Paul Sutinen

 

Memories of Michael Bowley

Paul Sutinen remembers his friend artist Michael Bowley, who died in November

High on my living room wall, above and left of the TV, is a drawing depicting three rectilinear shapes distributed randomly on the white paper. Below them is, handwritten, “These are not birds flying, nor are they boomerangs.” It’s a work by Michael Bowley from 1977. I first saw it on his apartment wall when it was brand new, and we lived a few blocks apart in Northwest Portland. I was immediately intrigued by the piece because of the caption. It first made me think of folks who look at non-representational art and ask, “What’s that supposed to be?” And Michael was saying what wasn’t depicted. A few years later Michael saw a small simple found object sculpture of mine and suggested that we trade artworks. I immediately knew what I wanted and I’ve had These are not birds flying, nor are they boomerangs for about 40 years now. It still makes me think and it makes me smile.


Michael Bowley,  These Are Not Birds Flying Nor Are They Boomerangs, 1977/Photo by Paul Sutinen.

It was Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving that I learned of Michael’s passing at age 72. I appreciate the invitation to remember him here. We met in 1975—both young artists, he 28, me 26. Only a few seeds of the now burgeoning Portland art community had sprouted. Portland Center for the Visual Arts was founded in 1972. Blue Sky Gallery would open in the fall of 1975. There were a couple interesting commercial galleries, and a few college spaces. It was Michael who initiated two-person shows for us at the Wentz Gallery at the Museum Art School (now PNCA, 1977) and Buckley Center at the University of Portland (1979). We made artworks especially for those spaces. It was the thing to do back then.

In 1976 a new “artists’ space” non-profit gallery opened, kind of a local art version of PCVA. It was the Northwest Artists Workshop. It was founded by a handful of young artists fresh from the Portland State University art program. Michael was one of them. 

It seems like it was in the late 70s that Michael was a studio assistant for Mel Katz. Mel was working on his “Post” series, tall wall-mounted fiberglass sculpture/paintings. I remember Michael talking about sanding the pieces. That was an insight for me—that Michael might just enjoy the monotonous meditative meticulousness of the sanding process.

Continues…

A long and inimitable painting career

Lucinda Parker's Force Fields at Hallie Ford Museum

Lucinda Parker is the premier Portland painter of her generation. Lucinda Parker—Force Fields is a 50+ year retrospective at the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem through March 31. Though the year has just started, there is unlikely to be a better or more important painting show in Oregon in 2019.

The show begins with two of the artist’s early works. Self-Portrait was painted around 1957 or 1958 when the artist was only 16. A serious looking young woman looks out at the viewer. The brushwork is surprisingly sophisticated for such a young artist but Parker had been taking art lessons since she was in elementary school. In Waterfall at Garland Pond, Putney, Vermont from 1959-1960, actively brushed flowing water foreshadows the dynamism of Parker’s works in the decades to come. The bold colors, dynamic paint (flowing, knifed, brushed), and aggressive scale will come later; these early works are dark, closed, in, and mysterious.

Lucinda Parker, “Waterfall at Garland Point, Putney, Vermont,” (1959-1960), oil on Masonite, with modern frame (acrylic), 30 x 42 in., courtesy of the the artist. Photo: Jim Lommasson.

Parker came to Portland in 1960, right after high school at Putney School in Vermont. She was attracted to a combined Reed College/Museum Art School (now PNCA) program. At Reed she, “took my humanities, my chemistry, my French and all that. I got [to the Museum Art School] and I thought it was the best thing in the world to be in a school like that—six hours a day in the studio every day. At night you’re tired. You can’t stay up all night.” She studied with (among others) Mike Russo, Mel Katz, Harry Widman, George Johanson, Dorothy Yezerski, and Louis Bunce. After completing her undergraduate degree program, she went on to get an MFA at Pratt Institute in New York, returning to Portland in 1969.

Continues…

Judy Cooke: The birth of an artist

Paul Sutinen's interview with Judy Cooke focuses on the Portland painter's development as an artist

Since her first exhibitions here 45 years ago, Judy Cooke has been a leading artist in the realm of “painting” in Portland, though paint is just one aspect of her materials palette. All of her works in the current exhibition Conversation: Aluminum, Oil, Rubber at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery were completed this year. However, the range of sizes, formats, materials and motifs—ten inches to eight feet, polygon, square, skinny rectangle, found sheet metal, wood panels, rubber sheeting, tape, oil paint, line drawing, brushy painting—samples her interests over the length of her career.

Portland artist Judy Cooke

Cooke had a retrospective exhibition at The Art Gym in 2002, Judy Cooke: Celebration After the Fact: a retrospective, 1973-2001 (the catalog essay is by Bruce Guenther), and she has also been the recipient of numerous prestigious grants, including the second Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award in 1993.

The exhibition at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery continues through October 27. She will be speaking about her work at the gallery on Saturday, October 13, at 11 am.

When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?

Probably when I was about eight.

Interesting. Some people have that very early thought. Did you know what an artist was when you were eight?

No. When I was six, I had a fabulous first grade teacher. The art part of that first grade was always the best part. It was kind of unusual. This was in Bay City, Michigan, a small school. There were two very large blackboards in the room. Every week she would let two kids go up and paint on those blackboards, with chalk or whatever—something you could remove. The whole class got to do this. At the end of the week they’d vote on whether one of those pictures could stay up. It was a fairly big blackboard. So that was where I had a chance to see something on a very large-scale. And I always drew when I was a kid—tended to be large shapes. The crayons that everybody used were very thick. At school they tended to use these big materials.

The black and the blackboard are still in your work.

Somewhere, yes. I think I tended to work more abstractly, at an early age, than concrete observation. I mean really paying attention to space and three-dimensionality.

Continues…

Art review: Richard Diebenkorn figures it out

In the Portland Art Museum's "Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942-1955" we witness the development process of the Bay Area master

Thirty years ago I saw The Drawings of Richard Diebenkorn at the Museum of Modern Art. It was an amazing show of works that seemed effortlessly done, works that left me wondering how he could always, (at least in those drawings) always stop at the perfect point, often with just a few marks on paper. So, I was excited to find that the Portland Art Museum was having a big exhibition of Diebenkorn’s work, Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942-1955, paintings and drawings from the first phase of his career. These works show the development of Diebenkorn as an abstract painter. His next phase would be 12 years of figurative painting, and then, for the rest of his career, he returned to abstraction with his iconic Ocean Park series.

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1945. Watercolor on paper, 15 ¾” x 12″/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

The works in the exhibition illustrate Diebenkorn’s progress from age 20 to 33. But equally important is the exhibition catalog ’s essay by Scott A. Shields. Like Roger Hull’s essay for the Hallie Ford Museum’s Louis Bunce retrospective in 2017, the essay is highly readable and does what good biography does: puts the subject in the context (of the people, institutions and ideas) that shapes them.

Continues…

Sherrie Wolf: The freedom of the still life

Paul Sutinen talks to master painter Sherrie Wolf about her explorations of the still life, which in her hands contains universes

Painter Frank Stella said, “In great art all the relationships sparkle, radiating coherence.” In Sherrie Wolf’s still life paintings there is marvelous rendering of fruits, flowers, reflections in glass and copying of old masterworks, but the key element in her work is the musicality of the relationships among all the objects depicted—the loud, the quiet and the spaces between them. Wolf takes a genre with a 2,000 year history and keeps it fresh and new. Her new paintings are at Russo Lee Gallery through May.

Sherrie Wolf, Self Portrait with Red Drape, oil on canvas, 90″ x 60″ , after Charles Wilson Peale, 1741-1827

You were at the Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art) in the early 1970s when minimalism and process art were in fashion. You probably studied with painters steeped in abstract expressionism. Were you planning to be a realist painter when you went to school?
It was hard to be a realist painter then because it wasn’t the thing, except I saw Jim Dine, David Hockney, Wayne Thiebaud, and I went to a huge retrospective of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work when I was a first-year art student. I wouldn’t say it was minimal. It was all abstract expressionism.

Continues…

Tom Prochaska: Painting in the round

Paul Sutinen continues his series of interviews with Oregon artists, this time with painter and printmaker Tom Prochaska

Tom Prochaska, who turns 73 this month, began his career with an intense involvement in printmaking, both as an artist and as a professional fine art printer. During the last two decades his main focus has become painting—paintings in which scenes and figures seem to slowly emerge from a fog of small brushstrokes.

In his current exhibition, “The Boxer,” at Froelick Gallery, through March 31, Prochaska includes paintings in a new circular format, as well as several papier-mâché figurative sculptures. Tom Prochaska will be speaking about his work at the gallery on Saturday, March 10, at 11 am.

Tom Prochaska in his studio with his big painting in process/Paul Sutinen

You do painting, you do sculpture, you do printmaking—do you think of any one of those is being your primary medium?

My primary right now is painting and it’s growing and more that way. I know where the sculpture fits. Printmaking—I was printing for other people. I was trained in Switzerland and Pratt Institute. A lot of that was the way I was making a living, printing for other people. I would include learning from that into my homework. So, people view me as a printmaker, but I’ve always been a painter.

Yes, I think that’s the way I came to know your work. How long have you felt that painting is taking the lead in your work?

The last 15 years. As I get older the printmaking becomes more challenging physically. I used to print 50 prints for somebody in a day, and I would print for myself. Now, for example, I have a show in Switzerland of just prints in September and the editions I’m printing are five because I can handle that physically. I did a portfolio as a tribute to a group of people I know. I’ll do those kind of things now, but it’s not the driving force. I would say for the last 15 years I’ve been centered on painting more and, like that painting back there [on the far studio wall], it might take me a year to finish that. I don’t have any idea where it’s going right now. It’s going a bunch of different places, but I’ve slowed everything down a bit. I’m being more patient.

Continues…

Q and A: A conversation with Michael Brophy

Paul Sutinen interviews painter Michael Brophy about drawing as a kid, the beginning of his clear-cut forest paintings and his practice as a painter

Overlooking the Council Chamber in Portland City Hall is an eight-foot tall, semi-circular painting by Michael Brophy. Brophy’s description of the painting is quoted on the Regional Arts and Culture Council public art web page: “Portland is a city founded on a river in the middle of a forest and my intent is to depict the sweep of the river valley with a nod towards its history. Stretching from the lower left across the canvas, up river, the 20th, 19th and pre-settlement centuries are presented. The foreground trees are Douglas firs, the state tree, and rise like columns supporting the region, and defining its character and prosperity.”

Michael Brophy, Council Chambers in Portland City Hall, “Lower Willamette Arch: River and Forest,” acrylic on canvas, 95” x 192”

His best known paintings embody a romantic attitude—whether the majesty of the old forest or the tragedy of the clear cut. An exhibition of his paintings will be at Russo Lee Gallery during January.

This conversation took place in his spacious studio in north Portland in late November. A large painting was in progress on one wall and on another wall a large set of drawings was pinned up.

You do a lot of drawing.

I do. I draw all the time. There’s tons of sketches. There’s boxes of this stuff. At one point I did all these big charcoal drawings, about 50 of them or so.

You made a bunch of big pain-in-the-neck charcoal drawings—what do you do with them, because they’re too big to frame? But they need to be protected.

I just put them in cardboard and they’re here somewhere.

Yeah, drawing’s really important. That’s the first thing I ever did as a kid. I don’t remember not drawing. I was “the kid that drew.”

You were known as “the kid that drew?”

Pretty much, from cousins…

I just did it for myself, didn’t take any classes, mostly just copying comics and superheroes, trying to draw the room, make the angle—why does it look like that? I read Cindy’s [Lucinda Parker] interview. She said she always knew she was an artist. I didn’t until I was 20 years old. I didn’t even think about doing anything like that.

Continues…