Learning to count to one

Ron Mills-Pinyas’ abstract installation at Linfield College is a study in processing visual information. And maybe squirrels.

What you see one day may be different from what you see the next in a tantalizing installation of abstract painting that opened last month in the Linfield College Art Gallery. Artist Ron Mills-Pinyas says it isn’t finished, calling the work-in-progress, which runs through March 23, a “performative installation.”

The show’s title is (inhale for this) Tesserae @ .125 :.25 : .5 : 1 : 2 : 3 : 4 : 6 : 12 : 24 : 48 : 72 : 96 : 120… and Quailia 1+1=1. Attraction and entanglement; on learning to count to one. He is happy to explain; first, a basic description:

Most of the pieces scattered around the perimeter of the Miller Fine Arts Center are larger panels that will remain where they are for the duration of the McMinnville installation. But the centerpiece, the Tesserae, fills most of the north wall and comprises dozens of smaller, square panels that will not be in the same spot they were a few days earlier. Mills-Pinyas comes in every few days with a ladder, occasionally bringing a few new panels to add to the mix. Working mostly from instinct, he reconfigures them. The first time I saw it, the centerpiece was an unbroken swath of checkerboard colors; when I visited the following week, it had been broken roughly in half, with the white wall cutting a jagged, vertical path through it.

Printmaker and muralist Ron Mills-Pinyas teaches art and visual culture at Linfield College in McMinnville. He splits his time between Oregon and Spain, where he is represented in Barcelona and Amsterdam by Villa del Arte Galleries. Photo by: David Bates

Printmaker and muralist Ron Mills-Pinyas teaches art and visual culture at Linfield College in McMinnville. He splits his time between Oregon and Spain, where he is represented in Barcelona and Amsterdam by Villa del Arte Galleries. Photo by: David Bates

Mills-Pinyas is a tenured professor of art and visual culture at Linfield, and has a deep and ongoing interest in philosophy, psychology, and phenomenology, along with his passion for art. On sabbatical last year in Spain, he worked on the concepts on display here and has been working on the installation since.

What is all this about? It’s about the “all,” or rather, how you create “all” out of fragments that are, in this case, on the move. Or, as he puts it in the title, “learning to count to one.” Spending time with it is an opportunity for self-study in cognition and how you process visual information when there really isn’t anything beyond an abstract amalgamation of color, shades, brushstrokes, etc.

“What’s happening to our eyes when we gaze and look at something as a totality versus something we focus on narrowly,” he said as we strolled around the installation last week. “That breathing out and breathing in of perception interests me a lot. And then again, how we form sets of things that we consider nameable. You know, people come in and say, ‘This looks like a fossil, it looks like a cat, I see animals.’ That’s something that’s valid in psychology, how the mind wants to create order out of known names of things when confronted with something that, strictly speaking, doesn’t offer that.

“People think I’m being tricky,” he said, chuckling. And maybe he is. “They’ll say, ‘I see a squirrel,’ and I’ll say, ‘There are really three if you look hard enough.’”

I didn’t see any squirrels, although I could grasp how someone could “see” fossils in one of the larger panels that isn’t part of the Tesserae.

“Actually,” I said, pointing at one, “I see plants right here.”

“Oh!” He seemed surprised and amused, as if no one had ever suggested that.

“You haven’t heard that?” I said, equally surprised. Because (obviously) the image was a plant.

“Oh, you’re absolutely right!” We both laughed.

Mills-Pinyas said the most common reaction is for viewers to try to identify images — tangible, physical things. He said my own response was less common, but just as fascinating: I looked at the panels collectively and tried to rearrange them in my mind’s eye into how they may have been configured originally — as if there were a definitive “one” that had been shattered and could be rebuilt like a puzzle.

The main piece of Ron Mills-Pinyas's show at Linfield is made of dozens of panels in acrylic. Every few days he comes in to remove some, add some, and reconfigure them. Photo by: David Bates

The main piece of Ron Mills-Pinyas’s show at Linfield is made of dozens of panels in acrylic. Every few days he comes in to remove some, add some, and reconfigure them. Photo by: David Bates

It’s that confluence of optics and cognition that fascinates the artist. He elaborates in his artist’s statement:

“I am thinking about Edward O. Wilson’s discussion of notions of free will and what he calls perceptual ‘qualia’ that provoke the ‘subtle, almost inexpressible feelings we experience about sensory input,’ sensations and their related feeling tones that precede naming, i.e. redness before it is identified as red. In this sense, I am painting about how our minds work and navigate optical experience, how our conscious naming of the word and establishing gestalts is established, delayed, invited, and entangled by the meeting of eye and mind.”

But beyond identifying the colors and the squirrels, he also discusses another instinct — to make connections, alignments, etc., either within a panel or between them.

“I have been interested in boundaries and edges, color and pattern, geometry and mathematical ratios, all in a play of optics and how perception may be influenced as the eye is invited to pass between or bracket multiple panels of various sizes; to jump and alight, to find alignments, to skip from one area to another, as awareness notices and connects — sometimes unconsciously — similarities or continuities across panels, as it switches optics between focal and peripheral vision, zooming in, panning out.”

Zoom in, pan out, and rearrange to your heart’s delight through March 23. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. A companion exhibition featuring more of Mills-Pinyas’ work, including monotypes, pastels and/or charcoal drawings, and collagraphy, is on display in the small gallery across the patio from the main gallery.

THERE’S A NEW ART GALLERY IN TOWN: I wrote about this in January and now it is upon us: The McMinnville Center for the Arts (MECA) will officially open Saturday, March 9. You’ll find work from 30 artists from around Oregon and the country, and Buddy Lamorey will provide live tunes. “Our belief is that art is essential to our common existence,” said Holli Wagner, who with her husband, Mick, owns the gallery as well as a few local vacation rentals. “Providing a space for our guests to be submerged in art will be the key focus.” Keep an eye on the website, because it’s not just about visual art: There will be an ongoing mix of musicians, speakers, author readings, classes, and workshops. Hours for the grand opening are 5 to 9 p.m. at 636 N.E. Baker St.

LINFIELD THEATER CONTINUES TO FLIRT with its theme of “Monsters and the Monstrous,” with next week’s production of Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters. A young high school teacher finds her younger, deceased sister’s notebook and discovers the Dungeons & Dragons aspect of her sibling’s life. Performance dates are 7:30 p.m. March 13-16, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, March 17, in Marshall Theatre on the Linfield campus. Opening night features a post-show roundtable discussion. Assistant Professor Lindsey Mantoan directs. Plenty more info can be found here.

Linfield College students (from left) Kendall Harrison as Agnes, Calder Ifft as D & D Monster, and Lucy Gordon as Tillius the Great Paladin, in Qui Nguyen's "She Kills Monsters," which opens March 13. Photo courtesy: Linfield College

Linfield College students, (from left) Kendall Harrison as Agnes, Calder Ifft as D & D Monster, and Lucy Gordon as Tillius the Great Paladin, in Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters,” which opens March 13. Photo courtesy: Linfield College

GEORGE FOX UNIVERSITY IN NEWBERG kicks off a busy month of free music for the community with a Jazz Dialogues concert on Thursday, March 7. The private Christian school’s jazz ensemble will collaborate with the Department of Art and Design “to create a one-of-a-kind interdisciplinary presentation and multi-media experience that will include live collage creation, drawing, animation, and painting,” according to the press notes. On March 15, the university’s Symphony Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture – Fantasy. Finally, an honors recital is set for March 21. All concerts are at 7:30 p.m. in the Bauman Auditorium; seating is first-come, first-served. The school’s complete concert schedule is here.

ARTS JOURNAL: Finished reading Stephen R. Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane, which I picked up in a used bookstore in the 1980s and never attempted until now. The hook worked: I’m on page 100 or so of the second book in the series, The Illearth War. Also: Watched the Stephen Hawking bio-pic The Theory of Everything. Average storytelling featuring two extraordinary performances by Eddie Redmayne in the title role and Felicity Jones as his wife. Also: Listening to Metamorphosis by Philip Glass. Repeatedly. Get it?

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This story is supported in part by a grant from the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation.

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