elizabeth leach gallery

ArtsWatch Weekly: past imperfect, present tense

In the Northwest, images of horror and hope from the past and present. Plus a West Side story, a flamenco flourish, and a divine voice.

ARTSWATCH IS ABOUT ARTS AND CULTURE IN OREGON: It’s embedded in our name. But culture is a fluid thing, coming at us from all corners of the world, and, through our libraries and museums and musical notations, from the enduring fragments of previous times and places. It comes to us. We go to it. Everything mingles in the process. One of our number is on the nothern tip of the Olympic Peninsula right now, a ferry ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, where depending on the weather she might be greeted on the shoreline by a bagpiper in a kilt (although the Unipiper remains a resolutely Portlandian attraction, rain or shine, sleet or snow). Another ArtsWatcher is working her way across Andalucia, taking hundreds of pictures as she goes. Our music editor is settling back into the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest after a sojourn in Bali with some masters of the gamelan.  

Parmigianino, Antea, ca. 1535, oil on canvas, 53.7 x 33.8 inches, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; at the Seattle Art Museum through Jan. 26, 2020.

On occasion we indulge in a quick trip north to Seattle, and in case you do the same, you might want to drop in on the Seattle Art Museum, where the exhibition Flesh & Blood: Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum opens today and hangs around through January 26. It time-travels through Renaissance and Baroque Europe, and includes 39 paintings and a single sculpture from the collections of the Naples museum.

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Judy Cooke: The birth of an artist

Paul Sutinen's interview with Judy Cooke focuses on the Portland painter's development as an artist

Since her first exhibitions here 45 years ago, Judy Cooke has been a leading artist in the realm of “painting” in Portland, though paint is just one aspect of her materials palette. All of her works in the current exhibition Conversation: Aluminum, Oil, Rubber at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery were completed this year. However, the range of sizes, formats, materials and motifs—ten inches to eight feet, polygon, square, skinny rectangle, found sheet metal, wood panels, rubber sheeting, tape, oil paint, line drawing, brushy painting—samples her interests over the length of her career.

Portland artist Judy Cooke

Cooke had a retrospective exhibition at The Art Gym in 2002, Judy Cooke: Celebration After the Fact: a retrospective, 1973-2001 (the catalog essay is by Bruce Guenther), and she has also been the recipient of numerous prestigious grants, including the second Bonnie Bronson Fellowship Award in 1993.

The exhibition at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery continues through October 27. She will be speaking about her work at the gallery on Saturday, October 13, at 11 am.

When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?

Probably when I was about eight.

Interesting. Some people have that very early thought. Did you know what an artist was when you were eight?

No. When I was six, I had a fabulous first grade teacher. The art part of that first grade was always the best part. It was kind of unusual. This was in Bay City, Michigan, a small school. There were two very large blackboards in the room. Every week she would let two kids go up and paint on those blackboards, with chalk or whatever—something you could remove. The whole class got to do this. At the end of the week they’d vote on whether one of those pictures could stay up. It was a fairly big blackboard. So that was where I had a chance to see something on a very large-scale. And I always drew when I was a kid—tended to be large shapes. The crayons that everybody used were very thick. At school they tended to use these big materials.

The black and the blackboard are still in your work.

Somewhere, yes. I think I tended to work more abstractly, at an early age, than concrete observation. I mean really paying attention to space and three-dimensionality.

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Viz Arts Monthly: July looks deliciously scrappy

July features some tasty group shows, a DIY flavor and much more than anyone could possibly see!

The summer vibes have brought another set of lively shows to Portland! If the news has got you down, visit the strange, raucous utopian visions of the future from Killjoy Collective at the Littman Gallery at PSU. If that doesn’t do it for you, you could try to DIY scrappiness of the Germination photo show in the partner White gallery at the same location. Elizabeth Leach and Ori gallery also offer some lively group shows, highlighting the work of two different, vibrant artistic communities. For a more singular vision, try Sarah Mikenis at Nationale or Glenn Brown’s collection of works at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene. And finally, if you want to confront the state of the world head on, National Geographic photographer Randy Olson’s talk at his new show at Camerawork gallery will give you some action items. Stay sunny, Portland!

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A safe space for deep criticism of art

manuel arturo abreu discusses home school, a free pop-up art school in Portland, and its upcoming "field day," June 23

In a recent discussion with manuel arturo abreu (they/them) the co-founder of a Portland-based pop-up art school called home school, a fundamental question surfaced—a question that directly relates to the relevance of this very platform: Why would someone hate art?

For abreu, a poet and artist from the Bronx, the answer is ready and waiting: “Because art sucks. It’s really violent. It’s a violent colonial enterprise. How do we reclaim it?”

In the following discourse, which centers the labor and thinking of home school and its organizers, nothing is sacred. Readers with a love for art, academia, and many of the institutions and frameworks designed to support these, might find themselves set off—but please take that response as definitive sign to keep reading.

Image courtesy of home school and MoMA PS1

The way home school came to be is “a classic story” within the home school-community, said abreu. Victoria Anne Reis (she/her), who now runs home school with abreu, previously lived in New York City and studied at New York University, an institution infamously known for being inaccessible to many students without the aid of punishing loads of student debt.

In search of a different option than “the very marketized education that she was paying for,” Reis began taking classes with the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, an alternative arts education structure that self-identified as “a learning experiment” and “New York’s freest art school.”

BHQFU—which is now defunct—was started by several Cooper Union graduates who, initially, remained anonymous and who derived inspiration from German artist Joseph Beuys’ concept of social sculpture. “Rather than an artist working with paint or cardboard or noise or language, an artist is constructing an aesthetic experience from the social interactions of others,” an unnamed source from Bruce High Quality Foundation said of social sculpture in an interview with Social Text Journal.

Social sculpture is “sculpture where society and community is the medium for the art,” abreu explained.

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A conversation with painter Stephen Hayes

Since 2015, Stephen Hayes has painted the mundane sites of horrific tragedies

Tad Savinar, writing in the catalog for Stephen Hayes’s 2013 retrospective at the Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College, said, “I believe good artists are good scientists, constantly searching and testing in order to refine and express their pursuits.” Over the past three decades Hayes has moved his painting from a controlled, uniform touch to wildly brushed, smudged, scraped and daubed compositions as free as improvisational jazz. His recent work focuses on seemingly mundane scenes, but locations of horrific tragedy.

A new group of Stephen Hayes paintings is at Elizabeth Leach Gallery from October 5-28.

So how long have you been a painter?

That’s kind of a trick question. It’s interesting you ask that question because I’m currently writing a fellowship proposal, and in there I wrote that when I graduated from grad school and went off on my journey to make work, I was not a painter, so I recognize that I was wasn’t a painter coming out of school.

What did you think you were?

Somebody who got his MFA. I focused on drawing primarily. I did painting, but then I spent a couple years in Cyprus trudging the hills and painting en plein air. I learned a lot about what it was to make a painting. I traversed a whole bunch of sort of hackneyed ground, but also discovered what the material was, how much I felt connected to it, how much I didn’t know about it. That was 1980 to ’84. I was not really thinking of myself as a painter, but I was trying to learn something about painting.

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Can Modernism be ‘new’ anymore?

A show of abstract work at Elizabeth Leach Gallery leads back to the history of Modernism

This sports anecdote is from the introduction to A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern by Kirk Varnedoe, the late American art historian who served as chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art from 1988 to 2001.

“Somewhere back in a rainy summer in the 1970s, I made a pilgrimage of sorts to a place in the north of England that it fascinated me for years; it’s a playing field that’s part of the Rugby School, and on the wall next to the field is fixed the marker I came to see. It reads: “This stone commemorates the exploit of William Webb Ellis, who with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game. A. D. 1823.”… I was among [those who played rugby in the late 1960s] and as I moved back toward the bare essentials of the sport, I found my curiosity enduringly piqued by the tale of its origin. What possessed Webb Ellis, in the heat of a soccer game, to pick up the ball? And stranger still, why didn’t they just throw him out of the game?”

In 1823 a guy changes the game from what we call soccer, to the game of rugby. In the late 19th century another game changed, and Varnedoe’s question applies. When Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire with daubs of paint, or certainly when Pablo Picasso began showing analytical cubist paintings—why weren’t they thrown out of the art game? Why did the game change to accommodate them?

So “modern” art reflected an abrupt change from the way art was played in the past, and depending on the critic/historian it originated with Édouard Manet and the “frankness with which [his paintings] declared the flat surfaces on which they were painted,” according to critic Clement Greenberg, or maybe with Van Gogh and Gauguin, according to Arthur Danto—at least sometime before 1900.

Chris Gander,”Plug:Matrix,” 2017,oil on wood construction, 21 x 21 x18″/image courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

The idea of modern art also reflected the critical/historical concept of “progress” in art. The genealogy runs something like this: Renaissance begat Mannerism, which begat Baroque, which begat Neo-Classicism, which begat Romanticism, and so on to Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism—and then, according to Arthur Danto, in the early 1960s, with Pop Art, and for Danto with the example of Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box, 1964, which looked just like the mundane Brillo box in the grocery store, the historical idea of “progress” stopped. No longer is there an avant-garde. There is no “next step” in art evolution. As Danto said, “As far as appearances were concerned, anything could be a work of art, and it meant that if you were going to find out what art was you had to turn from sense experiences to thought.” It no longer had to look like art to be art.

Modernism in this reading was the last gasp of art “progress.” For a critic like Greenberg (by the way “modern art” is a critical/historical term—I’ve never heard of an artist saying, “I’m a modern artist”) modern painting (painting was the main vehicle for the progress in modernism) tended to strip away things that were not fundamental to painting. The best modern painting, according to Greenberg, would demonstrate recognition of the flatness of the canvas and emphasize color— attributes special to painting. Likewise, Greenberg would find sculpture that was painted with colors irritating, since color was an attribute of painting, not something like scale or form that was essential to sculpture. By the end of the 1960s these ideas were worn out, and nobody cares much about that puritan view now.

Joanna Pousette-Dart,
“Cañones #3,” 2007-08,
acrylic on canvas on shaped panels,
79 x 92″/image courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Now there is an exhibition at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery entitled New Modernism that “presents seven artists whose innovative approaches to formalism link them to the modernist art movement of the 19th century.” I don’t buy this premise. All artists have their own formal approaches, and if they do interesting work, their approaches will be personally different (innovative) from those of others. Looking at the exhibition, I don’t see “modernism”—either in the sense of an abrupt break with the past (since there is no “progress” anymore) or in attitudes linked to refinement of the essences of painting or sculpture. The show could easily and more accurately be called Some Current Abstraction, or something like that.

Still, the current abstractions in New Modernism include some interesting artworks for us to consider.

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Lee Kelly just turned 85. Through June into mid-July he is showing new work at Elizabeth Leach Gallery. Over a career of almost 60 years Kelly has completed dozens of public and private sculpture commissions. He has major works on the Portland Transit Mall and the Rose Garden in Washington Park. He lives and works on what was a dairy farm in Oregon City; the barn is now a shop/studio. What was pastureland 50 years ago is now reforested and populated with Kelly’s sculpture.

You grew up in Idaho. Did you go to high school there?

No. I came out here.

Where did you go to high school?

Roosevelt, but I went back there and did ranch work in the summer.

Why? Because you couldn’t find work in Portland?

I loved the idea of horses and doing all that.

Lee Kelly in his studio/shop. Winter Garden at Muktinath in process at left. Small
maquette for the sculpture at right in the background.

So now you got a sculpture farm next to horses. When you were at Roosevelt High School did you do any art there?

I tried to, but I got crossways with the teachers.

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