Britt Block

Thanks, giving, the essence of art

ArtsWatch Weekly: Passing the artistic impulse into the future, Josie Seid's America, Don Latarski's wild art, remembering Bruce Browne

AS YOU MIGHT HAVE NOTICED, this week’s ArtsWatch Weekly is a day late (although not, I hope, a dollar short). Usually I start plotting out the column at the beginning of the week, try to get a little writing done on Tuesday and Wednesday, then finish it on Thursday. But this Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving Day, and quite likely just like you, I was otherwise engaged in the kitchen and at the table, and had been for a couple of days beforehand. This may be the strangest year in our collective memory, and for many of us the oddest of Thanksgivings – what seems the core of the holiday, the gathering together, is precisely what we couldn’t do – and yet, despite the pandemic and teetering economy and social unrest and volatile politics, there was thanking to be done.

When I think about the holidays I think partly of the gifts the past has to offer the present and future: not the stultifying or outmoded aspects of tradition, but the liberating ones. What is good? How do we build on it? This sifting and measuring is intimately involved in the constant reshaping of our cultural and artistic lives: What do we appreciate in the past and present, and carry forward with us into the future?

Some artists embody in their work all three tenses, and looking through what’s happening in Portland’s galleries I note with pleasure and thanks that two of them have exhibitions on view. Both exhibits end on Saturday, so time’s running short, but you can also see the works through the links below.

George Johanson, “The Artist’s Studio,” 2020, oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, in his show “George Johanson – Rising Waters and Quasi Portraits: New Paintings,” closing Saturday at Augen Gallery, Portland.


Britt Block: Paintings about presence

A Yamhill County artist visited a local park over a year and came away with a series of pastels expressed through the “porous medium" of her life

Along with restaurants, bars, and gyms, the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg was swept up in Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s two-week freeze, which is scheduled for a thaw Dec. 2. If the center does in fact reopen that day, you’ll still have several weeks to catch Britt Block’s A Year at Grenfell Park  in the Central Gallery.

Ed Grenfell Park is a seven-acre park owned by Yamhill County about five miles west of McMinnville. I know it for personal reasons: My wedding rehearsal dinner was there; and a few years ago, my son’s school held a  social event in the park. Parents crowded around a covered eating area while children played in Baker Creek, which meanders past banks rich in native plants and trees, including Douglas fir, western hemlock, big-leaf maple, and Oregon white oak.

Enter Britt Block, a local artist who spent many years directing high school theater in Southern California, producing plays on sets designed by her husband. All the while, she was painting. She received an MFA in Arts and Consciousness from John F. Kennedy University. On her website, she describes herself as a “re-emerging” artist. “After ten years of intensive painting and gallery representation I took a detour — a hiatus that was not a hiatus — which led me through the world of pastels to the present moment.”

Of “September” (pastel on paper, 26 by 38 inches, 2019), Britt Block says that Ed Grenfell Park has everything she is drawn to in painting: water, rocks, trees, light, land.
Of “September” (pastel on paper, 26 by 38 inches, 2019), Britt Block says that Ed Grenfell Park has everything she is drawn to in painting: water, rocks, trees, light, land.

For the Chehalem show, Block sought a year’s worth of moments depicting Oregon landscape. She describes her thought process in the show’s notes:

“My initial impulse was to explore the act of painting with pastels in an intensive way over time: making one or more paintings each month for a year. In a way, the content began as unimportant to me, except that I knew I wanted to paint what I loved – the landscape.  Instead of searching for content out in the world (going for day trips around Oregon and searching out the fabulous photographic moments that abound here), I decided to look closer to home – to find a place that had all of the elements that interested me: rocks, water, light, earth – and revisit that one spot over time.”