Melanie Flood Projects

More than a sum of parts

Rose Dickson's looping chains and cursive forms offer meditations on relationships and interconnectedness

by SUE TAYLOR

With remarkable ingenuity and endearing charm, Rose Dickson explores affairs of the heart. Her exhibition at Melanie Flood Projects, on view through September 27, reveals a gifted artist, creating watercolors, metals, ceramics, and wool rugs, all to draw us into her meditation on emotional connectedness. Dickson achieves this by means of a set of abstract symbols of her own devising; they repeat across her mediums in various combinations, like letters of a private alphabet. The cursive, symmetrical shapes stand in the artist’s mind for certain temperaments—or so we learn from an essay by artist Calum Walter that accompanies the show. He identifies two of the symbols as air and fire respectively, and we’re reminded of the ancient theory of humors associating mental and emotional dispositions with the four elements. Loops and hooks are characteristic features of Dickson’s graphic symbols; while the forms are individually unique, they are made to be linked together.

Rose Dickson, Ocean (2020). Hammered silver, 120 x 2 1/2 inches. Photo courtesy of Melanie Flood Projects.

Eight of the nineteen recent works on view are delicate chains of hammered silver, suspended from the gallery’s ten-foot ceiling and reaching to the floor. Each chain is composed of multiple iterations of one of Dickson’s symbolic forms, alternating right-side up, upside down, and so on, entwined in harmonious intricacy. A paper-clip chain is an apt but too crude comparison; Dickson’s chains are precious and beautiful, with evocative titles like The Kiss, A Balance of Power, or Vanity. Attempting visually and mentally to disentangle the basic unit from the whole, and to discern how the parts cohere, is a mesmerizing exercise. The structural principle may be simple, but the result appears complex, like the elaborate interlace in Celtic manuscript illuminations.

Rose Dickson, Seeing Eye to Eye (2019). Hand-hooked wool, 31 1/2 x 45 inches. Photo credit: Area Array

In the chain titled Ocean (perhaps to call up the rhythmic repetition of breaking waves), one may discover the curvilinear looping motif that reappears at a larger scale in the hand-hooked rug displayed on the floor in an adjacent room, Seeing Eye to Eye. Centered on the rug’s pale gray ground, the motif’s mirrored iterations, one red, one blue, interlock in pleasing unity. Conjured here through purely abstract form is that wonderfully agreeable feeling when two minds meet, or when similar personalities find themselves in sync. While pondering Dickson’s graceful emblem, I thought of Aristophanes’ theory of love in Plato’s Symposium, in which human beings are imagined as the severed halves of once whole, symmetrical organisms. Bifurcated by angry gods and thus piningly incomplete, when in life these beings locate their lost counterparts, they joyously reunite. Seeing Eye to Eye distills the spirit of this myth of romantic love in a heraldic symbol that could also represent friendship, brother- or sisterhood, collaboration, or like-minded solidarity.

The possibility that a conjoining of two might yield more than the sum of its parts underpins the design of Engine Room, a larger rug (nearly five feet long) mounted on the gallery wall. Here two side-by-side quatrefoils—they could be four-petalled flowers or four-bladed fans—are rendered in orange and green respectively, each decorated on three blades with its own set of Dickson’s graphic symbols. The fans’ respective fourth blades overlap at the center of the composition, forming a small pointed ellipse. This recombinant shape, picked out by Dickson in lavender and inscribed with a shared a symbol, suggests the miraculous potential we find in relationship with another, whether procreative, emotionally invigorating, or otherwise transformational. Partnership becomes a generative space, an “engine room” producing new power and energy otherwise unavailable to the individual alone.

Rose Dickson, Engine Room (2020). Hand-hooked and tufted wool, 42 1/2 x 57 1/2 inches. Photo credit: Area Array

That affectionate bonds of all sorts preoccupy this artist becomes apparent in several of her diminutive watercolor and gouache paintings. Seven are included in this exhibition; presented in shiny black glazed stoneware frames created by Dickson herself, they stand on wall-mounted shelves and demand close scrutiny. One of them, Almanac, contains a series of tiny vignettes within a grid formed by ten vertical rows of Dickson’s graphic symbol for fire traversed horizontally by hooked chains. The little scenes are captioned in the painting’s extra-long subtitle: conversations with my Aunt Elizabeth; my mom watching Mt. St. Helens erupt; The Burnside Bridge; some friends you have to leave; looking up; my house in Portland at nighttime; view from Alexander Studio; it was snowing. (The phrase “looking up” has no corresponding scene; perhaps it refers to optimism or respect or some other abstract quality represented by the solid orange-red areas of the grid.) Friends, family, landmarks, events, the natural world, all warm or trouble Dickson’s heart in this charming almanac of emotional weather. In one vignette, she depicts an open book to record those talks with her aunt, rendering the tenor if not the subject of each conversation by means of one of her signature graphic symbols inscribed on the book’s pages. The awful truth of her conclusion “some friends you have to leave” is conveyed by an image of a praying mantis: certain friends will love . . . then devour you. Dickson may be sentimental but is no Pollyanna about relationships. Some can injure or imprison you, just as her many-hooked grid in Almanac may begin to resemble a barbed-wire fence.

Rose Dickson, Almanac: conversations with my Aunt Elizabeth; my mom watching Mt. St. Helens erupt; The Burnside Bridge; some friends you have to leave; looking up; my house in Portland at nighttime; view from Alexander Studio; it was snowing (2020). watercolor and gouache on paper, wood, house paint, glazed stoneware. 9 x 11 1/2 inches. Photo credit: Area Array.

Silent Forces at Work depicts a house in flames. Inadvertently tragic today given the actual homes consumed by Oregon’s raging wildfires, the image is hard to contemplate in this particular moment without its literal dimension. If one’s mind could dwell in the realm of metaphor, it still might be possible to discover a moral about interpersonal relationships in the smoking conflagration Dickson envisions. An array of her cryptic symbols hovers in the sky above the burning home; they stand for different personality types, or different needs or moods, and signal how, however benign on their own, certain types become hotly combustible in contact with each other. Home and family offer the setting and the kindling for such explosive emotional catastrophes. 

Rose Dickson, Silent Forces at Work (2020). Watercolor and gouache on paper, wood, house paint, glazed stoneware. 11 x 9 x 1 1/2 inches. Photo credit: Area Array.

Thus the domestic subtext that runs through Dickson’s work—notable in her paintings of little houses or of interiors with chairs, drapes, or chandeliers, but also in the real rugs and candelabra on display in this exhibition, accoutrements for the home. A pair of ceramic candleholders with lighted beeswax tapers lends a votive aspect to the entire installation. Titled Bad Year and Good Year, the respective red and black ceramic candelabra, with their looping stems and hooked branches, translate Dickson’s graphic symbol for fire into three dimensions. It is a stunningly inspired elaboration of her graphic vocabulary, illuminating—for me at least—the burning brilliance of her art.

Rose Dickson, Bad Year (left) and Good Year (right) (2020). Glazed stoneware with hand-dipped beeswax candles. Each 9 1/2 x 5 x 5 inches. Photo credit: Area Array.

Dickson (b. 1989) is a native Portlander, which registers clearly in some of her work and will have special meaning for local audiences. The significance of the show’s title, however, “Giantess,” was lost on this viewer. Perhaps it describes the artist herself in outsized relation to the little doll-house worlds she presents in her pictures. Certainly her talent looms very large. Would it be impertinent, though, to propose an alternative title for an engaging body of work at once so intelligent and systematic yet so mysterious and deeply heartfelt? I respectfully submit to the artist for her consideration: “Rose Dickson’s Hieroglyphics of Love.”


Giantess is open through September 27th at Melanie Flood Projects by appointment only.


Sue Taylor received her BA in art history from Roosevelt University and her MA and PhD from the University of Chicago. Formerly critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, curator of prints and drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University, she is a longtime corresponding editor from Portland for Art in America and professor emerita of art history at Portland State University. Her many publications include Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety (MIT) and the newly released Grant Wood’s Secrets (University of Delaware Press).

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

aRT.pdx

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

 

Art review: Beyond the horizon

Teresa Christiansen's new photography show at Melanie Flood Projects takes liberties with the landscape

The title for Teresa Christiansen’s current exhibit at Melanie Flood Projects, Indifferent Horizons, is taken from an early passage in Robert Smithson’s essay, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan.” Smithson speaks paradoxically of a horizon that is “closed in its openness,” always moving yet static, out of our grasp yet right below us. His hyper-attentive meditation on physical space functions as a way to displace himself for the making of art.

While only two of Christiansen’s photographs and photo-based images contain a quasi-apparent (and therefore if not indifferent, then problematic) horizon line, this is not necessarily a sticking point. As Smithson would suggest, “Contrary to affirmations of nature, art is inclined to semblances and masks, it flourishes on discrepancies.” We can, however, find a comprehensive understanding of Christiansen’s works by virtue of their content, and then place them in the tradition of landscape. In contemporary landscape, the need for the horizon has been deprioritized, as well as other liberties taken regarding the how and what of representation, all to address less direct “depths” of the natural world.

Teresa Christiansen, “Monument”/Courtesy Melissa Flood Projects

Teresa Christiansen, “Monument”/Courtesy Melanie Flood Projects

Because Christiansen has not limited herself to the standard presentation of flat, 2D prints, her manipulations also align with other art genres, namely sculpture, and collage, and certainly recall painting. But make no mistake, the eight pieces exhibited in the gallery are very clearly about and of the photographic tradition. Still, her piece “Monument” is more collage than photograph, or rather, is an interwoven amalgam of various, torn, black and white photos, and is a good representation of having one foot in photography and another in another medium. Her fragments of prints are strong in content, layered and interwoven to create a formal structure reminiscent of cubist or abstract painting. Yet it is the skilled placement of these torn scraps that make this piece an uncannily idealized (and therefore impossible) landscape. Moreover, it is brought about in a very old-school, cut-and-paste manner.

Continues…