Ford Family Foundation

DE May: Inside a studio, darkly

Sabina Poole's survey of Oregon artists' studios around the state continues with Salem's mysterious DE May

The assignment to photograph D.E May was met, at first, with little enthusiasm. Only because I looked at the address written on the Google Document: Salem, Oregon, it said.

It is not like I am a stranger to Salem. I’m not, I lived there for 10 years, and I’d always thought of it as tediously flat and uninspiring. But then, I had never met May, either.

May will entirely change your opinion of what he calls “Islandsalem” in a heartbeat.

Artist D.E. May, who, by choice, works in relative darkness in his studio. Usually a thick blind is pulled down over the window in the left of this photo. /Sabina Poole

Artist D.E. May, who, by choice, works in relative darkness in his studio. Usually a thick blind is pulled down over the window in the left of this photo. /Sabina Poole

I am an analog-appreciating girl. So when I received from May’s gallery representative, Jane Beebe (PDX Contemporary) the proper directives and etiquette to be in touch with the artist, I listened intently.

Writer’s Note: In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014, The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts Curator and Critic Tours and Lectures program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. I travel light, only one camera, no lighting equipment, one lens. My goal is to show these artists in their environment—authentic, uncontrived, at ease.

May reluctantly answers his phone. (“You have to call, let the answering machine pick up, and start talking…He will either pick up and take the call or leave it. In any case, leave a message, he might call you back. Or he might not.”) I would learn later that he got his first phone in 1999 at the age of 47—it was a landline. Add to that he doesn’t “do” email, and there seemed no real electronic way to communicate with this man. I was instructed that if I did dare call, no contact should be attempted prior to 1:00 pm (“You know, because he stays up really, really late. He does that night thing.”) He was sounding more and more interesting. And, all of this in Salem?!
After a few post-1 pm calls to the aforementioned answering machine during which I talked away to myself quite happily all the while imaging May in a room vacantly listening-in, there was an out-of-breath pick-up. Within a short amount of time we had arranged to meet and photograph May at his studio. Then he read me his actual address, a a downtown Salem location, and, he added, “It’s kind of hard to find, I’ll put up signs.” Undeterred, I packed up my camera and made the drive down I-5 on a brilliantly sunny, summer day. The broad and bright light of day would make a perfect, natural light source, and I was confident. This was going to be good.

I arrived, realized I was precariously near a Salem theatrical landmark, parked my car at the city curb, and looked for the door. The location was in a downtown cluster of mixed-use buildings, in a rather non-descript area I had never really noticed before. The number I was instructed to look for was stickered on a glass door heading up a flight of stairs. And there, true to his word, stuck to the door with looped over masking tape, a 3 x 5 cardstock handwritten sign: “Sabina—Upstairs.” I pulled the sign off the door, and ventured up the narrow stairway; another sign waited for me on another door, “Sabina: This Way” it instructed with a small arrow. Then another that finally said: “Sabina—Knock.” I knocked, and the door was instantly opened by a gentleman in a porkpie hat. Quite dapper, I thought. “DE May, I presume?”

And, there I was inside the two small rooms that comprise May’s studio. I won’t try to describe the detail and organization of the space—it was intricate, to the point of beautifully obsessive: fantastically catalogued materials, brilliantly coordinated, tabulated, classified, boxed, stacked and shelved. Pieces and parts of a mind and thoughts represented in snippets and piles of maps, papers, stamps, blocks of wood, of the most eccentric quality and quantity; a place of imaginative cleverness and ingenuity. I was stunned, then, oddly comfortable in a very ‘spirit of efficiency’ kind of way.

Work laid out for more attention by the artist, D.E. May and his studio space./Sabina Poole

Work laid out for more attention by the artist, D.E. May and his studio space./Sabina Poole

This studio defied narrative. Instead it filled one’s head with intentions of being elsewhere—travel and adventure and possibility—was it the maps, entirely covering one wall? Or the books of collected stamps? The small pieces of paper, letters and notes to be or never to be written? The prospect of what might go on those pieces of paper: ideas to be recorded; notes to be printed? Parts and parcels to be conveyed? Or maybe pieces joined, stacked, assembled, categorized together in some way as yet unimaginable?

In May’s studio, there were punctuated light sources, mostly table lamps on desks, but, curiously, all the windows were boarded up, covered with brown perforated fiberboard, thick shades pulled over the fenestration. Light struggled to find ways in from the glorious summer day outside, barely making the room any lighter than a solitary desk-lamp-lit room late at night. Obviously, this was light May was accustomed to and preferred—the shelter of eclipse. That’s when May began to tell me about how he loathes daylight. He described how he and his friends sleep the day and function during nighttime—a nocturnal existence. He blocks out the light, if he has to be up during the daylight hours, to find it tolerable.

Finding pieces to work with, D.E. May keeps his materials intricately organized and boxed./Sabina Poole


Finding pieces to work with, D.E. May keeps his materials intricately organized and boxed./Sabina Poole

What else did I learn? May hasn’t had a car since 1977, but if he drove one now he’d prefer one from the Citroen DS series from the 1950s. He visits a local dive bar almost every night and visits the city library almost as often, but he admits, he is not a reader of books. He mentions a current search to obtain a 1965 Val Surf skateboard, and a casual yet ongoing attempt to pen a screenplay for the past 30 years. It’s a murder mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes and Marcel Duchamp together in New York City.

May collaborated with the shoot, sitting here and then there, showing me his work-in-progress, placing himself at his work spaces, letting me shoot from angles and distances throughout the studio, talking about his work and the darkness in the room. I encouraged him to turn off whatever lights he did not normally have on and pull shades all the way down on windows as he would have if I were not there. At that point, we were left in a dimness; the lights cast very concentrated spheres of illumination. May’s porkpie hat threw a silhouette of distinction.

When I got home, I jotted down some notes to remember May by and my visit to his Islandsalem studio. I wrote:

“HATES daylight, only likes to be up and about in the dark—hence his darkened windows, and all the shadows. He wants to be in shadow…. darkness is key to his work, and ethos. Interesting relationship with goldfish.”

And, no, I will not be saying anything about the goldfish.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

NOTES

DE May’s exhibition of new work, No Specific Region, opens November 5 at PDX CONTEMPORARY gallery, 925 NW Flanders. I’ll see you there.

DE May, untitled (674 front view), 2015 graphite, colored pencil and ink on found postcard 3 1/2" x 5 3/8"/Courtesy PDX Contemporary

DE May, untitled (674 front view), 2015
graphite, colored pencil and ink on found postcard
3 1/2″ x 5 3/8″/Courtesy PDX Contemporary

Next week: artist Julia Oldham.

The Ford Family Foundation with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts are pleased to announce the upcoming October 2015 release of the book, Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014. Connective Conversations is The Ford Family Foundation’s Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture Series program, conducted in partnership with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. The full-color book will be available at the 2015 Oregon Arts Summit’s Visual Arts Ecology workshop, supported by the Foundation; and, subsequently, available for purchase [locations TBA]. The book is a collaborative work representing the series launched in 2011, which brought national curators and critics to visit Oregon artists in their studios across the state, to present lectures and to participate in community dialogue. The book contains images of the 70 Oregon artists and their studio spaces visited between 2011-2014.

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014 | The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon Curator and Critic Tours: Edited by Kate Wagle | Design and Layout by Pace Taylor | Photography by Sabina Poole | Advised by Carol Dalu and Kandis Brewer Nunn.

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art is part of The Foundation’s seven-pronged Visual Arts program launched in 2010 to honor the interests in the visual arts by the late Mrs. Hallie Ford, a co-founder of The Foundation. Principal goals of the overall program are to help enhance the quality of artistic endeavor and body of work by Oregon’s most promising visual artists and to improve Oregon’s visual arts ecology by making strategic investments in Oregon visual arts institutions. Some program components The Foundation directs; others, it elects to work with regionally-based institutions such as it has done in partnering with the University of Oregon with the first four years of the Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture series. Such collaborations are invaluable in maximizing the delivery and impact of the program components for which The Foundation is most grateful.

Introducing ‘Connective Conversations: Inside Oregon Art’

Photographer Sabina Poole visited 70 artist studios around the state for a new book

In the summer of 2014, I began my travels around Oregon to photograph the artists who had received studio visits from the curators and critics of the Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art program for the years since the program’s inauguration in 2011. From the list of addresses, I knew the 70 artists would be sprinkled throughout the state, and for me, this was a chance to enjoy and observe artists in their own spaces, to go deeper into the place we call home and meet people here who are doing amazing work.

The book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 The Ford Family Foundation and University of Oregon

The book, Connective Conversations Inside Oregon Art 2011-2014 The Ford Family Foundation and University of Oregon

Here’s the official announcement of the new book that resulted, in part, from those visits:

The Ford Family Foundation with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts are pleased to announce the upcoming October 2015 release of the book, Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014. Connective Conversations is The Ford Family Foundation’s Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture Series program, conducted in partnership with the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts. The full-color book will be available at the 2015 Oregon Arts Summit’s Visual Arts Ecology workshop, supported by The Foundation; and, subsequently, will available for purchase [locations TBA].

The book is a collaborative work representing the series launched in 2011, which brought national curators and critics to visit Oregon artists in their studios across the state, to present lectures and to participate in community dialogue. The book contains images of the 70 Oregon artists and their studio spaces visited between 2011-2014.

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art, 2011-2014 | The Ford Family Foundation and the University of Oregon Curator and Critic Tours
Edited by Kate Wagle | Design and Layout by Pace Taylor | Photography by Sabina Poole | Advised by Carol Dalu and Kandis Brewer Nunn

I knew it would be an adventure to document the homes and studios of the 70 artists involved. Realizing this was an absolute privilege, I embarked upon the project with a keen sense of enthusiasm and a little bit of adrenaline. Despite being familiar with their artwork (some more than others), most of these artists, as people, were complete strangers to me, and I had never before visited some of the locations of their studios. Before each photo shoot, I did not have any idea what I would encounter, and the unexpected nature of these visits made the project all the more attractive to me.

My method was, I hoped, unobtrusive. I organized a shoot primarily via email—leaving the choice of time and place up to the artist. The studio, the place where the work was done, needed to be tantamount. I chose to arrive simply, unencumbered—no lighting equipment, one camera, no superfluous accessories. My role was to document the artists in their unique environment—in the lighting they were used to, in the rooms they lived and worked in, surrounded by the things they loved and cared about, even if that meant dogs and children or other unanticipated creatures.

What you will see in the weekly posts that follow are little snippets of these studio photo sessions: close encounters with remarkable people who have chosen to live in extraordinary places, while doing exceptional things with independence, creativity, resolute determination, confidence, and success while surrounded by things they find captivating, in locations of inspiration, all with a quintessential Oregon-ness.

A favorite pastime for Renee Couture: sitting outside her studio in the evening light, doing research and planning next projects. The first installment of this series features Couture./Sabina Poole

A favorite pastime for Renee Couture: sitting outside her studio in the evening light, doing research and planning next projects./Sabina Poole

Above all, the 70 people I photographed were not only artists of amazing calibre but also individuals who help define this region. In the coming weeks, Oregon Arts Watch will introduce some of the artists included in Connective Conversations from a closer perspective. The book will show you a photo or two of each studio, an image of each artist, and several examples of their work. The book will illuminate career highlights and biographical information. Here, in an Oregon Arts Watch exclusive, you will get a closer glimpse of each artist’s work space, the objects that surround them, the light sources they rely on, and the things that make each studio a unique place to create in. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. These Connective Conversations studio portraits will, I hope, enable a greater understanding of these artists and how their work relates to and is made within the studio.

To get started, you can jump immediately to the first subject: Renee Couture and her “trailer” studio in Peel, Oregon. See you there!

Connective Conversations | Inside Oregon Art is part of The Ford Family Foundation’s seven-pronged Visual Arts program launched in 2010 to honor the interests in the visual arts by the late Mrs. Hallie Ford, a co-founder of The Foundation. Principal goals of the overall program are to help enhance the quality of artistic endeavor and body of work by Oregon’s most promising visual artists and to improve Oregon’s visual arts ecology by making strategic investments in Oregon visual arts institutions. Some program components The Foundation directs; others, it elects to work with regionally-based institutions such as it has done in partnering with the University of Oregon with the first four years of the Curator and Critic Tours and Lecture series. Such collaborations are invaluable in maximizing the delivery and impact of the program components for which The Foundation is most grateful.

Hallie Ford Fellowships continue, ‘Blue Wheel’ rolls, so does March Music Moderne

The crucial Ford Family Foundation Visual Arts Program is renewed, Susan Banyas's "Blue Wheel" rolls, so does modern music

Hallie Ford Fellow Stephen Hayes' "Mezzanine"

Hallie Ford Fellow Stephen Hayes’ “Mezzanine”

Last week the Ford Family Foundation made an important announcement: The foundation decided to extend its Visual Arts Program through 2019. Established in 2010 to honor the late Hallie Ford’s intense interest in the visual arts, the foundation has quickly become an important arts funder in Oregon, most visibly through its Hallie Ford Fellows program, which has given $25,000 to three mid-career Oregon artists. The list of previous fellows is impressive: The first “class” included  Daniel Duford, David Eckard, and Heidi Schwegler, and subsequent years numbered Stephen Hayes, Bruce Conkle, Michelle Ross, and Cynthia Lahti among the fellows just to pick a few (you can see the whole list on the website). The foundation is increasing the number of fellows from three to five.

The other increase comes in the foundation’s artist-in-residency program, two-year grant awards of $40,000 each, which grows from five artists to eight, “to provide opportunities for artists to explore and conceptualize new work. Fifty percent of the funding helps underwrite the residency program; the balance provides stipends to the selected artists to help offset life and work expenses.” Although the fellowship and residency tracks are the best-known, the Visual Arts Program also helps Oregon arts institutions acquire  important work by Oregon artists; curates, prepares and travels of exhibitions of works by Oregon visual artists and the production of catalogues and other appropriate materials; supports facility improvement at arts institutions; supports visits by national critics and curators to Oregon for consultations with Oregon artists and public lectures; and offers career opportunity grants for artists.

That’s a commendably comprehensive approach to the visual arts (I’d love to similar programs established for theater, dance, music and other art forms), and its extension is important. The foundation board, chaired by Karla Chambers, and staff (Carol Dalu is responsible for the Visual Arts Program) deserve our thanks, even though in this case it’s a little belated!

March Music Moderne is bubbling along, filling the city with classically based music of a distinctly contemporary cast. Friday is loaded with interesting choices:

  • Judith Cohen plays piano music by Louis Andriessen, Béla Bartók, Ken Benshoof, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alan Hovhaness, Erik Satie, Erwin Schulhoff and Patrick Stoyanovich, 3 pm, Portland Piano Company, 711 SW 14th Ave, Portland, free.
  • James Harley lectures on the music of Iannis Xenakis (Mathematics in Music: Xenakis & beyond), 5 pm, Lewis & Clark College, Evans Auditorium, free.
  • Lewis & Clark College,  Evans Auditorium, free.
  • The Arnica Quartet plays three Benjamin Britten String Quartets, 7:30 pm, Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St, Portland, $10.
  • Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010) with a score assembled by Robbie Robertson from works by Krzysztof Penderecki, Giacinto Scelsi, Ingram Marshall, György Ligeti, John Cage, Lou Harrison & Dinah Washington, 11:00 pm, Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., free.  (Part of the Sounding Cinema series)

Naturally, I want to push our own contribution to March Music Moderne, Oregon ComposersWatch, which both links to a resource page here at ArtsWatch and a live performance of new music by three Oregon composers. That’s at noon on Saturday, at TaborSpace, 5441 SE Belmont St., Portland,and it’s only possible because of the Cascadia Composers and Classical Revolution PDX. It’s free, and it also involves some talk about the music with the composers, Bonnie Miksch, Jedadiah Bernards, and Christopher Corbell, led by our own Brett Campbell. Please join us!

For a much fuller rendition of the weekend at March Music Moderne, please tune in to Brett’s Weekend MusicWatch, which is a wonderful weekly resource that music fans should look for every single week!

ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks wrote glowingly about defunct theatre’s Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, and the company has added performances March 28 and 29. May a hundred (or two) theater fans fill the friendly confines!

If I myself were in town this weekend, I’d try very hard to see Susan Banyas’s latest performance piece, Blue Wheel, a performance collage of dance, visual art, projections, text, and music that Banyas developed partly during a stint in the Robert Rauschenberg Residency Program in Florida. Banyas’s collaborators are practically a who’s who of local artists. The movement and monologues are by Gregg Bielemeier, Dorinda Holler, Stephanie Schaaf and Celine Bouly; music is by David Ornette Cherry; painting stories written and performed by Lucinda Parker; props, projections, and performance are by Bill Will, and lighting design is by Peter West and Bill Boese. It’s all on March 14-15 in the Headwaters Theater, 55 NE Farragut St. #9, Portland. Suggested donation is $10.

Blue Wheel (TITLED final) HDmaster VIMEO.mp4 from susan banyas on Vimeo.