Froelick Gallery

The Gallerists

In photographs and words, K.B. Dixon profiles three leading Portland gallery owners: Martha Lee, Charles Froelick, and Elizabeth Leach


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


No one (or almost no one) goes into the gallery business for the money—they go into it for the art.

I once published a piece titled An Artist’s Alphabet. It was a satiric tour of the art world in dictionary form. A was for Aerial View: “When an artist looks down on you.” B for Brushstroke: “The painter’s declaration that ‘Kilroy was here’.” C for Craft: “To the Classicist what ‘invention’ was to the Romantic.” D for Dada: “The movement that was, in a sense, MOMA’s papa.” E for Easel: “The rack upon which an artist’s hopes are tortured.” F for Form: “The shape ships are in.” And G for Gallery Owner: a person I cavalierly defined as “Satan in a black turtleneck.” I was, of course, parodying a barnacle-encrusted stereotype. When it comes to gallerists the opposite is true in most cases—most cases outside of New York, anyway.

Gallerists are, in fact, the hidden heroes of the art world. They are the people who promote our established artists and who bring new artists to our attention; the people who provide those artists a place to exhibit their work and a chance to pay their rent. They have a unique and valuable set of skills—they are part aesthetician, part businessperson, part soothsayer.

The three gallerists here have been a vital part of our artistic community for decades. They have played a major role in the creation and development of this city and states cultural history.


MARTHA LEE: Owner of Russo-Lee Gallery


“It doesn’t seem that long ago,” Martha Lee writes, “that I sat with Laura Russo as she worked on her introduction for the gallery’s 20th Anniversary catalogue…and suddenly here it is ten years later and we are celebrating our 30th.” That was in 2016. “While much has changed, so much remains the same. The Laura Russo Gallery remains firmly rooted in a deep commitment to the Pacific Northwest art community. The fourteen years I worked with Laura instilled in me a passion for the art and artists of this region. And since taking ownership of the gallery over [ten] years ago, my own commitment to promoting and celebrating the careers of local artists has only grown stronger.”

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Riding the musical merry-go-round

ArtsWatch Weekly: Thanks and farewell to David Shifrin, music virtual & live, news briefs, a gallery sampler, saving public art, left turns

IN A WORLD SO VOLATILE AND ABSURD that the president of the United States declares war on the post office (!), it might seem difficult to find a solid rock of stability, something to cling to with assurance and trust through snow or rain or heat or gloom of night. Yet for forty years David Shifrin has been just such a rock in Oregon: a musical anchor, guiding and safekeeping the estimable Chamber Music Northwest to a creative blend of traditional and contemporary music-making through a combination of grace, good humor, generosity, vision, variety, and a positively swinging clarinet.

David Shifrin, after forty years still caught up in the music. Photo courtesy Chamber Music Northwest

With the wrapping-up of the chamber festival’s virtual summer season, which drew 50,000 listeners worldwide for its 18 streamed concerts, Shifrin is finally passing the torch. Though he’ll continue to perform with Chamber Music Northwest on occasion, he’s passing the festival’s artistic leadership to the married team of pianist Gloria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim. In A hearty encore for David Shifrin, Angela Allen takes a look at Shifrin’s four decades of leadership and talks with several of the musicians who know him best, and to a person admire him. The reviews are in, and from his colleagues as well as the festival’s many fans, they are glowing.

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Signs and Portents: The urge for color

The First Thursday galleries suggest the complications of color

It’s gray and dreary out; political news is bleak. Even the twinkle lights on bare branches that look so cheerful when they go up in December lose their sparkle by February. It’s the post-twinkle winter slump. 

In the face of all this gloom, I thought I’d be most taken in by color this month. Clearly, several Portland galleries thought the same way for February’s First Thursday. PDX Contemporary has paintings by Adam Sorenson—rocky waterfalls with glowing rocks, neon rivulets, or jewel-toned linteled posts. Froelick Gallery has a group show this month but entices gallery goers in the door with a large colorful work by V. Maldonado. Cheer is dashed a bit upon learning the title is Carcel de Niños (Jail of Children), but it was color that got me in the door.

V. Maldonado, Carcel de Niños (2019). Photo credit: Mario Gallucci. Courtesy of Froelick Gallery.

Augen Gallery also embraces color this month with prints by the Eugene artist Tallmadge Doyle and the Austrian architect and designer Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). Hundertwasser is known for a distrust of straight lines. He associated them with the built world, and his work is a tangle of undulating curves and colorful flourishes. The charming prints at Augen embrace this decorative exuberance, incorporating floating eyes and mouths within both built and natural environment. 

Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Green Power (1972). Screenprint. 30×22 inches. Courtesy of Augen Gallery.

Hundertwasser was a committed environmental activist who moved to Aotearoa, New Zealand, in the early 1970s. It wasn’t until seeing the prints at Augen that I recognized the influence that Maori modes of representation made on the artist. The eyes and noses of the compartmentalized faces in Night Train (1978) look unmistakably like Maori hei tiki. The striations in the face in the screenprint Green Power (1972) recall Maori moko, or facial tattooing. Viennese Secessionism is often cited as foundational for Hundertwasser’s work, and these prints also include elements familiar from this tradition —foil accents and tesserae-like squares—but clearly his sojourns to New Zealand equally shaped the artist’s signature style.

Doyle shares Hundertwasser’s environmental concerns: Her show at Augen is named High Tides Rising, also the title of a series of prints in the show. The prints are silhouetted plant and animal life on shades of cyan and sky blue. As is so often the case with art but especially with prints, these are lovelier in person than in reproduction. The digital versions give a good sense of the woodblock silhouettes and pleasing colors but don’t fully capture the etched lines lurking below. The etched forms are inspired by cartography and provide a human-made foil for the organic forms. The juxtaposition is poignant: Humans are causing the sea to rise, threatening natural equilibrium and ourselves, and we chart our demise and incremental losses through maps and data.

Tallmadge Doyle, High Tides Rising XI (2019). Woodcut, line etching, India ink, watercolor. 24×18 inches. Courtesy of Augen Gallery

The preview materials for Dana Lynn Louis’ work, showing this month at Russo Lee, didn’t seem especially promising to me. There was a lot of gray, and I’m feeling pretty done with gray. The work caught my attention, though, even when I was just walking by the gallery and peering in the windows as the show was being hung on Wednesday afternoon (and it was raining).

Many of Louis’ compositions overlay gossamer materials—gauze or silk or even repurposed rice sacks with these patterns of tiny circles. I read the looping concatenations as abstracted chrysanthemums, but I think the artist regards them as lotus flowers. Celestial Fog II makes use of cellophane fringe, and several works list tea as one of the materials, presumably used as a dye. Branching capillary-like forms that recall algae or moss spread over the surfaces of several works; I felt reminded to breathe in looking at them. 

Dana Lynn Louis, Weave (2019-2020). Acrylic, oil, ink, and thread on tarlatan. 84×168 inches. Courtesy of Russo Lee Gallery

Louis has done many larger, flashier installations than what is at Russo Lee this month. Though none of this work is small-scale—Whisper is the smallest, and even it is nearly 4 feet by 3 feet—I wouldn’t characterize these as installations, either. Most are two-dimensional. Weave is the exception, and the largest of the lot, a black horizontal scroll suspended from the ceiling. But appreciating it requires a closeness that I don’t typically associate with installation work. The immersive component isn’t the “being in” the space but the contemplation of the tiny circles. It’s smaller and more intimate than it seems at first look. Appreciating the larger form requires losing sight of the individual circles; stepping back to see the whole.

Dana Lynn Louis, detail view Whisper (2019-2020). Thread, acrylic, and ink on silk tarlatan. 50.25 x 39.25 inches. Courtesy of Russo Lee Gallery

The gallery’s press release explained that Louis’s works in the show were made as part of an artist’s residency in Senegal and the local Gather:Make:Shelter, a community project of which the artist is the director. The residency program, Thread, is a project of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and committed to the Bauhaus ideal of the fusion of art and life. Gather:Make:Shelter is Louis’s brainchild and was inspired by her Senegal residencies (she’s had two); it brings together artists who are housed and those experiencing houselessness for workshops and collaborative projects. In September, the organization held a celebration at Pioneer Courthouse Square and sold more than 500 bowls handmade by workshop participants. 

Russo Lee is one of Portland’s swankier galleries, and the work is undeniably pretty, but it would be an error to underestimate the work’s potential because of this. Louis is clearly committed to understanding art as a means of community building and social connection. It fits exactly with the utopian ideals of the Bauhaus so dearly held by the Albers. 

In a statement about her work, Louis says: “It is increasingly important to me that all my work, no matter its form, moves toward light, weaving us together and creating levity and beauty along the way.” The meditative qualities of Louis’ work, the repetition of circles or rhythm of stitches, seem an appropriate antidote to the February gloom. They serve as a visual reminder of interconnectedness: A single circle or stitch is meaningful as part of the larger whole, and one leads to the next. All gloomy February days lead toward spring. We’re moving toward the light. 

If only political change were as certain.

This article was made possible with support from The Ford Family Foundation’s Visual Arts Program.

A history of Portland women artists

Katherine Ace's "9 Portraits" celebrates the strength of a generation of women artists. All nine gather to talk about how they got there.

It’s all about the art, of course. But it’s also about the artists and the viewers, and how and why the art came to be. So on a sunny Saturday morning at Froelick Gallery off Northwest Broadway in Portland, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 people, many of whom had ducked and dodged around the Portland International Beerfest setting up in the park a block away, gathered to delve into a particular work of art and its double and singular visions.

Katherine Ace, 9 Portraits, diptych, 2019; oil, alkyd on canvas, 72 x 120 inches, at Froelick Gallery through July 13. Photo: Jim Lommasson

The crowd, many of whom were also artists, packed the place to get a close look at 9 Portraits, artist Katherine Ace’s 10-foot-wide diptych group portrait of nine prominent veteran Portland women artists, and to hear those artists talk about the painting, their careers, and the often difficult path of making it as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field.

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Tom Prochaska: Painting in the round

Paul Sutinen continues his series of interviews with Oregon artists, this time with painter and printmaker Tom Prochaska

Tom Prochaska, who turns 73 this month, began his career with an intense involvement in printmaking, both as an artist and as a professional fine art printer. During the last two decades his main focus has become painting—paintings in which scenes and figures seem to slowly emerge from a fog of small brushstrokes.

In his current exhibition, “The Boxer,” at Froelick Gallery, through March 31, Prochaska includes paintings in a new circular format, as well as several papier-mâché figurative sculptures. Tom Prochaska will be speaking about his work at the gallery on Saturday, March 10, at 11 am.

Tom Prochaska in his studio with his big painting in process/Paul Sutinen

You do painting, you do sculpture, you do printmaking—do you think of any one of those is being your primary medium?

My primary right now is painting and it’s growing and more that way. I know where the sculpture fits. Printmaking—I was printing for other people. I was trained in Switzerland and Pratt Institute. A lot of that was the way I was making a living, printing for other people. I would include learning from that into my homework. So, people view me as a printmaker, but I’ve always been a painter.

Yes, I think that’s the way I came to know your work. How long have you felt that painting is taking the lead in your work?

The last 15 years. As I get older the printmaking becomes more challenging physically. I used to print 50 prints for somebody in a day, and I would print for myself. Now, for example, I have a show in Switzerland of just prints in September and the editions I’m printing are five because I can handle that physically. I did a portfolio as a tribute to a group of people I know. I’ll do those kind of things now, but it’s not the driving force. I would say for the last 15 years I’ve been centered on painting more and, like that painting back there [on the far studio wall], it might take me a year to finish that. I don’t have any idea where it’s going right now. It’s going a bunch of different places, but I’ve slowed everything down a bit. I’m being more patient.

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