VizArts Monthly: The “freeze” edition

Most venues remain shuttered this December but there are still plenty of viewing opportunities.

While shorter days and colder nights are all too familiar, let’s face the facts: this December will feel quite different from holiday seasons of the past. Oregon’s current “freeze” status means some galleries are continuing virtual programming, while others are transitioning to in-person viewings by appointment. Our resilient arts community continues to adapt in the face of ongoing challenges. Whether in person or in hibernation, we can support their efforts by viewing shows, boosting them on social media, and making purchases or donations whenever possible. Show your appreciation this holiday season by checking out the options to support at the end of this article.

Work by Ralph Pugay, image courtesy Upfor Gallery

Ralph Pugay: Hang in There
November 1 – December 31, 2020
Upfor Gallery

Find time to sit with Pugay’s idiosyncratic, delightfully cartoonish works, easily viewed online through the end of December. In Hang in There, Pugay’s series of cat posters (referencing 1970s motivational posters) position humor and anxiety side-by-side. Through simple imagery and the repeated, open-ended statement HANG IN THERE, the artist creates space for uncertainty and imagination. What could be different? What are we waiting for?

Work by Widline Cadet, image courtesy Blue Sky Gallery

Women of the African Diaspora: Identity, Place, Migration, Immigration
December 3, 2020 – January 30, 2021
Blue Sky Gallery

Curated by Arkansas-based photographer/educator Aaron Turner, Women of the African Diaspora highlights photographic works by Nadiya I. Nacorda, Jasmine Clarke, and Widline Cadet. Cadet, a Haitian-born artist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Time, investigates visibility, interiority, and selfhood as it relates to Haitian cultural identity in the United States. Clarke’s works occupy realms of mysticism, dreams, and magical realism, while Nacorda photographs her immediate family to explore aspects of trauma and intimacy within Black and POC immigrant American family life.

Work by Tannaz Farsi, image courtesy Holding Contemporary

Tannaz Farsi: A More Perfect Union
November 19 – December 19, 2020
Holding Contemporary
916 NW Flanders (open 12-5 Thursday-Saturday)

Farsi’s works are grounded in diasporic identity, bridging the structural and the ambiguous to reflect on citizenship, protest, and contrasts between distance and proximity. The word CITIZEN takes center stage in one of Farsi’s pieces for A More Perfect Union, prompting deeper thought on words as symbols of power structure and collective fear. A conversation between Tannaz Farsi and curator Lucy Cotter will be held on Thursday, December 3; more details here.

Work by John Hitchcock, image courtesy Portland Art Museum

John Hitchcock: Bury the Hatchet: Prayer for My P’ah-Be
March 7, 2020 – March 21, 2021
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave (Museum is currently closed; virtual exhibition walkthrough available on YouTube)

Mixed-media artist John Hitchcock works with the theme of the vaudeville stage show Buffalo Bill’s Wild West to explore the forced assimilation and indoctrination experienced by Indigenous communities in the West. The exhibition is highly sensory, connecting the artist’s passions for printmaking, rock ’n’ roll, and Kiowa and Comanche history. Hitchcock asserts the importance of Indigenous oral histories, collaborating with several artists and storytellers to create a soundscape that including narratives, singing, and instrumentals. If you can’t get enough of these works, Sunday Night Records carries a vinyl album, CD, and letterpress prints that correspond with the exhibition.

Work by Modou Dieng, image courtesy Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Modou Dieng: A Postcolonial Landscape
December 1, 2020 – January 30, 2021
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
417 NW 9th Ave (by appointment)

Dieng’s brilliant mixed media paintings explore globalization and Black representation, filtered through the lens of the artist’s personal experiences in his native Senegal alongside conventions of Eurocentric art history. Bright color compositions, cut-outs, and collaged photographic elements play with themes of absence/presence, interior/exterior, and identity. The results are exhilarating and not to be missed.

Work by Ragen Moss, image courtesy Lumber Room

Finding Our Way
March 14 – December 12, 2020
the lumber room
419 NW 9th Ave (by appointment, or virtual tour available on their website)

Catch the tail end of the lumber room’s Finding Our Way and prepare to be amazed. A beyond-impressive rotating roster of artists has included Joseph Beuys, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Zoe Leonard, Ana Mendieta, Carrie Mae Weems, and many more. The exhibition plays with informal display methods and occupation of domestic space to emphasize the lumber room’s in-between role—part place of comfort, part place of artistic discourse. Finding Our Way also includes a film component with visiting works from various new media artists.

Work by Joan Nelson, image courtesy Adams and Ollman

New works: Joan Nelson
November 7 – December 19, 2020
Adams and Ollman
418 NW 8th Ave (by appointment only)

Joan Nelson’s paintings aren’t your average landscape works. Rendered in reverse on Plexiglass and supplemented by mascara, burnt sugar, beads, and other unexpected materials, this awe-inspiring series brings to mind historical notions of the sublime. Nelson recognizes this, though, and pushes back against the romanticism of Western expansion by creating barren scenes with a feminine edge.

Showing support

This year has been a challenge (okay, that’s an understatement) for everyone—including the artists, arts institutions, and independent galleries finding flexibility through it all. Here are a few (among many!) worth celebrating this holiday season:

Nat Turner Project
NTP “allows artists of color freedom to create or express their own language within and without the parameters of racial commodification or designation.” Support their vital work in creating an inclusive and communal environment for artists of color by signing up for their Patreon or purchasing a button, tote, or zine from their online shop.

Art & About PDX
Established in 2014 by Ashley Gifford, A&A connects with local artists, enthusiasts, and viewers alike via a robust social media presence and online platform. Gifford creates a regular exhibition calendar, provides paid writing opportunities for burgeoning art critics, curates an online shop of work by Portland-based creators, and more. This site offers Patreon memberships with varying levels of benefits.

Where would Portland be without Nationale? I certainly don’t want to imagine it. Since 2008, owner May Barruel has helped develop our contemporary art culture through exhibitions, performances, and a selection of carefully chosen goods. The Nationale webshop is full of ideal gifts for the holidays, like periodicals, beauty products, and prints from Le Oui. Mask up to see even more in person at the gallery’s shop.

Common Ground / Eugene Contemporary Art
This limited edition tote and poster, designed by ECA artist Hannah Petkau and printed by Dana Buzzee, helps fund Common Ground, an online exhibition, remote artist residency, reading group, and by-appointment exhibition. Also, 20% of the profits from each sale go to Oregon nonprofit Beyond Toxics, working for environmental justice across the state.

Rising COVID numbers, and Governor Brown’s reponse to them, have forced those Portland movie theaters that were offering private rentals to shut off that vital revenue stream. This has come at an especially inopportune moment, as several highly anticipated films were, or were about to be, available to watch locally on the big screen. Although that’s not possible at the moment, this post will be updated to reflect any change to that situation. In the meantime, keep an eye out for these winners on your streaming service or on (it still exists!) physical media in the near future.


A Milagro Carol

Working from generation to generation, Milagro and playwright Maya Malan-Gonzalez give "A Christmas Carol" a virtual update

The story of A Xmas Cuento Remix begins with a play being handed from one generation to another. In 2015, Milagro Theatre co-founder José González began discussing the possibility of a Christmas show with his daughter, Los Angeles-based playwright Maya Malan-Gonzalez. He decided to show her a Christmas Carol-inspired script that he had written—and while she liked what she read, she saw yet-to-be-plumbed depths.

“My father’s play, while it’s beautiful and is really an incredible story, it really speaks to the challenges that Latinos faced in the nineties, which are different today,” says Malan-Gonzalez. “My father touched on immigration and deportation in his play, and so I kind of wanted to also touch on [questions like], Who has access to healthcare? What does gentrification look like in our communities?”

Those are some of the questions that ignited A Xmas Cuento Remix. Written by Malan-Gonzalez, the play reconfigures her father’s concept into a distinctly millennial musical that replaces Scrooge and his three ghostly mentors with a tyrannical, tormented businesswoman (who, like her Dickensian predecessor, is schooled in compassion by a series of supernatural visitations).

“Xmas Scrooge,” from the 2019 production, featuring Veronika Nuñez and Shaleesa Moreno, both returning to this year’s cast. Also shown: Tricia Catañeda Guevara, Gina Cornejo, and Emily Hogan. Photo: Jackaldog Photography/Jack Wells

A Xmas Cuento Remix opened last year at Cleveland Public Theatre, 16th Street Theatre in Berwyn, Ill., and Milagro (which is the only Latinx theatre company in the Pacific Northwest). Yet the play’s return to Milagro, where it is available online Dec. 4-31, is even more ambitious than last year’s three-pronged debut (which was the National New Play Network’s 92nd Rolling World Premiere).


Thanks, giving, the essence of art

ArtsWatch Weekly: Passing the artistic impulse into the future, Josie Seid's America, Don Latarski's wild art, remembering Bruce Browne

AS YOU MIGHT HAVE NOTICED, this week’s ArtsWatch Weekly is a day late (although not, I hope, a dollar short). Usually I start plotting out the column at the beginning of the week, try to get a little writing done on Tuesday and Wednesday, then finish it on Thursday. But this Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving Day, and quite likely just like you, I was otherwise engaged in the kitchen and at the table, and had been for a couple of days beforehand. This may be the strangest year in our collective memory, and for many of us the oddest of Thanksgivings – what seems the core of the holiday, the gathering together, is precisely what we couldn’t do – and yet, despite the pandemic and teetering economy and social unrest and volatile politics, there was thanking to be done.

When I think about the holidays I think partly of the gifts the past has to offer the present and future: not the stultifying or outmoded aspects of tradition, but the liberating ones. What is good? How do we build on it? This sifting and measuring is intimately involved in the constant reshaping of our cultural and artistic lives: What do we appreciate in the past and present, and carry forward with us into the future?

Some artists embody in their work all three tenses, and looking through what’s happening in Portland’s galleries I note with pleasure and thanks that two of them have exhibitions on view. Both exhibits end on Saturday, so time’s running short, but you can also see the works through the links below.

George Johanson, “The Artist’s Studio,” 2020, oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, in his show “George Johanson – Rising Waters and Quasi Portraits: New Paintings,” closing Saturday at Augen Gallery, Portland.


The spirit of radio

In praise of All Classical: keepers of the invisible fire, broadcasters of new commissioned works by Damien Geter and S. Renee Mitchell

This weekend I’m grateful for one of our most beloved Oregon musical institutions, All Classical. You know all about them, of course, and probably you have your own stories about their long custom of cultivating, curating, and communicating the healing power of music. Here’s mine.

It was a million years ago, at the tail end of the Dubya Ages (sometime before the infamous shoe throwing incident), and I was celebrating my 30th birthday at a flatbed trucking terminal and training facility in Jacksonville, Florida. Nothing against Florida (or flatbed trucking), but I was more than a little homesick and starved for culture. Enter my first smartphone: a phone that could internet! Wow!

The first thing I did was look up and download their player. The soothing sounds of the Oregon Symphony and the reassuring voices of John Pitman, Robert McBride and Christa Wessel were a lifeline during that time, a 24-hour buffet of invisible soul food tumbling out of sweaty earbuds and nourishing me all through that hot, dreary fall.

I thought of that recently while driving a moving truck definitively out of Portland after two drizzly decades drinking delicious coffee. Sure enough, the rugged old U-Haul was equipped with nothing but radio–always great for slipping into a “go with the flow” mindset. This time around it was Coast Radio that carried me home, DJ Ellen’s Celtic Aire program enlivening the evergreen-darkened Highway 30 with songs about witches and banshees.


Storytelling without words

From pets to the pandemic, from wildfires to vampires, a Sitka Center project spurs discussion among second-graders about the year's big events

You might think in a world turned upside down by COVID-19, kids asked to name a significant event in their lives would naturally turn to the virus. But with the exception of one second-grader who noted it occurred on a special day, it barely registered a blip this week in a virtual arts-literacy class.

The session was the first class held since the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology took over the Community Arts Project on the North Coast. Sitka’s general manager, Nicola Harrison, led the virtual project with two second-grade classes at Nestucca Valley Elementary School.

THE ART OF LEARNING: An occasional series

The project focused on the Native American tradition of “winter counts,” the recording of significant events for the year, which began with the first snow of the season. Tribes and families in the northern Great Plains gathered to discuss the year’s events. A  “keeper” was charged with drawing the events on a buffalo hide and passing the tale onto the community and future generations. In this way, they recorded history both with art and in the oral tradition of storytelling.

Home school was the year's most memorable event for Kael S.
Home school was the year’s most memorable event for Kael S., a 7-year-old participating in a Sitka Center class covering pictographs, Native American winter counts, and storytelling through art.

Ten students in Nicole Royster’s class gathered on bedroom floors, at dining room tables, and on living room sofas for the Zoom session to discuss this thing called art. Amidst the usual calls for muting and unmuting, enabling audio, and general requests to sit still, the class looked at pictographs from Egypt, Australia, and by Native Americans, as well as stone carvings from Easter Island. They talked about the purpose of art, about symbols and about storytelling without words. Then they took up pencils and paper to sketch ideas about the year’s important events.  

Roy volunteered first to share his, a party hat, mask, and cake, “because coronavirus struck on my birthday.”

But the popular theme of the day tended toward animals. One girl sketched her family’s new baby chickens; another, the dog and kitten that did not initially get along, but eventually became friends. Still another talked of going with her mother to pick out a dog and with her father to pick out a cat. One girl reported, sadly, that she planned to sketch the picture of the old dog she gave away.

The big event for Lucian was losing a tooth. Brodie also went with the dental theme, noting he had four teeth filled.


Britt Block: Paintings about presence

A Yamhill County artist visited a local park over a year and came away with a series of pastels expressed through the “porous medium" of her life

Along with restaurants, bars, and gyms, the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg was swept up in Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s two-week freeze, which is scheduled for a thaw Dec. 2. If the center does in fact reopen that day, you’ll still have several weeks to catch Britt Block’s A Year at Grenfell Park  in the Central Gallery.

Ed Grenfell Park is a seven-acre park owned by Yamhill County about five miles west of McMinnville. I know it for personal reasons: My wedding rehearsal dinner was there; and a few years ago, my son’s school held a  social event in the park. Parents crowded around a covered eating area while children played in Baker Creek, which meanders past banks rich in native plants and trees, including Douglas fir, western hemlock, big-leaf maple, and Oregon white oak.

Enter Britt Block, a local artist who spent many years directing high school theater in Southern California, producing plays on sets designed by her husband. All the while, she was painting. She received an MFA in Arts and Consciousness from John F. Kennedy University. On her website, she describes herself as a “re-emerging” artist. “After ten years of intensive painting and gallery representation I took a detour — a hiatus that was not a hiatus — which led me through the world of pastels to the present moment.”

Of “September” (pastel on paper, 26 by 38 inches, 2019), Britt Block says that Ed Grenfell Park has everything she is drawn to in painting: water, rocks, trees, light, land.
Of “September” (pastel on paper, 26 by 38 inches, 2019), Britt Block says that Ed Grenfell Park has everything she is drawn to in painting: water, rocks, trees, light, land.

For the Chehalem show, Block sought a year’s worth of moments depicting Oregon landscape. She describes her thought process in the show’s notes:

“My initial impulse was to explore the act of painting with pastels in an intensive way over time: making one or more paintings each month for a year. In a way, the content began as unimportant to me, except that I knew I wanted to paint what I loved – the landscape.  Instead of searching for content out in the world (going for day trips around Oregon and searching out the fabulous photographic moments that abound here), I decided to look closer to home – to find a place that had all of the elements that interested me: rocks, water, light, earth – and revisit that one spot over time.”