performer Eliot Grasso.

Grasso, who plays the uilleann pipes — like an Irish bagpipe — and Hurd began an artistic collaboration, together exploring and interpreting the intertwining emotional rivulets of tragedy and hope. The result, The Odyssey of These Days, was recognized by the Oregon Arts Commission with an artist fellowship for Grasso in 2017.

On March 3 and 4, in the studio of Eugene’s Hult Center, the pair presented a visual-art installation by Hurd, along with Grasso’s composition, played by an augmented version of Dréos — usually a trio featuring uilleann pipes, violin and Hardanger fiddle, vielle à roué, cello and double bass. For this project, Dréos brought together Wyatt True and Jannie Wei of the Delgani String Quartet, Holly Roberts and Kathryn Brunhaver of the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance Graduate program, Lisa McWhorter, assistant concertmaster of the Eugene Symphony, and bassist Noah Ferguson. Grasso plays uilleann pipes while Seattle’s Brandon Vance holds down a mean Scottish fiddle.

Last in the series: ‘Elegy and Gold.’

Grasso’s composition, The Odyssey of These Days, is divided into three movements: “Between the Knife and the Heart,” “The Ghost of These Days” and “Elegy and Gold.”

“There are three parts to the narrative,” Grasso explains. “Part one is the impact, the news and what it does to someone. Part two is the struggling — an ongoing mental fog — like your mind is slammed around in your head; it just exhausts you.”

Grasso’s second movement vibrates with piercing violin repetitions, “an ostinato to represent the mind spinning,” he says. “Finally, part three is like a resignation — graveside, in the rain, umbrella out, watching a real person lowered into the earth,” Grasso says. “It’s a state of recognition and acknowledgment.”

Creating contemporary music with traditional instruments, Grasso uses ancient sounds as an underpinning, the way Hurd’s paintings rest on massive steel beam armatures. Juicy and ripe, lushly melodic and inviting, with an arresting rhythmic pulse and driving core, Grasso’s music slips and slides from past to present, weaving in and out of folk and classical forms, bringing the traditional Celtic music — its jigs, reels, strathspeys, and aires — into an entirely new realm.

Dréos performed at Eugene’s Hult Center studio.

The festive after-work Friday night audience easily gave way to the portent of the evening, grouping in small pairs, quiet and hushed, as though attending a memorial, or wake. There’s a sobriety to sharing space with strangers, to see art and hear music, that holds a mirror up to your own loss, our loss, those universal dynamics.

As a whole, the music and art complemented each other — like muscle and bone — working to lurch from sitting, to standing, and from standing to walking, in the days and weeks following a death.

Wesley Hurd.

Could the art and music stand alone? Sure. But together, they created a pop-up nave, a temporary sacred space.

A centuries-old dialog — a musical language spoken in pubs and living rooms, around campfires and in cabins — is brought to the fore here. Within this collaboration, the musical composition and the visual art’s gentility and ease, the hard work of mourning is elucidated, and articulated, through each note, each line, scratch or dot in the frame.

Experienced in person last weekend, we felt the music, because it hits us in the same emotional center that makes us want to tap our feet, to sing along, or to weep.

The artists hope to bring The Odyssey of These Days to other venues. Information,  including how to support the project, is available on the project website. A recording of Grasso’s music and a printed catalog of Hurd’s art are also available.

Rachael Carnes has written for The Stranger in Seattle, as well as Eugene Weekly (where a version of this story originally appeared), since the mid-1990s. She covers dance, theater, performance art, as well as human interest stories, and also founded Eugene nonprofit organization Sparkplug Dance, where she teaches movement to kids who juggle any number of risk factors. 

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical and Celtic music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.


In March of 2016, President Obama lifted restrictions on travel to Cuba by individuals for “people to people” educational trips. I quickly started planning a way to take advantage of this sudden crack in the wall separating us from the island and its people. For the past decade, I had dreamed of going to Cuba and tried to imagine what it was like. And in April I landed in Havana, intending to spend a month observing and documenting Cuban art and artists.

After a week in Havana, my path finally emerged from a series of chance encounters with Cuban artists and their friends—I was going to Galeria Taller, an artists workshop in Matanzas, a city of around 150,000 on the north coast of the island, less than 60 miles from Havana. The taxi ride to Matanzas is close to an hour-and-a-half long, I found, but once I arrived there, things started moving quickly.

Outside the Galeria Taller,
Matanzas, Cuba/Photo by Ernst Kluge

The building that houses Galeria Taller seemed like a museum that had come from the leftover materials used to build the foundation and interior of one of Gaudi’s churches. The vast 100-foot pastel walls, softened by the prevailing weather, charred bricks and the obvious hard labor of restoration, gave a sense of dignity to the 160-year-old structure. Birds guarded the roofless walls from the sky, and the echoes of the streets provided a soundtrack for Matanzas’s finest sculptors, painters and creatives.

“We are open.”


Black art: a neverending story

The Portland Art Museum's survey of African American art "Constructing Identity" tells a sprawling and many-sided tale

Wandering through Constructing Identity, the lavish exhibition of African-American art from the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection that sprawls across several upstairs galleries at the Portland Art Museum through June 18, I found myself looking for a unifying theme.

With work by more than eighty artists ranging in time from an 1885 landscape by Edward M. Bannister and Grafton Tyler Brown’s 1891 painting of a geyser in Yellowstone National Park to very contemporary pieces, it wasn’t easy.


As I moved slowly from room to room I began gathering impressions and testing ideas.

Might the theme be the dominance of figurativism in 20th and early 21st century African American art?

Plenty of evidence for that, including Frederick D. Jones’s probing ca. 1945-50 oil portrait of a downcast woman holding a platter of fish, and Charles White’s black-and-white 1965 etching Missouri C., which stretches more than four feet wide and fairly leaps to life with the arresting image of a capacious black woman in profile staring toward a wide-angle emptiness of striations and spots.

Frederick D. Jones (American, 1914–2004), Untitled (Woman with a Fish), ca. 1945–1950, oil on canvas, 12 x 10 in. © Frederick Jones

Then again, might it be the depiction of community, of a people overcoming?

Good evidence here, too. Palmer Hayden’s small oil painting Madonna of the Stoop, for instance, from about 1940, captures in vivid folkish shapes and colors a quiet urban domestic scene, a moment of small happiness: a mother and baby sitting on the stairs of a brownstone building; a bigger girl smiling and playing with the baby, reaching out to touch it; a boy on the lower step reading a book; another boy sliding down the wide stair railings; a dog and the lower half of a second woman standing in the doorway at the top of the frame; a couple of cherub faces with wings floating in little clouds. The mother and the baby are the glue of it all, and their heads are circled, almost as afterthoughts, with thin halos.


Well-worn Oregon, refugee dreams

K.B. Dixon's Oregon photos at Parsons and Friderike Heuer's photomontages at Camerawork strip back the veil of the ordinary

I caught up not long ago with the Portland novelist and photographer K.B. Dixon, who wrote good gallery reviews for me years ago at a once-daily newspaper where we both worked, and whose fascinating portraiture project I wrote about a year ago in Face to Face: K.B. Dixon photographs Oregon artists.

K.B. Dixon, “Stars and Stripes,” 2014, silver gelatin, 8 x 12 inches.

Dixon’s most recent photographic show, Town & Country: Excerpts from an Oregon Journal, is entering its final week at Michael Parsons Fine Art, where it closes Saturday. As in Face to Face, all of the images are black and white, emphasizing the structure of things and the subtleties of light and dark. And while Dixon doesn’t expressly pick out the weird, in that amped-up Portlandia way, he has an eye for the offbeat and unusual, from his portraits of street characters to his evocations of Oregon architectural survivors from an earlier, more fiercely independent time. Dixon’s Oregon, urban and rural, is a place well-worn, from drive-in ice cream joints to murals on the walls of old cannery buildings to the studio of a fiercely focused glass blower to the wondrous time machine that is the Ringler’s Annex Bar building at Stark and Burnside in downtown Portland. Dixon quietly reveals an Oregon that is right in front of us, if we just stop and take the time to see.


Rodin and the shape of dance

A dancer's tour through the Portland Art Museum's big Rodin exhibition reveals the movement in the metal

There are many ways to look at art, all kinds of art, depending on your experience, your history, your knowledge, your point of view and your passions. Personally, and professionally, I am always interested in the links between dance and visual art, which are many and varied and not always obvious.

So is Portland Art Museum docent Carol Shults, whose ballet expertise ranges from teaching it to lecturing on its history, and is a friend of mine. For several years she has been leading special tours of the museum’s collection, and when appropriate, visiting exhibitions, in a series titled “Dance and Movement in Art.” The most recent was the first Saturday in February, when she offered a glimpse – more than a glimpse – of the intersection of dance and sculpture, first with a piece in PAM’s permanent collection, then with a close look at several pieces in the exhibition Rodin: The Human Experience, selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections, on view until April 16.


Fujikasa Satoko, “Flow #1,” 2011, stoneware with matte white slip, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by The Asian Art Council, © Fujikasa Satoko, 2013.15.1

The tour began in the Schnitzer Family Gallery on the main floor, where modern choreographer Gregg Bielemeier performed his own fluid, meditative movement take on Flow #1. The abstract ceramic sculpture is part of a series of meticulously fashioned, delicately balanced pieces that Japanese contemporary sculptor Fujikasa Satoko conceived of when she was only thirty-one.