The Portland Ballet The Enchanted Toyshop

Book ’em, Dano. (Online, of course.)

ArtsWatch Weekly: Portland Book Fest goes virtual; art all around; dance on film; October musical surprise.


A BIG SLICK BROCHURE FROM LITERARY ARTS PLOPPED INTO MY MAILBOX a day or two ago, announcing the imminent arrival of this year’s Portland Book Festival (the festival formerly known as Wordstock). The good news is that what has traditionally been a one-day event cramming Taylor Swift-sized crowds into the streets of Portland’s downtown Cultural District will now spawl across two weeks, Nov. 5-21. The expected news is that, of course, all of the events will be online. Portland’s long been a hotbed of live literary celebrations, from poetry slams and open mics in bars to celebrity author talks in bookstores to this great big annual bash that lures the devotees of a solitary artistic passion – reading – into a cultural swarm of conviviality. The necessity of making this year’s festival virtual puts a new twist on the oddity of an extroverted event for introverts, which will now by an introverted event for introverts, simulating extroversion.

Intro- or extro-, it’s a good-looking festival, with more than a hundred authors, a full table of contents of classes and events, and some top-of-the-line featured speakers. Maybe the biggest current-events voice among those will belong to Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents, which argues that America’s race problem is more accurately a matter of caste, to be compared with India’s caste system and Nazi Germany’s hierarchy of citizens. A key aspect of caste is that people can’t escape the caste into which they were born, meaning that in the United States, the conflation of caste and race both muddies the distinction and makes it all the more indelible. It’s a book that clearly and potently summarizes current research, and gains much of its power from Wilkerson’s impassioned observations and retellings of encounters in her own life. The featured fiction speaker will be Jess Walter, the best-selling novelist who lives in Spokane, author of Beautiful RuinsThe Financial Lives of the Poets, and the new The Cold Millions. And it’s quite wonderful and lovely that Margaret Atwood, the great Canadian writer and author of The Handmaid’s Tale, an essential novel of the 20th century that remains unnervingly pertinent in the 2020s, is being featured in conversation about her poetry. Writers’ worlds are often more complex, and therefore interesting, than their greatest hits.


Charles Grant collaborates with Jessica Wallenfels to add a vivid sense of movement to his performance in his short play-turned-film “Matter.” Photo: Tamera Lyn

CHARLES GRANT’S MATTER AT HAND. The Portland actor/writer’s new version of his 2017 short play Matter (he now refers to it as Matter 2.0) takes it off the stage and into streamable movie form with the aid of videographer and editor Tamera Lyn, director James Dixon, sound designer Sharath Patel, and lighting designer Thyra Hartshorn. One other crucial collaborator – movement director Jessica Wallenfels, of co-producer (with Portland Playhouse) Many Hats Collaboration, helped Grant create a vivid sense of motion in his solo show, Jamuna Chiarini writes. Chiarini talks with Grant and Wallenfels about how the movement and the script work together to amplify Grant’s story of the constant threat of police brutality and gun violence that Black Americans face. 


FROM THE STREETS OF PORTLAND to Newberg, Eugene, and the central Oregon coast, it’s a good month for looking at art in Oregon, either virtually or in real time and space. Here are just a few of the current exhibitions that have caught ArtsWatch’s eye. (And, speaking of virtual, check out The New York Times’s fascinating detective story Jacob Lawrence Painting, Missing for Decades, Is Found by Met Visitor, about a work from Lawrence’s famous Struggle series that had been missing since 1960: It had been hanging in an apartment on New York’s Upper West Side.) 


Isaka Shamsud-Din, “Sky Reunion,” 2000, acrylic on canvas, Collection of Arlene and Harold Schnitzer; in the exhibition “Isaka Shamsud-Din: Rock of Ages” at the Portland Art Museum.

ISAKA SHAMSUD-DIN: BLACK IN AMERICA. In a lavishly illustrated Sunday section-cover story, The Oregonian’s veteran writer Tom Hallman Jr. digs deep into the life and art of the outstanding Portland painter. Approaching his ninth decade and battling cancer, Shamsud-Din talks about his long life’s work of telling the visual story of Portland’s Black community. “His focus has been on capturing, honoring and exposing the truth about what it means to be Black in America with his large-scale oil paintings,” Hallman writes. Says Shamsud-Din: “If I couldn’t create, I wouldn’t want to live any longer. Creating has been the mission of my life. As long as I am breathing, I’m doing art.”


Urban Studies #1161: Mosaicked shadow in reflection. Belmont Neighborhood. Photo: Horatio Hung-Yan Law

HORATIO LAW’S URBAN STUDIES. Ambling around the city with his iPhone camera, the Portland artist Horatio Hung-Yan Law began to take images of Portland as observed from the streets he was walking through. Created over the past year or so and shared on Instagram and Facebook, they make up a fascinating collective portrait of Portland as a lived-in, ever-evolving architectural space. Law talks with ArtsWatch about the impulses behind what he eventually began to call his Urban Studies project, and creates a portfolio of 16 images from it. “I honestly thought I would stop after a few months, or that I would stop finding interesting things to photograph or to say,” he says. “But the city is ever-growing and evolving, and the changing seasons also usher in different light, colors, and textures. Then came the COVID pandemic, BLM protests, wildfires, and now the election. With almost 1,400 postings on Instagram and a little bit over a year later, I am still finding the project engaging and evolving!”


Friderike Heuer, “Hamburger-Kunsthaller,” photomontage, archival inkjet on German etching paper, in her exhibit “Postcards from Nineveh.”

NEWPORT’S VISUAL ARTS CENTER REOPENS. Good news on the central Oregon coast, where Newport’s always interesting Visual Arts Center reopens on Saturday, Oct. 24, after a long Covid shutdown. The center, overlooking Nye Beach, will reopen with the two shows that had been up for just a couple of weeks before the shutdown, Lori Tobias reports: Greg Pfarr’s A Sense of Place in the Pacific Northwest, paintings and etchings of high-alpine drama in the Cascades and Alaska; and Postcards from Nineveh, photomontages by artist and regular ArtsWatch contributor Friderike Heuer. The galleries reopen with strict safety precautions. Also, Tobias reports, about 40 private works by the late sculptor Sam Briseño (you might recognize several of his public artworks, such as his welcoming godlike figure Ambassador overlooking the ocean in Newport’s Don Davis Park, or his octopus at the Hatfield Marine Science Center) will be going on sale.


Tom Blodgett, “Michele at 20,” graphite and mixed media on paper, 30 x 40 inches.

EUGENE’S KARIN CLARKE GALLERY is running a show of work by the late Oregon artist Tom Blodgett through Oct. 31, and although we haven’t had a chance to see it, we’ve been hearing interesting things about it. Faces, Figures, and Phantoms–A Partial Self-Portrait appears to be something of a rediscovery exhibition for Blodgett, who died in 2012 (he was born in 1940) and was apparently a character of self-mythological size. Bob Keefer gets into some of that in his Eugene Weekly cover story Difficult Visions, but also pays deep attention to the art. And in his essay Blodgett: Deep Diving into the Unconscious in Discoveries in American Art, Peter Falk calls the artist “one of the most amazing rediscoveries in American art in decades.” Keefer quotes the show’s curator, Craig Spillman, on Blodgett’s talent: “He got more content from a scribble than any other artist I’ve known. His almost palpable intensity when he was drawing gave his drawing an aspect of strength.”

The Portland Ballet The Enchanted Toyshop


Margaret Godfrey, “Teach Me-Ethiopia,” watercolor, 36 x 28 inches framed. 

NOT YOUR GRANDMOTHER’S WATERCOLORS. The 80-plus paintings in the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s annual exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg debunks visions of washed-out florals and bowls of fruit, David Bates writes. On the contrary, he declares, the show of bold and surprising works chosen by juror Kristi Grussendorf constitutes “must-see fare, for it opens your eyes to the range of possibilities with a medium that tends to be mistaken for what I suppose one would call the stereotype.” As Grussendorf tells Bates, “Watercolor is a powerful and versatile medium.”


A still from the dance film “touched,” a documentary about the late German choreographer Pina Bausch.

THE PORTLAND DANCE FILM FEST AND THE INEVITABLE FUTURE OF DANCE ON FILM. “Dance has been utilized in mainstream cinema, advertising campaigns, and music videos since the dawn of popular media,” Amy Leona Havin writes on looking back at the highlights and possibilities of this year’s virtual Portland Dance Film Fest. “Dance film, however, is still considered a niche rather than a stand-alone genre. It is not only the hope, but the goal of the Portland Dance Film Fest and similar festivals to bring dance film to the forefront of the art world’s collective consciousness, connecting people across the world during a time of separation. Dance film, with its capacity to inspire closeness, empathy, and curiosity, holds within it the future of dance in the modern technological age.”


Soovin Kim, Chamber Music Northwest’s co-artistic director, performing in a free virtual concert of complete violin sonatas and partitas. Screen shot from recording.

MUSICWATCH MONTHLY: OCTOBER SURPRISES. No, not that kind of October Surprise. In his look at a few musical highlights and discoveries as we approach the heights and depths of campaign fever, Matthew Neil Andrews homes in on culturally elective diversities ranging from classic (and free) Bach to some internetting by the excellent women’s choir In Mulieribus on some contemporary Oregon music, a spot of Elliott Smith, a flow of John Luther Adams, some Mortifying music for Halloween, and more.


Left: Actor, teacher, education director Michael Berkson. Right: Tim Stapleton’s painting “Holes to the Sky,” acrylic on canvas, 4 feet by 4 feet.

AN ARTS COMMUNITY IS BY DEFINITION A COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE, and although we mostly pay attention to the art those people produce, it’s good to think of them also for the communal generosity of their lives, communicating and collaborating and contributing through the work they do. When they die the loss is both private and, in a way, public, because as artists they’ve lived public lives.

Michael Berkson, a longtime Portland teacher, actor, director, and community-outreach specialist, died early Monday, Oct. 19, at age 81, and the city’s theater and music communities in particular have met the news with an outpouring of sadness over his loss and affection for who he was. “Who he was” included being an actor as a young man on Broadway and Off-Broadway, being a distinguished and well-loved professor of theater for some years at Illinois State University, and for many years leading Portland Opera’s outreach programs as education director, bringing the music out of the opera house and into the schools and other places where people mingle. As David Stabler wrote in a 1999 story for The Oregonian: “Berkson digs into operatic stories, music, characters and stagecraft with an infectious energy aimed at nonspecialists. ‘I’m not a musician but a vigorous enthusiast,’ he said, ‘so I’m a good leader for people who feel the same way.'” He returned to the stage often after moving to Portland, and was especially noted for his comedy skills. (He was “a banty rooster peck-peck-pecking away as Max, the dyspeptic father,” according to a 2002 review of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming at Profile Theatre.) As his son, the Portland actor, writer, and director David Berkson, put it, keeping things in the theatrical family: “He was a man, take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.”

Tim Stapleton, the longtime and much-loved Portland stage designer, writer, actor, and visual artist, died Sept. 7 from the effects of ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: Marty Hughley wrote about him beautifully in this piece. As his disease worsened and he lost more control over his muscles, Stapleton’s visual art changed radically, from a rough-cut vivid naturalism to beautiful, delicate abstract paintings, which he made with the help of his assistant and former student, Samie Pfeifer. Friends have set up a chance to see his final series of paintings – My Father and His Brothers, six 9-foot-tall paintings honoring the Kentucky coal miners of his childhood – between 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at Northwest Marine Artworks. There’ll be limited entry, for 20 minutes, and you’ll need to make a reservation by emailing stating your name, preferred date, and preferred 20-minute-interval time, and waiting for a confirmation. Stapleton’s just-published art book Beyond Acceptance, chronicling his artistic partnership with Pfeifer after his ALS diagnosis, will be available to buy, too.  

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Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."


One Response

  1. If you have not gone to the Karin Clarke Gallery in Eugene to view the current show og Tom Blodgett’s artwork, you owe it to yourself and Art Watch to do so. This is an Oregon Drawing Master!

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