Jan Reaves

ArtsWatch Weekly: the kindness of strangers and the skin of our teeth

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Here it is, the middle of May, and suddenly Portland’s theater season is entering its final stretch before summer, which brings its own busy theater mini-season, indoors and out. The city’s two biggest companies open shows this weekend, both high-profile American classics and both due for a fresh look.

Flickering desire: "Streetcar" at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Flickering desire: “Streetcar” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

On Friday, Portland Center Stage opens its revival of Tennessee Williams’ rough, sensual, groundbreaking A Streetcar Named Desire, which in its 1947 debut featured Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and a smoldering hunk of muscle named Marlon Brando as Stanley. Center Stage has come up with a new Southern strategy, rethinking the play in a thoroughly multiracial milieu, with national players Kristen Adele as Stella, Demetrius Grosse as Stanley, and Diedrie Henry (a onetime regular at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as Blanche. Can we depend on the kindness of strangers?

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Painting in the long shadows of painting

Painters Sherrie Wolf and Jan Reaves take full advantage of the history of art and their painting skills

“It seems that the main focus of painting is to give pleasure,” the painter Robert Ryman said. “If someone can receive pleasure from looking at paintings, then that’s the best thing that can happen.” If you have interest in the pleasures of looking at paintings, this is a really good month.

Sherrie Wolf and Jan Reaves, showing at Laura Russo Gallery, work at opposite ends of the old false dichotomy between representational and abstract painting. Wolf paints still-lifes in a very tight realist way, and Reaves paints big bold painterly abstractions.

Sherrie Wolf, Sunflowers, 2016, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 inches

Sherrie Wolf, Sunflowers, 2016, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 inches

In a recent essay bemoaning the state of painting pedagogy that nowadays mistakes verbal critical thinking for the knowledge of painting acquired through the practice of actual painting skills, Laurie Fendrich says, “every painting exists in the long shadow of great paintings of the past.” Sherrie Wolf illustrates her shadows both by quoting the classic objects of still-life—glassware, crockery, fruits and vegetables, vases of tulips—and by incorporating images of “great paintings of the past” in her paintings of the present. The genre of still-life doesn’t have the meaning it had in its 17th century beginning. What was exotic, expensive or symbolic centuries ago in great still-life painting is now ordinary. We can buy fresh fruit at any time of the year. Glassware is cheap. Tulips used to be fantastically expensive, and the short life of flowers and insects could symbolize mortality. What once were possessions of the rich have become everyday stuff. Wolf’s paintings are about using mundane subjects richly.

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