michael bowley

Going, going, gone: 2019 in review

A look back at the ups and downs and curious side trips of the year on Oregon's cultural front

What a year, right? End of the teens, start of the ’20s, and who knows if they’ll rattle or roar?

But today we’re looking back, not ahead. Let’s start by getting the big bad news out of the way. One thing’s sure in Oregon arts and cultural circles: 2019’s the year the state’s once-fabled craft scene took another staggering punch square on the chin. The death rattles of the Oregon College of Art and Craft – chronicled deeply by ArtsWatch’s Barry Johnson in a barrage of news stories and analyses spiced with a couple of sharp commentaries, Democracy and the arts and How dead is OCAC? – were heard far and wide, and the college’s demise unleashed a flood of anger and lament.

The crashing and burning of the venerable craft college early in the year followed the equally drawn-out and lamented closure of Portland’s nationally noted Museum of Contemporary Craft in 2016, leaving the state’s lively crafts scene without its two major institutions. In both cases the sense that irreversible decisions were being made with scant public input, let alone input from crafters themselves, left much of the craft community fuming. When, after the closure, ArtsWatch published a piece by the craft college’s former president, Denise Mullen, the fury hit the fan with an outpouring of outraged online comments, most by anonymous posters with obvious connections to the school.

Vanessa German, no admittance apply at office, 2016, mixed media assemblage, 70 x 30 x 16 inches, in the opening exhibit of the new Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University. Photo: Spencer Rutledge, courtesy PSU


ArtsWatch Weekly: Keeping the beat going

It's end-of-the-year donation time. Help us keep the arts & culture clock ticking. Also: Whole lotta holiday-season shows goin' on.

AS THE HOLIDAY SEASON GETS INTO SWING and the end of the calendar year approaches, I’m turning over the top of this week’s column to Laura Grimes, ArtsWatch’s talented executive director, who says this better than I can:


I’m incredibly proud of the phenomenal work my colleagues publish every day on ArtsWatch. We never sleep. And I mean that. I wake up in the morning and new stories are up, as if elves have been working in the night. 

I work with the best editors, the best writers, the best photographers. It’s a giant labor of love to bring you quality independent arts journalism – the criticism, news, profiles, and heart-warming essays that are hard to find anywhere else as traditional news outlets continue to shrink dramatically.

Donations from you make all that possible. We’ve doubled in size in three years, and we still find it hard to keep up. This is what you can look forward to in the coming months: 

– In January we are running 20 interviews for our Vision 2020 project, which evaluates the arts scene and forecasts how it might change in the years to come. Some of the stories are already in, and they’re as telling and insightful as you might expect. We’re pretty excited to share them with you.

– We’ll have expanded Visual Arts coverage in 2020, thanks to a generous grant from the Ford Family Foundation.

– We have more deeply reported stories in the works in our occasional series about the Art of Learning – how do art and education impact each other? – and the Art of Space: In an escalating real estate market, how and where do artists and arts groups find places to make and show their work?

As I said, we never sleep. Every penny of your donations pays for stories. Please join us as we prepare for another year of essential arts journalism and donate today.

My heartfelt thanks to you,
Laura Grimes
Executive Director


Memories of Michael Bowley

Paul Sutinen remembers his friend artist Michael Bowley, who died in November

High on my living room wall, above and left of the TV, is a drawing depicting three rectilinear shapes distributed randomly on the white paper. Below them is, handwritten, “These are not birds flying, nor are they boomerangs.” It’s a work by Michael Bowley from 1977. I first saw it on his apartment wall when it was brand new, and we lived a few blocks apart in Northwest Portland. I was immediately intrigued by the piece because of the caption. It first made me think of folks who look at non-representational art and ask, “What’s that supposed to be?” And Michael was saying what wasn’t depicted. A few years later Michael saw a small simple found object sculpture of mine and suggested that we trade artworks. I immediately knew what I wanted and I’ve had These are not birds flying, nor are they boomerangs for about 40 years now. It still makes me think and it makes me smile.

Michael Bowley,  These Are Not Birds Flying Nor Are They Boomerangs, 1977/Photo by Paul Sutinen.

It was Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving that I learned of Michael’s passing at age 72. I appreciate the invitation to remember him here. We met in 1975—both young artists, he 28, me 26. Only a few seeds of the now burgeoning Portland art community had sprouted. Portland Center for the Visual Arts was founded in 1972. Blue Sky Gallery would open in the fall of 1975. There were a couple interesting commercial galleries, and a few college spaces. It was Michael who initiated two-person shows for us at the Wentz Gallery at the Museum Art School (now PNCA, 1977) and Buckley Center at the University of Portland (1979). We made artworks especially for those spaces. It was the thing to do back then.

In 1976 a new “artists’ space” non-profit gallery opened, kind of a local art version of PCVA. It was the Northwest Artists Workshop. It was founded by a handful of young artists fresh from the Portland State University art program. Michael was one of them. 

It seems like it was in the late 70s that Michael was a studio assistant for Mel Katz. Mel was working on his “Post” series, tall wall-mounted fiberglass sculpture/paintings. I remember Michael talking about sanding the pieces. That was an insight for me—that Michael might just enjoy the monotonous meditative meticulousness of the sanding process.


Spot On: Time for Nine

Nine Gallery celebrates its 25th with some art about time

Paul Sutinen, “Meeting Note”/Nine Gallery

By Patrick Collier

The catalogue that accompanies the group exhibit marking the 25th anniversary of Nine Gallery lists all 22 artists who have been members over the years. (The gallery was started with a group of nine artists, and while that number has remained consistent throughout most of its history, there are now eleven members.) Some have come and gone, some have gone and come, and an intrepid few have been with the loose-knit collective since its inception in 1987. Following the roster are short bios and artist’s statements for each, some a sentence long while one is nearly a page in length. Three members are relatively new, and one, Mary Catherine Lamb, has died.

Jeremy Kassen’s entry is the shortest. A member from 1987 until 1990, from what I can find, he is teaching young children at an alternative school in Brooklyn. I did a web search but couldn’t find samples of his art. Michael Bowley, a member from 1989 to 2011, who still lives in Portland, gives us barely more information than Kassen, yet includes an old black and white photograph of a young boy and a dog in a yard. Judging from the shadows, it is late in the day in days gone by.

John Weber, a member from 1987 to 1993 apparently isn’t making art any longer, yet long-time Portlanders will remember him as the curator of contemporary art at the Portland Art Museum. His career has taken that trajectory. Similarly, Greg Ware, a member from 1991 to 2008, while still a practicing artist, now has the responsibilities that come with being the Provost at PNCA. Perhaps not surprisingly, a good number of past and present members are faculty in college art departments.

All might be considered stalwarts of art.


“Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly.”
― Alan Lightman, “Einstein’s Dreams”

In fact, one does not get to be considered stalwart without putting a considerable amount of dedication and energy into an endeavor. And while one cannot presume that any of the members of Nine Gallery consider themselves to be heroic or epic in their practice, time, understood as enduring, must certainly enter into their frame of self-reference,  at least from the evidence of a number of pieces in the present group show.

On the left side of the door jam, Maria T. D. Inocencio has painted a series of flowers, the title for which is “Each Bloom Lasts for Just One Day.” Its meaning is readily evident: Appreciate beauty when it occurs, for it may be fleeting. Her piece continues to the opposite jam on which she has embedded a digital clock, and above that, couched words of advice: “Welcome to the present moment.” Yet this is a participatory piece as well, for below the clock are the words, “Please sign in,” and many have obliged by covering the jam with names, dates and times. If only for that moment, or continuing on into viewing the whole exhibit, time slows down to allow for some degree of contemplation.

Michael Bowley’s “Timepiece” marks time much like a clock would, but as duration. A standard, black office clock has had its numbers and hands removed. In their place is a blank, white, face and a piece of spring metal where the second hand would be. As it rotates, the metal marks the paper. Designed to perform a specific function, the metal leaves some trace of itself on the paper, yet how long will it be before the metal wins out and etches through the paper?

Ellen George and Jerry Mayer, “Time Remaining”/Nine Gallery

Following in a similar trajectory, Ellen George and Jerry Mayer have collaborated on another kinetic sculpture, “Time Remaining,” only this time a wooden ball attached to a mechanical armature leaves its marking of a circle upon the top of a pedestal. I can’t help but start to get depressed, for even though we may find a way to make the perfect circle and the mechanics for doing so are of our own making (the spectre of Walter Benjamin), to what end when it would otherwise seem perfunctory? Together, “Timepiece” and “Time Remaining” may be the most somber pieces in the exhibit.

Gary Boswell’s “Glyphticket: Azure” compounds the question of futility of purpose. Instead of numbers, Boswell’s sundial uses the alphabet to establish time, except that the ABCs are interrupted; some letters have been pulled from their sequence. Three quadrants of the dial contain all of the letters that are not used in the fourth, and those in the latter spell out a word.

It would be one thing, and simplistic at that, to replace the circle of numerals with one of the alphabet. To remove the letters from sequence runs contrary to our notion of time, and also linear thinking. Yet, perhaps I make too much of all of this, for when there is an azure sky the dial is both most easily “read” and the more reason we have for a word for that color. It is how we compartmentalize the world. This idea for the piece might supercede an ability to wholly represent that idea spill beyond Boswell’s actual device, which makes the “glyphticket” a matter of convenient, if incomplete consolidation/representation, and in this case, make it conceptual art.

Gary Boswell, “Glyphticket: Azure”/Nine Gallery

Although it might not seem like it at first, perhaps because we are not quite sure what we are looking at, Paul Sutinen’s “Meeting Note” is very much about time, too, as in not wasting it. We’ve all been there: Minutes drag by as a petty issue only tangentially related to the agenda gets beat into the ground. That is when I doodle. Sutinen looks into his empty coffee cup, makes note of the marks left behind by the beverage. He then takes the cup back to his office to trim away all but the base and side seam of the cup. The meeting was not a complete loss if this simple, enigmatic and elegant little sculpture was the result.


I have a special place in my heart for Gallery Nine, for I wrote my first Portland-based art review about Bill Will’s work there in 2010. Relatively new to the city’s art scene, I was surprised to find this little gallery tucked into the much larger Blue Sky Gallery. At the time I did not take that idea any farther than “How nice of this big organization to provide this space for others.” It seemed to fit the vibe I was getting from the art community at large. Little did I realize the enduring relationship between Blue Sky and Nine, and how much the spirit I felt in Portland sprung from their cooperation.

1987 may mark the beginning of Nine Gallery, but before it came groups such as the Portland Center for Visual Arts, Northwest Artists Workshop, The Video Access Project and Blue Sky. All had some part in the establishment of Nine, for as some of these organizations dissolved, members reconvened as Nine. And, it may be argued, as these artists found a way to endure together, they also laid the groundwork for the strong art community that has developed in the years since.

Another twenty-five years? Stephanie Speight joined the group in 2004. Ellen George joined in 2009, as did Inocencio and Renée Zangara. Turnover happens slowly in this group, which may work to their advantage. So might their laid-back approach to the use of space itself.

The literature accompanying the exhibit makes much about the independence each artist has in their exhibition decisions, and besides some friendships between artists, keeping the space active is the primary, binding factor. Meeting just once a year as a group, there is little to distract them from their art and lives (yet the lack of better documentation from the last twenty-five years is a loss). And unless Blue Sky closes its doors (unlikely) or needs the space now occupied by Nine Gallery (again, unlikely, as Chris Rauschenberg, the President of Blue Sky, is a founding member of Nine), the group has little reason to cease doing what they have done for the last quarter of a century.