Tad Savinar

Profiles & Conversations 2017

From poets to painters to dancers to actors to musicians, 21 tales from ArtsWatch on the people who make the art and why they do it

Art is a whole lot of things, but at its core it’s about people, and how they see life, and how they make a life, and how they get along or struggle with the mysteries of existence. That includes, of course, the artists themselves, whose stories and skills are central to the premise. In 2017 ArtsWatch’s writers have sat down with a lot of artists – painters, actors, dancers and choreographers, poets, music-makers – and listened as they spun out their tales.

We’ve been able to tell their stories because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

Here are 21 stories from 2017 about Oregon artists and artists who’ve come here to do their work:

 


 

Erik Skinner. Photo: Michael Shay

Eric Skinner’s happy landing

Jan. 18: “On the afternoon that Snowpocalypse struck Portland, Eric Skinner walked into the lobby at BodyVox Dance Center after a morning in the studio and settled easily onto one of the long couches in the corner. As always he looked trim and taut: small but strong and tough, with a body fat index down somewhere around absolute zero. If anyone looks like a dancer, Skinner does. Even in repose he seems all about movement: you get the sense he might spring up suddenly like a Jumping Jack on those long lean muscles and bounce somewhere, anywhere, just for the sake of bouncing.” In January, after 30 years on Portland stages, Skinner was getting ready to retire from BodyVox – but not from dance, he told Bob Hicks.

 


 

Les Watanabe in ‘Sojourn’ by Donald McKayle, Inner City Repertory Company. Photographed by Martha Swope in New York. 1972. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe

Les Watanabe on Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovich, Donald McKayle and his life in dance

Jan. 20: In a wide-ranging Q&A interview, Jamuna Chiarini hears a lot of modern-dance history from Watanabe, who was in the thick of it and now teaches at Western Oregon University:

“During Alvin Ailey’s CBS rehearsals, Lar Lubovitch was teaching in the next studio. I ran into him at the drinking fountain. While living in L.A., I had read articles about him in Dance Magazine. So while he was stooped over drinking, I exclaimed, ‘Lar Lubovitch! I’ve read all about you!’

“At that point he stood up facing me wiping his mouth and looking incredulous like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I then asked, ‘Do you ever have auditions? I would love to dance with you.’

“’Are you dancing now?’ he asked.

“’Yes, with Alvin Ailey next door, but it is only for five weeks.’

“’Where do you take class?’ Lar asked. ‘At Maggie Black’s,’ I answered. ‘Good. Let’s meet at her first class. Then you can rush back to rehearsal. See you next week.’”

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Let’s see, now, where were we? Big inauguration, American carnage, big threats, bellicose speech. Bigger protest, millions of women, pink hats, sea to shining sea. Twitter wars unabated. Health care on the skids. War on reporters. Alternative facts.

And, oh, yes, tucked away there in the corner: a vow to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. And kill the National Endowment for the Humanities. And “privatize” the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has mostly been privatized already, anyway. Cost-cutting. Getting tough on the budget. Victory for the taxpayers. (NEA 2016 budget: $148 million. NEH 2016 budget: $148 million. Percentage of total federal budget, each: 0.003. CPB 2016 funding via federal government: $445 million. Percentage of total federal budget, all three agencies: less than 0.02. Federal budget 2015 for military marching bands, $437 million. Taxpayer expense to build or renovate National Football League stadiums, past 20 years, mostly through local and regional taxes: more than $7 billion.)

A fiscal conservative or libertarian can make an honest argument for eliminating the NEA and NEH on grounds that they’re simply not an appropriate use of taxpayer funding; culture should be funded privately. Here at ArtsWatch we don’t agree with that analysis. We believe there are many valid reasons for government financial aid to culture, and that the payoffs to taxpayers are many, from economic – in healthy cities, the arts are job and money multipliers – to educational and much more. Historically, consider the continuing dividends of the WPA and other cultural projects underwritten by the federal government during the Great Depression of the 1930s: In Oregon, for instance, Timberline Lodge.

But there’s much more to this move than a courteous philosophical/economic disagreement. The move to defund the NEA has a long and embattled history, dating at least to the so-called “culture wars” of the 1980s and ’90s, when a resurgent right-wing political movement convinced that artists were mostly a pack of degenerate liberals discovered that attacking the arts was a splendid red-meat issue for its base. They didn’t succeed in killing off the national endowments, but they did weaken them. The new administration seems to think it can finally finish them off. That would weaken state agencies such as the Oregon Arts Commission, which gets funding from the NEA, and in turn weaken arts organizations across the state, which get money from the OAC and, often more importantly, a stamp of approval that helps them raise private donations. Killing the endowments would be a rash move that would save hardly anything in the national budget and cause deep mischief to the nation’s well-being. It strikes us as petty and vindictive and, frankly, foolish.

It’s also a reach that might fail. Republicans like culture, too, and understand its value, and often support it generously. Traditionally, that has included Republican politicians. Will they fall in line with the new administration, or will they quietly scuttle its gambit? Keep your eye on this thing. We will, too.

 


 

Duffy Epstein and Dana Green in the premiere of the D.B. Cooper play “db.” Photo: Owen Carey

THE FERTILE GROUND FESTIVAL, Portland’s sprawling celebration of new works in theater, dance, solo performance, circus arts, musical theater, comedy, and other things that ordinarily happen on a stage, continues through January 29. ArtsWatch writers have been out and about, writing their impressions. You can catch up with some of them below:

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Interview: Tad Savinar on making theater, urban design and studio art

The Portland artist explains how he's sorted his multiple career paths

Tad Savinar has done a lot of interesting things in a career of 40-plus years.

In 1982 he organized an exhibition for Portland Center for the Visual Arts called A Few Good Men. One of those “men” was actor/writer Eric Bogosian who presented a monologue performance. Three years later the play Talk Radio co-created by Savinar and Bogosian premiered at PCVA. In 1987 it was produced by Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Two years after that it was a feature film directed by Oliver Stone.

In the early 1990s he was a member of the Westside Light Rail Project Design Team. Since then he has participated in dozens of design teams and planning projects from Oregon and Washington to Arizona and New Jersey.

Now he is Vice Chair of the Portland Design Review Commission which “provides leadership and expertise on urban design and architecture and on maintaining and enhancing Portland’s historical and architectural heritage.”

But throughout his career he has been known as a studio artist with numerous exhibitions and public arts works to his credit.

Tad Savinar, THE NEW MAN,14 x 11.5 inches,
Digital print on paper,
2014

Currently at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis and Clark College is an exhibition of
34 paintings, prints and sculptures he produced between 1994 and 2016 (along with 9 digital prints conceived during a sabbatical in Florence Italy in 2014). The show, “youniverse—past, present, future—Selected works from Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” runs from January 17-March 5.

This conversation happened last September.

You’ve said that to understand America you need to listen to talk radio and country music. Do you still think so?

I do—and talk to a 12-year-old.

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Art: new images for a new year

The first First Thursday of 2017, and other January visual arts events

Well, we pretty much got out of 2016 with the shirts on our backs, and suddenly here we are in a fresh new year.

January brings some intriguing visual art possibilities, including a major retrospective on Oregon master Louis Bunce (1907-1983) opening Jan. 21 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem. On the same day in Eugene, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art opens Sandow Birk: American Qur’an, a visual exploration of how the Muslim holy book intersects with American life. On Jan. 17 the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College opens youniverse: past, present, future, by veteran Portland artist Tad Savinar, focusing on works conceived in Florence, Italy, in 2014 and 2016 and on prints, paintings, and sculpture from 1994 through 2011.

And the Portland Art Museum has several things coming up this month to help fill the Andy Warhol void: Rodin: The Human Experience, a show of 52 bronzes opening Jan. 21; Constructing Identity, a major look at the work of contemporary and historical African American artists from Henry Ossawa Tanner to Faith Ringgold and beyond, opening Jan. 28; and the Portland Fine Print Fair 2017, which brings together offerings from 20 top dealers, and which the museum hosts Jan. 27-29.

MORE IMMEDIATELY, THURSDAY is the first First Thursday of the art-gallery year, and galleries across town will be opening new monthly shows. (Some have holdovers, or different opening dates.) Here are a few shows that have caught our eye. There’s lots more, so get out and explore on your own:

Carl Morris, “Voyage Unknown,” 1946, oil on canvas, 52 x 32.5 inches. At this point his art is moving away from figurism but not yet into the abstract expressionism for which he’s best known. Photo: Russo Lee Gallery

The iconic Oregon artist Carl Morris (1911-1993) has a show at Russo Lee Gallery, sharing space with Alex Hirsch. Morris moved from WPA-style murals (the Eugene post office) to his own form of earthbound abstract expressionism that kept vital touch with the mysteries of the Northwest landscape. Morris was at once regional and wise to the movements of the international art scene, and this exhibit covers roughly 50 years of development.

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