cirque du soleil

Paul Polson: ‘I like to feel every place l go, I learn from it’

The Astoria artist, who has a show in Manzanita this month, has gone from designing giant inflatables to painting the landmarks of his new home

If you’ve been to Cirque du Soleil, Broadway, or any number of Macy’s parades, you might know Paul Polson’s work — a massive King Kong topping the Empire State Building, a 25-foot eagle soaring over the Seattle Seahawks’ stadium, oversized ornaments dangling from ceilings in malls all over the world.

Artist Paul Polson came to Astoria in 2018 and says he loves the small town, as well as the response to his art – and to his dog, Joey.
Artist Paul Polson came to Astoria in 2018 and says he loves the small town, as well as the response to his art – and to his dog, Joey.

Back in the day, Polson was, largely by chance, a pioneer in the world of inflatables. Big inflatables.

These days, you’re more likely to encounter him closer to earth, his oil depictions of coastal scenes hanging on gallery walls. This month, Polson is one of three artists showcased in The Gallery Presents at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita.

The show, Feb. 5-28, also includes sculptor Chayo Wilson and landscape painter Frankie White.

Polson is fairly new to Oregon. The Wyoming native worked in a studio in Seattle’s Pioneer Square for three decades, then spent another five in Kitsap County. Seeking a fresh landscape, in 2018 he settled in Astoria, where he was lucky enough to land a downtown storefront on the river. He arrived with 2,000 pieces of artwork, including 600 large pieces, and his dog, Joey, who has attracted a following in her own right.

“It is a small town,” Polson said. “It was a good opportunity to go ahead and hang my stuff. I’ve had a really good response and have found that I get along really well with all the artists here.”

After an initial reluctance to paint Astoria’s iconic bridge and tankers, Paul Polson says he has embraced them with his own style, such as this oil, “Astoria River Walk.”
After an initial reluctance to paint Astoria’s iconic bridge and tankers, Polson says he has embraced them with his own style, such as this oil, “Astoria River Walk.”

He added that Joey, an elderly Vizsla, hangs out at the window. “She puts a grin on people’s faces when they pass by. I put a cartoon bubble right where she stands: ‘Hi! My name is Joey.’ One day, there was a cruise ship in town, and I came home and people were just crowded around the door with their cameras. Everyone says, ‘Oh, Joey’s your dog.’

“I am totally in love with Astoria.”

Initially, Polson wasn’t sure how he felt about painting Astoria. He favors landscapes and is taken by the beauty of the Oregon coastline, but he wasn’t so sure about the iconic scenes that often show up in depictions of the riverfront, history-rich city.

“When I first moved down here and saw the galleries, I was thinking the tankers, scenery, and bridge, that’s all really amazing,” Polson recalled. “But I don’t want to do that.  Everyone is doing that. I thought I really need to do my version of how this place looks to me. I really wanted to do landscapes.


Art on the road: Circus in Montréal

From the Big Top to radical, utopian, emancipating dreams, the circus world is on the rise – and this Canadian city's in the center ring


IN THE STAUNCHLY CONSERVATIVE, predominantly Catholic German village of my childhood, we children eagerly anticipated three occasions each year. Carnival came around in February, an affair that allowed the entire population to break the social rules and party to the point of excess. Kids collected massive amounts of candy thrown during the parade of the few floats the village could muster, and adults knew that all would be forgiven come confession on Ash Wednesday.

In November we jumped around the bonfires of St. Martin’s Day, with paper- lantern processions illuminating the dark streets at night. Your kindergarten teacher, wearing a ratty red velvet cape that the saintly knight was said to have shared with a beggar, handed out hot cross buns to all. Both occasions were goose-bump territory: being around unrecognizable, disinhibited adults at the beginning of the year could be mystifying. Being allowed out into the cold night at the end of the year, with fires reflected in the silver helmet of St. Martin’s apparition, could be overwhelming.

Neither, however, compared to the emotions riled up when the circus arrived each summer. This was in the 1950s, over half a century ago, mind you, and circus was still a rather modest affair. They’d pitch a tent on an empty field between the diocese and the fire station, with bleachers in the round close enough to the small arena that you could see the sweat on the acrobats’ faces and smell the cheap brown stage makeup of grown men playing, I shudder to say, cowboys and Indians while performing tricks on the backs of some exhausted ponies. And always, always, a ravishing maiden with a trained poodle. Poor poodle.

Circus School students and acrobats performing on the streets of Montreal during Montréal Complètement Cirque festival


DanceWatch: A rich cultural stew

What's happening in Oregon dance now

Welcome to DanceWatch for March, the month that enters like a lion and retreats like a lamb, or so they say. While it’s still cold and dark outside, you can think of this month’s dance offerings like a warm winter stew: hearty, rich, varied, and soul-soothing. And don’t forget that spring is a mere 22 days away!

Let’s start this month’s column with Native American dance. Last fall, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art caught my attention with this statement in its Time-Based Art catalog: “The land now known as Portland rests on the traditional village sites of the Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other Tribes who made their homes along the Columbia (Wimahl) and Willamette (Whilamut) rivers.”

I didn’t know this. Did you? I was struck. I rarely hear about the native tribes of Portland and the surrounding areas and I even more rarely see dance representing these cultures. I feel weird about this. I can’t go back to not knowing. In fact, this information made me want to learn more about Native American dance artists in Oregon and beyond, and recently, I did.

This past Sunday, I attended the Alembic artist performance at Performance Works NorthWest, where choreographer Olivia Camfield, a resident artists and a Muscogee Creek Tribal member from Texas Hill Country, choreographed and performed a powerful contemporary piece about indigenous people reclaiming their narratives. She welcomed everyone with this statement, a reminder to be respectful when we’re visiting someone else’s territory.

“Hensci (hello), estonko (how are you), Olivia Cvhocefkv Tos (my name is Olivia). I come from the Muscogee Creek nation of Oklahoma. Originally we come from the southeastern region of this continent. I would like to acknowledge that I am a visitor here today and in the spirit of reciprocity, I would like to bring medicine and movement prayer to this land and the people of it. These nations include the Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Tumwater, Watlala Bands of the Chinook, the Tualatin Kalapuya, and many other indigenous nations of the Columbia River valley region. I would like y’all to acknowledge whether you are a settler occupier of this stolen land, an indigenous visitor, or you are of this land and this is your ancestral territory. I would like to ask to come here and be in a good way and walk this land as a caretaker and a medicine giver. I would like y’all to do the same, be here in a way that is respectful and honorable to the people and spirits who have taken care of this land since time immemorial. Mvto (thank you).”