CULTURE

Stretching from cultural borders to the state’s borders

In Salem, George Rodriguez's ceramic sculptures comment on community and identity; in Newberg, Brad Isom's watercolors explore the glory of Oregon

We have another gallery show in Newberg this week, but before that, please indulge a brief diversion as we drop in on Salem.

My ArtsWatch colleagues may write more about this later, but for now you should know that the Hallie Ford Museum of Art on the Willamette University campus opened a new show last week that’s worth a visit: Embellished Narratives by Seattle ceramics artist George Rodriguez, a native of El Paso, Texas.

The show, which occupies several rooms in the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery, is an exploration of the artist’s Chicano heritage and the myriad of political and social issues bound up with the U.S.-Mexico border — both metaphorically and literally. The largest single piece, Instrumental Divide, is a row of nine larger-than-life musicians, sculpted with glaze, steel, and vinyl, lined up in such a way that they form a wall cutting across the room.

"Instrumental Divide" by George Rodriguez (2009, stoneware with glaze, steel, and vinyl). Photo by: David Bates
In “Instrumental Divide,” artist George Rodriguez turns a group of musicians into a wall (2009, stoneware with glaze, steel, and vinyl). Photo by: David Bates

Organized by curator Jonathan Bucci, this is a major exhibition. There is much to take in, and the detail work invites close scrutiny. From the program notes:

“Ideas of ceremony, ritual, and cross-cultural mythology all combine in Rodriguez’s bold yet whimsical artwork. Inspired by childhood memories, international travel, border politics, and the history of art, his richly decorated and tactile sculptures draw the viewer in with a mixture of humor and gravity to address concepts of community and identity in our global culture.

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Exquisite Gorge 1: Getting started

Maryhill Museum embarks on a mission to create a giant collaborative print depicting 220 miles along the Columbia River. Part 1 in a series.

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER

I have on previous occasions written on this or that aspect of Maryhill Museum of Art in Washington, which I like to visit as often as I can. An eclectic collection of paintings, fashion, artifacts of some Eastern European aristocracy (Queen Marie of Romania), chess sets, native American basketry, 80 or so works of art by Rodin, displayed in an old manor house with a fascinating history of its founder, beautiful grounds and a sculpture park, high above the Columbia Gorge – it has all drawn me for many a decade. In fact, I remember when they still had peacocks roaming the manicured lawns and discreetly placed signs, warning you of rattlesnake danger, should you step off the paths…

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School’s out, but art classes are in on the Coast

From children making masks to adults learning about the Japanese art of fish-printing, the Coast offers a multitude of artful happy happenings this summer

School’s out, but here on the Coast, classes are just beginning, and they’re not just for kids.

Mary Ann Gantenbein will teach a class for adults on collage during the Cannon Beach Summer Art Camp.
Mary Ann Gantenbein will teach a class for adults on collage during the Cannon Beach Summer Art Camp.

The Cannon Beach Arts Association has opened registration for its 17th Annual Art Camp, July 8-12. Five-day classes for the younger set include yoga (ages 4-12), 3D mask-making (8-12) and for the really wee ones — ages 3-5 — “Mini Makers.” The brochure describes the class as a “happy happening” for young and aspiring artists, who will draw, paint, create collages, and just plain play. 

Adult Art Camp offers three classes including “Watercolor by the Sea,” an introductory class in which artists will create a watercolor inspired by Cannon Beach and learn tips and tricks about painting with watercolors. It’s open to all levels, but designed for beginners.

Among classes at Sitka Center for the Arts is an  August workshop on the “Art of the Letter. " Besides creating illustrated envelopes, the class will explore how letter-writing can survive in the digital age.
Among classes at Sitka Center for the Arts is an August workshop on the “Art of the Letter. ” Besides creating illustrated envelopes, the class will explore how letter-writing can survive in the digital age.

THE SITKA CENTER FOR THE ARTS is also gearing up for summer workshops — many are already full, but wait lists are available. Those still open include “Color Confidence for Artists,” a class for anyone working in any medium. Instructor Cynthia Herron will demonstrate mixing and matching paint, discuss color schemes for a variety of media, and talk about color as it is found in nature around the Sitka campus near Otis. In “Photography and Place,” students will examine the “potential of photographic practice to address contemporary issues of land use and environmental concepts.” And in “Mining Your Life for Laughs,” teacher Robert Balmer will take a look at “how humor writers turn the painful, the absurd, the odd, the embarrassing, the memorable,” into something to laugh about. Who couldn’t use that?

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The alchemy of photography, sans camera

In a show in Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center, Rachel Wolf works transformations using paper and film, light and chemicals

Our lives are saturated with photographic images — pictures taken by tens of millions of people daily on phone cameras, photos that are then Facebooked, Instagrammed, and Tweeted into the world, where our eyeballs are bombarded with this digital hail. Those who shoot pictures with a camera that uses film, I have to believe, have become a tiny minority.

In that small company of analog photographic artists, Rachel Wolf stands virtually alone.

“Flight” by Rachel Wolf (chromogenic chemigram - archival digital print)
“Flight” by Rachel Wolf (chromogenic chemigram – archival digital print)

Wolf takes pictures — or perhaps I should say she makes pictures — with lots of film, but no camera. The results of her work (and it’s clearly a lot of work) landed at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg last week in a show titled Unconditional that runs through Aug. 3. Wolf has shown her work in New York, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Portland, where she lives, so once again we have an instance of Chehalem’s curators bringing an urban art experience to rural Yamhill County.

The product of camera-less photography is called a photogram, chemigram, or luminogram, depending on what combination of object, light, and chemicals is used to make it. Photograms use an object on paper to create the image, Wolf said, while the images in chemigrams come from chemical reactions, and in luminograms the images are from light. The images in Unconditional are chemigrams.

There’s no precise date for the invention of photography itself, as precursors go all the way back to ancient times, but the first photo engraving dates to 1822, and about 20 years later a book illustrated with photograms was published. In the 20th century, the number of artists known for this kind of camera-less photography is pretty small; they include: Man Ray, Adam Fuss, Susan Derges, and Christian Marclay.

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‘Aladdin’: Middle Eastern enough?

In its latest stage and screen riffs on a fantasy tale with Orientalist roots, Disney makes a highly selective push for representation

By MELORY MIRASHRAFI

One month before Disney’s new live-action Aladdin opened in movie theaters nationwide, the Broadway tour of the hit musical came to Portland. While millions of viewers across America are flocking to see both adaptations of the 1992 classic, only one version features any actors of Middle Eastern descent.

This comes as no surprise: There were no Middle Eastern actors in the original, either. To this day, I remember the moment I learned Princess Jasmine was voiced by a white woman. When I was twelve I primarily identified with Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (an introverted reader with an engineer for a father), so I was disappointed to be assigned Jasmine as my character at a Disney-themed birthday party because of my “Arabianness.” Princess Jasmine has since followed me around as the only “Middle Eastern” Disney Princess (Jasmin also happens to be my middle name, which doesn’t help), and although there’s no such place as “Agrabah,” an inevitable connection formed between the two of us, making it particularly shocking when I realized that the voice I had been listening to had never been Middle Eastern at all. While Jasmine’s vocals are done by Filipina singer and actress Lea Salonga, her speaking voice belongs to white American actress Linda Larkin, a difficult truth to swallow as someone who grew up identifying with Jasmine in part because she looked like me.

While the new live-action movie version of Aladdin in theaters attracts praise for its inclusion of Middle Eastern actors in its cast, it’s unsettling that the simultaneous Broadway tour is seemingly void of any such effort. Recent Disney endeavors such as The Princess and the Frog and Moana seem to seek cultural specificity and an acute awareness of race in a push for equity, diversity, and inclusion.  It’s certainly also worth noting that both of the aforementioned examples are animated, circumnavigating certain elements of the casting process, such as embodiment. Why, then, the gap between what is seen on stage and screen when it comes to Aladdin?

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Andrés Felipe Orozco as the Calip in an onstage revival of Kismet in Neustrelitz, Germany, 2019. Photo: Tom Schweers

AS AN IRANIAN-AMERICAN THEATER-MAKER and cultural consultant, I often ask what keeps a production from accurately representing a certain region, ethnicity, or culture. While Aladdin (2019) takes steps to right the lack of accurate cultural representation, it falls short of erasing Disney’s xenophobic legacy – one that stems from a combination of the tale’s Orientalist origins, as well as a history of misrepresentation of Middle Eastern people in theater and film.

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Fermenting on South Coast: Live Culture

The 10-day celebration this fall is seeking proposals to build a "culture stand" that will be visitor center, merchandise table and gathering spot all in one

A press release recently landed on my desk seeking proposals to build a “Culture Stand” for the upcoming “Live Culture Coast” to be held on the southern Oregon coast in October. I confess I was duly – and dually – baffled. A Culture Stand? Live Culture Coast? I had no idea, so I put in a call to Amber Peoples, the creative director behind the event. We began with the obvious.  

What exactly is Live Culture Coast?

Peoples: It’s a 10-day celebration of food, art, and place that will travel the entire South Coast from Reedsport to Brookings, over 135 miles, Oct. 18-27. This is the first. We’re calling it the pilot.

And a Culture Stand?

The Culture Stand itself will be on a 5-by-10 trailer. We’ll put it on the back of a truck and haul it. It’s a traveling visitor center; it’s a merchandise table, a gathering spot. Its location will designate where the celebration is, where the Live Culture Coast is focused that day. We’re also creating a map.

Fermentation Fest in Sauk Country, Wis., bills itself as a “celebration of live culture in all its forms, from dance to yogurt, poetry to sauerkraut,” as well as home-grown sausage. The October event is the inspiration for “Live Culture Coast” to be held along 135 miles of the South Oregon Coast this fall. Photo by: Amber Peoples
Fermentation Fest in Sauk Country, Wis., bills itself as a “celebration of live culture in all its forms, from dance to yogurt, poetry to sauerkraut,” as well as home-grown sausage. The October event is the inspiration for “Live Culture Coast” to be held along 135 miles of the South Oregon Coast this fall. Photo by: Amber Peoples

Let’s say the Culture Stand is parked in Coos Bay on Saturday, October 19. The event happening that day could be a brewery demonstration. It could be an art class, or a coffee roasting. We’re hoping people will sign up for one of these experiences, and that will encourage people to travel and explore the South Coast.

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Bonnie Hull’s ‘Little Me’: Memories of a life

A sympathetic curator helps connect the dots for the Salem artist's Minthorne Gallery show in Newberg

Not to be hyperbolic about it, but my first impression stepping into the Roger and Mildred Minthorne Gallery at George Fox University in Newberg was one of visual perfection.

Occasionally, one walks into a show where a cavernous space swallows up everything — installed, perhaps, by a curator who wants the pieces to “breathe.” The other end of the spectrum, of course, is to cram too much in.

But with Salem artist Bonnie Hull’s Little Me exhibit, showcased in the Minthorne through July 19, one finds a happy balance. The show comprises about two dozen pieces, mostly paintings and a couple of quilts, which fill the small cube-shaped room, with neither dominating the other. Outside, through floor-to-ceiling windows, you see the greenery of the 134-year-old campus. Perfection.

The Minthorne Gallery strikes a happy balance between space and content in its exhibition of Bonnie Hull’s work.  Photo by: David Bates
The Minthorne Gallery strikes a happy balance between space and content in its exhibition of Bonnie Hull’s work. Photo by: David Bates

Hull is well-known in Oregon artistic circles. A painter, preservationist, gardener and quilter, Hull, with her husband, Roger, is affiliated with Willamette University in Salem. A list of her shows fills several pages of single-spaced type. A few recent, local highlights: In 2010 and again in 2017, Hull was artist-in-residence at Bush Barn Art Center in Salem. This is her second Minthorne show; in 2015, she and fellow Salem artist Kay Worthington showcased quilts here.

We’ll get to the circumstances leading to her return in a moment. First, here’s Hull’s words on the show: 

“Memory and image define my work from the last two years,” she writes. “All the ingredients of the work I’ve been making all my life are here: narrative, pattern and texture, the drawn line. The addition of memory and the interpretation of memory in the process of imagining new work has made this an interesting period for the maker: me.”

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