The Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg has in recent years mounted an ambitious program for the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the third Monday in January, but the weather did not cooperate this year. The gallery remained opened, but the events were canceled.
The exhibition that was prepared for that event remains open through Feb. 29, and an artists’ reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, for A Call to Consciences: Reflecting and Embracing the Work of Martin Luther King Jr. in the center’s Parrish Gallery.
The exhibition features both aesthetic and pedagogical components, and, collectively, the display has a high “wow” factor. Clearly, the artists put a tremendous amount of thought and work into both the making and installation, and the show demands a commensurate investment by the viewer. It’s time well spent.
All three artists hail from nearby George Fox University. Marvin Eans, a Harlem Renaissance-inspired assistant professor of art and design at the private Christian school, worked with two students: graphic designers Giang Huynh, who hails from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Keyan Parker of Auburn, Wash.
Eans routinely involves students in his projects, and a recent collaboration with Huynh and Parker told him they had the chops for A Call to Consciences, which has two main components: a wall-length chronology of King’s life and a collection of mixed media paintings. A third, interactive piece greets visitors as they arrive: a mosaic mural-in-progress of King’s profile, which viewers may fill in with a note of their own, written on panels that are provided.
“Keyan and Giang focused on the timeline aspect, while I concentrated on the paintings,” Eans said. “Our primary objective was to craft a space that seamlessly merged invitation with education through our collective body of work.”
The project evolved organically over about 10 weeks, with the tone and subject matter of each painting frequently informed by another Eans had already finished. “Intuition played a significant role, alongside drawing inspiration from the profound work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Eans said.
The installation greets viewers with the interactive mosaic, but the layout directs one’s eye to the stunning timeline display that runs the length of the gallery’s east wall. More than a dozen large panels tell the story of King’s life, spanning 1929 to 1986 (the year the federal holiday in his honor was created).
With a black, white, and red color palette, the timeline features a dozen photographs of King and more than 50 text entries as the Christian minister’s path intersected with that of his future wife, Coretta Scott; Rosa Parks; Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson; and others, including Black Muslims who stoned him in Harlem in 1964. The rest of the gallery space is given over to eight mixed-media pieces by Eans, which feature abstract painting overlaying photographic and text imagery from King’s life and the civil rights struggles in which he participated. Most of these works have a rough but distinct grid pattern, similar to a quilt or stacked blocks.
Each piece features one or two dominant colors streaked over the imagery, as if we’re viewing history through a smeared window. The color palettes and configurations in both oil and acrylic are beautiful at a distance, but the documentary material comes into sharp focus only as you get closer, and then seem to emerge out of a dreamlike haze.
Eans recalls an upbringing in a family with limited resources but where “creativity and innovation thrived” nonetheless.
“Growing up surrounded by artistic influences, with my father being an artist and my brother displaying remarkable talent as a singer, I absorbed the essence of creativity from an early age,” he said. “While neither pursued their artistic gifts professionally, their influence ignited a passion within me for artistic expression. This passion led me to pursue graphic design in college, where I delved deeper into the world of art while still nurturing my love for painting and mixed media.”
Accompanying A Call to Consciences in the smaller gallery up the steps at the rear of the Parrish Gallery is a display celebrating Black men and women in Oregon’s history.