Two years ago, Steve Pickering and his partner, Larry Whitacre, were driving home to the coast on Highway 20 – an east-west road that runs from Newport to Boston and is notoriously hazardous on this particular stretch – when a speeding driver lost control of his pickup and crashed into their Ford Focus. The pickup nearly struck the Focus head on, but veered, striking hardest the passenger side where Pickering sat.
Pickering woke up in the hospital with no memory of the crash, but Whitacre, who was bruised in the accident, filled in the gaps. Pickering suffered a concussion and multiple bruises. Afterwards, he experienced dizziness and the sense of spinning, both effects of a head injury. Gradually, he recovered. But he wasn’t the same and neither was his art.
“About 2 weeks after the crash, I was back working on my art,” Pickering recalled. “I wasn’t aware of it at first, but other people pointed it out to me. I had been doing this sort of diagrammatical, static color-field diagrams, and they had just slowly started to break up into looser compositions. After the crash and dizziness, everything got really dynamic. My drawing lines were really aggressive, and a lot of my compositions became really movement filled.”
The Newport artist will share his new work in Lucky to be Alive, an exhibit opening Oct. 13 at the Newport Visual Arts Center, with a reception planned from 4 to 7 p.m. The exhibit will be up through Nov. 26.
According to a press release from the presenting Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, the show “takes the viewer on a journey through the artist’s subconscious – with the energy and freedom of his collage and mark-making – arriving on the other side of his trauma with excellently executed compositions.”
Pickering pursued his passion for art from a young age, earning a master’s degree in fine art from the Art Institute of Chicago. He showed his work in Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland, as well as in group shows throughout the U.S. and Europe. He also taught etching and art history at Loyola University Chicago. But the desire for financial security led him away from creating his own work. His last show was in 1994. Pickering spent the coming decades as a custom picture-framer.
“It was a really good shop, and we framed a lot of good art,” he said. “I look at it as an education. Even though I wasn’t producing artwork, I was storing all this information away.”
When he retired in 2019, creating art was at the top of his to-do list. The couple moved from Portland to the coast in 2020, and Pickering began getting back to work. But as COVID shut down the world, they found themselves isolated – and on the receiving end of a lot of mail. Pickering was drawn to the envelopes.
“I liked the patterns,” he said. “You’d open up an envelope and there’d be a red pattern. It’s like a toy. And then, realizing that I was not going to spend my time drawing that, I thought, well, I can either create it in some way or I can just do collages with it. So, I lay out the original composition as a collage and then I start drawing.”
The change in his style likely would have come accident or not, Pickering said, though he believes the traumatic event helped speed up his evolution. And while he doesn’t think of his art as therapy, there’s no doubt it was therapeutic.
“My drawing line now is really invigorated,” Pickering said. “A lot of times they’re spirals or really aggressive mark-making. I like to juxtapose that with something really delicate. Often, I will lay down white crayon background, then using harder types of silver pencil or regular graphite, just scratch very fine lines into that. It’s like the calm or serene part of the drawing in relation to the really aggressive, impactful outer force drawing line. That particular interaction of those two elements was really strong in the first bunch of drawings after the crash. So now all of that stuff has calmed down and I feel those elements are more balanced.”
ALSO ON THE COAST is the new exhibit, Unhuman, in the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Chessman Gallery by mother and daughter artists Angela Haseltine Pozzi and Nicola Bianca Pozzi. The exhibit opens with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, and will be up through Nov. 19.
Angela is the founder and former director of the nonprofit Washed Ashore, where she designed and created more than 85 sculptures out or marine debris. Her current work is inspired by her daughter’s portfolio of fanciful drawings.
Nicola is a pen-to-paper artist. A press release describes her graphic work as reflecting “her unique imagination, pulling inspiration from the natural world and diving into the fantasy world.”