painting

First Thursday: Solitude and connection

The galleries and art fans braved coronavirus, coughed in their elbows and sought shelter

As I biked downtown to visit a few galleries for First Thursday, I wondered if the news of pandemic would keep local audiences at home. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one willing to throw caution to the wind in order to support Portland’s art community — the Pearl District was full of small groups of all ages bouncing between shows.

Much of the artwork on view was hushed and intimate, though the crowds were chatty and restless as usual. It felt almost as though artists and curators were unwittingly building virtual shelters, providing protection, if not comfort, from the increasingly chaotic world outside. 

Abstract black-and-white drawing featuring organic-looking shapes overlayed with sharp angular forms and calligraphic designs, evoking a dark room layered with sheer curtains and wrought metal decor
Graphite and ink drawing by Erin Murray/Courtesy Holding Contemporary

My first stop was Holding Contemporary, where a show-scheduling snafu had serendipitously resulted in the last-minute pairing of Philadelphia-based Erin Murray and Portland’s own Leslie Hickey in a show titled What We See and What We Know. The gallery was mostly dark as I approached, and I wasn’t even sure it was open since I couldn’t see anybody inside. But the door wasn’t locked, so I went in and realized the sleepy lighting scheme was intentional, and lovely.

The other visitors were in the back, hovering near an alcove that contained a sort of side exhibition by André Filipek Magaña. There, the small pencil drawings of children’s cartoon character Dora the Explorer in various surreal situations and seemingly uncomfortable positions were funny in their way, but were a bit of a non sequitur in the context of the feature show.

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Roger Kukes: Many stories

The retrospective of work by Roger Kukes deftly invites us into the unsettling narratives that whirl around us

One way that art inspires recognition is with inklings of the real, counterbalanced with the unreal. The work of visual artist Roger Kukes is emphatically clever and clear. His oeuvre is characterized by an esthetic sense that resounds with the whirling of the world, the tale of it all as he’s come to know it. Like all of life, it’s a beautifully controlled chaos.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay is excerpted from the much-longer introduction to the 25-year retrospective of the work of Portland artist Roger Kukes. That retrospective is in the Augen Gallery, 716 NW Davis Street, through November 2. 


Kukes works between the modes of acrylic, watercolor, and gouache painting, lithography, graphite and ink drawing. His work comprises medium- to large-format works which—like the best of our poets and experimental filmmakers—juxtapose the illogical with the utterly clear, the wryly comical with the tragic, the architectonic with the haphazard.

Roger Kukes, “Second Drawing” 1986 Ink on paper 8 1/2×14 1/4” 

This method allows the artist to move beyond intellectual or conventional narrative themes. Kukes shows the understanding that life’s indeterminacy can be a virtue when harnessed to imagination. His manner of rendering is that of the seasoned draftsman, with the facility of the magician behind a movie-camera, the poet taking you to far-off places.

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Art as ‘telling your own story’

Artist Samyak Yamauchi, whose work is displayed in Manzanita's Hoffman Gallery, says painting can be as simple as playing with paint on a surface

I’ve been saying for years that I’m going to take a painting class, but no sooner do I check out my options than I am reminded of the litany of doubts. And, of course, I never do enroll in a class.

So when I read the description of Samyak Yamauchi’s upcoming class at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, it was like someone calling my name. She got it. Lack of experience, of formal education, of thinking there was a right way – none of it mattered.

Yamauchi’s workshop is full, but her paintings are on display in the Hoffman Gallery through Sept. 1. The Portland artist has a second home on the Nehalem River, so don’t be surprised if she offers the workshop on the Coast again.

I talked with Yamauchi about her process and those things that hold us back. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Neahkahnie Mountain is the backdrop for “Meet Me at the Beach in Manzanita,” by Samyak Yamauchi (acrylic on wood, 24 by 24 inches), on display at the Hoffman Gallery in Manzanita.
“Meet Me at the Beach in Manzanita,” by Samyak Yamauchi (acrylic on wood, 24 x 24 inches), is part of a show in Manzanita’s Hoffman Gallery. Yamauchi’s advice to aspiring painters: Just do it.

What is your medium?

Yamauchi:  Acrylic and mixed-media painting. I started painting in 2013. I’d been a glass-mosaic artist; I’d always wanted to paint, but I was always afraid, because I wouldn’t know how to do it. So I went to a Portland Open Studios tour and saw what Jesse Reno was doing, and I was like, oh my gosh, this all you need to do. I realized that painting could be about telling your own story.

What exactly was he doing?

He was painting these really big, kind of narrative, sort of symbolic, dream-like paintings. He showed how he keeps transforming his painting. He changes them. What I saw was, there was just this real intuitive way of painting that didn’t depend on having a formal background in technique. A light went on. I was like, I could do this.

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A long and inimitable painting career

Lucinda Parker's Force Fields at Hallie Ford Museum

Lucinda Parker is the premier Portland painter of her generation. Lucinda Parker—Force Fields is a 50+ year retrospective at the Hallie Ford Museum in Salem through March 31. Though the year has just started, there is unlikely to be a better or more important painting show in Oregon in 2019.

The show begins with two of the artist’s early works. Self-Portrait was painted around 1957 or 1958 when the artist was only 16. A serious looking young woman looks out at the viewer. The brushwork is surprisingly sophisticated for such a young artist but Parker had been taking art lessons since she was in elementary school. In Waterfall at Garland Pond, Putney, Vermont from 1959-1960, actively brushed flowing water foreshadows the dynamism of Parker’s works in the decades to come. The bold colors, dynamic paint (flowing, knifed, brushed), and aggressive scale will come later; these early works are dark, closed, in, and mysterious.

Lucinda Parker, “Waterfall at Garland Point, Putney, Vermont,” (1959-1960), oil on Masonite, with modern frame (acrylic), 30 x 42 in., courtesy of the the artist. Photo: Jim Lommasson.

Parker came to Portland in 1960, right after high school at Putney School in Vermont. She was attracted to a combined Reed College/Museum Art School (now PNCA) program. At Reed she, “took my humanities, my chemistry, my French and all that. I got [to the Museum Art School] and I thought it was the best thing in the world to be in a school like that—six hours a day in the studio every day. At night you’re tired. You can’t stay up all night.” She studied with (among others) Mike Russo, Mel Katz, Harry Widman, George Johanson, Dorothy Yezerski, and Louis Bunce. After completing her undergraduate degree program, she went on to get an MFA at Pratt Institute in New York, returning to Portland in 1969.

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Unexpected, sad news rocked Portland’s art world last month with the tragic passing of the Yale Union’s executive director, Yoko Ott. A tireless supporter of the arts, Ott made lasting contributions at many institutions including the Frye Art Museum, Seattle University, and the Honolulu Biennial. Yale Union has not announced a successor, but continues its existing schedule of shows. Elsewhere in the visual arts in Portland, some exciting shows are up this month, including a blockbuster painting exhibition at PAM. While you’re there, make sure to check out the Sun Ra exhibit which concludes the ambitious, powerful series We. Construct. Marvels. Between. Monuments.

Edward Hopper — Cape Cod Morning

Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection
Through April 28, 2019
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue
This who’s who of post-WWII American representational painting features big names like Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson, Nancy Grossman, and Paul Cadmus. Some Northwest favorites are included in the long roster of artists, including Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. Sara Roby, a major collector in the post-WWII period, was known for hewing to realism despite the growing popularity of Abstract Expressionism. For more than 30 years, her foundation has maintained a premiere collection of leading American figurative painters, and we’re lucky to be able to see some of the highlights in our own art museum.

Coliseum 11 – Avantika Bawa

Avantika Bawa
Through February 10, 2019
Apex Gallery at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue
Through November 25
Ampersand, 2916 NE Alberta Street
Avantika Bawa’s new body of work focuses on the stark modernist architecture of the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. A dual-venue show, the main body of work occupies the APEX gallery in the Portland Art, while Alberta Arts district gallery and bookstore Ampersand features more prints from the series. Bawa’s images may bring to mind the founding abstract and minimalist artists of the same era when the architecture firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed the Coliseum. The repeating geometric shapes in Bawa’s work reveal shades of Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly as much as they refer to the construction of the Coliseum itself.

Pretty Teacher – Jeffry Mitchell

Tyger Tyger: Jeffry Mitchell
October 30 – December 1
PDX Contemporary
925 NW Flanders
In attempting to describe the “tragicomic universe” of Jeffry Mitchell’s off-kilter figurative ceramic sculptures, PDX Contemporary’s meaty show description is peppered with terms such as “exuberant pathos” and “folkloric lingua franca.” No wonder, as it’s quite a task to try to capture the strange world of elephants, bears, tigers, bunnies, roosters, flowers, and alluring male figures that occupy his off-kilter figurative ceramic sculptures. They’re as off-putting as they are charming. The show also features drawings, prints, assemblages. With shades of art star Grayson Perry’s groundbreaking, often-ribald ceramic work, this ceramic show is sure to be unique and fun.

Ralph Pugay working during a residency

RALPH PUGAY: A Spiritual Guide to Brute Force
November 1 – December 22
Upfor Gallery, 929 NW Flanders
One of Portland’s most productive and inventive artists, Pugay will be opening his second solo show at Upfor this First Thursday. This new set of work was created or conceived at a series of residencies Pugay attended across North America this past summer—from Florida to Montreal to New Orleans. Known for wild, colorful narrative paintings full of humor and strange happenings, Pugay has turned to black and white work on paper for this show.

The Earth Will Not Abide
November 1-January 12, 2019
The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, PNCA, 511 NW Broadway
A rich group exhibition that focuses on the unsustainability of modern agriculture in different parts of the world. Featured artists include Ryan Griffis and Sarah Ross, Brian Holmes and Alejandro Meitin, Sarah Lewison and duskin! drum, Claire Pentecost, and Sara Siestreem. Each artist investigates, with their own particular methods, the “the rapid transformations in land use, biological diversity, and social structures” that result from large-scale, monocultural agriculture in ecosystems including the US, Brazil, Argentina, and China. Looking at existing and future land use, these projects hope to point “in the direction of viable responses.”

Disjecta annual art auction

Disjecta Art Auction
November 17
Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Avenue
The Auction on November 17th is Disjecta’s annual invitation to the public to “have a drink, something to eat, and then to spend all of your discretionary income on something worthwhile.” Favorite local artists, more than we can count, have donated work to this annual auction that provides vital funding for the operations of one of Portland’s largest contemporary art centers. Artists featured will include Holly Andres, Corey Arnold, Pat Boas, Amy Bay, Srijon Chowdhury, Patrick Collier, Emily Counts, Tia Factor, Joel Fisher, Damien Gilley, Bean Gilsdorf, Ralph Pugay, Blair Saxon-Hill, Ryan Woodring, and many, many more. A ticketed event, “fine food and drink” will be served. Always a fun time.

Abagail Deville at PICA

The American Future: Abigail Deville
Nov. 3-Jan. 12, 2019
PICA, 15 NE Hancock Street
Known for monumental, vibrant assemblage work using found materials, DeVille’s new installation at PICA promises to be interesting. This accomplished artist foraged materials, printed matter, and really anything she can get her hands on to create a “model of reflection” on the fraught histories of American ambition. This site-specific installation examines 200 years of history, colonialism, and labor in America by focusing on Thomas Jefferson’s commission of the Lewis and Clark expedition and his obsessive work on his home, Monticello. Turning her inventive, incisive eye on the “paradox of Jeffersonian ideals” and how history relates to the “entropy of now,” DeVille will fill PICA with her unique, thoughtful vision

Tumbleweed – Nan Curtis

Numb: Nan Curtis
November 1 – December 15
Williamson | Knight Gallery,916 NW Flanders St.
Local artist Nan Curtis presents new work. A meditation on the words, sensations, and colors Curtis associates with Portland and the Pacific Northwest, Curtis draws on a remarkable range of materials for NUMB. Glass slag, industrial rubber, painted tumbleweeds, and pieces of steel share the small gallery space with a massage chair. All of these materials are meant to conjure what Curtis calls the “pinnacle of an emotional response” – tactile, sensory experiences. Appropriately, a masseuse will be present at the opening, performing massages for viewers on a first-come, first-served basis.

Henk Pander brings Vanport to Newport

In his first show in Newport, the celebrated Portland painter reflects not only on the devastating 1948 flood, but also on his childhood, racism and war.

NEWPORT — When celebrated Portland artist Henk Pander opens his show here Friday, July 6, it will mark not only his first exhibit in this coastal town, but also the first time nearly all of the watercolors have been out of his studio.

Times of Our Lives: Selected Watercolors by Henk Pander will run from July 6 through Sept. 2 in the Runyan Gallery at the Newport Visual Arts Center. The show, presented by the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts, will feature large-scale watercolors and works from Pander’s recent series, War Memories, Liberty Ships and the Climate Refugees of Vanport.

“Buildings Are Floating” is among Henk Pander’s large scale watercolors on the theme of the Vanport flood.

Pander said he painted the watercolors for the Vanport Mosaic project, which commemorates the city north of Portland that was wiped out on Memorial Day 1948, when a dike broke, flooding the town in less than an hour and displacing 40,000 people. Many of the residents worked in the shipyards and included African Americans who were not welcome in Portland.

The Vanport watercolors were shown briefly this spring as part of the Vanport Mosaic Festival in Portland, Pander noted, but never in a gallery. His previous work on Vanport felt dated, he said.

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