Erik Sandgren

40 years and 363 miles along the Oregon Coast

A show at the Newport Visual Arts Center celebrates the rambling stretch from Astoria to Brookings in a variety of media including painting, woodwork and film

Some 360-odd miles of the Oregon Coast are condensed this late summer into one modest building set just a hop above Nye Beach. Art 363: Representing the Oregon Coast, on display throughout the Newport Visual Arts Center’s galleries, features work depicting the rambling length of the Oregon Coast, from Brookings to Astoria. I talked with three of the artists involved for a look behind the pieces.

Erik Sandgren (left) and his father, Nelson Sandgren, paint at Bandon in 2004, two years before the elder Sandgren’s death. The Sandgren Coast PaintOut began in 1978 as an OSU summer watercolor course taught by Nelson Sandgren. Photo by: Kathryn Cotnoir
Erik Sandgren (left) and his father, Nelson Sandgren, paint at Bandon in 2004, two years before the elder Sandgren’s death. The Sandgren Coast PaintOut began in 1978 as an OSU summer watercolor course taught by Nelson Sandgren. Photo by: Kathryn Cotnoir

The Sandgren Coast PaintOut Project celebrated 40 years this summer. More than 40 artists who have taken part in the plein air paintout over that time share an exhibit in the Runyon Gallery.

Artist Nelson Sandgren (1917-2006) started PaintOut as an extension class through Oregon State University, where he taught for 38 years. It has evolved under his son, Erik Sandgren, into a two-week, informal summer gathering where subject matter varies from sea to forest, headlands to harbors, streams and rivers, beaches and boats, wave-swept rocks, seabirds, and lighthouses.

"Newport Bridge," by Bets Cole, is one of the paintings produced during the Sandgren Coast PaintOut.
“Newport Bridge,” by Bets Cole, is a product of the Sandgren Coast PaintOut.

“It’s a select group of people who are interested in learning,” Erik Sandgren said. “We welcome people who are serious about painting and of all levels of experience. We have professional painters and artists, skilled amateurs, newbies. They offer camaraderie, critique, and opportunities to see how other serious painters handle their gear and painting problems on site, sometimes in adverse conditions created by sun, rain, or wind. I would describe them all as intrepid.”

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West Coast Woodcut: edges of life

In Maryhill Museum's Year of the Print, an exhibition of contemporary printmaking cuts from urban realism to the rhythms of the natural world

Man at Work, a 2014 linoleum block print by Ronnie Goodman in the exhibition West Coast Woodcut: Contemporary Relief Prints by Regional Artists at Maryhill Museum of Art, fits a classic role of printmaking: It’s a quiet provocation, surprising the viewer with a sudden twist on familiarity. An image of a man standing on a street corner in San Francisco with two huge bags filled with cans and bottles slung over his shoulders, it fits securely into a social-realist tradition that also embraces the likes of Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, and the American regionalists of the 1930s.

Ronnie Goodman, Man at Work, 2014, linoleum block print. Edition 9/16.

Stylistically it could be from the 1930s, and with a little jolt you realize looking at it that in a way it is, or at least it’s a contemporary echo of the Depression years. Man at Work is an image of down-and-outness, of the outsider, the possibly homeless guy sidling against the crowd, and when you see the title the whole little drama expands: Whatever you might have thought on first glance, the man’s no bum. He’s working, gathering the trash, doing a job that other people don’t want to do, scraping by with a quiet dignity that most people never take the time to see. The capper comes when you look at the wall plaque and discover that Goodman himself has led a hard-knock life: He’s homeless, and learned to make art in prison while serving a six-year sentence for burglary. “I have had my belongings confiscated ten times,” Goodman is quoted. “The city has taken my original irreplaceable linocuts – over fifty plates, all of my original artwork.” The explanatory plaque continues: “This includes works that were included in a temporary exhibition in the office of San Francisco mayor, London Breed.”

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