Blair Saxon-Hill

Viz Arts Monthly: The post-holiday edition

The gears are grinding as the arts world shifts into 2019

Well, we made it. Hello, 2019. While some galleries are still shaking off their holiday hangover, there’s still good stuff to see. If you’re making new year’s resolutions, why not resolve to see more art in person! Some good shows are closing soon, so take this chance to see them before they go. Besides the ones listed here, make sure to check out the closing events at PICA’s Abigail DeVille show—two film screenings feature a local documentary about police violence and independent films from houseless youth. And if you haven’t had your fill of New Year’s celebrations, the Portland Japanese Garden will host an evening of music, games, tea, dancing, and performance for Japanese new year on the 13th. Also worth celebrating: five Portland artists have received the prestigious Painters and Sculptors grants from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Congratulations to Addoley Dzegede, Lisa Jarrett, Elizabeth Malaska, Wendy Red Star, and Blair Saxon-Hill.

Ōtagaki Rengetsu (Japanese, 1791–1875), Samurai Footman with Poem, 1867, hanging scroll; ink and light color on paper, 12 13/16 x 17 1/2 in., Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art
Through January 13
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue

There’s still time to catch this exhibition of, as Laurel Reed Pavic noted in her ArtsWatch review, “calligraphic texts, imaginary portraits of poets, monochrome ink paintings, and landscapes from the eighth through the twentieth century,” all drawn from the collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles. Maribeth Graybill, the Curator of Asian Art at the Portland Art Museum, calls the collection “without question one of the finest collections of Japanese art in private hands.”

Print by Christoph Ruckhäberle

Paradise Lost: Christoph Ruckhäberle
Through January 13
Ampersand, 2916 NE Alberta Street

Bursting with color, these collages, photogravures, and wood prints by German artist Christoph Ruckhäberle evoke a bustling world of shapes and figures. Many of the prints come from some process of recycling, whether it’s taking material from paintings made by Ruckhäberle or creating collages from makulatur, a German word that refers to wastepaper from test prints. This small, lively show should be a nice shot of color in the midwinter months.


Member Show
Through January 30
Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th Ave

Stalwart of the Portland art scene since 1979, Blackfish Gallery is member-owned and operated by artists representing a broad spectrum of the local art community. This annual show highlights recent work by each current member, and kicks off the 40th anniversary of this community hub for countless regional artists.

Photo By Rebecca Reeve

Sun Breathing: Rebecca Reeve
January 3 – March 2, 2019
UpFor, 929 NW Flanders St

UK artist Rebecca Reeve brings a show of photographs of eerie, beautiful landscape interventions to Portland for her first solo exhibition at Upfor. Painting directly onto portions of the landscape or elements within it. Reeve returns to the same sites over and over, describing it as “watching the change in seasons and the earth breathe.” This allows her to develop a relationship with the area that informs her final photos, which represent a patient collaboration between Reeve and the light, flora, and natural elements of the landscape.

Sculpture by Joanna Bloom

Exaggerated Stories: Joanna Bloom
January 4-February 2
Adams and Ollman, 209 SW 9th Avenue

Regional artist Joanna Bloom’s first exhibition at Adams and Ollman “elaborates upon her experiments with the ritual forms of the trophy and the bowl.” These chunky, enigmatic ceramic sculptures draw on the right history of self taught art, ceremonial objects, and the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Crowns, bowls, floral shapes, and other loose and lovingly-sculpted forms play with associations of achievement, glory, and recognition while reveling in imperfection and rough-edged personability.

Altar installation view

Altar: Lynn Yarne
January 16-March 1
Open Signal, 2766 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

This vibrant mixed-media installation weaves the real-life stories of “nine elders from Portland’s Chinatown/Japantown” from a collection audio recordings, images, and animations. Yarne explores representation, local history, and community memory in the second- and third-hand stories that she’s pieced together in this altar to local mythology. A very long list of contributors and collaborator helped produce the three video pieces in the show Don’t Forget Who You Are Or Where You Are From, Digital Collage Power Portraits, and Power Shirts.

Visual Magic: An Oregon Invitational
January 19-May 12
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
University of Oregon Campus, 1420 Johnson Lane, Eugene

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in collaboration with the George D. Green Art Institute presents a smorgasbord of beloved Oregon artists. Including recent work by 45 artists who emerged in Oregon during the 1960s and ’70s, the show features paintings, sketchbooks, ceramics, and mixed-media work from an influential generation of Oregon artists. Featured artists include Rob Bibler, Sharon Bronzan, Jon Jay Cruson, Humberto Gonzalez, George Johanson, Connie Kiener, Nancy Lindburg, Lucinda Parker, Isaka Shamsud-Din, Richard Thompson, and Phyllis Yes.

The Bridge by Amy Bernstein

Entre chien et loup: Amy Bernstein
Through January 22
Downtown Stumptown
128 SW 3rd Avenue

The newest recipient of the Stumptown Artist Fellowship, Bernstein is known in Portland for her ebullient, spare and gestural abstract paintings. The title of her exhibition comes from a French expression meaning “between the dog and the wolf.” While it usually refers to the time of day between dusk and night, Bernstein employs it here to describe our current era, which she calls a “divided time of possible selves.” To her it symbolizes “an investigation of an indiscernible time of light and darkness, a time of unimaginable metamorphosis and imminent revolution whose direction is not totally clear.”

 


 

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that an exhibition of work by Hank Willis Thomas is at the Portland Art Museum. In fact, that show will open October 5.

 

 

Blair Saxon-Hill : Fit To Be Tied

Photographer Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios around the state for a new book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art. This time, she ties Blair Saxon-Hill.

I love extraordinary evenings. Even an ordinary evening can seem special, just because of the heightened focus between what can and cannot be seen in that evening’s darkness. But set that evening inside an artist’s studio deep in Portland’s southeast industrial district, place the artist, wrapped in paper and tied with rope, on a pedestal, light her with the bright spotlit glare of a humming 1980s era projector, and this little theater becomes fantastic.

Place the artist, wrapped in paper and tied in rope on a pedestal, light her with the bright spotlit glare of a humming 1980s era projector...

Place the artist, wrapped in paper and tied in rope on a pedestal, light her with the bright spotlit glare of a humming 1980s era projector…

[Writer’s Note: In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014, The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts Curator and Critic Tours and Lectures program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. I travel light, only one camera, no lighting equipment, one lens. My goal is to show these artists in their environment—authentic, uncontrived, at ease. Learn about the project,Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 and the release of the book October 2015.]

Thus started another Connective Conversations photoshoot, this time with Portland artist, Blair Saxon-Hill.  It’s worth taking a moment here to pause and contemplate Blair’s description of the work she makes, in her own words:

[Blair’s] work examines materiality and the relationships between photography and sculpture through the use of outmoded print technologies, the verbiage of our time (such as scanning and digital printing), and the evocation of the haptic. The resultant works appear as impossible documents and emotively activate the viewer’s perceiving body in considerations of material, space, presence and absence.  Blair creates site-specific installations, artist books, sculpture, photographs, paintings and prints. Co-Owner (with artist John Brodie) of Monograph Bookwerks, she is represented by Fourteen30 Contemporary.

Back to the matter at hand:  images of Blair in her studio….We had decided the week prior to meet again, for a second photoshoot. Our first meeting had been in the tame daylight of a late fall morning.

In her SE Portland studio, Blair Saxon-Hill.

In her SE Portland studio, Blair Saxon-Hill.

We had worked around the studio, Blair showing me her work, her favorite pieces, and her various work areas throughout her two-room studio space. It had been a foggy, rainy day, outside the wet Oregon gray light licked at the windows.

Blair sits comfortably on any surface in her workspace, it is like a theatrical home for her.

Blair sits comfortably on any surface in her workspace, it is like a theatrical home for her.

Blair, while completely cooperative, suggested we try and get together a second time when the light of day would not detract from the equipment she was making use of in her work at the time—namely, the overhead projector. We needed darkness, she explained.

"I often perform in my studio. It's those performances that assist the work and expand how I see possibility," says Blair.

“I often perform in my studio. It’s those performances that assist the work and expand how I see possibility,” says Blair.

Standing at the far room in her studio, in a long overcoat and holding a tall crook.

Standing at the far room in her studio, in a long overcoat and holding a tall crook.

Not one to miss an opportunity, I eagerly agreed. When I arrived on the appointed night, Blair greeted me with her customary warm hug, and showed me up the stairs to her studio where the projector was whirring away, a frayed net splayed over its surface.

Arranging the frayed and well-worn fishing net on the projector.

Arranging the frayed and well-worn fishing net on the projector.

“Here’s my idea!” Blair explained. She asked me to wrap her in a large roll of paper, closing the paper around her like a gift and tying it with a  well-used rope right about where I imagined would be the mid-section of this bundle of Blair. I helped her up onto a rickety, paint-stained stool and made sure she lined up “just so” with the net projected from across the room. The shadow of the netting blanketed her like a captured mermaid, a siren pinned to the studio wall.  Once she was situated, I couldn’t decide if she was more aloof 16th-17th century-Elizabethan, more powerfully victorious Nike of Samothrace (but notably with head in place) or more hedonistic-Botticelli maiden restrained under a mantle of paper.

The shadow of the netting blanketed her like a captured mermaid, a siren pinned to the studio wall.

The shadow of the netting blanketed her like a captured mermaid, a siren pinned to the studio wall.

She could have easily been all three.

Her image, to me, captured an essence of Blair, a reserved realism and a fierce female strength. She was fully covered yet her expression was confronting, revealing, a bit sensual, inviting in its transparency. “It looks like you have no clothes on,” I said offhandedly, and she giggled, maybe at the effect we had created. The portrait, I feel, realizes Blair as an exceptionally strong individual within her studio space: comfortable, vulnerable, susceptible. For a moment, we, as audience, are  allowed in to see a side of her that is inherently connected to her art and ethos. It is Blair in character, but playing herself and playing herself with honesty and integrity.

Blair Saxon-Hill's well-equipped studio.

Blair Saxon-Hill’s well-equipped studio.

That, I believe has been the real crux of this project to photograph the Oregon artists for Connective Conversations. We have been allowed to see an artist in their space, portrayed in a way that incorporates their work and aesthetic, and this view can give us a new understanding, knowledge and appreciation of both artist and work.

Within her studio, materials of her work.

Within her studio, materials of her work.

During my photoshoot with Blair, she explained her method: “Experiment, make something with the experiment and then use it for something else. I believe the studio is on some sort of holy ground. I felt that way about my last studio as well. Both spaces have looked south.”

Wearing a hat perched on her head of long flowing hair, Blair Saxon-Hill.

Wearing a hat perched on her head of long flowing hair, Blair Saxon-Hill.

Directing her here and there, photographing Blair revealed her sense of timing and self-depiction. Being “in character” for Blair is a truth, a lifestyle, a constant state. She is no other way. Whether standing at the far wall of her studio, in a long, dark overcoat and holding a tall crook (items pertinent to her recent work), wearing a hat perched on her head of long flowing hair, or sitting demurely on her studio couch, holding a red-fleshed apple as if it were a scarlet, wild rose, Blair was quirky, and intriguing. Every shot seemed a part and scene.

Blair Saxon-Hill sitting demurely in her studio holds a red-fleshed apple as if it were a scarlet, wild rose.

Blair Saxon-Hill sitting demurely in her studio holds a red-fleshed apple as if it were a scarlet, wild rose.

This intention became perfectly clear later when she explained to me, “I work in parts and scenes that then become whole works. Simultaneously thinking as a sculptor and a painter, I work with both precise and radical moves in the studio.” She continued, “I often perform in my studio. It’s those performances that assist the work and expand how I see possibility.”

As I photographed her, Blair moved around the room interacting with it as a theater that she had designed, a set ready for something to happen: arranging the papers on the studio table, her crook, the old netting. Each item was handled as if it was invaluable, though she paid particular attention to things that were not quite perfect, flawed in some way-—the broken, unusual, or different. A severed square in part of the net monopolized her attention for quite some time as I watched her arrange it to her satisfaction.

Collaborating with Blair Saxon-Hill, the artist showed me her own unique version of “all the world’s a stage.” Although I would slightly alter Shakespeare’s observation in this case: “all the world’s a studio…”

All the world's a studio...Blair Saxon-Hill in her SE Portland studio.

All the world’s a studio…Blair Saxon-Hill in her SE Portland studio.

Disjecta’s third go at a biennial, Portland2014

Not all that new is not all that bad.

The Portland2014 biennial is in full swing. Headquartered at Disjecta, and dispersed throughout the city in other galleries and on the streets, this third iteration distances itself from previous ones with the intervention of a curator from outside the region. Amanda Hunt is based in Los Angeles and selected 15 artists from 300-plus applicants.

The artists who emerged are not entirely a PDX who’s-who (nor are all from Portland proper) but they come close: Most of the names are very familiar in the visual art community. Although some may level the criticism of “same-ol’ same-ol’” or even suggest a degree of cliquish nepotism, outside eyes made the selection this year. In fact Hunt’s selections may force critics of the biennial to consider the possibility that these artists might fit into another, larger context, one neither regional nor the product of a personality cult. Instead, we are afforded a look at how these artists have chosen to represent the progression of their art making for this special occasion.

This does not mean I didn’t hope for a few surprises.

Continues…

By Patrick Collier

The headline question might very well be turned around on me. My prepared answer: I’m too old and live too far away. Those at least are reasons enough for me to avoid Last Thursdays on Alberta. Apparently though, I’m curmudgeonly as well, because I will admit to letting a once-monthly event keep me out of that part of Portland most other times. My loss, and I know it, so add pathetic to my list of flaws.

OK, maybe not that last one. I’m trying to rectify the situation.

I am in Portland most Thursdays, which is not always the best day to see art at some of the city’s alternative spaces, as they are typically open only on weekends. One such gallery is Appendix Project Space. Operated as a group curatorial effort by Joshua Pavlacky, Zachary Davis, Travis Fitzgerald and Alex Mackin Dolan, the exhibition space is in a two-car garage on an alley between 26th and 27th Avenues on the south side of Alberta. I have followed their programming via their website for some time now, and just from that I can tell they show some of the most innovative and challenging work this city has seen.

Knowing that I would be in their hood to run some errands, and having met Zachary Davis when we served together on a jury panel for an art exhibit, I contacted him and he graciously met me at the space so I could see Bea Fremderman’s sculpture installation, “S,M,L,XL.”

Continues…