nationale

VizArts Monthly: Spring reflections on social upheaval

From new backyard spaces to established galleries, March's Vizarts Monthly offerings tackle the racial reckoning and Covid-induced isolation of the past year

It may feel difficult to believe, but the spring equinox is upon us, and our art scene is in bloom with plenty of new exhibitions to see in the sunshine (or the rain. Let’s be honest, it is Oregon). Several exhibitions this month expand upon the social, environmental, and racial justice movements of 2020, centering topics like police violence against Black men and art collaborations with those experiencing houselessness and poverty. Many galleries are still accepting viewers by appointment only, so plan ahead and make a day of it!

Figure sitting on a bed in a room with a window and scattered children's toys
Work by Jon Henry, image courtesy Blue Sky Gallery

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VizArts Monthly: Invigorate with art

February is gray but there is plenty of art to help you forget the winter gloom.

It’s another gray and rainy February, but this month the Portland art scene is overflowing with new exhibitions, screenings, and lectures to brighten the winter gloom. If you’re more comfortable viewing art from home, be sure to catch Yulia Pinkusevich‘s virtual exhibition at Archer Gallery, and carve out an afternoon to watch PICA’s live stream of We Didn’t Arrive Here Alone, featuring US-based undocumented writers and poets discussing mental health topics. Itching for a safe art outing? Make an appointment to view Hannah Newman’s vibrant Pangea, Shelley Turley’s mysterious Sound of Silence, or any of the other in-person exhibitions listed below.

Work by Hannah Newman, image courtesy Carnation Contemporary

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VizArts Monthly: New year, new art

Exhibitions in January, both virtual and in-person, emphasize change, renewal, and hope.

It’s 2021 at last! Although much of daily life still hangs in the balance, we can emerge from the post-holiday fog with a fresh round of art exhibitions. January’s events are imbued with themes of hopefulness, illumination, imagination, and visions of change. Head to North Portland for a double-viewing at Disjecta and Carnation Contemporary, snag your chance to handle Alyson Provax’s works directly in Old Long Since, or stay in your pajamas for a range of online exhibitions. Whatever you choose, this month’s happenings offer viewers an invigorating beginning to the new year.

Work by Christine Howard Sandoval, image courtesy Disjecta

TIMELINES FOR THE FUTURE: Christine Howard Sandoval
January 8 – February 21, 2021
Disjecta
8371 N Interstate Ave (Fri-Sun 12-5, or by appointment)

Curated by the renowned Lucy Cotter, Christine Howard Sandoval’s TIMELINES FOR THE FUTURE is a selection of the artist’s new and recent works revolving around a process of “unlearning” via walking on uncertain and disputed lands. Memory, landscape, politics, and ecology intertwine in Sandoval’s visions of future place. In this solo exhibition, Sandoval uses video, sculpture, drawing, site-specific materials, and sustained research to highlight complex narratives of inhabitation and migration in the American West and Southwest. Themes of Hispanic and Native agrarian histories, migratory pathways, Indigenous sacred sites, and Spanish missionization are woven throughout.

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VizArts Monthly: The “freeze” edition

Most venues remain shuttered this December but there are still plenty of viewing opportunities.

While shorter days and colder nights are all too familiar, let’s face the facts: this December will feel quite different from holiday seasons of the past. Oregon’s current “freeze” status means some galleries are continuing virtual programming, while others are transitioning to in-person viewings by appointment. Our resilient arts community continues to adapt in the face of ongoing challenges. Whether in person or in hibernation, we can support their efforts by viewing shows, boosting them on social media, and making purchases or donations whenever possible. Show your appreciation this holiday season by checking out the options to support at the end of this article.

Work by Ralph Pugay, image courtesy Upfor Gallery

Ralph Pugay: Hang in There
November 1 – December 31, 2020
Upfor Gallery
Virtual

Find time to sit with Pugay’s idiosyncratic, delightfully cartoonish works, easily viewed online through the end of December. In Hang in There, Pugay’s series of cat posters (referencing 1970s motivational posters) position humor and anxiety side-by-side. Through simple imagery and the repeated, open-ended statement HANG IN THERE, the artist creates space for uncertainty and imagination. What could be different? What are we waiting for?

Work by Widline Cadet, image courtesy Blue Sky Gallery

Women of the African Diaspora: Identity, Place, Migration, Immigration
December 3, 2020 – January 30, 2021
Blue Sky Gallery
Virtual

Curated by Arkansas-based photographer/educator Aaron Turner, Women of the African Diaspora highlights photographic works by Nadiya I. Nacorda, Jasmine Clarke, and Widline Cadet. Cadet, a Haitian-born artist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Time, investigates visibility, interiority, and selfhood as it relates to Haitian cultural identity in the United States. Clarke’s works occupy realms of mysticism, dreams, and magical realism, while Nacorda photographs her immediate family to explore aspects of trauma and intimacy within Black and POC immigrant American family life.

Work by Tannaz Farsi, image courtesy Holding Contemporary

Tannaz Farsi: A More Perfect Union
November 19 – December 19, 2020
Holding Contemporary
916 NW Flanders (open 12-5 Thursday-Saturday)

Farsi’s works are grounded in diasporic identity, bridging the structural and the ambiguous to reflect on citizenship, protest, and contrasts between distance and proximity. The word CITIZEN takes center stage in one of Farsi’s pieces for A More Perfect Union, prompting deeper thought on words as symbols of power structure and collective fear. A conversation between Tannaz Farsi and curator Lucy Cotter will be held on Thursday, December 3; more details here.

Work by John Hitchcock, image courtesy Portland Art Museum

John Hitchcock: Bury the Hatchet: Prayer for My P’ah-Be
March 7, 2020 – March 21, 2021
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave (Museum is currently closed; virtual exhibition walkthrough available on YouTube)

Mixed-media artist John Hitchcock works with the theme of the vaudeville stage show Buffalo Bill’s Wild West to explore the forced assimilation and indoctrination experienced by Indigenous communities in the West. The exhibition is highly sensory, connecting the artist’s passions for printmaking, rock ’n’ roll, and Kiowa and Comanche history. Hitchcock asserts the importance of Indigenous oral histories, collaborating with several artists and storytellers to create a soundscape that including narratives, singing, and instrumentals. If you can’t get enough of these works, Sunday Night Records carries a vinyl album, CD, and letterpress prints that correspond with the exhibition.

Work by Modou Dieng, image courtesy Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Modou Dieng: A Postcolonial Landscape
December 1, 2020 – January 30, 2021
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
417 NW 9th Ave (by appointment)

Dieng’s brilliant mixed media paintings explore globalization and Black representation, filtered through the lens of the artist’s personal experiences in his native Senegal alongside conventions of Eurocentric art history. Bright color compositions, cut-outs, and collaged photographic elements play with themes of absence/presence, interior/exterior, and identity. The results are exhilarating and not to be missed.

Work by Ragen Moss, image courtesy Lumber Room

Finding Our Way
March 14 – December 12, 2020
the lumber room
419 NW 9th Ave (by appointment, or virtual tour available on their website)

Catch the tail end of the lumber room’s Finding Our Way and prepare to be amazed. A beyond-impressive rotating roster of artists has included Joseph Beuys, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Zoe Leonard, Ana Mendieta, Carrie Mae Weems, and many more. The exhibition plays with informal display methods and occupation of domestic space to emphasize the lumber room’s in-between role—part place of comfort, part place of artistic discourse. Finding Our Way also includes a film component with visiting works from various new media artists.

Work by Joan Nelson, image courtesy Adams and Ollman

New works: Joan Nelson
November 7 – December 19, 2020
Adams and Ollman
418 NW 8th Ave (by appointment only)

Joan Nelson’s paintings aren’t your average landscape works. Rendered in reverse on Plexiglass and supplemented by mascara, burnt sugar, beads, and other unexpected materials, this awe-inspiring series brings to mind historical notions of the sublime. Nelson recognizes this, though, and pushes back against the romanticism of Western expansion by creating barren scenes with a feminine edge.

Showing support

This year has been a challenge (okay, that’s an understatement) for everyone—including the artists, arts institutions, and independent galleries finding flexibility through it all. Here are a few (among many!) worth celebrating this holiday season:

Nat Turner Project
NTP “allows artists of color freedom to create or express their own language within and without the parameters of racial commodification or designation.” Support their vital work in creating an inclusive and communal environment for artists of color by signing up for their Patreon or purchasing a button, tote, or zine from their online shop.

Art & About PDX
Established in 2014 by Ashley Gifford, A&A connects with local artists, enthusiasts, and viewers alike via a robust social media presence and online platform. Gifford creates a regular exhibition calendar, provides paid writing opportunities for burgeoning art critics, curates an online shop of work by Portland-based creators, and more. This site offers Patreon memberships with varying levels of benefits.

Nationale
Where would Portland be without Nationale? I certainly don’t want to imagine it. Since 2008, owner May Barruel has helped develop our contemporary art culture through exhibitions, performances, and a selection of carefully chosen goods. The Nationale webshop is full of ideal gifts for the holidays, like periodicals, beauty products, and prints from Le Oui. Mask up to see even more in person at the gallery’s shop.

Common Ground / Eugene Contemporary Art
This limited edition tote and poster, designed by ECA artist Hannah Petkau and printed by Dana Buzzee, helps fund Common Ground, an online exhibition, remote artist residency, reading group, and by-appointment exhibition. Also, 20% of the profits from each sale go to Oregon nonprofit Beyond Toxics, working for environmental justice across the state.

VizArts Monthly: Connection amid isolation

November's art offerings explore connections with the natural world, both the familiar and further flung

Julia Cameron, author of the quintessential creative recovery book The Artist’s Way, prescribed a steady diet of “artist dates”—time set aside to nurture one’s inner creative by “filling the well” with new stimuli for inspiration. This month, art institutions in Portland and beyond offer up virtual and in-person opportunities to fill your visual well. As skies go gray and temperatures cool, cozy up at home with Malia Jensen’s Worth Your Salt, or venture out for Edward Jeffrey Kriksciun’s OUT OF BODY at Lowell. Artists featured in this month’s exhibitions find human connection amid isolation, and the natural world while still indoors.

Work by Angela Saenz & Laura Camila Medina, image courtesy Carnation Contemporary

ACROSS TODAY’S TOMORROW: IPRC 2020 BI/POC Artist & Writer Residency
October 24 – November 22, 2020
Carnation Contemporary
8371 N Interstate Ave (open Fri-Sun 12-5 or by appointment)

This group exhibition showcases works by seven Independent Publishing Resource Center 2020 BI/POC Artist & Writer Residency participants. Salimatu Amabebe reimagines the convenience store as a space of Black celebration through installation, while Angela Saenz and Laura Camila Medina use stop-motion animation and wheat-pasted screenprints to contemplate the relationship between body and environment. Common considerations across the works include patterns of erasure, archived histories, personal narratives, and potential futures.

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Gallery shows shuttered but not forgotten

You may not be able to see this work in person at Nationale and Third Room but it remains attention worthy

I’m about to do something I’ve never done before: review two gallery shows which were scheduled for March, then abruptly shuttered, due to precautions taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The moment feels ripe for experimentation. Under normal circumstances, the objective of a review is to promote or critique a significant cultural event. This review, however, will serve as a reminder of what we will inevitably miss out on, if we don’t support our cultural institutions during this crisis. While fears about the pandemic were still emerging here in Oregon, Nationale launched a month-long retrospective featuring a series of paintings by the late Carola Penn, titled, Who Am I, Anyway. Around the same time, Third Room––a non-traditional gallery in Northeast Portland operated by a board of patrons––unveiled a solo-show of work by Alexis E. Mabry, an emerging multidisciplinary artist from Austin, Texas, titled Static Age

Penn’s retrospective at Nationale was curated by May Barruel, the gallery’s owner and director, while Mabry’s show was curated by Third Room’s founder, Kalaija Mallery. Both of these galleries excel at offering a great deal to look at in a very small space. Taken together, these shows underscore the collaborative achievements of female curators and artists working in Portland, as well as the significant contributions that small, independent and non-traditional galleries continue to make to the contemporary art scene.

I learned of Carola Penn’s local reputation only after her death, which feels like a betrayal given that Portland’s artistic community has long revered her fidelity to her creative practice, and her facility with a paintbrush. Penn’s key themes are time, its effect on identity, and the incompatibility of natural and urban environments. She spent a significant portion of her career in Portland reflecting on the construction boom’s impact on the natural environment. Lauded for her ability to integrate pastiche and collage into her work, she showed as much concern for how a painting was displayed in relation to other paintings, as she did for its content. 

In sauvie island road, (2013-2018) for example, Penn bisects a landscape of a marshland with another painting depicting an abstraction of a road––two vertical orange lines against an asphalt-colored wash. The left and right panels of the triptych golden state (2014) depict dreary images of an oil field overpopulated by oil wells. The center panel portrays a lush California hillside planted with Eucalyptus trees, bathed in golden afternoon light. Exquisite brushstrokes of yellow ochre and Prussian blue delineate the shadows rippling across the hillside’s gentle slope. The same palette of blues and yellows can be found in the surrounding oil fields, but in this terrain, they lose their vibrancy, appearing muted and macabre.

Penn has a gift for dovetailing private, firsthand observations with universally accessible themes. That said, her paintings reflect a consistent shift away from communal spaces––the urban sprawl of San Francisco and Portland––towards a life of quiet reflection in concert with nature. The series on display at Nationale focuses on her childhood as a second-generation American growing up in the U.S. in the 1950s. The show’s title alone, Who Am I, Anyway, signals introspection. Attuned to the fragmentary nature of human memory and perception, these works feature snapshots from Penn’s early life, coalescing with motifs derived from folktales, mythology, old master paintings, pop culture, and the visual language of advertisement.

Little Lulu sleeps in Van Gogh's bed
Carola Penn, Van Gogh’s Room (2003-2016). Acrylic on wood. 16 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of Nationale.

Two of the paintings at Nationale––Van Gogh’s Room and Van Gogh’s Chair (2003-2016)––reimagine scenes excerpted directly from Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. In one, a small girl (Penn’s autobiographical double, Lulu) sleeps soundly in the master painter’s flaxen bed. The figure of Lulu is appropriated directly from the work of the trailblazing, mid-century comic-book artist and media mogul Marjorie (‘Marge’) Henderson Buell. After her debut in the Saturday Evening Post in 1935, Buell’s comic character, Little Lulu, became wildly popular. Little Lulu was adored by readers of the Post for almost a decade, and later developed an even more far-reaching reputation, earning her creator a fortune in film and advertising deals. In another of Penn’s paintings, we see Lulu climbing up the crossbars of a wicker chair, which first appeared in Van Gogh’s Gauguin’s Chair (1888), preparing to usurp the old master’s seat. Like Van Gogh’s juxtapositions of resonant greens and reds and yellows and blues, all of Penn’s compositions––either in some small detail or in the figure-ground as a whole––contain an unexpected contrast of pastel colors. Her Van Gogh paintings in particular, communicate a deep appreciation for the capacity to see in color, and for the sensation of finding oneself surrounded by it.

Carola Penn, Van Gogh’s Chair (2003-2016). Acrylic on wood. 16 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of Nationale.

Penn makes deep gouges into layers of acrylic paint to physically sculpt the hard edges and contours of her figures. In Van Gogh’s Chair, the wicker seat is rendered in thick blankets of green and yellow paint. The individual wicker slats are vigorously etched into the impasto, forming deep grooves in the painting’s surface, and heightening its mimetic force. Likewise, in Van Gogh’s Bedroom, the hard lines of a pillow are hewn into the paint, giving the cushion an uncanny volume. One can easily imagine the sensation of resting one’s head on the soft, ivory cloud of paint at its center, just as Lulu, the sleeping girl in the painting does. These, unfortunately, are features of Penn’s paintings which must be seen in person to be appreciated.

It’s easy to imbue Penn’s images with meanings. They lend themselves to narrative. In today’s context, an untitled painting of a woman pushing a shopping cart heaped with paper goods which tower above her, looks like a mother diligently preparing for a pandemic. Other images in this series depict matriarchal figures performing superhuman, often surreal feats. One woman in a rose-colored dress flexes eight deft arms, juggling three apples, five eggs, a baby, a butcher’s knife, a bottle, a clock, a typewriter, a pot, and a whetstone. In another painting, Lulu strides confidently through a department store aisle filled with male figureheads, pushing a shopping cart in front of her. Sporting a fiendish grin, she has filled her cart with various countenances plucked from the shelves: potential spouses, or perhaps identities she could grow into.

woman with towering shopping cart
Carola Penn, Shopper (2003-2016). Acrylic on wood. 16 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of Nationale.

Most awe-inspiring among the paintings in Penn’s retrospective is a massive triptych depicting a modern-day Adam and Eve, aptly titled Losing Paradise (2006). It’s here that the artist’s dexterity as both a figurative and abstract painter is in full view. In the left panel, the proverbial couple sits side-by-side on a fallen log. Eve conceals her genitals with her knitting work, whereas Adam screens his with a mug of coffee. In the center panel, we witness a confrontation between the duplicitous serpent and an antique Hoover vacuum cleaner. In the third, a man in a suit and a woman in a red dress regard each other with scepticism or apprehension. Behind them, Penn provides a grim depiction of the fate many married couples are confined to: overcrowded suburbs, ghostly, congested motorways, and a few remaining trees from the garden of original sin, jockeying for a position among colossal telephone poles in the urban skyline.

Carola Penn, Losing Paradise (2006). Acrylic on wood. 6 x 12 feet. Image courtesy of Nationale.

Like Penn’s impasto paintings, the large-scale tapestries in Alexis E. Mabry’s Static Age are exceedingly sculptural. The work on display explores the detritus, substances, social postures and performances of a generation which oscillated between a light-hearted pursuit of pleasure and uninhibited nihilism. Mabry implements a rich cocktail of media, including paint, textiles, and upcycled craft materials. In respect to both form and content, she is a free-spirited bricoleur, often stitching hard lines into the surface of her canvases to define the contours of her figures. These include hieroglyphic depictions of Element, Korn, Marilyn Manson, and Handsome Boy Modeling School T-shirts, adidas shoes, Huffy BMX bikes, and Honda hatchbacks. By appending small sculptural elements to her tapestries’ surfaces, she brings them into the third dimension, further eclipsing the distinction between painting and the plastic arts. The smoke from a cigarette, for example, is recreated as a wisp of synthetic stuffing.

Installation view of Static Age at Third Room. Image courtesy of Third Room.

Set in the mid 90s and early aughts, Mabry’s tapestries impart micro-narratives of communal buffoonery and substance abuse, punctuated and contextualized by still-life ensembles of soft-sculptures, scattered throughout the intimate gallery space. These sculptures physically reproduce the dross of a specific strain of fringe consumerism: a lifestyle cultivated by aspiring skateboarders and BMX bikers, fueled by dimebags, synthetically flavored corn chips, and cheap consumables loaded with caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Mabry’s surprisingly vibrant soft-sculptures include 40oz malt liquor bottles, Doritos bags, PlanB packages, Dasani water bottles, traffic cones, Camel cigarettes, and Rust-Oleum spray-paint canisters. “You don’t have to know Alexis personally to relate to the work, or to care about the imagery she is depicting,” remarks Third Room’s former curator, Kalaija Mallery. She continues: “The Portland scene has been waiting for an experimentation with textiles that is not inherently ‘twee’…Alexis is making a crumpled pack of Camel 99s into a precious art object. It is important to remember that art can be playful too, and that artists from other places can still impart sincere “punctum” (piercing of the heart) onto artists they don’t know or relate to.”

soft sculptures of spray paint, camel box of cigarettes and doritos
Alexis E. Mabry, Krylon Green (2020) Fabric, quilt padding, chicken wire, thread, aerosol paint, acrylic paint. Image courtesy of Third Room.

Mabry’s meditations on her own personal history suggest that what we consume materially, no matter how benign or inconsequential, can leave as dense a residue on our psyche as the experiences we share with our closest human compatriots. Mabry invites viewers to ask: What are the indices of my behaviors as a consumer? Which scraps and fragments would I gather and stitch together to recreate my past?

Static Age is as much about what endures within us, as it is about what remains after we’ve exited a stage of life. The show’s title suggests that nostalgia entails looking back on a fixed or rigid view of one’s personal history. Yet the work implies that our memories of our early years are much more malleable than the experiences themselves. Mabry’s choice of materials, for example, intimates that our impressions of our young-adult life may eventually lose their hard edges, softening over time. Even our most discordant experiences and self-destructive years can eventually become a source of inspiration, or even comfort. But it takes deliberate, intentional work to get to that point. We are tasked with fabricating a coherent sense of self from a tangled, fragmentary set of experiences. The stitches in our patchwork spirit are the traces of that commendable enterprise.

We may not be able to attend exhibitions or performances in person for a while, but some galleries are making their shows available digitally. Supporting local arts venues is now more crucial than ever. If institutions like Nationale and Third Room don’t receive financial support, we may lose them. Established cultural institutions in Oregon are already struggling financially. A few, including the Portland Art Museum, are making some of their services available virtually, but the majority of their revenue comes from ticket sales and concessions. Fortunately, Nationale has other revenue streams. You can support the gallery directly during this time by purchasing original works of art, artist prints, or goods from their webstore

Third Room’s future was uncertain even before this crisis. Since its creation, its founder Kalaija Mallery has been the gallery’s primary source of funding. It is currently supported by the members of its patron board, most of whom are students or recent graduates. Mallery recently moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to pursue a position at The Luminary, and laments that the gallery may not be able to pay rent after this year. You can support Third Room by making a one-time donation, or by becoming a monthly contributor.

Since the first salons, the art world has relied on communal exhibitions to share new work, foster conversation, celebrate bright stars, and precipitate paradigmatic shifts. It’s a shame that my readers may not have the opportunity to see these shows. In the face of a growing pandemic which may incite a global economic recession (or a political revolution, or both), it may also feel inconsequential. As others in the cultural sector have pointed out, this is a fantastic opportunity to make art and devise new ways to share it. Mabry’s and Penn’s work has moved me to look forward, to anticipate how I will look back on this event, and potentially tell its story.


Nationale has plans to extend Carola Penn’s solo-retrospective, “Who Am I, Anyway,” through mid April. Please check www.nationale.us or follow them on Instagram @nationale for updates.

Check in with
http://thirdroom.net or follow them on Instagram @thirdrooomproject for details about workshops, conferences, and upcoming shows.

This article was made possible with support from The Ford Family Foundation’s Visual Arts Program.

VizArts Monthly: Fill March with art and sunshine

March is abuzz with shows, events, lectures, and more

Flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and things are happening! There have been some real shakeups in Portland’s art world lately, from reorganization at RACC to the uncertain future of PSU’s Littman and White galleries. But in case you are worried that your busy art-viewing calendar is doomed to dry up in the wake of these changes, have no fear! This month is absolutely overflowing with art shows and events to take in. To paraphrase my new favorite comedian, Julio Torres, I have a lot of shows and not a lot of time, so let’s just get started.

A light silver-pink mylar balloon in the shape of a heart, partially deflated and mounted on a gallery wall.
Work by Sam Noel, image courtesy 1122 Gallery

Sam Noel: but, how does one eat an elephant?
February 27 – March 21
1122 Gallery
1122 SE 88th Ave

Portland artist Sam Noel presents her lush sculptural works in a solo show at 1122 Gallery, her first since graduating from the final MFA cohort of the now closed Oregon College of Art and Craft. Noel’s practice is rooted in textile crafts, but her works include a range of unexpected materials including foam, ribbons, and mylar balloons, through which she examines the experience of inhabiting a fat, female body in contemporary culture. Glitzy pastel surfaces are complicated by slumping forms and haphazard construction, evoking the angst and confusion of adolescence with compassion and humor. 

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