Exquisite Gorge 7: The Explorer

Printmaker and teacher Molly Gaston Johnston follows Lewis & Clark's westward path to make her mark on Maryhill's Columbia River project

Molly Gaston Johnson and her river of wood.


Maryhill Museum of Art’s planned print day of its Exquisite Gorge project is approaching fast. Hopefully there is a chance to portray each and of the participating artists and their work before August 24. Let me introduce today another one of the print makers who I had a chance to talk to in the last several days.

Molly Gaston Johnson, Printmaker and Educator


“…a collaborative printmaking project featuring 11 artists working with communities along a 220-mile stretch of the Columbia River from the Willamette River confluence to the Snake River confluence to create a massive 66-foot steamrolled print. The unique project takes inspiration from the Surrealist art practice known as exquisite corpse. In the most well-known exquisite corpse drawing game, participants took turns creating sections of a body on a piece of paper folded to hide each successive contribution. When unfolded, the whole body is revealed. In the case of The Exquisite Gorge Project, the Columbia River will become the ‘body’ that unifies the collaboration between artists and communities, revealing a flowing 66-foot work that tells 10 conceptual stories of the Columbia River and its people.”

 Louise Palermo, Curator of Education at Maryhill Museum

Imagine being told since the time you sat on your father’s knees that you are a descendant of Lewis & Clark. Lewis AND Clark! Being regaled with lively tales of hardship and adventure, what is a little girl to do but fall in love with the outdoors and embrace most forms of risk-seeking ventures – it is practically written into your DNA. Well, perhaps not practically, but theoretically. Who knows about the factual truth of the family lore?


Coast calendar: Cool diversions for summer’s dog days

Late August is the time to apply to teach a workshop, audition for a play, or just beat the heat by visiting a gallery

It’s been a hot, muggy summer here on the Coast, which for those of us fond of the more moderate, 60-ish temperatures makes a visit indoors to a gallery or theater all the more inviting.  Luckily, there’s something cool going on pretty much all up and down the Coast.

A new exhibition of linocut printmaking by Marit Berg is up in the Imprint Gallery in Cannon Beach. Berg’s work frequently features animals with “a subtext that expresses the delicate balance of life within the natural world and how animals develop particular traits to thrive in their habitats,” said gallery co-owner Jane Brumfield. The artist has been drawn to portraying hares, which are included in this show, and has also turned her attention to foxes.

“Waiting Fox,” by Marit Berg (linocut print, 26 x 34 inches) is one of the fox and hare series on display in Cannon Beach’s Imprint Gallery.
“Waiting Fox,” by Marit Berg (linocut print, 26 x 34 inches) is part of Berg’s fox and hare series on display in Cannon Beach’s Imprint Gallery.

“Natural selection rewards survival through adaptation,” Berg writes. “These adaptations reveal themselves in interesting and varied forms, particularly in animals. They may evolve as competitive display; to warn off a predator; or as camouflage in the surroundings. These traits have also informed myth and symbolism in many cultures. I investigate these traits and contrast them to exemplify the diversity and specialization of the species, in separate works.”


Chalk up another win for art

In Beaverton, the two-day La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival draws evanescent images and crowds to a place where the people are

Look down. No, really. On the pavement. Suddenly that big gray sea of asphalt and concrete connecting parking lots and buildings is a free-flowing splendor of shape and color, a vibrant surface of spectacle, an instant outdoor gallery of art – in, of all places, a shopping mall. And why not? Art for the people ought to go where the people are.

On Saturday and Sunday at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton, chalk art arrived big-time in greater Portland in the form of the first La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival, organized by the Beaverton art producers 2D4D (whose board president, Raziah Roushan, is herself a chalk artist) and continuing an Oregon mini-season of sidewalk artistry: Next up, the Valley Art Association will throw its 29th annual Sidewalk Chalk Art Festival in Forest Grove on Sept. 21.


It’s all part of a worldwide movement: You can find chalk-art festivals all across Europe, from Germany to England to Italy (where they’re purported to have begun in the 16th century, outside cathedrals, as sketches for the curious crowds of the frescoes and murals being painted inside); in Canada, Australia, and Asia. In the United States they happen from Knoxville to Baltimore to Denver to San Diego to Georgia to Florida and beyond.

Part art and part event, chalk art has family ties to mural painting and graffiti art, decorative bike-lane paintings at street intersections in urban neighborhoods, and also, in festivals like these, to performance art: Crowds gather to watch the artists create their pastel drawings on the spot. It offers the thrill of creation and the bittersweet knowledge of impermanence: Chalk artists usually plan their designs well in advance, often even making small studies in anticipation of hitting the streets, yet street chalking is a fleeting art, fading and disappearing with the scuffle of feet and the inevitability of rain. At Cedar Hills Crossing, the street sweepers are due to wipe away the evidence on Wednesday, so catch it while you can.

Sarah Flores sitting and chalking, in the midst of it all.

Photographer Joe Cantrell took his cameras and his curiosity to La Strada dei Pastelli to check out the action as a talented group of professional chalk artists, several of whom travel from chalk festival to chalk festival creating fresh art, gathered to transform Cedar Hills Crossing’s pavement. It was a big undertaking – an $80,000 event, said Roushan, with significant contributions from the mall, other Beaverton businesses, and government cultural underwriting – and plans already are being made for a 2020 festival. “It was fantastic,” Roushan said. “A great turnout.”


West Coast Woodcut: edges of life

In Maryhill Museum's Year of the Print, an exhibition of contemporary printmaking cuts from urban realism to the rhythms of the natural world

Man at Work, a 2014 linoleum block print by Ronnie Goodman in the exhibition West Coast Woodcut: Contemporary Relief Prints by Regional Artists at Maryhill Museum of Art, fits a classic role of printmaking: It’s a quiet provocation, surprising the viewer with a sudden twist on familiarity. An image of a man standing on a street corner in San Francisco with two huge bags filled with cans and bottles slung over his shoulders, it fits securely into a social-realist tradition that also embraces the likes of Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, and the American regionalists of the 1930s.

Ronnie Goodman, Man at Work, 2014, linoleum block print. Edition 9/16.

Stylistically it could be from the 1930s, and with a little jolt you realize looking at it that in a way it is, or at least it’s a contemporary echo of the Depression years. Man at Work is an image of down-and-outness, of the outsider, the possibly homeless guy sidling against the crowd, and when you see the title the whole little drama expands: Whatever you might have thought on first glance, the man’s no bum. He’s working, gathering the trash, doing a job that other people don’t want to do, scraping by with a quiet dignity that most people never take the time to see. The capper comes when you look at the wall plaque and discover that Goodman himself has led a hard-knock life: He’s homeless, and learned to make art in prison while serving a six-year sentence for burglary. “I have had my belongings confiscated ten times,” Goodman is quoted. “The city has taken my original irreplaceable linocuts – over fifty plates, all of my original artwork.” The explanatory plaque continues: “This includes works that were included in a temporary exhibition in the office of San Francisco mayor, London Breed.”


Exploring the epistolary art

Participants in a Sitka Center workshop may discover how letter-writing can survive the digital age, keep people connected, and restore deep focus

Tucked in the back of my closet is a small, blue suitcase I’ve hauled around with me since I was 18. Inside are bundles of letters, handwritten to me in the first years after I moved from Pennsylvania to Alaska.

Letters from my mom address my plans to move to France (“I don’t think France cares for us right now,” she wrote in 1979 on lined legal-pad paper) and eventually to study for my real-estate license. Letters from the musician I’d agreed to marry seem aimed at inspiring guilt, as in “I thought you were coming back.” Letters from my older sister detail, in her near-perfect penmanship, the mundanity of our small town – whom she ran into, where she applied for a job, how her daughter was (or was not) behaving.

Back then, unless you could afford the long-distance bills (my phone was frequently disconnected, thanks to my inability to keep-it-short), letters were how you kept in touch.

Laura Moulton will teach a workshop Aug. 17 and 18 on "The Art of the Letter" that will include making collage envelopes to deliver students' missives into the world.
Laura Moulton will teach a workshop Aug. 17 and 18 on “The Art of the Letter” that will include making collage envelopes to deliver students’ missives into the world. Photo courtesy: Laura Moulton

In recent years, I realized how much I missed writing – and receiving – personal letters, and I decided I was going to start writing them again. I even bought “fine parchment paper” and matching envelopes found on a clearance rack.

But after years of hurriedly filling reporters’ notebooks day after day after day after month after year, my  handwriting is illegible. It takes huge concentration for me to form an “ing” — the three letters have morphed into a hump with a loop. Likewise, the word “every” looks like an e with a wave and a loop. So while I was drawn to the idea of handwriting letters, I never quite got there. Sure, I could probably sit myself down and write a bit more nicely, but frankly, I’m not sure I have the patience.

Then, I saw the description for the upcoming class on The Art of the Letter: Writing, Collage & Mail Art at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology:


The hot days, long nights, and spontaneous trips to the river are here. It’s summer in Portland, no doubt about it. As is tradition, everything happens all at once and there’s no time for anything. First Thursday falls on the first of the month, so why not start your busy summer schedule with an art crawl? If you can’t make it out then, there are a few good shows opening later this month, particularly Stephanie Simek at Melanie Flood.

image courtesy of Private Places

Eclipse: Kelly Akashi and Cayetano Ferrer

July 26 2019 – September 14 2019
Private Places
2400 NE Holladay Street Portland OR 97232

Private Places, a small gallery in the Broadway district known for innovative shows featuring early and mid-career contemporary artists from beyond Portland as well as local talent, describes this show with a sort of poetic materials list:

Terrestrial epiphyte sprouts, screen negative. Steel roots, planular log, silicate stems.
Interlocked breath and pressure—molten glass conformed to a heat-shocked mold of sand and lime. Fissures recomposed under weight of a reclining bell bubble.
Folded furniture and mimetic prosthetic. Compartments and platforms for pattern-impressed vessels, located and rotated, inset and offset.
Orbiting lights, bell body lens, refracting an envelope of rays.

All the pieces in the show are collaborations between artists Kelly Akashi and Cayetano Ferrer. An undisclosed, offsite location houses the second, appointment-only half of the show. Eclipse looks to be both intriguing and cerebral.

Brandi Kruse, File Bluff White

Flat Out: Brandi Kruse

July 20 – August 10
Book launch + poetry reading August 10, 2019 from 6 – 8 PM
Fuller / Rosen Gallery
2505 SE 11th Ave Suite 106

Brandi Kruse’s exhibition is preoccupied with imagined spaces, physical absence, and a unique observation: very few things are actually, truly, flat. Her sculpture and poetry are filled with “compressed and expanded” light, memory, and reflections. Kruse says:

I flatten things every day: my face in mirror images, my body in the shadows, the world through photographs. I have flattened ideas by recording them on pages, in words made of letters, made of lines, shapes without form; seemingly non-dimensional. But they are not formless and they are not without dimension.

The exhibition includes the launch of Kruse’s book of poetry from the show, flat out. You can pre-order the book from Fuller/Rosen now or get a copy at the launch where Kruse will be reading on August 10 from 6 – 8 pm.

Ryan Whelan, Life the Sky soft pastel, acrylic, and casein, 20 x 24 inches

Summer Collective Group Exhibit

July 27 – August 24
Stephanie Chefas Projects
305 SE 3rd Avenue, Suite 202

This group exhibition features new work from nine contemporary artists: Ben Willis, Carissa Potter, Jeffrey Cheung, Laura Berger, Leslie Vigeant, Mako Miyamoto, Maxwell McMaster, Mia Farrington, and Ryan Whelan. Vibrant, sometimes breezy, sometimes funny pieces that overlap with the sensibilities of the design world fill this show. Mako Miyamoto’s photos of a dirtbiker wearing a wookie mask play well with Maxwell McMaster’s LA-sunset-pallette acrylic paintings on found record covers. Meanwhile, Laura Berger’s cut-out style figures and Carissa Potter’s sumi ink paintings accompany the humbly small but beautiful paintings by Ryan Whelan and minimalist abstractions by Mia Farrington.

Tangle by Myra Clark

My Word is Hard to Hear: Mami Takahashi | Pilgrimage: Myra Clark 

July 30 – August 31
Blackfish Gallery
420 NW 9th Ave

Takahashi describes her current project as part of an “ongoing investigation of veiled communication within public space.” “Listening circles” on the floor delinate spaces where listeners to can hear a voice reading poetry in hushed tones that might otherwise be lost among the hubub of a busy gallery. Two different voices read the same poem in different listening circles inviting careful attention from the listeners.

New Blackfish Member Myra Clark will be exhibiting work at the same time. Clark draws on Byzantine icon painting methods, contemporary styles, and found objects to engage with the stories her mother has recounted as she develops dementia. This intimate show reflects on family, spirituality, and aging through its eclectic materials and methods.

One Afternoon in Your Next Reincarnation

Aug 1 6:00 PM – Aug 16 4:00 PM
Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA)
511 NW Broadway

PNCA’s low-residency MFA program is something of a hybrid between a residency program and a traditional MFA. Combining distance-learning and a flexible schedule with intensive residency periods, the program is a different take on the often-costly Master in Fine Arts programs (MFAs) that drive the art world today. Portland artist and curator Srijon Chowdhury has curated the thesis work of the 2019 class for this show. It should be an interesting chance to see work made with Portland in mind while carrying the imprint of sensibilities from beyond the city.

Anne W. Brigman, Infinitude, (1915) platinum print

Toughened to Wind and Sun: Women Photographing the Landscape

Aug 10, 2019 – Mar 8, 2020
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue

Drawn almost entirely from the Museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition celebrates an exceptional and underrepresented part of photographic history: nature photography by early-twentieth century women. Pictoralist Anne Brigman regularly hiked into the Sierra Nevada mountain range with her medium-format camera to produce some of the most haunting images of the show. “I slowly found my power with the camera among the junipers and tamarack pines of the high, storm-swept altitudes,” said Brigman.
PAM notes that “although women were active in photography from the medium’s earliest period, the terrain beyond the home was the purview of male photographers. Images of hard-to-reach scenic wonders made by men continue to influence our understanding of landscape photography and punctuate its history.” The photographs in this show reveal an important, broader history of outdoor photography. Sara Cwynar, Wendy Red Star, and Penelope Umbrico’s contributions to the exhibition show how women continue to push the boundaries in this field.

Artist Jessi Queen

La Strada dei Pastelli

Saturday, August 10 and Sunday, August 11 from 11:00 am-6:00 pm
Cedar Hills Crossing Shopping Complex
3205 SW Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton, OR 97005

This is the inaugural event in what the 2D4D arts organization plans to be an annual outdoor chalk drawing festival. With a mission statement that specifically calls out the importance of “bridging interaction between the arts and non-arts communities.” The August event, La Strada Dei Pastelli or “Street of Pastels” is named in honor of the 500-year old tradition of Italian street painting and features fifteen professional chalk artists drawn from around the country who were invited to complete large-scale drawings on the street in 48 hours or less. Free and open to the public, the festival also features musical performances including Portland Opera A La Cart. This is sure to be a family-friendly, fun outdoor event full of art and music.

Stephanie Simek

Stephanie Simek, Installation Detail

August 17- September 14
Melanie Flood Projects
420 SW Washington St., #301

Portland- and Seattle-based artist Stephanie Simek brings her multidisciplinary, sculptural, and scientific experimentation to Melanie Flood Projects later this month. Magnetic phenomena, holograms, lasers, growing cystals, and handmade sound devices are just as likely to appear in Simeks’s shows as are intricate sculptures or succulent plants. Astute gallery-goers might recall her delightful urn that held a crystallized key that could only be viewed in hologram via a convex mirror at the recent PDX Contemporary group show, Speculative Frictions. Don’t miss this chance to see more new work by this talented Northwest artist.

Improvisation and displacement: the ceramics of Hans Coper

Craft returns to the Park Blocks with Less is More at the Oregon Jewish Museum


Hans Coper’s vessels use silence like gravity. Coper, the British ceramicist who died in 1981, is having a resurgence. He is often associated with his mentor and friend British artist Lucie Rie but an exquisite new exhibition of Coper’s work at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, organized by guest curator Sandra Percival, seeks to reveal Coper’s influence on contemporary makers and to allow viewers to see his work independently of his collaborations with Rie. Chosen from the vast collection of the York Art Gallery in England and Portland collector John Shipley with additions from other West Coast collections, Less Means More teases out the connective tissue within Coper’s work. Percival chose to show Coper’s work as a gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art. This allows sympathies and formal rhythms to weave throughout the display. This is the first collection of this scale to be displayed on the West Coast.

Hans Coper, Disc form with cylindrical base and neck, stoneware, 1959. Courtesy of York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery), York, England.

Coper, like Rie, fled Nazi occupation to eventually settle in Britain. Rie left Austria in 1938 and Coper left Germany in 1939. Coper arrived in England as a Jewish refugee only to be sent to an enemy alien camp in Canada; after joining the Pioneer Corps of the British Army he returned to England in 1941. It was there he met Rie in 1946 and the two worked side by side making ceramic buttons and tableware. This experience led Coper to develop an ethos of a whole work, one that braids art, craft and life and is central to Coper’s staying power and enduring freshness. The contemporary art and craft worlds have caught up with his blurred lines between functional ware and sculpture. Coper has always been associated with the modernist wing of studio pottery, but his presence in the Oregon Jewish Museum allows for a more nuanced reading of his work. 

Displacement haunts Coper’s pots. The sculpturalness of Coper’s work is often privileged over the vesselness. He allowed his work to exist in between. Large spade form with vertical grooves from 1968 can be seen as being in dialogue with minimalist sculpture. One can stick to formalist terminology to describe its flattened uplifted disc or remark that its surface suggests metal or stone. But the spade has a void and the void is the soul of a vessel rather than a sculpture. The space within the spade’s walls could hold flowers, or equally, a metaphor. 

Hans Coper Large Spade
Hans Coper, Large spade form with vertical grooves, 1968. Courtesy American Muse-um of Ceramic Art, Gift of Bill Burke

As a teacher Coper was known for his stressing of improvisation and humor. He would just as soon take his students to a jazz club than lecture about form. He didn’t have the luxury of American post-war counterparts who used improvisation wildly and with abandon. On the West Coast, artists like Peter Voulkos and Paul Soldner used jazz to express wildness and machismo but Coper tapped into jazz’s improvization to explore classical forms. For American ceramic artists the war scarred them but they returned to a booming, spacious country in which victory was an adventure and the homeland was restored and triumphant. Coper never returned to Germany leaving a permanent rupture with his homeland. He remained a British citizen his entire life. His was a discipline, a full-life fling in which improvisation was tender and guarded fiercely. As a result if you give them the time, Coper’s pots pulse with an unyielding joy — the kind tinged by melancholy. He was not averse to a bright, impermanent flower to poke out of one of his austere bottle forms. 

The reticent surfaces and the singular focus on a handful of forms throughout his career can sometimes seem funereal. One of the centerpieces, Disc-shaped bottle on foot with indented front neck from 1959 can at one moment seem like a grave marker, but “with a certain slant of light,” to quote Emily Dickinson, the object becomes a neolithic gear or a rotund figure. I don’t mention Emily Dickinson lightly. There is a formal corollary between Dickinson’s spry, evergreen poems birthed from isolation and Coper’s abraded black, gray and white surfaces. Both ask patience and attention from the viewer and reader. Both also continue to yield illumination long after the hot light of more frantic and showy works have passed into obsolescence. The energy is under the surface. 

Hans Coper Cycladic
Hans Coper, Footed vase, Cycladic form, ca. 1975. Courtesy Crocker Art Museum

Percival does a wonderful job grouping of objects to show how form could be both archetype and brand new being. Coper visited the British Museum frequently. His love for Cycladic art is evident in his Cycladic vase forms. He dialogues with Constantin Brancusi, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti, all artists who also dug deep into the archeological record for inspiration. What we call modernism is often a reassessment of the Neolithic. But Coper had his own names for his stable of forms. Bottoms looked like, well, bottoms, there are spades and a diablo hourglass. These forms dance through influences of various times and cultures. 

The installation of the pots reminds me of a quote that the American sculptor Charles Ray once said of Giacometti, “Great sculptures, like some of Giacometti’s, have no scale. Rather, scale becomes one of the tools he uses to carve his work into our present space and time. It’s never big or small, it’s always simply the right scale.” There is a photo included in the exhibition of a small, egg-shaped, Egyptian vessel in Coper’s studio. Coper kept the pot as a lodestar. It fit perfectly in his hands. It was in that very human humility of form and material across time that motivates the vessels on view.

Percival added what would seem to be a wild card into the exhibition. The Minimalist artist Dan Flavin is represented by a fluorescent light sculpture titled Untitled for Robert Ryman It is one artist’s homage to a compatriot. Flavin was an avid collector of both Coper and Rie’s work. He created two florescent sculptures Untitled for Lucie Rie, Master Potter and Untitled for Hans Coper Master Potter. We tend to think of influence within boxes, but clearly a minimalist sculptor who uses fluorescent tubes found something  enduring in the warmth of another artist’s use of wheel thrown clay. Coper’s influence only spreads to new generations of artists and makers. 

Collection is part of the story for this exhibition. The bulk of the exhibition comes from the vast collection of W.A. Ismay which is now part of the York Museum in the UK. Ismay was an early and ardent enthusiast for Coper’s work. Like the American collectors the Vogels, he did not collect from deep pockets and assumed prestige but instead because of an abiding respect and love for the work. The collecting that is represented here in Less Means More reflects a generosity of spirit. 

Hans Coper Hourglass
Hans Coper, Hourglass pot, stoneware, 1970. Courtesy of York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery), York, England.

One of the standout pieces of the show Large ovoid form with vertical grooves from 1975 is from the Shipley collection in Portland. I have brought students to visit the collection at their home and the Coper pot is always a favorite. I remember the delight on the face of a student who was allowed to cradle the vessel in his arms. The ovoid with its cleft down the shoulder and dark void of a mouth shares a pedestal with Digswell composite form from 1964, also from the Shipley collection. One is large, broad, and sensually round, while the other is small with a disc shaped belly and beaker shaped neck. One is black and one is white. The confréres are joined by the collector’s eye and the artist’s studio practice.

Earlier I mentioned the context of the Oregon Jewish Museum as significant. OJMCME moved into this new space on NW Davis two years ago. The programming has been dynamic and it has become a bright spot in the cultural scene of Portland. The space, however, is not without baggage; it was formerly occupied by the Museum of Contemporary Craft which closed its doors in 2016, a devastating loss for craft-centered spaces in the Pacific Northwest. The May 2019 closure of Oregon College of Art and Craft was yet another blow. This exhibition is a sort of homecoming then, and a regeneration of some of the ideals of MoCC. In Less Means More, Coper’s very human studio practice is seen through its quiet influence on collectors and contemporary artists alike. The stories these vessels have to tell, of minimalism, of displacement and a very human studio practice is there for you. You just need to listen closely.

Daniel Duford is an artist, writer and teacher. His work tells stories drawn from North American history and mythology. He is a 2019 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, a 2010 Hallie Ford Fellow and a recipient of a 2012 Art Matters Grant. His murals and public art can be found throughout Portland.