Paul Maziar

Paul Maziar is a writer and small-press editor. His first pamphlet of poems, Little Advantages, was published in 2013, and was followed by three others. His first full-length poetry collection, Opening Night, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX [books]. Paul’s other prose can be read at artcritical, Whitehot Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, NewCriticals, and his blog rrealism.com. Some of his poems can be found at the Brooklyn Rail, and Across The Margin.

 

Roger Kukes: Many stories

The retrospective of work by Roger Kukes deftly invites us into the unsettling narratives that whirl around us

One way that art inspires recognition is with inklings of the real, counterbalanced with the unreal. The work of visual artist Roger Kukes is emphatically clever and clear. His oeuvre is characterized by an esthetic sense that resounds with the whirling of the world, the tale of it all as he’s come to know it. Like all of life, it’s a beautifully controlled chaos.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay is excerpted from the much-longer introduction to the 25-year retrospective of the work of Portland artist Roger Kukes. That retrospective is in the Augen Gallery, 716 NW Davis Street, through November 2. 


Kukes works between the modes of acrylic, watercolor, and gouache painting, lithography, graphite and ink drawing. His work comprises medium- to large-format works which—like the best of our poets and experimental filmmakers—juxtapose the illogical with the utterly clear, the wryly comical with the tragic, the architectonic with the haphazard.

Roger Kukes, “Second Drawing” 1986 Ink on paper 8 1/2×14 1/4” 

This method allows the artist to move beyond intellectual or conventional narrative themes. Kukes shows the understanding that life’s indeterminacy can be a virtue when harnessed to imagination. His manner of rendering is that of the seasoned draftsman, with the facility of the magician behind a movie-camera, the poet taking you to far-off places.

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Portland artist John Gnorski’s exhibition Like a Train in the Sky at Stumptown Coffee celebrates the Portland artist’s Stumptown Artist Fellowship award. It was curated by May Barruel, the proprietor of Nationale, and features a suite of woodblock prints and tenuously representational sculptures-as-drawings that readily communicate forms without being didactic. The forms aren’t fixed; they don’t always represent, say, humans, herons, or trains—but they’re also not nothing, far from it. In fact, “far from nothing” would be a good subtitle for a show that announces its attachment to, among other things, dusk and clouds. The fourteen works all involve wood, a material with which Gnorski, a carpenter by trade, is intimately familiar and they refer loosely to the visual world. 

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Iterations of vision: Amy Bernstein’s Between the Dog and the Wolf

Absorbing abstraction at Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Between the Dog and the Wolf, an exhibition of six large, colorful paintings by Amy Bernstein, reveals the artist’s attention to the infinite possibilities of color, form, and symbols—plus the keenness to engage this attention in novel ways. Bernstein is the seventh recipient of the Stumptown Artist Fellowship and her work is currently on exhibit at the downtown location of Stumptown Coffee Roasters (123 SW 3rd Ave).

Bernstein’s paintings don’t readily recall direct influences, but instead foreground her active mind and life as a writer, lover of poetry, and socially conscious painter. Each canvas appears as a strange new thing made strictly in and on her own terms—a notable trait in the 21st century given all the art that has preceded. The paintings seem complex because of their no-nonsense, other-logic abstraction, and then simple because of their all-fun-and-games presentation and delight. In Bernstein’s paintings, there aren’t familiar images, formulas or tropes—but there’s something known and easeful about them: something uncanny that recalls a dream or an encounter with a stranger.

Amy Bernstein, “Buoy” (2018). Oil on canvas. 64×54 inches

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American Realism in flux: workers, mallards, and handstands

Highlights from the Smithsonian's Sara Roby Foundation Collection at the Portland Art Museum

Approaching Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection, one might expect to see a bunch of naturalistic renderings of real things in and of the world. Gustave Courbet’s take on the everyday may have been novel and shocking in the mid-nineteenth century but in 2018, Realism strikes most as a kind of pedestrian proposition. But the forty-four objects, on loan from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection, currently at the Portland Art Museum, span seventy years and are as nuanced and varied as the twentieth century. Realism is often in service to revealing a kind of truth about what it is like to be alive; but art, the act and its outcome, more often evades the quest for concise truth and instead reveals questions, uncertainties, contingencies. This is what characterizes Modern American Realism—pictures and objects, loose referents to life back then.

Edward Hopper, “Cape Cod Morning,” (1950). Oil on canvas. 34 1/8 x 40 1/4 inches.

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Milka Djordjevich’s ‘Anthem’: Are we making art, or is it making us?

Milka Djordjevich’s Anthem is characterized by dream-logic and surprise, tempered by the absolute command that the dance requires

By PAUL MAZIAR and JESSICA CERRATO

The dancers enter the theater with stately, measured grace, four women in bright costumes moving in procession, hands and bodies enjoined in a line moving in synchronous time. The dance begins en media res, with a minimalist score pulsing and ticking throughout the performance space—the audience wrapping the wooden dance floor in the tiered setting of an amphitheatre. The slow, deliberate manner of the dancers’ steps culminates with the repetitive opening music; it is dizzying, trance-like, unexpected. The sacred feminine is evoked in pressing gestures to the body: deliberate and rhythmic as music hums and intensifies the unfolding drama, each step and fluid movement leading into another while the dancers begin to interact—lightly slapping each other’s bodies and their own as if in a rite, clapping time.

Milka Djordjevich’s “Anthem,” which was performed at the TBA Festival/Photos courtesy of PICA

Each rhythmic step cycles, morphs, replacing the next set of lithe movements; the dancers interweave and rotate among each other. Soft gestures frame and press: breast, pelvis, buttocks. Hands clap and bodies twist in folkloric momentum—chain dancing, intricate patterns infusing order with wild spirit spiraling outward, from choreography to improvisation, experimentation unraveling into revelry.

Otherwise, it’s an ordinary late Sunday afternoon.

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Designing ‘Faust’

In Portland Opera's new production of Gounod's classic, visual artist John Frame relies on collaborators to bring the audience inside the mind of the man who made the original deal with the devil

by PAUL MAZIAR

This June, the new Lyric Opera of Chicago-Portland Opera co-production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, directed by Kevin Newbury, will fill the Keller Auditorium stage for four performances, the production’s West Coast premiere. The visual artist John Frame —whose vignettes, sculptures, score and installations were a distinct hit when exhibited at the Portland Art Museum back in 2012 for his Three Fragments of a Lost Tale show — is the opera’s production designer. For Faust, Frame’s novel approaches to composition and his visionary aesthetic manage to locate the production inside Faust’s mind—and soul.

A scene from Portland Opera’s ‘Faust.’ Photo: Corey Weaver.

Although Gounod’s Faust is familiar, the Lyric Opera version was widely anticipated, in large part because of Frame’s reimaging of it, which includes sculpture, 3D projections, and a live video feed. It’s a production that, however augmented by contemporary technology, presents a world that’s of its own unique timeframe—neither present nor past.

“His art sees the world in a completely different way, reflecting the human condition in a way that’s poignant, dark and funny,” director Newbury told the Chicago Tribune about Frame’s work on the opera. “Our production team is taking his work as our inspiration. Because much of the opera is about Faust’s search for knowledge and truth, we portray him as an artist, searching for truth through his art.”

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Katherine Bradford’s luminous nocturnes

"Magenta Nights" at Adams and Ollman considers atmospheres of air and water and the paint that can create them

“art is the power that causes the night to open.” — Maurice Blanchot, The Gaze of Orpheus

Katherine Bradford is a prolific and imaginative contemporary painter from New York City. Meeting her at the opening reception for her show Magenta Nights at Adams and Ollman gallery (through June 2) was like seeing a friend: Bradford’s social affability is that genuine and infectious. This is in keeping with proprietor Amy Adams, who worked closely with Bradford before the show to select works in her NYC studio. That evening, I got to talk with her a little about her acrylic paintings in that show, and then some more through correspondence. One takeaway from that initial interaction and my first looks at her work was Bradford’s affinity for atmosphere, the play of light and dark that is quintessential to the human experience, abstract and actual.

Katherine Bradford, “Swim at 6:10”, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 inches/Courtesy of Adams and Ollman

In a 2016 interview with Jennifer Samet, Bradford said, “what interests me the most is the language of painting—how people are able to say things using paint.” She then refers to a vernacular forever common to both poets and painters: the sea, the sky and clouds. Having seen two of her exhibitions in person, both at Adams & Ollman, I’ve asked myself, what is it then, that Bradford is saying with her pictures? She’s telling me about revery, buoyancy, fun—all perhaps contingent upon meditation and reflection. And then there’s the mysterious depth of the night that Bradford summons, that and the deep sea, the human mind. It’s all exciting, beyond sense, mystical, and yet utterly clear, approachable.

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