D.E. May

Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU

Continues…

This June, the arrival of summer isn’t the only big transition on the horizon. Bullseye Projects exhibition space closes after twenty years on NW 13th Ave, Adams and Ollman will relocate to a nearby space on NW 8th Ave, and Nationale announces a relocation back to Burnside where it will share space with Beacon Sound and enjoy a larger, more detached exhibition space. Blue Sky’s Executive Director Lisa DeGrace will step down to become the development director at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. DeGrace goes out on a high note with the En Foco Fellowship shows (featured below). Whether you enjoy the late sunset for a First Thursday art crawl in town, hit the Portland Art Museum, or head down to Eugene to check out a set of compelling shows at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, there’s plenty to see this month!

Daniel Robinson – Open Road, 2019
Recent Paintings: Daniel Robinson
Through June 15
Charles A. Hartman Fine Art
134 NW 8th Ave

Robinson’s finely-detailed paintings glow with a love for Oregon scenery and light. From industrial riverside docks to scrubby, golden hills in Eastern Oregon, these paintings capture vistas that balance conjuring an Oregon of the past and rendering it with a modern crispness. Grain elevators, bridges, farms, and boats mark human presence in the natural landscape.


Open During Construction: PSU BFA showcase
Through June 14
Littman + White Galleries
1825 SW Broadway

With a title that captures the current conditions for PSU art students, the Littman Gallery celebrates a new crop of graduates. MK Gallery and the AB Lobby Gallery, in PSU’s Art Building host the other parts of the show not represented by Littman’s selection. Artists this year include: Anastasia Bubenik-Hartley, Coral Cloutman Tabitha Copeland, Courtney Gallardo, Linneah Rose Hanson, Allison Jarman, Jake Johnson, Patricia Kalidonis, Safiyah Maurice, Kira Paragon, Tiffany Adele Peterson, Vinh Pham, Timothy Tran, and Zach Whitworth.


PNCA 2019 MFA Exhibition
Through June 11
PNCA Glass Building 2139 N Kerby Ave.

The first twenty-six PNCA graduate students to study in the new “Glass Building” exhibit their work in the cavernous, beautiful former Bullseye Glass building in the North Industrial district. Thesis and capstone projects from three different programs will be on display. The MFA in Collaborative Design is represented by Amber Marsh and Ophir El-Boher; the MFA in Print Media by Devyn Park, Emma Flick, Heather Coleman, Jaynee Watson, Jessi Presley-Grusin, TK Yoeun, Lauren Goding, Russell Wood; and the MFA in Visual Studies by Julian Adoff, Shokoufeh Alizadeh, Jen Bacon, Kelly Brand, Heather Boyd, Sarah Cabbell, Robin Cone-Murakami, Alexis Day, Josh Hughes, Jess Iams, Diego Morales-Portillo, Lauren Prado, Rhonda Tuholski, Brittany Vega, Brittany Windsor, Yuyang Zhang.


DE May Untitled (Finish a Piece A Day)
 Artworks by D.E. May: Dan May
June 5 - June 29
PDX Contemporary 
925 NW Flanders

Discussing the work in this show, Hallie Ford Fellowship recipient Dan May said “If there are five steps to building something, I am interested in steps two and three.” May passed away in February of this year. Indeed, May’s use of ledger paper, continuous form paper, and used cardboard communicates a sense of mid-project work, issued from some parallel universe office where blocks of color stand in for numbers. The visual language of templates, diagrams, and plans form a peculiar, playful conceptual framework. 


Mark Aghatise, What Men Do We Know, 2017
2018 En Foco Fellowship Exhibitions: Study One: Mark Aghatise 
and The Soft Fence: Gioncarlo Valentine
June 6-30
Blue Sky Gallery
122 NW 8th Ave

Blue Sky hosts two arresting, personal solo exhibitions by Mark Aghatise and Gioncarlo Valentine. Both artists are recipients of the prestigious En Foco fellowship. Founded in 1974, En Foco’s mission is to support photographers of color and diverse cultures working in contemporary, fine art, and documentary photography. Aghatise’s manipulated and collaged photographs take on the “bifurcation of self that occurs in contemporary urban life,” according to the artist. After moving to New York City, he developed a keen awareness of the tendency of cities to split an individual’s persona into public and private versions. The work in Study One is the result of working with his subjects to capture reflections of how they present in public and at home. Gioncarlo Valentine’s show, The Soft Fence, seeks to explore the performance of masculinity in Black culture. Valentine, who grew up queer and femme-presenting, calls the photographs “a series of questions about access, performance, proximity, Black manhood, and Black brotherhood.” Aghatise will give an artist talk before the main opening at 5pm on Thursday, June 6. Valentine will speak at 3pm on Saturday, June 8. 


Assessed valuation of of all taxable property owned by Georgia Negroes, from W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Georgia Negro: A Study (1900). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Color Line
June 15 - October 27
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave

Activist, sociologist, historian and overall polymath W.E.B. Du Bois created an incredible exhibition for the 1900 Paris Exposition to communicate the conditions of race in America in systemic, poetic, and personal terms. The exhibit won a gold medal in 1900 and later became part of the Library of Congress’s permanent collection. It will be shown at the Portland Art Museum in June along with the Paris 1900 City of Entertainment exhibition. Color Line includes more than 300 photographs of African-American citizens along with exceptional charts and graphs – what we would now call data visualizations or infographics. The colorful diagrams and charts communicated statistics and other measurements of the stark inequalities and injustices of the racial divide in post-Civil-War America. The photographs, taken in collaboration with Booker T. Washington and Thomas Calloway, show the strength and humanity of African-Americans at the time. Defying stereotypes, the photographs show the businesses, universities, homes and professions of the first generation of African Americans to rise after abolition. This multi-faceted exhibit is both historically significant and personally affecting, and should not be missed.


Exhibitions at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
University of Oregon Campus
1420 Johnson Lane
Eugene, OR

Phillip Haas
Sculpture Breathes Life Into Painting & Music: Philip Haas
Through June 9

Philip Haas’s new work will have its world premiere at the JSMA before it embarks on a year-long tour in the U.S. and abroad. For two weeks, an series of eclectic performances will intersect with the life-size sculptures representing the arts of painting, music, and sculpture. Motorized sculptures, totems, found objects, film, spoken work and other strategies form Haas’s unique artistic vocabulary, which he describes as “sculpting by thinking.” During the performances at JSMA, Haas will wear his sculpture while delivering a commentary to the audience. This promises to be a unique experience!

Jonathan Roensch, Braxton Williams, 2019, Photogaph, 11 x 14 inches. 
Common Thread: Reflections on Aesthetic Culture
Through September 8

Following on the success of 2018’s student-organized show Don’t Touch My Hair, this revealing, personal exhibition addresses many of the same themes. This time the conversation centers on clothing and other wearable expressions of identity and aesthetics. Organized by the UO student curatorial team of Taite Stull, Cassidy Shaffer, and Kristen Clayton, this exhibition aims to provide a glimpse into the diverse culture of the University of Oregon’s student body.

Video Still from “Passage”
Passage: Mohau Modisakeng
Through August 4

Previously shown as South Africa’s entry in the 2017 Venice Biennale, this affecting, three-channel video meditates on two different meanings of the term “passage.” In Setswana, the experience of being alive is referred to as a passage, with the Setswana word for life, botshelo, meaning to “cross over.” Then there is the far more tragic history of the word, referring to the legacy of enslavement that caused a “dismemberment of African identity,” in the words of Modisakang. Dreamlike, a birds-eye view of a passenger in a small wooden boat on a vast black body of water fills each projection as the water begins to rise.

Remembering D.E. May

A tribute to a much loved Oregon artist

By ANNA GRAY and RYAN WILSON PAULSEN

On February 27th, just a month before his 67th birthday, Oregon lost one of its finest artists: D.E. May. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he was given just months to live but continued working and living among close friends in his native Salem for nearly 3 years. May was an important feature of this region’s artistic landscape and an artist fiercely admired for the things he made and the way he made them.

D.E. May in his Salem studio in 2015. Photo: Sabina Poole

We first got to know May through stories told by Jane Beebe, his longtime friend and gallerist at PDX Contemporary Art. Her anecdotes cast May as a warm and original character. They told of a person living according to his own time, of a workspace like the hidden pages of a pop-up book, of a maker of tender objects, who never forgot to send her (and many other mothers, too) a postcard on Mother’s Day.

When we met him in person, we immediately liked the man as much as the things he made. We felt refreshed by his matter-of-fact approach to art making, as if being an artist was no more mythic than being a carpenter or steel-worker, no less necessary than being a bartender or a cab driver. His humility, dedication, and sureness of purpose were reflected in the things he created. It is as if his drawings and small constructions weren’t made, but evolved over time without the overly conscious intervention of an artistic hand. Because of this, his meticulous abstractions hold a subtle magic. They appear as both documents of the past and proposals for a future architecture–his subtle geometries incorporated with such sensitivity into the found surfaces he collected and used in his work. His pieces remind us of how objects gather energy and meaning, becoming real through their use.

D.E. May, Template Study

D.E. May, Right Isolate (Template Study)
2013. acrylic wash, colored pencil and graphite on paper
21” x 48″

May will be remembered in many different ways. Some will remember him from bright gallery openings, as he nodded and said thank yous to those who’d come to see his collections. Others will remember him as a friend that was always willing to share a drink. Some will remember him as a fixture of his beloved ‘Island Salem,’ where he’d be seen walking, perhaps to the library where he’d go to look at books he says he didn’t read. Many others, still, will remember him by his artworks, their quietness and precision. We will remember him for his sensibility as an artist and his commitment to his life’s work and also for the encouragements he gave us over the years, sometimes in the form of small tokens—a postcard, folded origami figures, a or note—that always seemed to build our confidence in mysterious ways.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen are mixed media collaborators living in Portland, OR.

D.E. May

D.E. May, Untitled
2011. wood and cardboard
1 7/8” x 2 3/16” x 5 7/16″

May’s work is currently on view at PDX Contemporary Art and the Portland Art Museum. You can read more about his work in a 2011 essay the authors wrote to accompany his show and publication The Template Files.

In Oregon ArtsWatch, Paul Sutinen wrote a review of the artist’s 2015 show at PDX Contemporary Art and Sabina Poole photographed May in his studio and wrote about the experience as part of the Ford Foundation’s Connective Conversations|Inside Oregon Art program.