Public Annex

Recognizing the artist’s journey

A show at Newberg’s Chehalem Cultural Center by developmentally disabled adults illuminates the idea that all art is art therapy

As the curtain opens on 2019, I’m reflecting on an unexpected awakening of sorts that has played out several times now in my encounters with visual and sculptural art around Yamhill County.

Let me explain.

When Oregon ArtsWatch brought me aboard last summer, I made it clear to the editors that theater and film were my specialties (to the extent I have any), but I lacked the training, experience, and even the language to “review” exhibitions of painting, drawing, and sculpture effectively and intelligently. That was OK, they replied. I wasn’t expected to produce criticism with a capital “C,” and I surely never will. I was relieved that the mission was simply to report.

The “Histories Take Form” show includes Marc Roder’s untitled acrylic-on-paper painting.

So it’s odd that visual art has spoken to me most meaningfully in the past six months or so. I’ve been fortunate enough to drop by shows alone when the exhibition space is empty, or nearly so, and discovered that if one spends even a few minutes of quiet time with a painting or sculptural piece — if you simply let yourself be with it — it will open up to you in some fashion. Regardless of the artist’s intentions, the thoughts and feelings you bring to the experience settle and coalesce as you let the image or sculpture into your head. Given the right conditions and the proper frame of mind, epiphanies can happen.

That’s what happened a few days ago when I found myself alone at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. HEATWAVE still occupied the Parrish Gallery. That was a terrific exhibition of fiber art made by artists who obviously have spent many years at their craft, perfecting their skills and techniques to a point where they are arguably among the best at what they do.

The Parrish Gallery is what you see straight ahead when you walk in. At the west end of the sprawling lobby you’ll find another, smaller installation. It’s called Histories Take Form, and it features drawings, paintings, and mixed media created by artists who do not have same level of training and skill as the HEATWAVE artists.

Yet this show helped me understand that even making that distinction — creating categories for art based on objective criteria — is to miss the point of what art is, what it’s for, and whom it’s for.

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Artists Who Fly Like Rocks

The Self-Taught Artist Fair opens Thursday at PNCA, expanding definitions and identities

September 7 is a big day in Portland arts and culture. Along with First Thursday festivities, which herald exhibition openings for many a gallery in the Pearl District, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art kicks off the 15th annual Time-Based Arts Festival with multiple (yes, multiple) performances and parties jam-packed into one evening. What a time to be in Portland! As the floodgates prepare to open with a barrage of visual art and performative offerings on Thursday evening, keep in mind a unique exhibition afoot at Pacific Northwest College of Art’s Commons Gallery: the Self-Taught Artist Fair: Flying Like a Rock.

The title of the exhibition, produced by The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA and Public Annex, begs plenty of questions—for starters, what qualifies someone as a self-taught artist?

“Britney Spears,” by Dawn Westover, colored pencil and pen on paper, in the Self-Taught Artist Fair.

While, on the surface, it seems safe to assume that a self-taught artist is someone without any formal training, Public Annex’s Lara Ohland, the lead organizer on this exhibition, explains: “There have been a lot of questions, and I am continually trying to re-clarify for myself what this does mean.” As an artist with a level of formal training, Ohland emphasizes that she does not wish to be the “keeper to the definition,” noting instead, “I want to leave lots of space for people to choose their own identity in that.”

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