ArtsWatch Weekly: a squeeze, a shuffle, a Fertile sprawl

Real-estate blues and a major reshuffle at RACC top the news; Fertile Ground's new works sprawl across the city; Federale's Hegna sounds off

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION, the real-estate mantra goes, to which we might add: Availability, availability, availability. Price, price, price. As greater Portland’s real-estate market heats up, prices are rising and affordable places to use for performance halls and galleries are becoming scarce: In a city that’s staked its future on the creative economy, many of its creative groups and people are finding the landscape tough to negotiate.
 

High-stakes space crunch: Lever Architecture has designed a new theater and office complex for Artists Repertory Theatre on half of the block it used to occupy in Goose Hollow. The other half features a large tower. Rendering courtesy Artists Repertory Theatre

In his story Arts groups play the real estate game, architecture and planning writer Brian Libby, who knows the city’s development scene through and through, takes ArtsWatch readers into the space squeeze and the many ways that artists and cultural groups are coping with it. “The erosion of small performance spaces seems to indicate how a booming economy can be a curse for struggling arts organizations as much as a blessing,” Libby writes. This is the first of several stories Libby will be writing for ArtsWatch on the complex topic of space and art: Watch for more.
 

Continues…

DramaWatch: Uncommon Ground

Fresh voices and surprising ideas emerge through the annual Fertile Ground festival of new work, and the theater week stays busy elsewhere, too.

The time has come again for Portland’s annual mid-winter performance bloom. Fertile Ground, “a city-wide festival of new works,” marks its 11th year and features 11 days of world premiere plays, play readings, workshop productions of works in-progress, dance, puppet shows and so forth. Dozens of shows in dozens of places around town, some ticketed, some free, almost all accessible with a $70 festival pass — that “almost” caveat necessary because many shows sell out or at least producers of popular shows fill up the reservations set aside for pass-holders.
In any case, it’s a great time to take time to race around (obeying all traffic codes and etiquette, mind you) and indulge in the cold-weather cornucopia. 

In addition to the basic concept outlined above, you’ll want to consult the 2020 festival guide or its online equivalent to help make choices about what to see. It’s a lot to take in and even after — perhaps especially after — perusing the 24-page guide you’ll have questions. I did. So I called festival director Nicole Lane.

“Who the heck are all these people??”

Well, actually I tried to make the question sound more professionally journalistic than that. I mentioned that in the festival’s early years it featured major productions by big companies such as Portland Center Stage and Artists Rep, but that’s no longer the case. And that projects seems less likely these days to come from the ranks of theater artists and writers whose work we see the rest of the year. But I was really asking who are all these writers and directors and producers I’ve not heard of before.

Fertile Ground festival director Nicole Lane. Photo: courtesy of Fertile Ground.

“Fertile Ground has evolved in terms of meeting the needs of Portland artists,” Lane replied. “It was founded upon a very open, non-adjudicated process.”

In the beginning — not coincidentally, she pointed out, when she and festival founder Trisha Mead were working for some of those big theater companies — the big producers were paying attention to the opportunity the fest presented and scheduling new works in conjunction with it. But the overlapping complications of new-play development and season planning make it difficult to keep getting brand new plays produced and also make sure they get staged at such a particular spot on the calendar.
Lane points out that the large companies are “finding ways to be supportive without putting shows in,” such as the panel discussion on IDEA (inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility) that PCS is hosting on the festival’s final day, Feb. 9.

As for the folks who are in the festival, Lane was kind enough not to point out that the fact that I haven’t heard of them probably says more about me than about the artists in question. Instead, she gently reminded me that, ““one of the major tenets of Fertile Ground is producer education and opportunity — developing a new crop of producers alongside the new crop of works and ideas.”

Continues…

‘Au Naturel’: Art laid bare

Three North Coast artists are included in an Astoria show celebrating a universal: "We all necessarily inhabit our own bodies"

The first time Drea Frost walked into a college art class, it was not as an artist but as a model for a nude-drawing class. She did it for the money, but wound up with so much more. Now, Frost is part of the exhibit Au Naturel: The Nude in the 21st Century – this time as a featured artist. She’s one of three North Coast artists chosen to display their work.

The 14th annual international juried exhibit is on display through March 12 in Clatsop Community College’s Royal Nebeker Art Gallery. A reception is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 20 in the Astoria gallery.

Featuring 44 pieces by 32 artists from 14 states and Canada, the exhibit drew more than 500 submissions. Portland artist Henk Pander selected the art to be included in the show. In his juror’s statement, Pander wrote that he chose work that reflects “quality, originality, power, humanism and lack of cliché.”

“Finding a Way Through Fear,” by Drea Frost of Cannon Beach (acrylic on board, 24 by 36 inches) is one of 44 pieces in this year’s “Au Naturel: The Nude in the 21st Century” show.

Founder and CCC art instructor Kristin Shauck, who was featured recently in ArtsWatch’s Vision 2020 series, conceived of the show as a way to bring original works by contemporary practicing artists to campus for students to study for an extended period, she said.

The show, she said, is meant to inspire not only art students, particularly in the life-drawing class, but also a wider audience, especially practicing figurative artists in the area’s vibrant arts community. “This show celebrates the age-old tradition of representing the nude human form,” she added, “which is a subject that artists have been drawn to since the dawn of time because it resonates with each and every one of us as humans — we all necessarily inhabit our own bodies.”

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: Federale February

Indian classical, Super Bach Sunday, and a chat with Collin Hegna

Normally we like to contain all our monthly previews in one tidy column. But since February starts this weekend, we’d like to tell you all about the first stretch of Februarial concerts now–and we’ll tell you about the rest of the month next week. We’ll start with local supergroup Federale, playing with local “desert surf” act Plastic Cactus at Polaris Hall this Saturday.

This crafty, vintagey septet is among Portland’s greatest musical treasures, and last year they released one of 2019’s best albums, No Justice. We gushed thusly about it in our year end album guide:

This was one of those albums that made us stop everything and sit down to just listen–from the terrifying opening title track through the catchy-as-hell Morriconesco Maria Karlin showcase “Unchained Malady” to the apocalytpic Barryesque closer “When Snow Falls,” the latest from the local cinematic murder balladists grabbed us and wouldn’t let us go. If this year-end list were shorter and more objective, this one would still be near the top–probably in the number one slot.

Continues…

The brain of the beholder

David Eckard's sculptures at North View Gallery leave room for many interpretations

I saw David Eckard’s exhibit, Placards and Placeholders, at the North View Gallery on PCC’s Sylvania Campus just before and after a scheduled artist Q & A with sizable crowd of PCC students and faculty. For nearly an hour, Eckard took questions from the audience about the meaning of the title, his use of materials in his craft, and his biography as a midwestern farm boy and art teacher. Oddly, the art seemed to be the proverbial elephant in the room; no one wanted to ask how to read or understand it.

Front and center in the large, square space of the galley is the floor piece, Cornucopia (theatrics of worth). Facing slightly askew from the gallery entrance, yet readily visible, the piece first presents what appears to be a round, brown, open anus. Even as I write this description, my mind’s ear anticipates the same responses toward the piece as to my description: cue the uncomfortable twittering, perhaps even umbrage.

David Eckard, Cornucopia (theatrics of worth). (2020) painted wood, turned wood, steel, mirror, fabric, wool, leather, sand.
Image courtesy of the artist.

However, to imagine the discomfort some viewers might experience gives this writer a little thrill — not only viewing Cornucopia — as I remind myself that acting as an art critic, this delight I feel is itself a fulfillment of a particular desire. Such is the personal implication that comes with my proximity to the object. 

Your experience may vary.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, as we look at a piece of art, the piece has in a sense fixed its gaze on us as well, It’s a phenomenon as old as the paintings of religious icons and then the burning of those images during the Reformation. (And likely before that.)  We make associations with the works of art via recognition of and relations with representations of elements already in the world. In Eckard’s art, references to anatomy are the first thing we lock onto, and what follows is either an implication or indictment nevertheless internalized.

Now, put fifty people in the gallery and the gaze gets more complicated. Not only do we have the work to contend with, we are also aware of the group’s potential to gauge our relationship with the art. My speculation that the subject of sex never arose during the conversation is because a private conversation with the art is displaced.

David Eckard, Pedagog (my mastadons). (2017) Painted wood, steel. Image courtesy of the artist.

This is not to say that some viewers may see this orifice as an iris or aperture. After all, one can see other parts of the sculpture through the opening. Additionally, its presence is not necessarily an indication of practice but is, as an art object/image, a bit fantastical, neither good nor bad, a fulfillment or denial. Indeed, my own immediate response shortchanges the complex generosity that resides in Eckard’s paintings and sculpture.

For instance, the shift to iris or aperture allows us to think about sight, and with that, new associations open up for his other sculptures. Several of his works include small mirrors. Placed in a manner that prevents us from readily seeing our reflection, we are afforded less implication than in the former reading. We are somewhat freed of the harsh gaze. Furthermore, this expanded reading may seem a bit contrived, it is supported by the amount of repeated motifs and elements of fabrication in Eckard’s sculpture that in turn allow the viewer see the group as a whole.

As the title of the exhibit suggests, there are placards — a good number of them — in several pieces: Pedagog (my mastodons), Origin (scholar plank), Emblem (revisionist model), New Regime (jewels of paste), Dowser’s Faith, and Fossil Whispers Revolution) all incorporate tablets that have illustrations that look as if they could be illustrations an ancient encyclopedia of objects and fauna that have been long lost to the world. Yet, they are nevertheless suggestive. We almost recognize the representations, as distant memories from our limbic brains.

Other parts of his sculpture are similarly primal. Painted mostly in earth tones, we are reminded of rocks and dirt as much as we are of muscles, tendons and adipose tissue. These might very well be placeholders of a sort, stand-ins for our bodies and our place in nature. 

David Eckard, Origin (scholar prank) (2017). painted wood, steel, rope. Image courtesy of the artist.

Yet we must add another element to round out the examination of these sculptures. Origin (scholar prank) has the only placards that are not directly attached to the rest of the sculpture, plus they are the only ones that look like little handheld chalkboards. Attached to the primary structure is an armature with a ring at the end, and inserted into that ring is what might best be described as a prosthetic device, at the end of which is a large, pointed piece of chalk. The shape of the device wonderfully echoes the painted form from which it hangs, and while it apparently has been used to make initial marks on the placards underneath, retrieving it from its holder to finish the drawings would clearly be an impossible task without a ladder.

Dowser’s Faith tells a similar story: an intricate contraption is affixed to an organic form, from which hang six placards, one of which is blank. Mounted at the extreme end of an armature on the piece is a candle that at some point has been lit. Light it and finish the story?

I must remark on the craft of Eckard’s work. His fabrication of metal, leather and other materials is deft. His painted surfaces are refined with an almost classical blending of color and tone. The metalwork often adds a linear counterpoint to the more amorphous painted shapes yet also imply a utility, as do the various hitches, straps, pegs and blades. Within all of his work, he walks a fine line between abstraction and figuration, which allows the viewer a wide interpretative path. 

David Eckard. I Said Rock (homo faber) (2017). painted wood, steel, canvas, mirror, cord. Image courtesy of the artist.

Eckard’s I Said Rock (homo faber) may offer a bit of commentary on his craft. We can clearly see the rocks. They are at the top of the piece like a formation we might see in the mountains, and below there is a pile as we might see as a barrier for a campfire. Curiously, the rocks above and the wood for the fire are the same color, which is enough of a visual distraction to make their abrupt lower edge of the rocks above, along with what looks like underpainting for more of them, make an odd sense. And  how can there be a shadow cast behind the campfire when the yellow lightsource is behind the shadow? Perhaps the artist as the titular “homo faber” (faber is Latin for “maker” or “artisan”) has another agenda. As it certainly is for abstract artists, the viewer’s process is to follow where the art leads.

If the yellow paint does not represent the light source, what causes the shadow? Something stronger and brighter within the gallery itself? Perhaps this is a sly nod to the gallery lights above, or something equally meta as “highlighting”  the dynamic of viewership. More likely it reminds us that it is the artist himself that illuminates. 

Or, it’s just me overthinking in order to thwart a fixation on what may seem like the readily apparent sexual and sensual aspects of a lot of the work, because I know this does not do full justice to Eckard’s art. No, there is something more elusive at work here, and not only in I Said Rock (homo faber). Eckard has let us into his world, yet despite his intimate generosity that pulls us in, the work retains a mystery, thereby putting us in an odd space within ourselves. (Dare I say that he queers the space?) It feels like those emotions one feels yet can’t quite name, the types that eventually leak through as a facial tic.

And I would have it no other way.


Placards and Placeholders is on view at the North View Gallery at PCC Sylvania through February 15, 2020. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. and Saturday from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M.

Fertile Ground: the scramble begins

Portland's eleventh annual festival of new works is a citywide blur of hopeful creativity. Media night gives just a hint of the pandemonium.

There are a million stories in the naked city, and I figure on a recent Monday evening I heard about 683,427 of ’em. Tall tales, sad tales, hopeful tales, adventure tales. Stories spun by puppets and sexologists and Suffragettes. Roundabout rambles. Elevator speeches. Solos and duets. A surge of stories, a flood of fables. Soft sells, hard sells, stories spun with urgency or jazz-hands pizzazz.

It was media night for Portland’s eleventh annual Fertile Ground festival of new works – what festival director Nicole Lane likes to call “speed-dating the media” – and there I sat at my little assigned corner café table on the mezzanine of The Armory, other little tables splayed out in a semicircle on either side as an invading cast of producers, directors, playwrights, actors, and assorted backstage types pressed forward, slapping press releases and postcards and business cards on the tabletop and launching into their three-minute schpiels before moving on to the next line at the next table to do it all again.

Festival director Nicole Lane, clanging the bell: time to switch partners and start again. Photo courtesy Fertile Ground

Fertile Ground – which runs officially January 30-February 9 in spaces scattered across the Portland metro area, although some shows have already begun and some will run longer – has, as Lane noted before unleashing the horde, “seventy-five shows, a hundred-twenty or more acts of creation.” That’s because some programs have multiple short works: a half-dozen each for the promising Portland’s Mini Musical Festival, PDX Playwrights’ Crazy Dukes Instant Play Festival, and the Groovin’ Greenhouse dance showcase, for instance; eight for Daisy Dukes Shorts Night. Linestorm Playwright’s Lunchtime Reading Series (a couple are actually in the early evening) at the Chapel Theatre in Milwaukie includes free readings of ten new scripts, by the likes of such familiar names as Rich Rubin, Josie Seid, E.M. Lewis, and Sara Jean Accuardi. Like a set of Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls, there are festivals within festivals.

Continues…

Heroes and Villains

Review: Broadway Rose's "Up and Away" is an affectionate yet subversive musical superhero parody

Why superheroes? As films like The Avengers and The Dark Knight have elevated the profiles of comic-book characters, that question has reverberated through American pop culture. In an age when Star Wars takes a back seat to even B-list Marvel icons like Iron Man, it’s hard not to wonder what stories of costumed do-gooders have that other modern mythologies don’t.

If you want an answer, go see Broadway Rose’s production of Up and Away, a musical that mocks superheroes even as it burrows to the core of their unflagging appeal. It’s an imperfect play with a few poorly aimed satirical jabs, but it is also moving and subversive in ways that few superhero films are. By remixing elements from Superman lore (including an alien hero and a journalist love interest), it manages to excavate some of the reasons why superheroes matter to so many.

Colin Stephen Kane (left), Paul Rona, and Malia Tippets. Photo: Sam Ortega

Like Richard Donner’s 1978 film Superman, Up and Away shows us a doomed and distant planet from which a baby is sent to Earth. One time jump later, we’re in Farmtown, USA, where the brothers Joe (Paul Wrona) and Jerry Jessup (Colin Stephen Kane) discover a pair of mysterious crimson gloves. When Joe dons them, he can fly and see five seconds into the future (when he touches his head, that is). Invigorated by his newfound abilities, he sets off for Big City, where he becomes a crimefighter named Super Saver.

Continues…