Ampersand Gallery and Fine Books

Howard Fonda: Birds, cages, and flying away

Fonda’s show at Ampersand Gallery and Fine Books delights in birds and far off (or nearby) places

Howard Fonda, Untitled (Goldfinch) (2021). Oil and paper on canvas. 12” x 9”. 

Each spring, a family of starlings nests in the overhang above my bedroom window. The grown ones rustle endlessly, their iridescent plumage shining blue in the light as they travel back and forth from the nest each morning. The hatchlings wail shrilly, never satisfied. I lay in bed and listen to the clamor of their home-making, which should by all accounts be irritating, but somehow isn’t. Our two dwellings are conjoined, yet so distinct. A symbiotic relationship has developed between us over the course of the pandemic. They claim a part of my apartment’s roof as their own, and in doing so, they offer me near-constant reminders: Simplify! Take note of the natural world! Make noise when the mood strikes!

In 2020, I discovered birds. I blame the starlings. I have a bird app called “Smart Bird ID,” a cloudy pair of binoculars from Goodwill, and constant restlessness. As far as pandemic activities go, birdwatching ticks a lot of boxes—it’s cheap, outdoors, and I can practice in my neighborhood. (Simplify! Take note of the natural world!) It wasn’t a surprise to discover that the prolific Portland-based artist Howard Fonda had also studied birds over the last year.

In Quand la cage est faite, l’oiseau s’envole, a French phrase translating to “When the cage is made, the bird flies away,” Fonda uses his characteristic ebullient style to create deceptively complex portraits of Pacific Northwest birds and further-flung landscapes. His exhibition of fifteen oil paintings, all created in 2020-21, was recently on view at Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books. Using bird imagery as a clever springboard to reflect on his desire for freedom and nostalgia for past travels, Fonda illustrates a relatable experience of pandemic confinement.

Howard Fonda, Untitled (Pileated Woodpecker) (2021). Oil and paper on canvas, 12” x 9”.

Fonda’s oil paintings hang along two parallel walls in the gallery space, separated by tables covered in a diverse selection of creative publications. (Ampersand’s mission is twofold: They present art exhibitions while also maintaining a curated range of print ephemera and art books.) There’s an instant sense of continuity in Fonda’s paintings: they’re all rendered in a similar palette of greens, blues, and yellows. This repetition creates a soothing rhythm. Each painting feels like a continuation of the next, as though they’re all views from a single window. Fonda began each of these works by adhering newsprint to his canvas; he then built layers of paint atop that surface, a practice which he feels results in more vibrancy. Indeed, his brushstrokes pop despite his limited palette. 

Ampersand owner Myles Haselhorst explained that the gallery installs two six-week-long exhibitions at once to consistently showcase art in conversation. Paired with Fonda’s exhibition is painter David Wien’s show, American Artist, full of surreal characters and scenes suggesting fantasy narratives. The artists’ works feel harmonious together but maintain distinct styles and personalities. While Wien’s work is flatter and more geometric, Fonda’s thick brushstrokes build dimensionality in his pictorial field. Fonda’s work is known for its gestural immediacy, which still shines here, but his typical jazziness also feels a little dreamier, less frenetic. 

Left: Howard Fonda, Untitled (Blackbird) (2021). Oil and paper on canvas. 12” x 9”.
Right: David Wien, The Frog Prince (2021). Acrylic on canvas. 18” x 24”.

Fonda’s choice to depict common neighborhood birds—a robin, a sparrow, a jay, a woodpecker, a blackbird—feels sweetly reverent, while also raising questions of attention. Is Fonda, and are we, noticing the world in a new way? Are we paying attention? Considering the confinement that the pandemic has required, how might it impact an artist’s subject matter? 

The creative recluse is a common archetype—we know Emily Dickinson, whose bird-themed poetry includes ‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” was reclusive, but so is the recently discovered Italian artist Pordenone Montanari, who focuses on the human figure as subject matter despite lacking models. Edvard Munch was solitary toward the end of his life, too; he created many soul-searching self-portraits informed by his emotional state during that time. This sort of limitation, while a challenge, might encourage an artist’s more intense noticing and a deeper gaze into one’s psyche.

Although Fonda’s bird portraits and landscapes appear straightforward, much is still left to the viewer’s imagination. In his artist statement, Fonda mentions that his landscapes are tied to memories of places once visited: the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, Sauvie Island, Lake Whidbey, and others. I’m left wondering about the stories behind these subject choices. Fonda references spirituality in interviews, and his work alludes to Folk Art. Are there folkloric or symbolic meanings embedded in these paintings? Fonda specifically depicts common Northwest birds, reminding me of the Thunderbird, a powerful supernatural being in Native Pacific Northwest Coast cultures. Perhaps this connection is a stretch, but these works lead the viewer in multiple directions, which is part of their strength.

Howard Fonda, Untitled (Dził Łigai Sí’án) (2021). Oil and paper on canvas. 30” x 25”.

Fonda’s landscapes drive home the exhibition’s overarching themes of nostalgia, freedom, and dreamy reminiscing. He depicts a wide array of natural spaces, ranging from the familiar (Forest Park, Sauvie Island) to the more distant (Dził Łigai Sí’án, the White Mountain Apache name for Mount Baldy in Arizona), reinforcing that these works relate to distinct memories for the artist. Dził Łigai Sí’án is known as an important holy site for the White Mountain Apache people, who still travel to the top of the mountain for prayers and rituals. How this relates to Fonda’s experience there is unclear. 

Color and line are vital tools for defining the light and dimension of Fonda’s landscapes. Fonda uses a characteristic technique of curved, repeating marks to describe the depth of natural forms. These same marks shift in yellow hues to illustrate light. Among his influences, Fonda has cited the painter Maureen Gallace, whose quiet, contemplative landscapes resonate strongly with the natural environment he created for this exhibition. Fonda is also inspired by Theodora Allen and Mari Eastman, both of whom cultivate a soft wistfulness in their paintings that draws from the natural world. 

Howard Fonda, Untitled (Forest Park) (2021). Oil and paper on canvas. 30” x 25”.

While Fonda’s paintings are introspective and tranquil, they also bear a muted sadness. Birds are a clear symbol of freedom, yet they often reflect our underlying feelings of being confined. We long for their independence, but even more so, we long to understand our limitations in relation to their freedom. Consider Courbet’s moody, disheveled Woman with a Parrot, or Robert Rauschenberg’s Canyon, controversial for its inclusion of a taxidermied golden eagle. Even Claude Monet once said, “I would like to paint the way a bird sings.” Indeed, birds encompass so many of our emotional perspectives. In Fonda’s paintings, they’re peaceful, but a little bluesy, too.

The French proverb Quand la cage est faite, l’oiseau s’envole suggests that there’s too often a “cage” from which we’d like to “fly away,” but in these paintings, Fonda manages to find some solace. By depicting the spaces of his memories, he holds onto their inspiration, and by choosing to paint neighborhood birds, he praises the beauty he still has left. The combination honors a universal sadness felt during COVID confinement, while also feeling hopeful. For now, Fonda studies the creatures nearby. His landscapes inspire faith that he’ll someday “fly away” again.

Howard Fonda’s Quand la cage est faite, l’oiseau s’envole was on view at Ampersand Gallery & Fine Books May 15 – June 20, 2021. All paintings can also be viewed online.

VizArts Monthly: New openings and moments of nostalgia

June's art openings offer the perfect opportunity to take your newly-vaccinated self out into the world and see some art.

A shift is in the air. Summer is just around the corner, and an ever-increasing number of vaccinated Oregonians are beginning to venture outside more often. This month, many art happenings reflect this slow change. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Yale Union are both reopening with new (and, in Yale Union’s case, final) exhibitions. 1122 Gallery has reopened and rebranded as 1122 Outside. Other art spaces, like Ampersand Gallery, look backward, prompting reflection on 2020 by featuring works created during isolation. There are still virtual art-viewing opportunities and panel discussions for homebodies, too—check out the options at Blue Sky Gallery and more below!

Work by Howard Fonda, image courtesy Ampersand Gallery
Work by Morgan Rosskopf, image courtesy Well Well Projects

Color Burn
June 5 – 27, 2021
Well Well Projects
8371 N Interstate Ave, #1 (Sat-Sun 12 PM – 5 PM)

In this two-person exhibition, mixed-media artists Morgan Rosskopf and Manu Torres spin together fine art and floral design to create an aesthetic experience of opulence, maximalism, and defiant beauty. Using a combination of high brow and low brow materials—Rosskopf works primarily with paper collage, while Torres uses artificial and natural flowers—both artists abandon convention, restraint, and subtlety. Color Burn promises to cultivate a layered, textural, and celebratory sense of visual density.

Marianne Nicolson: A Feast of Light and Shadows
June 30 – August 29, 2021
Yale Union
800 SE 10th Ave (Weds-Thurs 4 PM – 8 PM, Fri-Sun 2 PM – 6 PM)

In Yale Union’s final programming before the transfer of building ownership to the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, artist Marianne Nicolson will build a site-specific installation by utilizing the abundant natural light in the Yale Union gallery to produce a “ceremonial feast of light and shadows.” Nicolson is an artist-activist of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations, part of the Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwak’wala speaking peoples) of the Pacific Northwest Coast. This is her first solo exhibition in Portland.

Lawrence Halprin
June 23 – September 26, 2021
Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education
724 NW Davis St (reopening for summer, Weds-Sat 11 AM – 4 PM)

Over the course of Lawrence Halprin’s sixty-year career, he brought innovative ideas to urban design and sparked a shift in landscape architecture throughout the United States. This exhibition delves deeply into Portland’s mid-century Open Space Sequence, which, under Halprin’s direction reinvented public space but also replaced a thriving Jewish immigrant community with fountain plazas and urban greenspaces. Starting in July, as part of the Architectural Heritage Center’s Walking Tours programming, they’ll offer tours of a neighborhood in South Portland that was once home to the majority of the city’s Jewish community. (The neighborhood now features Halprin-designed fountains.) The Architectural Heritage Center will also present a companion exhibition, South Portland and the Long Shadow of Urban Renewal, which “examines the rise, fall, redevelopment, and future of South Portland.”

Work by Howard Fonda, image courtesy Ampersand Gallery

Howard Fonda: Quand la cage est faite, l’oiseau s’envole
May 15 – June 20, 2021
Ampersand Gallery and Fine Books
2916 NE Alberta Street, Suite B (Fri – Sun 11 AM – 4 PM or by appointment; limited entry, masks and distancing required)

Howard Fonda’s newest painting series, Quand la cage est faite, l’oiseau s’envole (translating to “When the cage is made, the bird flies away”) is nostalgic, inspired by natural areas the artist has visited. During times of confinement in 2020, Fonda began this series of landscapes and bird imagery based on a combination of far-off and more recent memories. The results feel characteristically Fonda: dreamlike and contemplative, but comforting, too. Fonda’s small studies of birds celebrate the Pacific Northwest’s abundant varieties of birds and reflect on fleeting, fluttering moments with these creatures.

Work by Lindley Warren Mickunas, image courtesy Blue Sky Gallery

What A Body Moves Through
May 6 – June 26, 2021
Blue Sky Gallery
122 NW 8th Ave (by appointment only)

In What A Body Moves Through, three emerging photographers (Tyler Clarke, Bryson Rand, and Lindley Warren Mickunas) contend with various understandings of the body, focusing on the expansion of bodily understanding through social, political, sexual, and gendered lenses and histories. The exhibition vacillates between the traditional (in black-and-white photography styles) and the contemporary (through visuals of queerness, femininity, and moments of sexual tension). These nuances allow for plenty of self-reflection and increased bodily awareness. The exhibition includes a Zoom panel discussion on June 9th at 5 PM (register at the link to attend).

Work by Jane Schoenbrun (still from We’re All Going to the World’s Fair)

Capturing an Oneiric State: Dreams and Film with Jane Schoenbrun
June 5, 2021, 1 PM – 3 PM; $80 sign-up fee
Northwest Film Center

Jane Schoenbrun, director of recent Sundance horror film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair and founder of the Radical Film Fair, will teach a one-day virtual workshop on the artistic use of cinematic tools to create dreamlike, ephemeral experiences. Referencing iconic surreal filmmakers like David Lynch and Maya Deren, Schoenbrun will illustrate methods of dream-making throughout film history and address ways in which contemporary artists can translate their own dreams to immerse their viewers in oneiric states.

Image courtesy Chehalem Cultural Center

Black Matter
June 22 – July 31, 2021
Chehalem Cultural Center, Parrish Gallery
415 E Sheridan St, Newberg (Tues – Thurs 9 AM – 6 PM, Wed – Sat 12 PM – 6 PM)

Curated by Oregon City-based artist Tammy Jo Wilson, Black Matter features a large group of creators including Zina Allen, Jamila Clarke, Jeremy Okai Davis, Santigie and Sapata Fofana Dura, Maya Vivas, MOsley WOtta, and many more. The exhibition aims to address representation imbalances by focusing on works by contemporary Black Oregon artists. Other goals for the exhibition include broadening cultural awareness and appreciation of Black artists without the filter of a Western art canon or requirement of a political agenda. Each artist featured expresses their personal experience of being, first and foremost, human.

Work by Noelle Herceg, image courtesy Anti-Aesthetic

Architecture of Dreams
May 21 – August 21, 2021
245 W 8th Ave, Eugene (by appointment)

The group exhibition Architecture of Dreams uses modes of surrealist art-making to consider interior and exterior states. Each artist considers the unconscious alongside visuals of everyday life. Displaying works by seven artists working in varying mediums, the show also features writing components, including surrealist artist statements, collage poetry, a zine, and a day of surrealist games hosted by Kesey Farm Project. Artists showing work include Vicki Krohn Amorose, Jill R. Baker, Noelle Herceg, Wendy Heldmann, Tallmadge Doyle, Mary Evans, and Leah Howell. Set an appointment to see their diverse works in person, including sculpture, videos, drawings, anthotypes, paintings, projections, installations, and ceramics.

Work by Alyson Provax, image courtesy 1122 Outside

Alyson Provax: Into Gentle Ruin
June 11 – 30, 2021 (June 11 opening night 6 PM – 9 PM)
1122 Outside
7629 SE Harrison (masks and distancing required)

For this solo exhibition at the freshly-reopened 1122 Outside, prolific artist Alyson Provax will display a wide array of her works ranging from 2014-2021. With consideration of memory and nostalgia, the work encourages reflection on the past as well as the present. The mix of Provax’s new and older works includes letterpress on paper, animations, mirrors, and billboard vinyl.

Work by Jim Lommasson, image courtesy Oregon Historical Society

I Am My Story: Voices of Hope
May 14 – August 22, 2021
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave (Tues – Fri 12 PM – 5 PM, Sat 10 AM – 5 PM, Sun 12 PM – 5 PM; masks and distancing required)

Designed by The Immigrant Story, this exhibition focuses on the stories of six women (originally from Burundi, Congo, and Eritrea) who have immigrated to Oregon. In collaboration with acclaimed Portland photographer Jim Lommasson, the exhibition reveals pieces of each woman’s history of survival: genocide, war, prejudice, injustice, courage, and hope. In addition to large-scale portraits of each woman, Lommasson has extended his What We Carried storytelling project for this exhibition, wherein he photographs objects each woman brought with her on her immigration journey.

VizArts Monthly: March on

You WILL make it through the last dregs of winter, and a new set of visual arts shows will help

I’ve seen March arrive in Portland more than a dozen times, and yet still some part of me thinks “Ok, it’s spring now, right?” It’s not spring, and it won’t be spring for a while. It’s still winter, still time left in the unpredictable progression from spiteful to mightful to sometimes delightful. It’s easy to think things just won’t change. But we Portlanders go through this every year, filling the outdoor cafes as soon as the sun makes an appearance. It’s built into our constitutions to look for signs of progress and renewal when all seems lost.

Checking the news at any point is a quick reminder that the weather’s not the only thing that manages to be both unexpected and depressing in 2018. Even though the clouds haven’t parted yet, some big, colorful developments are already showing. Black Panther is smashing box office records and inspiring intelligent conversation about a comic book movie, vibrant portraits of the Obamas by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald break the stuffy monotony of official presidential portraits, and the tough-as-nails students of Stoneman Douglas have already managed to budge the national conversation about gun control more than Washington has ever been willing to.

Likewise, our local artists and institutions aren’t waiting for the sun to come back to add some color and light to our city. March is chock full of smart, complex, and beautiful shows representing diverse perspectives. This list should give you plenty of chances to jolt the grey away.