portland art

Season’s Greetings, On Beyond Hallmark

ArtsWatch Weekly: Things to watch and listen to as the year ends; looking forward to 2021

WE’LL KEEP THIS COLUMN SIMPLE THIS WEEK: I’m guessing you have other things on your mind, and other things to do. So: a few recommendations, a little catch-up on stories we’ve published, a brief virtual trip to the museum, some thoughts about giving, and back to our regularly scheduled lives. Whether you love the holidays or simply endure them, we here at ArtsWatch wish you the happiest of seasons, especially in this most unanticipated and unpredictable of years, and we thank you for the amazing generosity of your attention and patronage. Without you, we wouldn’t be. It’s as simple as that. 
 

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Merry Glitter and a Happy Old Tune: David Saffert is Liberace and Jillian Snow Harris is Liza Minnelli in the virtual return of their hit show “Liberace & Liza: A Tribute.” Photo: Mike Marchlewski

WHAT CAN WE RECOMMEND FOR YOU TO DO while you’re wrapping those last presents or sipping a little of the eggnog you whipped up a couple of days ago, other than tuning in to yet another Hallmark Christmas movie about a highly driven urban executive-on-the-rise who heads home for the holidays to the sweet little town she’d abandoned in her quest for success and discovers rekindled romance and the True Meaning of Life with the baker or carpenter or toy-shop owner of a high school boyfriend she’d so foolishly left behind? Maybe a higher, and more locally sourced, form of seasonal celebration: Hop on board the Nostalgia Express, chugging around the holiday bend as sure as a Little Drummer Boy rum-a-pum-pumming on an AM radio dial. 

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Thanks, giving, the essence of art

ArtsWatch Weekly: Passing the artistic impulse into the future, Josie Seid's America, Don Latarski's wild art, remembering Bruce Browne

AS YOU MIGHT HAVE NOTICED, this week’s ArtsWatch Weekly is a day late (although not, I hope, a dollar short). Usually I start plotting out the column at the beginning of the week, try to get a little writing done on Tuesday and Wednesday, then finish it on Thursday. But this Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving Day, and quite likely just like you, I was otherwise engaged in the kitchen and at the table, and had been for a couple of days beforehand. This may be the strangest year in our collective memory, and for many of us the oddest of Thanksgivings – what seems the core of the holiday, the gathering together, is precisely what we couldn’t do – and yet, despite the pandemic and teetering economy and social unrest and volatile politics, there was thanking to be done.

When I think about the holidays I think partly of the gifts the past has to offer the present and future: not the stultifying or outmoded aspects of tradition, but the liberating ones. What is good? How do we build on it? This sifting and measuring is intimately involved in the constant reshaping of our cultural and artistic lives: What do we appreciate in the past and present, and carry forward with us into the future?

Some artists embody in their work all three tenses, and looking through what’s happening in Portland’s galleries I note with pleasure and thanks that two of them have exhibitions on view. Both exhibits end on Saturday, so time’s running short, but you can also see the works through the links below.
 

George Johanson, “The Artist’s Studio,” 2020, oil and acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, in his show “George Johanson – Rising Waters and Quasi Portraits: New Paintings,” closing Saturday at Augen Gallery, Portland.

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The Gallerists

In photographs and words, K.B. Dixon profiles three leading Portland gallery owners: Martha Lee, Charles Froelick, and Elizabeth Leach


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


No one (or almost no one) goes into the gallery business for the money—they go into it for the art.

I once published a piece titled An Artist’s Alphabet. It was a satiric tour of the art world in dictionary form. A was for Aerial View: “When an artist looks down on you.” B for Brushstroke: “The painter’s declaration that ‘Kilroy was here’.” C for Craft: “To the Classicist what ‘invention’ was to the Romantic.” D for Dada: “The movement that was, in a sense, MOMA’s papa.” E for Easel: “The rack upon which an artist’s hopes are tortured.” F for Form: “The shape ships are in.” And G for Gallery Owner: a person I cavalierly defined as “Satan in a black turtleneck.” I was, of course, parodying a barnacle-encrusted stereotype. When it comes to gallerists the opposite is true in most cases—most cases outside of New York, anyway.

Gallerists are, in fact, the hidden heroes of the art world. They are the people who promote our established artists and who bring new artists to our attention; the people who provide those artists a place to exhibit their work and a chance to pay their rent. They have a unique and valuable set of skills—they are part aesthetician, part businessperson, part soothsayer.

The three gallerists here have been a vital part of our artistic community for decades. They have played a major role in the creation and development of this city and states cultural history.


MARTHA LEE: Owner of Russo-Lee Gallery


“It doesn’t seem that long ago,” Martha Lee writes, “that I sat with Laura Russo as she worked on her introduction for the gallery’s 20th Anniversary catalogue…and suddenly here it is ten years later and we are celebrating our 30th.” That was in 2016. “While much has changed, so much remains the same. The Laura Russo Gallery remains firmly rooted in a deep commitment to the Pacific Northwest art community. The fourteen years I worked with Laura instilled in me a passion for the art and artists of this region. And since taking ownership of the gallery over [ten] years ago, my own commitment to promoting and celebrating the careers of local artists has only grown stronger.”

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Farewell to the Tangerine Window

In his final days, the beloved set designer and artist Tim Stapleton hosted a steady flow of friends. Now, his final artwork is on display.

“To get to the Tangerine Window you had to go on a bit of a spirit journey,” as Mary McDonald Lewis puts it.

The window in question was at West Hills Health & Rehabilitation, a nursing facility in Portland’s Multnomah Village, with low-slung yellow-brick buildings and well-manicured lawns. “You’d walk down the narrow side of the building, through a gate and into a little courtyard of small lawns, park benches, little gardens,” McDonald Lewis continues. The anodyne surroundings are scrupulously, pleasantly plain — except for one section. There, little bursts of color catch the eye — flowers in sky-blue planter pots, a yellow rubber duck in a rusted iron bird feeder, large ceramic carp glazed in brilliant cobalt blue, seeming to swim along a dry stream of stones. And then, instead of the standard-issue white curtains of the other rooms, a flash of bright orange appears like a welcome.
“It’s like a window that you’d expect to see on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.’ A window that glowed like monarch butterfly wings. But then, inside, is a very ill man. And yet, within moments you’re caught up in his eyes, and in his stories, and then it’s just Tim. You’re with Tim.”


Photographer Owen Carey, who shot this portrait of Tim Stapleton in 2013, joined forces with Stapleton on many a play and many a cocktail. Carey says that in one of his last text exchanges he asked if he should bring anything on his next visit. “He asked for ‘some Pirate’s Booty, your booty, and a Negroni in a sippy cup.’”

Timothy Wayne Stapleton, an accomplished and beloved figure in the Portland arts scene, died on Sept. 7, at age 71, from the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the motor neuron condition commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” For the last several months of his life, pushing against the isolating effects of both the COVID-19 pandemic and his progressively debilitating illness, many of his many friends made pilgrimages to what everyone called the Tangerine Window.

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Converge 45: Popping up with the times

Responding to a year of crisis, Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center hosts a show of Oregon contemporary posters for public spaces

One of the strengths of gallery programming at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg is that the deep, long-term planning that arts director Carissa Burkett packs into the calendar for as much as a year in advance is coupled with an ability to pivot when circumstances change, when new opportunities and challenges present themselves.

Like, for example, 2020 — the year, one might add, of the center’s 10th anniversary. 

The #Act for Art posters in their natural public-spaces habitat. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, Converge 45 said via Twitter, Portland has the fifth-largest concentration of artists in the nation, after Manhattan, San Francisco, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles. Photo: Converge 45.

The center has already had a couple of COVID-inspired pop-ups this year, and for a few more days, visitors will find the latest of these unscheduled surprises: #ACTforART is originated as a PDX-centric project organized by Converge 45: a series of commissioned posters for public spaces that share the artists’ vision during this new, weird normal. Yes, theaters are shut down and concert halls are closed, but windows and fences and walls provide space for art, so the group has been spreading the love in lieu of its traditional programs, which typically involve exhibitions and gatherings where the six-foot rule wouldn’t work. The work is also being shared on social media platforms.

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In Brief: Visual Chronicle wants you

Portland's collection of visual history is looking to expand; grants for emerging artists; Chinatown Museum reschedules exhibitions

Time’s running short for Portland artists to throw their hats in the ring to add their work this year to The Visual Chronicle of Portland: Deadline for submission is 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 27. A second, broader opportunity open to artists in Oregon and Southwest Washington, Support Beam, offers a little more breathing room: Its application deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 3. Information on both is available here from the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

Willow Zheng, “Classical Chinese Garden, Portland, Oregon III,” Chinese watercolor and ink, 2002; collection of the Visual Chronicle of Portland.

Support Beam, with an overall budget of $70,000, is intended to support works of art created by emerging artists over a period of three to six months. Individual grants will be between $3,000 and $5,000. The Visual Chronicle funding is for direct purchase of pieces to add to the City of Portland’s collection of works on paper that chronicle the life and identity of the city. Total budget for this year’s additions is $15,000, and no individual piece can be priced higher than $1,000. Eligible artists may apply for either or both awards.

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Connecting in a time of isolation

ArtsWatch Weekly: As the world turns, will real reality replace virtual reality? Plus: The mountain blows its top – this time, virtually.

EVEN AS OREGON BEGINS TO MOVE CAUTIOUSLY TOWARD REOPENING its social and commercial activities – today Gov. Kate Brown announced a loosening of restrictions in 28 of the state’s 36 counties, though not in the greater Portland metropolitan area – the new reality of social isolation remains with us. This holds true in the cultural world in particular: The reopening of theaters, concert halls, museums, and cultural centers is likely months in the future, and for many people the experience of the past two months has prompted a rethinking about the importance of art and what, in fact, “art” means.

In the Pacific Northwest in particular, art has long had a deeply rooted connection with the land itself, from the days of Indigenous stone paintings and carvings to the place-inspired work of contemporary artists and, presumably, the work of future artists grappling with the stark realities of environmental crisis and climate change. You can feel it even in the work of Oregon giants of abstract art, such as Lucinda Parker and the late Carl Morris and Mark Rothko, all of whose paintings are intellectual yet also deeply, unashamedly physical. At a time when the long lockdown and the world’s resulting switch to virtual reality have people yearning for a reconnection with real reality, the region’s stubborn insistence on connecting to the land seems suddenly to put it ahead of the game.
 

Aleksandra Apocalisse, “Grow” (2015). 11 x 14 inches. Watercolor and pen on paper. Image courtesy of the artist. 

Oregonians also have long been open to the idea of outsiderism, in a positive sense: Where you come from or who you trained with seem less important than what you do. And in a time of deep economic and structural insecurity the rigors of the academic and deep-pocket Wall Street pipelines don’t dominate the region’s artistic hierarchy the way they do in more heavily populated art centers. Here, if you Just Do It, as one local corporate juggernaut likes to put it, you stand a fair chance of being seen.

In Oregon, an artist might arrive from anywhere. That’s the case, for instance, with Aleksandra Apocalisse, who, as Shannon M. Lieberman writes for ArtsWatch in Celebrating connection in many forms, “started painting on a whim when she was 21.” Apocalisse’s interests, Lieberman continues, were both broad and focused: “After a series of unusual jobs, including farming, teaching children circus arts, and a stint as a camp science instructor, Apocalisse reached a turning point while interviewing for graduate programs in neuroscience. Unable to stop thinking about how she would balance the demands of graduate work with her desire to make art, Apocalisse realized that her hobby had become her passion–but could she turn it into a career?”

Yes, she could – and her route was not art school but the deeply populist, and popular, Portland Saturday Market, a grand communal gathering of all sorts of people with all sorts of interests. It was connecting at street level, taking art to the people in a way similar to the WPA art projects of the 1930s, except on an individual basis, not government-run. “It has been a good fit for Apocalisse, who thrives on talking to people,” Lieberman writes. “… In her explorations of connection, Aleksandra Apocalisse’s work does not call for change per se. Yet it powerfully implies that we all have tremendous power to forge the kinds of connections we want to see in the world.  Maybe we’re already making them. And if not, what are we waiting for?”

Bruce Conkle, “Quarantine,” 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

More established Oregon artists are taking a turn in their work during the shutdown, too. As Martha Daghlian writes in Artist Bruce Conkle: Isolation as meditation time, Conkle has been doing a series of drawings inspired by the great turn of events taking place beneath our noses – or at least by the headlines and news feeds of a world turned upside down. At the same time, Conkle says, in a strange way the shutdown fits right in: “Artists in general thrive having a lot of time alone, to be inside their own head, so I think in a way we are getting through this house arrest a lot easier than people who constantly need external stimuli. The creative mental state is a type of meditation—one loses track of time, of place, and of self. I draw mandalas as meditations on a certain subject. After a few minutes (of drawing) you become unaware of the subject itself.”


WATCHING MOUNT ST. HELENS BLOW HER TOP


Lucinda Parker, “Magma opus,” July 1980. Mixed media on paper. Collection of Stephen McCarthy, L2019.69.1. Image courtesy Portland Art Museum

SPEAKING OF PHYSICAL REALITIES: Monday, May 18, will be the fortieth anniversary of the big blow that shook the Pacific Northwest to its foundations and sent clouds of ash from the Mount St. Helens eruption scurrying around the globe. And Volcano! Mount St. Helens in Art, the sprawling exhibition at the Portland Art Museum that opened with a bang in February and was packing ’em in until the museum’s forced shutdown in March, was scheduled to close on Sunday the 17th. The museum, of course, is already closed for an undetermined time. But you still stand a decent chance of seeing Volcano! in the flesh. “After much work with cooperative lenders, we can now confirm that we expect Volcano! to reopen when the museum does (whenever that may be),” museum spokesman Ian Gillingham said in an email exchange on Tuesday. “We expect it to run through sometime in January.”

Now you can get about as good a virtual experience of the exhibition as is possible. The museum staff has assembled and made available online a virtual tour of the exhibition, beginning in prehistory and continuing through early European American paintings, images of the explosion itself, and paintings and photographs from the aftermath. There are even a few examples of ceramics made of Mount St. Helens ash, which for several years formed the basis of a vibrant souvenir cottage industry.

This week’s edition of Willamette Week features a very good, lavishly illustrated guide to the exhibition, We Brought a Piece of Mount St. Helens to You, that’s well worth your time.

And at 3:30 p.m. Sunday – the day before the anniversary – museum curator Dawson Carr, who brought the exhibit to fruition, will host an online event, Mount St. Helens: A Landscape Across Time, with several guests discussing aspects of the show: Seattle artist Barbara Noah, whose excellent painting Tag III is featured in the exhibit; Nathan Roberts, an ecologist and interim director of cultural resources for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe; and director Ray Yurkewycz and science education manager Sonja Melander of the Mount St. Helens Institute.

Barbara Noah, “Tag III,” 1981. Oil on photolinen. Collection of the artist, Seattle, ©1981 Barbara Noah, for changes and additions to a Mount St. Helens image courtesy of USGS, L2019.93.1.


IN TOUCH: KEEPING A LINE ON WHAT’S ONLINE


Elizabeth Woody, part of May 20’s “Who Gets To Be an American?” online conversation in the Vanport Mosaic 2020 Virtual Festival. Photo courtesy Oregon Cultural Trust

IF YOU HAVE A KEYBOARD AND A CONNECTION (and if you’re reading this, you do) the world’s at your fingertips. All right, not the real world: These days it’s prety much all virtual, all the time. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of good stuff to plug into. Here’s just a sampler:

VANPORT MOSAIC 2020 VIRTUAL FESTIVAL. We wrote about this vigorous and positively provocative festival in last week’s ArtsWatch Weekly, and the online attractions just keep coming through May 30, the 72nd anniversary of the Memorial Day flood in 1948 that wiped the city of Vanport off the map, killing 15 people and leaving 17,500 homeless. Among the upcoming attractions (check the full schedule in the link above): taiko artist Michelle Fujii in conversation with Douglas Detrick on “the constant state of otherness,” Friday, May 15; a conversation with Sankar Raman of The Immigrant Story and writer Ramiza Koya about “becoming American,” Sunday, May 17; a Confluence Conversation among Patricia Whitefoot (Yakama Nation), former Oregon poet laureate Elizabeth Woody (Warm Springs) and Chuck Sams (Umatilla) about “who gets to be an American,” Wednesday, May 20.

THE TURN OF THE SCREW. The Beaverton-based Experience Theatre Project is offering an encore performance of its live-screened production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s two-actor adaptation of Henry James’s classic ghost story on Friday, May 16. The original screening on May 1 played to a stay-at-home audience of 7,000. You need to register to get your virtual seat; click on the link above.

BROADWAY ROSE AT HOME. The Tigard theater company, which is the metro area’s most prominent home for musical theater, is going virtual with its new series Midday Cabaret, at 1 p.m. every Wednesday. It’s just what it sounds like: livestreamed cabaret shows, hosted by Broadway Rose’s Dan Murphy and featuring stars from past company shows. Right now, performances by David Saffert and Benjamin Tissell are available, with more on the way.

MOMENTARY JOYS, WITH HENK PANDER AND BRUCE GUENTHER. Two lions of the Oregon art world – painter Pander and curator Guenther – talk in a webinar sponsored by the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education about how, in the museum’s words, “bad times can produce great art. Dadaism grew from the tragedy of the First World War; the Depression sparked a social realist movement and Jews created art in ghettos, concentration camps, and in hiding during the Second World War. … Momentary joys, if you will, that help us get through confinement.” Noon Wednesday, May 20, and you need to register: Once again, click on the link above.


ISOLATIONISTS ARE LOOKING FOR A FEW GOOD READS


Alison Dennis is executive director for Sitka Center for Art and Ecology near Otis.
Alison Dennis, executive director of the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, on the Oregon Coast, says in “I am Still here … it still is a time for singing” that she feels both more isolated and more connected than ever.

‘I AM STILL HERE … IT STILL IS A TIME FOR SINGING.’ In the latest in our “Oregon in Shutdown: Voices from the Front” series, Lori Tobias, ArtsWatch’s Oregon Coast columnist, talks with five key coastal arts figures about how the pandemic has changed what they do and think. It’s not all bad news.

MY APPETITES: ON EATING AND COPING MECHANISMS, CHILDHOOD AND SELF-CONTROL, CRITICISM, LOVE, CANCER, AND PANDEMICS. Jerry Saltz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic for New York Magazine who is married to Roberta Smith, art critic for The New York Times (imagine their conversations over coffee), writes a beautiful, searing, and sometimes heartbreaking personal essay about the accumulations of experience and realities we carry with us into the time of plague.

SAFE DISTANCE SOUNDS, PART 2: CHAMBER TERROIR. “With live performances temporarily out of the picture, I’ve been fulfilling my jones for homegrown sounds by listening to recent releases from Oregon-based or -born musicians that caught my ear,” Brett Campbell writes. This compilation, which features ambient and other contemporary sounds (including Kenji Bunch’s fresh score for Eugene Ballet’s The Snow Queen) follows his first Safe Distance Sounds, a roundup of recent Oregon jazz recordings.

INTERVIEW IN A TIME OF SEQUESTRATION. Alone with his camera and his keyboard, photographer and frequent ArtsWatch contributor K.B. Dixon resorts to desperate measures: He interviews himself. His resulting essay in Q&A form (which is illustrated with several of his portraits of Portland arts figures) is both illuminating and amusing. Think the mysteries of shadows, and native soil, and “that much revered Southern snake-charmer, William Faulkner.” 

WHAT SHAKESPEARE ACTUALLY DID DURING THE PLAGUE. Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, who teaches at Linfield College and is an occasional ArtsWatch contributor, manages two difficult tasks with aplomb in this short humor piece for The New Yorker: He makes light of Shakespeare and of the Plague Times that Shakespeare lived through, and makes us laugh at both. “Day 13: You’ve been wearing the same doublet and hose for two weeks.” 

OZZIE GONZÁLEZ: STAGING A RACE. The theaters have shut down for the duration. But Portland actor González has moved onto a much bigger stage, as a serious candidate to become mayor of Portland. Bobby Bermea talks with him about why he’s running, what his goals for the city are, and how the world of theater and the arts is good preparation for politics.

MUSEUM CURATOR GRACE KOOK-ANDERSON: FIGURING IT OUT. Martha Daghlian talks with the Portland Art Museum’s curator of Northwest art about working from home, the economic impact of the pandemic, and how things are changing: “There’s a huge emphasis on the extreme local right now that I think is really interesting. … The DIY culture that is celebrated here is evident in many art spaces, and I see that reflected in the ways they are adapting to this situation.”


QUOTABLE (THE NEW BROADWAY VERSION)


Corey Brunish, the Broadway and Portland theater producer who we wrote about last week, was challenged online a few days ago to develop some ideas for updated musicals to fit our shutdown times. He came up with a few:


The Pajama Game All Day Long
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to 2021 
Into the Woods for a Walk
Bye Bye Income
Annie Get Your Face Mask
How To Succeed in Business by Washing Your Hands
HAIRcut

– Your turn. Create a Broadway Quotable of your own!


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