Since the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge began in January, we have seen lots of still and moving images of the roads leading up to the refuge, roadblocks, burly men with guns, protesters supporting different sides in nearby Burns, and occasional clips of the landscape around the refuge, showing how still and empty it is in winter. These images tell a very particular story, a limited one. So when I saw that long-time Portland artist Henk Pander had begun posting photographs on Facebook of his Malheur watercolors, I asked him if ArtsWatch could display a sample of them. He agreed to send us a few.
If other artists have representations of Malheur and want to share them on ArtsWatch, we’d love to show them. We think that the arts have a part to play in healing that landscape, both the literal one and the one in our minds now, after this possibly disastrous disruption of its normal patterns. And maybe it’s better to start now instead of waiting for the occupation finally to end.
Since moving to Portland from Amsterdam in 1965, Henk Pander’s practice has included drawings, watercolors and large-scale paintings of the landscape of the American West. Some of those landscapes are nearly pristine, but many also contain signs of human habitation, usually abandoned to a slow decay. For example, Pander captured the drama around the grounding of the New Carissa oil tanker and attempts first to move it and then scuttle it. These watercolors from Malheur, though, give us a lush and lovely Malheur, with no human-inflicted scars on the landscape.
Here’s what Pander wrote in his note describing the paintings:
In the mid-1980’s my astronomer friend Doug McCarty introduced me to the intensely beautiful landscape at the Malheur Field Station, an independent educational institution located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. I discovered that the landscape there, including the Steens Mountains and the Alvord Desert, is extraordinarily beautiful, isolated and wild, a true expression of the American West, especially from the perspective of an European immigrant.
As a landscape painter, having made watercolors in nature in the Netherlands since I was a young child, it seemed natural to continue this process in the United States, when I moved here in the 1960s. The expansiveness of the space stimulated me to do large watercolors, which reflect the scope and scale of the landscape. Over the years, I have become very familiar and friendly with the management of the Field Station. It has become a retreat for me where I can rejuvenate. The result has been that throughout the past 30 years I have made a great many spontaneous paintings there. The watercolors here are only a very small sampling of that work.
Here’s a gallery of Pander’s Malheur work.