Laura Ross-Paul

Interview in a Time of Sequestration

A Photographer Talks to Himself About Shadows and the Mysteries of Black & White


ESSAY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


It seems much of your work is focused on the cultural life of your city and state?

Yes, it is. To paraphrase that much revered Southern snake-charmer, William Faulkner, I discovered my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth photographing and that I would probably never live long enough to exhaust it.

So why black and white?

When I am obliged to talk about my photography—which isn’t that often, thankfully—I almost always start off with a discussion of my antediluvian preference for black and white. I do this because the question “Why black and white” is almost always the first one asked in the Q&As that invariably follow these talks, and I am hoping to preempt it, to cut it off at the pass as they say in Cowboy, because more often than not it is asked with an antagonizing hint of disapproval. It is a question that used to catch me by surprise. It doesn’t any more. My answer to it is always short. Black and white are for me—as they were for the famously crusty Robert Frank—the colors of photography.

Omar El Akkad, Writer, 2019.

Where Frank saw black and white as symbolizing hope and despair, I see them as augmenting our perception of form and content. Color, as we commonly think of it, is information. Lots of it. Black and white is an abstraction. When you subtract color you focus attention on form and content—on graphic order and psychological subtlety. For me black and white simply has a greater emotional and intellectual impact.

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The Artists Series 3: Visual Artists

Ten portraits in black and white by K.B. Dixon of Oregon artists who are helping to define what Portland and the state look like


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This is the third installment of portraits in The Artist Series. The first two focused on Oregon writers. This one focuses on visual artists—the gifted painters and sculptors who have made invaluable contributions to the character and culture of this city and state, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.            

It would take pages to catalog the awards, commissions, and honors of these artists and color reproductions of their work to provide a full appreciation of their wizardry so I will simply refer you to their various perches in cyberspace—their virtual ateliers.


LEE KELLY: SCULPTOR



Kelly is one of the most revered artists in the Pacific Northwest. He is best known for his monumental public sculptures. These large pieces are “often animalistic, sometimes suggestive of calligraphy or Asian script, always poetic.” – Bob Hicks, ArtScatter.

Examples of Kelly’s work can be found at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery and at lee-kelly.net.

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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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Face to Face: K.B. Dixon photographs Oregon artists

The photographer and novelist's new book and exhibition turns the camera on 32 working artists in their homes and studios

Face to Face,” novelist and photographer K.B. Dixon’s new book, features photographic profiles of thirty-two Oregon visual artists, mostly in their studios. An exhibition of the photographs opened Wednesday at Michael Parsons Fine Art in Portland, and runs through February 27. Opening reception is 1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, February 6. ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks wrote the introduction to the book. We reprint it here, in slightly revised form.

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Walk with photographer K.B. Dixon into the studios and homes of the thirty-two Oregon artists in Face to Face and it’s as if you’re walking into industrial zones. Which, of course, you are. These are working spaces, and working faces.

Looking at the portraits and studio shots in Dixon’s selection of photographs, I think of muscle and work and energy in repose, just itching to get back at it. Dixon’s photos aren’t tidy images of finished artwork lining pristine gallery walls. They’re backstage documents of the process itself; of the zone where ideas and industry merge and creation begins. Making art is hard physical work, an intense undertaking that involves the brain and hand and sinew and bone. Seeing these practitioners in these settings is like seeing dancers in the studio, or athletes in the weight room.

  • Sculptor Lee Kelly, sitting like a craggy farmer amid the spools and vises of his machine shop.
  • The young drawing and printmaking artist Samantha Wall, pencil in hand, bent intently and precisely over her work desk.
  • Printmaker Tom Prochaska, hair bristling like an absent-minded experiment in static electricity, framed by the gears and wheel of his press.
  • Sculptor M.J. Anderson, surrounded on the steps of her Nehalem studio by a worn broom, a giant dustpan, stacks of buckets, and heavy-duty hooks and chains.
  • Ceramic and steel artist J.D. Perkin, standing amid a welter of hoses and hand tools and a big rustic kiln, torsos and body parts and a big striped head lined neatly on shelves.
  • Painter Laura Ross-Paul, straight and sturdy, balanced between brawny paintings taller than she is.

Lee Kelly. Photo: K.B. Dixon

Lee Kelly. Photo: K.B. Dixon

Like the work of most good portrait artists, Dixon’s photographs perch somewhere between self-aware surfaces and excursions in depth. They’re collaborations, partnerships between subject and artist. The subjects know they’re being photographed, and pose for the camera, but also leave themselves open to the subtleties and secrets of what the camera finds. The results can be startlingly varied, from Sally Cleveland’s anxious gaze, to Jack Portland’s rumpled-Yoda reflectiveness, to Sherrie Wolf’s hands-on-hips declaration of independence, to the elder cool of Mel Katz, leaning back, smiling quizzically, cigarette propped jauntily in hand.

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