Jeremy Okai Davis

VizArts Monthly: flame gazing, a pop-up gallery, and dark fairy tales

May offerings include multiple group shows from artists working in a wide variety of media

Spring is in full-swing and the galleries are blooming. A new pop-up appears on Alberta, LACMA loans PAM a 17th-century masterpiece, and Wolff gallery presents the wild self-portraiture of Rachel Mulder, an artist as comfortable making images with typewriters as she is making them with human hair. We’ve got some exciting group shows at Littman Gallery, the Portland Japanese Garden, and Roll-Up Gallery, spanning painting, book arts, and traditional ceramics. Get out there and enjoy the sun and the art!


Georges de La Tour (French, 1593–1652). The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame, ca. 1635–37

Masterworks | Portland: Georges de La Tour

April 13 – October 13, 2019
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue

This is the sixth painting featured in PAM’s Masterworks | Portland series, a program focused on individual paintings from major historical artists whose work is not found in the museum’s permanent collection. Georges de La Tour is known for his exceptional use of light, especially his nighttime scenes with artificial sources of light. This portrait of Mary Magdalen, on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a striking example of his talents.

Okai Davis — Messenger


April 25th – May 13th
Temporary gallery
1603 Alberta St.

A three-week, pop-up gallery featuring five artists from the Northwest and beyond – Helday de la Cruz, Joshua Flint, Alexandra Becker-Black, Jeremy Okai Davis, Samir Khurshid, and Samuel Eisen-Meyers. Painting, portraiture, and the human figure form through-lines in this group show. Davis’s portraiture, Flint’s dreamy “memoryscapes” and de la Cruz’s illustrative engagement with identity seem to be in dialogue with each other and are joined by Becker-Black’s watercolors and Eisen-Meyers’ themes of “social reality.” The gallery will be open every day during the run of the show.

“Sun Pillar” by Hiroshi Nakamura, Photo by Katomi /Studio Eye

Northern Lights: Ceramic Art of Hokkaido Revisited

April 27 – May 27, 2019
Portland Japanese Garden
611 SW Kingston Road

This spectacular ceramic art exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the Hokkaido Pottery Society and ten years since its initial exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden. The 60-year-old, sister-city relationship between Portland and Sapporo has resulted in a long-standing relationship between the Hokkaido Pottery Society and Oregon Pottery Association which in turn has resulted in many reciprocal exhibitions. This one at the Japanese Garden promises to be one of the finest. Guest curated by Sachiko Matsuyama, this show features major works by 21 established artists of the Hokkaido Pottery Society as well as material from its talented broader membership.

Larissa Lockshin, Untitled (Hope She Will), 2019

Odette: Larissa Lockshin

May 3 – June 8
Melanie Flood Projects
420 SW Washington St., #301

New York artist Larissa Lockshin’s first solo show in Portland tackles the cultural construction of “woman” as an “absolute category.” The press release continues “this regime of representation has naturalized woman as image, beautiful to look at, defined by her looks.” The title of the exhibition comes from the leading role in the ballet Swan Lake; the compositions address Degas’s famous ballerinas. Rather than flat images, the ballerinas here are actors in their own right. In the sparer, abstract works that round out the show, Lockshin’s signature tulip shapes seem to echo tutus.

Rachel Mulder, Shower Friend 13, 2019

Self Portrait Party: Rachel Mulder

May 1–June 30, 2019
Wolff Gallery
2804 SE Ankeny St.

Though she trained in printmaking at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Mulder finds novel, surprising uses for a wide variety of media in the service of constructing images, often self-portraits. Best known of these are her detailed, expressive “drawings” that use heavily layered text from manual typewriters. She calls this show “a weird party on paper, featuring past, present, and future selves.” Selections from her Showerfriend series will also be featured in this show, in which she makes fantastical faces out of loose hair plastered to the wall of her shower.

Heidi Schwegler, Gilded Planter

Plane of Scattered Pasts: Heidi Schwegler and Quayola

Upfor Gallery
929 NW Flanders St.
May 2 – June 22, 2019

This exhibition focuses on ordinary objects and their “inexorable fragmentation” – a sort of meditation on the inevitability of aging, breaking, and changing. Schwegler embellishes and recasts the material and function of the objects at hand. London-based artist Quayola brings video, software, and installation to the conversation, investigating the boundary between real and artificial spaces and things. Schwegler will be present at the preview which runs from 5:30 to 7:30 on Wednesday, May 1.


Work by Judilee Fitzhugh

Leaves of Resistance

May 3 – 31
Roll-Up Gallery
1715 SE Spokane St.

This show features a range of works from The Secret Society of Book Artists including handmade books, boxes, and installations. Calligraphy, marbling and natural impression dyeing are among the many techniques on display in the works by this politically engaged group launched by OCAC and PNCA instructor Marilyn Zornado more than a decade ago. This exhibition is inspired by the life and works of Walt Whitman. The closing gala on May 31st celebrates the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth and will feature screenings and poetry readings in partnership with Passages Bookshop. Artists include Dawn Banker, Anita Bigelow, Marian Christensen, Mary Elliott, Ellen Fortin, Joely Helgesen, Judilee Fitzhugh, Deanna Lautenbach, Megan Leftwich, Ilsa Perse, Kathy Karbo, Kathy Kuehn, Bernie Smith, Gay Walker, and Marilyn Zornado.

Opening Champagne Reception
Friday, May 3
5–9 PM

Show Closing & Walt Whitman Birthday Celebration
Friday, May 31
7 PM

Image by Tim Tran

Under Pressure

May 6 – 22, 2019
Littman Gallery
1825 SW Broadway

Littman Gallery’s 7th Annual juried exhibition, curated by Srijon Chowdhury and Safiyah Maurice, brings a robust lineup of artists to the PSU gallery. The roster includes Sara Ayers, Alexandra Burnap, Chloe Friedlein, Courtney Gallardo, Josh Gates, and Hanna Gentile. Chowdhury calls the show “a little dark fairytale-ish” and describes it as a journey into a mysterious, wild place: “Did I come here by myself? I don’t think that this is where I want to be, but it wont let me turn back. I’m not afraid.” A reception will be held on Wednesday, May 15, 5–8 PM


Social engagement: politics, resistance, and art

2018 in Review, Part 5: Oregon ArtsWatch visited creators in all media who are addressing problems ranging from racism to climate change

The world is indisputably in a precarious position — not just politically and socially, but economically and even ecologically. It is a moment of crisis. Artists play a crucial role in moments like these, helping the rest of us arrive at a shared cognition of what is — of seeing, sensing, and feeling that roil of life in a way that clarifies, opens eyes, and maybe even showing us a way forward.

What struck me in compiling this year-end reading list on socially engaged art in Oregon is the extent to which artists strove not simply to see and interpret, but to peel back layers, to reveal what is largely hidden — either by design or by accident — by institutions, by geography, and even by the telling of history. There may be no “new” stories to tell, but too many stories haven’t been heard by those who need to hear them, by people who perhaps want to see, but don’t know how.

So dive into this compilation. There’s a bit of everything: visual art, theater, music, conceptual art, literature. And, of course, the usual disclaimer: The choices here are highly subjective and presented in no particular order, and obviously are not intended to be comprehensive.



Witnesses in a churning world

Artist Hung Liu says “Official Portraits: Immigrant” (2006, lithograph with collage) is one of three self-portraits representing stages of her life.

Sept. 27: ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks checked out a fall show at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem called Witness: Themes of Social Justice in Contemporary Printmaking and Photography. It featured a lineup of artists who look at the world through a lens that is both personal and cultural, and in a way that connects our present moment with history.

“The idea of art as a pristine thing, separated from the hurly-burly of the everyday world and somehow above it all, is a popular notion,” Hicks wrote. “But a much stronger case exists for the idea of art as the expression of the roil of life, in all its messiness and cruelty and prejudices and passions and pleasures and occasional outbursts of joy. Art comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is the world in which we live.”

The article is a mini-tour of the exhibition itself, with nearly 20 pieces accompanied by the artists’ personal statements reflecting the roil and rebellion of their creative processes.



David Ludwig: Telling the Earth’s story through music

Chamber Music Northwest performs ‘Pangæa.’ Photo: Tom Emerson.

July 27: “Pangæa was the single huge continent on Earth encompassed by one vast ocean over 200 million years ago – eons before dinosaurs, much less humans,” musician David Ludwig writes in the program notes for composition of the same name. “It was an entirely different planet than one we’d recognize today, lush with life of another world.” That’s the world Ludwig interpreted musically in the West Coast premiere of Pangæa, a piece inspired by the ancient Earth, and the threat of extinction as a result of human-caused climate change. Matthew Andrews talked to him about this extraordinary piece of music for ArtsWatch. Best of all: You can listen to it yourself.


Art review: Resistance begins inside

The six artists in 'The Work Continues' at PCC Sylvania’s North View Gallery respond to the political crisis by investigating their own identities


The Work Continues, at PCC Sylvania’s North View Gallery (the exhibition closed on Saturday), emerged from a unanimous functional depression felt by its six artists and two curators. We may easily guess the source of this unrest, even without curator Sam Hopple’s explanation that this artistic survey first took form in 2016 as a direct response to a numbness following the Presidential election.

“The Work Continues” (installation view), 2018; PCC North View Gallery/Image courtesy of Maria T.D. Inocencio

However, the manner in which these six artists chose to further engage with this unsettling environment—through a complex exploration of identity—gives this show its place in contemporary art activism. Each of these artists, through their own respective processes and mediums, toggles the question of “Who are we?”—as artists, as advocates, and as humans. Tapping into something deeply personal, each piece in this show is a vulnerable and raw demonstration of art that does not compromise.


“Like Like”: Jeremy Okai Davis’ post-digital portraits

Davis's latest paintings show how social media users picture themselves.

Jeremy Okai Davis’ “Like Like,” on view for the rest of the month at Cast Iron Studios, is titled after the banal postmodern act of thumbs-upping a digital image on a social media site—and maybe that’s all there is to it? If that’s what you see, the artist won’t argue. “My choosing of what to paint does come from my liking of these images,” Davis explains of the photos he’s painted from friends’ Facebooks and Instagrams.

Frankly hipsterish subjects mug a range of expressions and gestures with obvious awareness of the camera, but they shrug off prior generations’ “smile and say cheese” poses. This generation of image-crafters clearly prefers to be caught in an act, rather than frozen from some flattering angle. This evolution fascinates Davis, both because people in motion are so graphically dynamic, and because the habit of acting rather than posing has become a hallmark of our visual times and virtual selves.

Pink Cup

“Pink Cup” is a prime example of Davis’s favorite subjects: Young, self-styled, expressive women, captured in a moment of social acting meant for online sharing. They couldn’t look more complicit.

Davis’s 2009 show Shits ‘n’ Giggles and his 2010 works had a similar tone to “Like Like,” featuring mostly young, boldly-dressed-and-accessorized-subjects captured in moments of expressive action. In 2011, Davis changed his focus to bygone child sitcom stars. 2012 brought his most conceptual work to date: recreating 1970’s African-American pomade ads, but superimposing visual edits with heavy philosophical intention: some subjects were reduced to pixels to indicate that population’s lack of public recognition, while light-skinned subjects got Elizabethan neck-ruffs as a sinister symbol of their shade-stratified status. Davis’s 2013 paintings again crib from 70’s and 80’s retro advertising and celebrity images, but now with primarily white subjects, board game poses, and uneasy self-help-book titles. Not what they seem, these pieces have been Davis’s way of processing a surreal personal experience: being interrogated by police after a recent stay in a hotel coincided with another guest’s murder.

In "Ruffnecks," Davis bestows his light-skinned 70's subjects with a symbol of shade-stratified status.

In “Ruffnecks,” Davis bestowed his light-skinned 70’s model subjects with a symbol of shade-stratified status.

Davis’s body of work viewed as a whole invites an important question: where does he see himself—among White hipsters, or Black history? “I don’t,” he admits. Where many portraitists use their paintings of others as a secret vehicle for self-revelation, Davis instead attempts to stay out of the way. Once, when specifically asked to paint a self-portrait, he submitted only his torso in a polo shirt, wearing a button reading “URYIMHERE [you are why I’m here].” Yet even through his near-militant selflessness, Davis’s work highlights a distinctive style. Here are a few defining motifs to look for in Like Like.

Solid Backgrounds with isolated, almost floating subjects.

In “Giggles,” Davis used textured color fields and geometric shapes to subdivide the canvas and make its pattern a secondary subject. “Like” backgrounds, however, are solids with a mere hint of atmosphere, allowing subjects to float to the foreground and be sole occupants of the space.

Bold textile patterns, bright colors.

Davis has a mixed reaction to the observation that his subjects seem like hipsters. On one hand, the designation seems fitting and inevitable, and matches up with modern dictionary defs. On the other, it can seem pejorative, or pin his work too tightly in its era. Spawned by beatniks and later appropriated by Black bohemianism (“You down with Digable Planets, yous a hipster. Shit.” ~1993) the term now seems to favor those for whom style and lifestyle (too?) tightly intertwine. Do or don’t call Davis’s subjects “hipsters,” but they’re undeniably stylin’, wearing a lot of bold prints and large accessories that Davis enjoys the painterly challenge of re-creating. Through the rigors of their self-design, hipsters make themselves preeminently paintable. Shit.

Painterly decisions, drips.

The images in “Like” tend to taper into drips toward their base, both as an homage to Warhol’s works, and as a concession to the medium of paint—as Keith Haring aldvocated, “letting…materials have a kind of power for themselves.” Daub pointillism is also a favorite for Davis, forcing the viewer’s eye to make the final assembly of only-nearly-smooth forms.

Tough girls.

Davis favors female subjects over male, and confrontational character poses over “beauty shots.” In contrast to his 60’s beatnik influences, Davis belongs to a school of artists (his former housemates include rockabilly superstar Sallie Ford and riot grrl comedian Rebecca Waits) who treats women as characters rather than objects. This perspective wouldn’t be worthy of mention if it weren’t still rare in the realm of portraiture.

Thumbs-up and gun-slinging.

Those who’ve taken or seen photos of folks from various countries may notice the following: Americans tend to give a thumbs-up or shoot a “finger-gun,” while people from elsewhere more habitually give the “V” that signifies “victory” or “peace.” Guns and thumbs, therefore, mark Davis’s subjects as distinctly American, with the social predispositions that that identity implies.

Davis’s initial attraction to pointing gestures was subconscious; as a graphic designer, he automatically favors images that direct gaze motion. However, as the hand-gesture motif has begun to recur in his work, he’s highlighted it, and sometimes even isolated it from the rest of the canvas. In one image, an “actual” gun (though a toy) is brandished with exactly the same social performance attitude that elsewhere accompanies the “finger-gun.” Elsewhere, “thumbs up” hands float free of their subjects for added emphasis.

“It can seem like a cop-out to not state the meaning of your work, but I really do want people to experience it for themselves,” says Davis. “I’m happy just generating discussion.” Well, shoot. Discuss.


A. L. Adams also writes monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine.
Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch  | The Portland Mercury

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