Michael Gibbons

A visual-arts bright spot in COVID summer

Chehalem Cultural Center galleries showcase work by the late Michael Gibbons, Kerri Evonuk, and Sara Siestreem

In Yamhill County, for a few more days, visual art enthusiasts have an opportunity to see a sprawling collection of paintings by Michael Gibbons, the self-described “poet with a paintbrush” who died July 2 at his Toledo home, the result of complications from a stroke suffered in 2006. The exhibit fills two galleries in the Chehalem Cultural Center that are large enough to easily accommodate our new normal of six feet from others. The exhibition runs through Friday.

The Yaquina Exhibit: A Painted Voice for a Sacred Landscape, curated by the center’s director of arts programs, Carissa Burkett, showcases paintings inspired by vistas from the Oregon Coast around Newport. When considering Newport, most Oregonians probably think of Yaquina Bay and civilization’s stamp immediately around it: the Oregon Coast Aquarium, the restaurants, shops, and docks along the waterfront, the bridge. We forget an ecological fact: Yaquina Bay is merely the lowest elevation of a 250-square-mile basin that stretches up and away into the hills and out of view. As the show’s notes point out, the watershed encompasses breathtaking geographic and biological diversity and is home to bears, Coho salmon, cougars, beaver, eagles, and other wildlife.

"Doyle Thorne's Ditch" by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)
“Doyle Thorne’s Ditch” by Michael Gibbons (oil, 1987)

Gibbons packed his paints, brushes, and easel into this area beyond the bay, producing over three decades the more than 45 plein air oil paintings that compose the show.

“When en plein air,” the notes say, Gibbons “comes to a place that feels right to him, then he’ll pause, find a bush he can hang onto and grab a branch. ‘How would you like to be seen?’ he’ll ask. You can almost hear the chorus of the different trees. It’s a sense. You don’t hear words, per se. The language is right there. It’s a living being.”

The exhibit features a series of drawings Gibbons created in preparation for The Mighty Oak, depicting a Heritage Tree at the Oregon Gardens. It allows the viewer to see and truly appreciate the extraordinary amount of work — rehearsal, one might say — that can go into a piece before the artist ever picks up a brush.

THE CHEHALEM CULTURAL CENTER IN NEWBERG remains one of Yamhill County’s bright spots in our COVID-19 summer. The center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday just north of the Newberg Public Library (which is also open) and is following the state’s Phase 2 guidelines. Last week I exchanged notes with Burkett, and it’s encouraging to learn that the rest of the year’s exhibitions are still on the calendar — so long as the center is able to remain open.

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Portland, protests, the theater of life

ArtsWatch Weekly: The theater of politics comes to town, and the city's center stage. Plus: polka-dot square, Black & classical, a big gift.

FRUSTRATED BECAUSE THERE’S NO THEATER TO SEE FOR THE CORONADURATION? Look around. The show’s running 24/7, and we’re in the middle of it – unlikely stars of the Show of the Moment, praised and panned for our performances, from the pages of The New York Times to the breathless patter of cable-television talking heads to the bombastic Twitter feeds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Boffo! A bomb! Lurid, violent spectacle! A bracing warning for us all! Shocking demolition of the fourth wall! Strains credibility! Nonstop action! Predictable performances in a shoddy script! Oughtta be in jail!

Everybody’s a critic in the Theater of Real Life. In the past week Portland’s been getting more national and international attention than it’s had since the heyday of Portlandia jokes (no, you put a bird on it!), and it’s hard to tell whether this new show – let’s call it “The Siege of Portland!” – is tragedy, documentary, or farce. However it all plays out, we’re like a city full of Beckett characters, caught in a world far bigger than we can comprehend, stumbling through the confusion toward a conclusion that we can’t predict.

You know the basic plot. It begins, after a preamble that traces a complex but necessary 400-year backstory, with the deaths at police hands of a seemingly endless string of Black Americans: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown – the list goes on and on. This is the moral heart of the story, the unshakable truth that cannot be denied. Add a pandemic, an economic calamity, a historic shift of wealth from bottom to top, two months of nightly protests, a profusion of graffiti and torn-down fences (“Shocking!” “Criminal!” “Not to be believed!”), a trip-wired political standoff, a president with diving poll numbers in an election year, a steady supply of tear gas, “non-lethal” bullets, smashed heads, and broken bones – who’s writing this script? The guy who wrote the Book of Job? Then add an invading force of militarized mystery federal police, upping the ante on everything, bullying into a story where they weren’t invited and are not wanted. Tighten the tension with a Wall of Moms, some Leaf Blower Dads, and an explosion of new and angry protesters filling the stage like essential extras in a spectacle about the French Revolution.
 

Besides presenting a united front and sometimes being tear-gassed, flash-banged, roughed up, and arrested, the “Wall of Moms” at the re-energized protests in downtown Portland have shown a flair for the moment, making theatrical counter-statements of their own. Photo: Deborah Dombrowski

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Remembering a ‘poet with a paintbrush’

"You have this incredible world of beauty right out your front door": Michael Gibbons, who died at 76, was a legend along the Yaquina River.

 Artist Michael Gibbons liked to share the story of a day when he was teaching a painting class by the Yaquina River. An older fellow approached and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m painting,” Michael answered.

“An artist?” the man questioned.

 “I guess you could say that,” Michael said. The man looked at him, “Had one of them in town once; couldn’t make a living.” And he turned and walked away.

 Michael laughed when he told the story, but it was no doubt not the first time he heard a discouraging comment. Nonetheless, it deterred him not in the least. In Toledo, the Oregon mill town of less than 3,500 where he lived, the idea of creating an artist’s community may have sounded foolish to some, yet that was exactly what the self-described “poet with a paintbrush” did. At one time, some 15 artists of various mediums created their art in the town seven miles from the coast.

Michael Gibbons, “Autumn View in Salt River Canyon,” oil, 6 x 8 inches.

 Michael Gibbons died at the age of 76 on July 2 due to complications from a stroke he suffered in 2016, bringing to an end nearly four decades as the area’s leading champion of the arts. He is credited with founding Toledo’s annual Labor Day Art Walk and establishing the Yaquina River Museum of Art, and was instrumental in bringing chamber music concerts to town.

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