VISUAL ART

Interview in a Time of Sequestration

A Photographer Talks to Himself About Shadows and the Mysteries of Black & White


ESSAY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


It seems much of your work is focused on the cultural life of your city and state?

Yes, it is. To paraphrase that much revered Southern snake-charmer, William Faulkner, I discovered my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth photographing and that I would probably never live long enough to exhaust it.

So why black and white?

When I am obliged to talk about my photography—which isn’t that often, thankfully—I almost always start off with a discussion of my antediluvian preference for black and white. I do this because the question “Why black and white” is almost always the first one asked in the Q&As that invariably follow these talks, and I am hoping to preempt it, to cut it off at the pass as they say in Cowboy, because more often than not it is asked with an antagonizing hint of disapproval. It is a question that used to catch me by surprise. It doesn’t any more. My answer to it is always short. Black and white are for me—as they were for the famously crusty Robert Frank—the colors of photography.

Omar El Akkad, Writer, 2019.

Where Frank saw black and white as symbolizing hope and despair, I see them as augmenting our perception of form and content. Color, as we commonly think of it, is information. Lots of it. Black and white is an abstraction. When you subtract color you focus attention on form and content—on graphic order and psychological subtlety. For me black and white simply has a greater emotional and intellectual impact.

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Celebrating connection in many forms

Aleksandra Apocalisse's images foster conversation and imagination at Portland's Saturday Market and beyond

Self-taught, Portland-based artist Aleksandra Apocalisse started painting on a whim when she was 21. “Before that I wasn’t even much of a doodler,” she says. “I don’t know why. I just didn’t really engage in that when I was a kid.” It started when she decided to play with an unopened paint set she bought as a gift for her partner. Astonished by how much fun she had creating images, Apocalisse started to teach herself basic art skills with pens and pencils. Her friends, many of them artists or musicians, encouraged her at this crucial point of development: “They were telling me I should be an artist professionally before I had ever even considered that.” 

After a series of unusual jobs, including farming, teaching children circus arts, and stint as a camp science instructor, Apocalisse reached a turning point while interviewing for graduate programs in neuroscience. Unable to stop thinking about how she would balance the demands of graduate work with her desire to make art, Apocalisse realized that her hobby had become her passion–but could she turn it into a career?

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Bruce Conkle is a visual artist based in Portland, Oregon. His work in drawing, sculpture, and other media often engages with current events and the ecological effects of human enterprise. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Hallie Ford Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission, as well as many other grants and awards, and his work has been shown at galleries locally and internationally and is held in the collection of the Portland Art Museum. He is currently an instructor at Portland Community College.

a colored-pencil drawing of a figure wearing a hazmat suit and spraying neon green liquid on the ground, the suit's legs are rolled up to reveal a skeleton's legs; in the background the prices of gold and silver on the stock market are written above crudely rendered outlines of service trucks
untitled, 2020/Image courtesy Bruce Conkle

This is the third in a series of short(ish) interviews with Portland artists and arts professionals about their experiences and insights into the effects of the pandemic on our arts community. I hope these conversations will provide a bit of connection, critical perspective, and hope during this difficult time. 

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Grace Kook-Anderson is a curator based in Portland, Oregon. She has served as the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art at the Portland Art Museum since 2016. Recent exhibitions she has curated include APEX: Laura Fritz and the group exhibition, the map is not the territory. Prior to her appointment at PAM, she was Curator of Contemporary Art at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, CA, and has also worked on various projects as an independent curator. I spoke with her via phone recently while each of us worked at our respective home offices during the Covid-19 stay-home mandate. In the time since our conversation, PAM has announced it will furlough 80% of its staff in an effort to manage the financial impacts stemming from the pandemic. 

A woman with long black hair in a low ponytail, dressed in a navy blue plaid coat with a draped collar and simple black dress, poses in an art gallery featuring contemporary sculptures, to the right of a man wearing a gray business suit and black tie, with square-framed glasses
Grace Kook-Anderson (photographed here with museum director Brian Ferriso) in the Northwest Art Gallery at the Portland Art Museum. Background art (left to right) Karl Burkheimer, Heather Watkins, and Avantika Bawa. Image courtesy Portland Art Museum

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Fluchtgedanken: Thoughts of Escape

Friderike Heuer's new montage series based on George Tooker's art raises questions of who lives and who dies in the time of pandemic


STORY AND MONTAGES BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


SINCE WE ARE ALL OVER THE MAP this week anyhow, I might as well think out loud about one of my current preoccupations in the art department.

As those of you familiar with my montage work know, I often appropriate partial images from other artists into my art. I am not alone in that venture: Artists more famous or talented than I have long pursued all forms of appropriation, sometimes even direct copying. A more detailed discussion in the art world can be found here.

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Virtual art show goes viral

An online exhibition at Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg explores artistic responses to COVID-19

The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, like every other gallery and cultural venue in Oregon, is closed to the public, but the nonprofit’s resolve to stay on task with showcasing art, bringing artists together, and building a cultural community is unbroken.

Last week, the center unveiled an extraordinary and ambitious online exhibition brilliantly curated (presumably from her home) by Carissa Burkett, who keeps the center’s multiple galleries full year-round. It answers, at least in a preliminary way, a question that’s been on my mind since mid-March when COVID-19 shut everything down: How will artists respond to a pandemic?

“A dream of flying,” by Stan Peterson of Portland (carved and painted basswood on birch panel, 11 by 14 by 4 inches, April 2020). Peterson says of his piece: “The reclining figure emanating the yellow light of sky rests in a boat adrift. There is a sort of reverie to sheltering in place. I’m also feeling adrift, waiting to fly again.”
“A dream of flying,” by Stan Peterson of Portland (carved and painted basswood on birch panel, 11 by 14 by 4 inches, April 2020). Peterson says of his piece: “The reclining figure emanating the yellow light of sky rests in a boat adrift. There is a sort of reverie to sheltering in place. I’m also feeling adrift, waiting to fly again.”

A global trauma like COVID-19 will surely reverberate through the art world in coming years and even decades in ways we can’t predict. But Our Changing Context: Initial Artistic Response to COVID-19 at least provides an expansive snapshot of what artists are up to right now.

The show’s emotional resonance is all the more powerful thanks to two personal notes Burkett includes in the program’s description. She credits her father, Phil Burkett, for “planting the idea for this exhibit in my mind and for continually nurturing my creative spirit.” Also: “My work on this exhibit is in loving memory of my grandmother, Arlene Sue Conner, who passed away this past weekend on 4/18/2020.” 

“Curating this online exhibit has been a unique experience,” she writes. “Arranging images and text on a screen instead of lugging around my hammer and nails has allowed me to spend more time looking at, thinking about, and arranging these artworks than any physical exhibition I have ever put together. This allowed me the opportunity to bring together artists from across the country who work in widely different mediums but share the common experience of a pandemic that leaves every life continually grieving a new context, one in which needs cannot be met.  However each person chooses to make it through each day during this crisis is unique and how each of these artists have created is a testament to humanity.”

The exhibition features work by more than 20 artists, from Oregon and around the country, and includes digital photography, collage, drawing, poetry, painting, and video.

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Artist Ka’ila Farrell-Smith: Re-thinking the post-pandemic world

Ka'ila Farrell-Smith, Klamath-Modoc, sees the pandemic as a chance to break with the inequities of the pre-pandemic world

This is the first in a series of short(ish) interviews with Portland artists and arts professionals about their experiences and insights into the effects of the pandemic on our arts community. I hope these conversations will provide a bit of connection, critical perspective, and hope during this difficult time. 

Ka'ila Farrell Smith leans against a rock face bearing a circular petroglyph, she wears a pale blue t-shirt, white patterned bandana around her neck, brown tinted sunglasses and a multicolored baseball cap.
Ka’ila Farrell-Smith

Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath-Modoc) is an artist and organizer based in Modoc Point, Oregon. Her work “explores the space in between Indigenous and Western paradigms.” She is a Co-Director and Guide with Signal Fire Arts, a Portland organization that offers wilderness trips and residencies to artists and writers. Her work has been exhibited at the Tacoma Art Museum (WA) and the Missoula Art Museum (MT) and is held in the collections of the Portland Art Museum and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. She holds a BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art and an MFA from Portland State University.

How are you doing? Do you have any strategies for managing the various anxieties, fears, and inconveniences the pandemic is causing?

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