Lisa Brinkman: ‘A collaboration of life with Nature’

The artist’s eco prints, in a show at the Chehalem Cultural Center, are an earthy mix of abstraction, symbolism, and collage

The narrative-painting exhibit Understanding Ourselves cleared out of the Chehalem Cultural Center over the weekend, but it was there when I visited a few weeks ago to see another exhibit, Kairos: Eco Print Series by Lisa Brinkman, around the corner in the Central Gallery.

Any one of the paintings from either exhibit would have seemed wildly out of place had it been moved into the other, yet having them under the same roof illustrated the range of tools an artist has to tell a story, even when it’s not immediately obvious that a story is being told.

Brinkman’s contact prints are deliberately yet instinctively crafted using the stuff of nature — plants, leaves, flowers — “cooked” into raw silk, then adorned with layers of acrylic, oil paints, and cold-wax translucent glazes. They tell — perhaps “suggest” or “hint at” is the way to characterize it — stories through the use of symbols, which are drawn from nature: a dove, a crow, a serpent, or a butterfly; the sun or moon. But mythological figures also are present —  Pegasus and Sophia, the spirit of female wisdom.

“Sophia’s Garden” by Lisa Brinkman (eco-prints of sumac, eucalyptus, and maple on raw silk canvas, cold wax and oils, 30 by 30 inches)
“Sophia’s Garden” by Lisa Brinkman (eco-print of sumac, eucalyptus, and maple on raw silk canvas, cold wax and oils, 30 by 30 inches)

Because many familiar symbols date back millennia, it is unfathomably rich territory. As the feminist literary historian Barbara Walker remarks in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, symbols that we’ve come to associate with orthodox religion may have “evolved from very different contexts in the prepatriarchal past.”

Indeed, the title of the show, which runs through April 30, also dates back millennia. Brinkman explains in the show’s notes that what the Greeks called “Kairos” is a moment “opportune and ripe for change.” We are living in such a time, she writes, where “we are experiencing a collective rite of passage descending daily into unfolding global crises of mythic proportions. The Coronavirus pandemic, outrage towards … racial inequities, social and environmental injustices, climate catastrophe — all while the pulse of life hangs in the balance. My latest eco-printed paintings are a collaboration of life with Nature. With them, I wish to inspire, a remembering of our relationship with Gaia — humanity, the plant and animal world, all nested together, within the Cosmos.”

Rather than try to explain the “how” of that collaboration with nature, you can see it for yourself in a helpful video Brinkman makes available on her website. It’s a labor-intensive process infused with an element of chaos, “a state where you really don’t know what is going to occur,” she said. “It loosens some of my control, so I have to respond to the process.” The resulting images are an earthy mix of abstraction, symbolism, and collage that resonate on multiple levels.


Spring awakenings in Yamhill County

The pandemic thaw continues, with a lecture Trystan Reese, music, visual art, and a camillia fest

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included a reference to a lecture by Dread Scott at Linfield University. That lecture, however, is not open to the public. A press release by Linfield was incorrect.


It’s not exactly a party yet, but Yamhill County’s long pandemic thaw continues. Intriguing events coming this week and later this spring include a chance to fire up your own raku in Willamina and a virtual lecture by LGBTQ+ educator Trystan Reese. Let’s begin with the raku, then take the rest in chronological order.

EAST CREEK IS A COMMUNITY ART STUDIO and retreat on 20 forested acres in the Coast Range outside Willamina with a 40-foot anagama wood-fired kiln. Artist/host/owner Joe Robinson has filled the 2021 calendar with a wide range of workshops and camps, from beginner friendly to a family weekend to an advanced, five-day intensive. Robinson has been part of the East Creek community for 15 years and owned the property for four. He has an MFA in Applied Craft + Design from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft. Tuition is $140, plus $30 for materials. Check the website for details and COVID protocols, or email Robinson at  joe@eastcreekart.org

Mezzo soprano Julie Cross (left) will sing works by Pauline Garcia Viardot on March 25 at Linfield University.
Mezzo-soprano Julie Cross (left) sings works by Pauline Garcia Viardot (1831-1910) in a virtual recital March 25.

WOMEN’S HISTORY month at Linfield University means an opportunity to hear A Woman of Genius: The Life and Music of Pauline Garcia Viardot. The virtual recital at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25, by mezzo-soprano Julie Cross and pianist Susan McDaniel honors the 200th birth anniversary of “one of the greatest divas and overlooked composers of the 19th century.” Check here for details and the Zoom link. Also, keep an eye on the Linfield arts and culture calendar for upcoming theater productions and podcasts, previously covered here.

LGBTQ+ educator and speaker Trystan Reese will lecture March 31 on Linfield University's YouTube channel.
LGBTQ+ educator and speaker Trystan Reese will lecture March 31 on Linfield University’s YouTube channel.

INTERNATIONAL TRANSGENDER DAY OF Visibility will be marked by Linfield University with a free and open-to-the-public lecture by Portland-based LGBTQ+ educator and speaker Trystan Reese, streaming live on the university’s YouTube Channel at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. Reese, a transgender man, appeared on the national stage four years ago when he went viral as “the pregnant man.” Reese will detail his experience as an activist in the fight for LGBTQ equality over the past two decades.

CURRENTS GALLERY IN DOWNTOWN McMinnville celebrates its 16th birthday next month with a  Sweet 16 Show featuring work in a wide variety of mediums by Kathleen Buck, Sharon Cook, Phyllice Bradner, Claudia Herber, Ann Durley, Ilsa Perse, and Marlene Eichner. The show runs April 13-May 16. Check the website for days and hours, which are subject to change, email currents.gallery@gmail.com or call 503-435-1316.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER is back in the live music business. The  Spring Boxed Show series kicked off last week with Sherry Alves and George Colligan, and subsequent concerts (with limited, socially distanced seating in the Grand Ballroom) will include the Noah Simpson Quartet on March 26, Carissa Burkett & Friends on April 23 and the Jason Okamoto Duo on May 21. Shows start at 7 p.m., and $25 tickets are available through the website. Masks required.


Pictures worth more than a thousand words

Paintings in a narrative art exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center tell stories that “provide insight into the human condition,” says curator Jen Brown

The poet Muriel Rukeyser famously said, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” If that’s true, then artists are every bit as essential as scientists to unraveling who we are. Narrative painting comes as close as any medium to being the quintessence of visual storytelling.  After all, the earliest art — cave paintings dating back tens of thousands of years — tells the story of the hunt.

Narrative art is the focus of a show that runs through April 2 at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Understanding Ourselves: Narrative Paintings Curated by Jen Brown  features work by Brown and 10 other Oregon artists that goes beyond portraiture and seeks to tell (or at least suggest, or provide a moment from) a story. In notes that accompany each image, the artist tells the story and/or the thought processes behind the creative act that resulted in the image.

It’s a genre Brown has long been interested in. A few years ago, she started an informal salon in her home to talk shop with other Portland artists. “We discuss all aspects of art and what it takes  to be an artist, provide professional development for one another, and  knock back a bit of wine in the process,” she said. “Friendships have been formed,  exhibitions mounted, and we’ve built a support system for each other. It’s been a really positive experience.”

In 2019, she and salon participant Chris Pothier, who has work in the Chehalem show, noticed that @narrativepainting on Instagram was available. “I claimed it and ran with it,” Brown said. The artwork featured – ranging from the 15th century to last year — may also be found on a website she created.

Jen Brown created “An Allegory of Facebook” oil on canvas, 36 by 54 inches, 2017) after Donald Trump's inauguration.
Jen Brown created “An Allegory of Facebook” (oil on canvas, 36 by 54 inches, 2017) after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“Chris and I have talked a lot about how there is a narrative streak that runs through the work of the artists in the salon,” Brown said, “and a  growing movement of representational art in the art world at large. It feels like audiences are craving art that speaks to them, that connects to their own lives. I know many artists who are rejecting conceptual  art — as one artist friend calls it, ‘plywood and duct tape art.’”

In just a couple of years, Brown has discussed literally hundreds of paintings on the site. A fair amount of it is pretty grim – Titian’s The Rape of Europa, Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat. Not only is the site a good place to geek out over art history, but it also nicely compliments the show in Newberg.


And the winner is… the McMinnville Short Film Festival

Last month’s all-virtual festival receives rave reviews from participants and organizers, and we tell you which films took home the honors

In preparing for its all-virtual 10th anniversary, the McMinnville Short Film Festival, which wrapped up a 127-film, 10-day run with a live-streamed awards ceremony Feb. 28, covered its bases: Organizers asked nominees to submit in advance a “thank-you” video that could be aired if they won.

Portland’s Rich Herstek’s 16-minute short Trevor Waits, an achingly poignant tone poem about the elderly title character living delusionally but happily in his private memory palace, won the award for Best Oregon Filmmaker. Of the festival’s dozen winners, Herstek came as close as any in capturing the regional film industry zeitgeist, if such a thing exists in this weird moment, and issuing a rallying call to other Oregon film artists.

Rich Herstek, who won the Best Oregon Filmmaker Award for “Trevor Waits” at the McMinnville Short Film Festival, says he moved to Portland for the thriving local film scene. “While we are making films in Oregon,” he says, “we are making them for the world.”
Rich Herstek, who won the Best Oregon Filmmaker Award for “Trevor Waits” at the McMinnville Short Film Festival, says he moved to Portland for the thriving local film scene. “While we are making films in Oregon,” he says, “we are making them for the world.”

“I moved here five years ago because Oregon had a thriving, independent film scene, and I have not been disappointed” said Herstek, whose work and university studies has landed him in Ohio, Eugene, New York, Boston, and Europe. “There are some real stars in the talent pool, technicians are first-rate, film crews work miracles on minuscule budgets, and people are eager to pitch in on almost any project.”

“I would urge all of us locals to remember” he concluded, “that while we are making films in Oregon, we are making them for the world.”

Thanks to COVID, the festival found itself in the position this year of delivering those films to the world via the Internet. Even though theaters were closed, sponsors stuck with the festival — seeing it, perhaps,  as an investment in the future of wine country tourism and using it to get the word out. In the end, the festival may actually have enjoyed a pandemic bump, securing a prize they’ve been seeking for years by getting more locals as excited about and involved in the festival as the filmmakers are. Officials declined to release numbers, but co-founder and organizer Nancy Morrow said that if the virtual turnout had showed up at a theater, “It would have been standing room only.”

“Our expectations were far exceeded,” Morrow said. “We weren’t sure if people would buy into a virtual festival, but we had a wildly successful MSFF this year. The filmmakers were very supportive, loved the films, and networked as much as they could via our virtual events. The audience feedback was the best yet.”


Linfield University hits its streaming stride

Poetry, podcasts, theater, dance, and music are all available virtually from the McMinnville school

On any list of pre-COVID Things I Miss Most, visiting Linfield University in McMinnville ranks near the top, along with writing in coffee shops and seeing faces. The school’s panoply of cultural offerings — live theater and music, readings and lectures, and the art gallery — has been largely unavailable to the public since last March. The shift to streaming video, though well-intentioned, has been tentative and uneven. 

I haven’t caught everything Linfield has streamed into the world since COVID hit, but a free recital in February featuring the Oregon Symphony’s James Shields on clarinet and, more recently, the Zoomed appearance of acclaimed poet Ross Gay felt like the beginning of something, an optimistic hint of spring in the second half of winter.

Ross Gay, poet
Poet Ross Gay’s reading is available on Linfield’s YouTube channel.

Normally, author readings are held in the Nicholson Library, but Gay’s was live-streamed from (presumably) his living room over Linfield’s YouTube channel, and it will remain there, which is a good thing.

The prepared-for-the-press remarks by Joe Wilkins, who heads creative writing at Linfield, are as good an introduction to Gay as any: “Ross’ poems are fun, wise, and full of rhythm and sound, and reading one of his essays is like having a long talk with a good friend.” Having listened to the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award winner read excerpts from The Book of Delights and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude for 45 minutes, I’d echo those sentiments. True, streaming is not the ideal, but a publicist for Gay told me the 46-year-old poet has done nearly 30 of these things now online; he’s clearly found a rhythm.

“I’ve been pressing his book of essays, The Book of Delights, into the hands of just about everyone I know,” Wilkins said.  The book was written, Gay told the audience, as a writing prompt exercise: Write one essay a day, every day, in 30 minutes. “I learned how to write essays a lot better over the course of a year,” he said.

It’s a lively reading featuring some terrific stories and spirited commentary by the author. It’s a must-see for those who love poetry, or who want to.

THE SHOWS MUST AND WILL GO ON: Linfield Theatre’s “season like no other” heads into spring with a program of both streaming staged productions and, in a new development, podcasting. 


How to make an American quilt

A conversation about the difference between America's ideals and its reality leads to a fiber arts show at the Chehalem Community Center

In his sprawling trilogy on the mythology of the American West, historian Richard Slotkin observes that there is a “continued preoccupation with the necessity of defining or creating a national identity” in the United States. In recent years, the preoccupation has become a roiling public obsession. Ask Google, “What does it mean to be an American?” and you’ll see many people grappling with the question — in newspapers, in community gatherings, and in academia.

And in art. A new exhibit at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center brings the question to Yamhill County, refracted through textile arts, both by a single artist and crowd-sourced.

What Does It Mean to Be an American? is a collaborative project by Alicia Decker and Ellen Knutson, two Portland artists and educators. The show runs through April 2.

The community quilt includes nearly 50 squares embroidered by people who participated in conversations with Ellen Knutson on what it means to be American. Embroidered details address everything from racism and disenfranchisement to liberty and compassion. Photos by: David Bates
The community quilt includes nearly 50 squares embroidered by people who participated in conversations with Ellen Knutson on what it means to be American. Details address everything from racism and disenfranchisement to liberty and compassion. Photos by: David Bates

Knutson is a research associate at the Charles F. Kettering Foundation, where she works with university faculty and librarians on deepening their connections to their communities. She is also a printmaker. Since 2017, Knutson has worked with Oregon Humanities to facilitate discussions around Oregon on the question that titles the show.

Decker is a freelance designer and adjunct assistant professor at Portland State University. According to the show’s notes, her “research-based studio practice involves storytelling through textiles; utilizing illustration, various printing and dyeing methods, quilting and embroidery, to create compelling visual fiber-based narrative through print, pattern, and color about events currently shaping our world.”

The two met at one of Knutson’s town halls about a year and a half ago, and Decker suggested expanding the conversation into a visual art exhibit.  

“My goal has always been to build community and deal with some difficult questions about things that are going on in the world through fibers,” she said.


McMinnville Short Film Festival: Good things in small packages

The 10-day festival starts this week, bringing 127 films, none longer than 20 minutes, to the comfort of your home, including a free block of films for kids

The 10th annual McMinnville Short Film Festival, which launches 10 days of streaming cinema Thursday, is one of the few big-tent cultural events in Yamhill County that managed to skirt COVID in 2020 and has emerged in an arguably stronger position for 2021.

True, we will not have an opportunity to press the flesh with talented Oregon filmmakers such as Derek Sitter, whose film Tutu Grande we unpacked here a couple of weeks ago. Nor will it be possible to experience the spectacular visuals of films such as the animated My Generation or the two performed-underwater films, Lacrimosa and Casiopea, on a big screen, where they deserve to be seen. In a theater, GraceLand’s exhilarating climax might have produced a joyous communal moment like the audience rising to clap along at the end of Love, Actually. My vote would be to bring it back in 2022 to see what happens.

Ludovic Houplain’s 2019 animated film, "My Generation," is an eight-minute drive down a freeway where the scenery is a glitzy panorama of capitalism, finance, surveillance, sports, politics, religion, and mindless entertainment.
Ludovic Houplain’s 2019 animated film, “My Generation,” is an eight-minute drive down a freeway where the scenery is a glitzy panorama of capitalism, finance, surveillance, sports, politics, religion, and mindless entertainment.

What is happening is potentially fortuitous synchronicity. The festival has (this year, anyway) gone virtual at the precise moment that the movie-loving public is fully and necessarily on board with streaming movies at home. Given the timing, the festival (unlike the Ashland Independent Film Festival, which had to cancel last year’s event and then scrambled to throw a virtual fest together) had a whole year to plan. From a marketing standpoint, it represents a unique opportunity. Instead of attracting a few hundred people, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, to see movies in McMinnville for a weekend, the festival can put 127 films from around the world (and its own name and brand) on a global stage for 10 days. Dan Morrow, who founded the event with his wife, Nancy, said a test run last fall with a streaming platform showed that it would work and, more importantly, that movie fans would buy tickets.

“Biting off 127 films, that’s way more than we’ve ever done before” Morrow said. “We did 85 films last year, and that was a very full three days of screenings down at the theater, and so this year we don’t have that time constraint.”

Eyeballing my notes from watching everything, I’d say half of this year’s crop of narrative films (excluding the documentaries, in other words) represent exceptional and occasionally superior artistry and storytelling. Two-thirds of the rest are competent, enjoyable films made with varying degrees of talent and professionalism. The balance (mercifully a minority and spread evenly throughout the program) comprises more obviously amateurish work, although even there, one finds sincere efforts to create something meaningful. For example, I didn’t particularly care for the home movie-ish Februarium!! in the “Experimental/A Bit Strange” category, which tells the true story of a “holiday” created to honor the filmmaker’s deceased friend. But for weeks after seeing it, I found myself thinking about the issues it raises about the healing power of art, the relation between art and memory, and the social-construct qualities of virtually any holiday.

The festival has grouped films into genre-specific collections of six to 15 films. The films themselves run anywhere from three to 20 minutes, and each screening block (most of which are unlocked for a three- to four-day viewing window) runs about 80 to 90 minutes. Each block is $10, with discounts for purchases of three or more; an all-access pass costs $85, which is less than you’d spend on dinner for two and a two-hour movie preceded by 15 minutes of annoying trailers. That highlights another advantage of the virtual festival: It’s nearly 20 hours of film content, and no trailers with sound dialed up to 11. 

In “GraceLand,” a 10-year-old girl, played by Katie Beth West, believes she is the reincarnation of Elvis Presley.

The 127 films include 37 from around Oregon, more than 20 from the Los Angeles area, and 18 from a dozen countries outside the U.S., including Taiwan, France, Chile, India, Hungary, Austria, Spain, Brazil, and Italy. Along with the documentary, environmental, and Native American cinema I wrote about last week, there’s drama/comedy, experimental/a bit strange, animation, and suspense/horror and sci-fi. Three categories — locals, student films, and a children’s block — are available free all 10 days. Also, because so many people are Zooming from home, participation in pre-taped filmmaker Q&A sessions hit a record high. More than 90 of the people who have entries in this year’s festival appear at the end of each screening block in a panel discussion. The opening-night welcome will be livestreamed for free at 5 p.m. Thursday here, and awards will be presented live on Feb. 28.

The thing that struck me about this year’s collection is how so many of the films speak to and echo others and explore similar themes across the categories. There are plenty of ways one could do this, of course, but I’ll stick to half a dozen categories of my own. Plus, a few of my personal favorites. (On the registration pages for many of these films, a free trailer is available.)