Ralph Pugay

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

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

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.

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.

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.


An academic conference for Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters

Artists Ralph Pugay and Roz Crews have designed a conference for our times

“I think a lot has changed for the project since we talked last,” says Ralph Pugay (he/him) as I caught up with him and Roz Crews (she/her) over coffee two weeks ago. I have been following these two artists as they have collaborated on the Schemers, Scammers, and Subverters Symposium , aka SSSS, since early last year.

“We’re not going to have Tonya Harding,” continued Pugay.

“Sadly,” added Crews.

Originally slated to take place in December 2018, SSSS was envisioned as an academic conference that would feature presentations by schemers, scammers, and subverters from a wide array of backgrounds. The aforementioned Olympian was high on the list of desirable presenters. However, Crews and Pugay have since shifted their timeline and programmatic vision, instead reaching out to locally-based artists, creatives, and cultural workers through their networks. The event will now take place February 23, from 10am-6pm at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Portland.

Living School of Art poster for the SSSS’s TOTALLY HONEST BARTER BAZAAR

The conceptual framework of the symposium carries layers of nuance underneath that sensationalist title. “The title of the project is a big part of the project…It’s totally critical, as is true with lots of conceptual art projects,” said Crews of its multiple meanings. “I think those words [scheme, scam, subvert] have negative connotations,” reflected Pugay, “but then I can also imagine, coming from my background, my experience of being a Filipino immigrant, those are also tools for survival for people.”

On the one hand, SSSS has been shaped by a dialogue between Crews and Pugay about this fraught historical moment. They began asking themselves what it would be like, in Crews words, “to make a project that’s about scheming and scamming and subverting systems, when we have a President who is just straight up scamming us all.”


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.