Tammy Jo Wilson

Pictures worth more than a thousand words

Paintings in a narrative art exhibit at the Chehalem Cultural Center tell stories that “provide insight into the human condition,” says curator Jen Brown

The poet Muriel Rukeyser famously said, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” If that’s true, then artists are every bit as essential as scientists to unraveling who we are. Narrative painting comes as close as any medium to being the quintessence of visual storytelling.  After all, the earliest art — cave paintings dating back tens of thousands of years — tells the story of the hunt.

Narrative art is the focus of a show that runs through April 2 at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg. Understanding Ourselves: Narrative Paintings Curated by Jen Brown  features work by Brown and 10 other Oregon artists that goes beyond portraiture and seeks to tell (or at least suggest, or provide a moment from) a story. In notes that accompany each image, the artist tells the story and/or the thought processes behind the creative act that resulted in the image.

It’s a genre Brown has long been interested in. A few years ago, she started an informal salon in her home to talk shop with other Portland artists. “We discuss all aspects of art and what it takes  to be an artist, provide professional development for one another, and  knock back a bit of wine in the process,” she said. “Friendships have been formed,  exhibitions mounted, and we’ve built a support system for each other. It’s been a really positive experience.”

In 2019, she and salon participant Chris Pothier, who has work in the Chehalem show, noticed that @narrativepainting on Instagram was available. “I claimed it and ran with it,” Brown said. The artwork featured – ranging from the 15th century to last year — may also be found on a website she created.

Jen Brown created “An Allegory of Facebook” oil on canvas, 36 by 54 inches, 2017) after Donald Trump's inauguration.
Jen Brown created “An Allegory of Facebook” (oil on canvas, 36 by 54 inches, 2017) after Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“Chris and I have talked a lot about how there is a narrative streak that runs through the work of the artists in the salon,” Brown said, “and a  growing movement of representational art in the art world at large. It feels like audiences are craving art that speaks to them, that connects to their own lives. I know many artists who are rejecting conceptual  art — as one artist friend calls it, ‘plywood and duct tape art.’”

In just a couple of years, Brown has discussed literally hundreds of paintings on the site. A fair amount of it is pretty grim – Titian’s The Rape of Europa, Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat. Not only is the site a good place to geek out over art history, but it also nicely compliments the show in Newberg.


Exquisite Gorge 8 & 9: The Map Makers

As the Aug. 24 print date for Maryhill Museum's Columbia River project fast approaches, its artists think about the mix of maps and territory


Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively. – Wikipedia

Maps. You know, those paper things that half of us can read and half of us cannot; they pointed the way to our destinations before the arrival of talking machines that tell us how to proceed – and then reroute. Maps that were, in theory, supposed to adhere to “the empiricist paradigm of cartography”—that cartography’s only ethic is to be accurate, precise, and complete. Of course, that’s not what many maps are about – instead they often serve as a tool for persuading us to accept a particular view of the world, and not just geographically.

Mapping the territory.


Envisioning the human body — and life itself

Artists Tammy Jo Wilson and Amanda Triplett explore the beauty and metamorphosis of the organic form in a show at the Chehalem Cultural Center

Biological Dissonance, a collection of paintings and sculpture by Portland-area artists Tammy Jo Wilson and Amanda Triplett, is the newest exhibit to take up residence in the Chehalem Cultural Center’s largest gallery. While I was visiting it recently, two other names came to mind: David Cronenberg and Russian art critic Aleksandr Voronsky.

The former, of course, is the Canadian filmmaker who in 1986 gave us a gruesome remake of The Fly and is best known as a pioneer in so-called “body horror” cinema. The lesser known Voronsky wrote in the early 20th-century that art — all art — is, to varying degrees, the “cognition of life” itself.

To cite Cronenberg is perhaps unfair, as there’s nothing in the Newberg-based gallery that is extreme or gross, nothing for shock value, nothing that would be obviously at home in one of his stomach-churning films (although a couple of blob-like textile sculptures, which are beautiful, come close). The key parallel is artistic focus: a sustained and deeply considered exploration of the human body — from the recognizable shape of a single form all the way down to a hair, or even the follicle that contains it. Or an ovum. Life itself.

“Plasmic,” by Amanda Triplett (fiber installation from salvaged textiles, 12 by 60 by 16 inches, 2019) and (in the background) “Bare Bones,” by Tammy Jo Wilson (encaustic on panel, 18 by 24 inches, 2017). Photo by: David Bates
“Plasmic,” by Amanda Triplett (2019, fiber installation from salvaged textiles, 12 x 60 x 16 inches) and (in the background) “Bare Bones,” by Tammy Jo Wilson (2017, encaustic on panel, 18 x 24 inches). Photo by: David Bates

The show is described by Chehalem’s curators as “an exhibition about the irrepressible metamorphosis of the human body and beauty within the organic form.”

According to the statement, Wilson and Triplett “blend their creative expressions in this compelling and tactile exhibit about the biological body, through works of encaustics, paintings, prints, fiber and textile installations. Pairing together their individual approaches to process and medium, they build a visual dialogue expressing the visceral nature of the vessels to which all humans are confined and examining the relationship between flesh and bone; and society, cultural experience and self-awareness.”


Art in Oregon turns its bridge-building to Lincoln County

The nonprofit is dedicated to helping artists connect with their communities by setting up a statewide database and awarding funds for the purchase of art

A healthy community needs a healthy cultural side, and that includes the arts, says Tammy Jo Wilson, cofounder of Art in Oregon (AiO). After a first year that included setting up a database of Oregon artists and offering micro-grants to Clackamas County businesses to purchase art, the nonprofit is turning its attention to Lincoln County.

Wilson and her husband, Owen Premore, got the idea for the nonprofit after the only gallery in Oregon City closed soon after the couple, both artists, bought a house in town. “We really started to think, how is art going to be part of our community?” Wilson said. “That led us to think not only about our community, but Oregon in general. That’s what led us to start this. Not just think about our community, but the state as a whole.” Wilson, a painter, and Premore, a sculptor and installation artist, started Art in Oregon in late 2017 with the goal of building bridges between artists and their communities.

“Road to Timberline,” by Elo Wobig (right), is the first painting purchased by the Museum of the Oregon Territory, says museum manager Jenna Barganski (center). Tammy Jo Wilson (left) says Art in Oregon hopes to continue working with the museum to expand its collection to include more Oregon artists. Photo courtesy: Art in Oregon

Through a program called the Art Shine Project, they have set up a curated database of artists they hope will serve as a digital gallery leading to the purchase and placement of artwork in public. The 2018 Art Shine Project focused on Clackamas County, providing funds to help three local businesses and nonprofits purchase art of their choice from work submitted by 33 local artists.

“We are trying to connect with the artists of Oregon, both emerging and established and everything in between, and then help them find their community,” Wilson said. “So the goal of the Art Shine Project was to find as many artists in Clackamas County as we could, and from that we started the Art Shine database.” There is no charge to be included in the database, which includes close to 100 artists throughout the state.

Wilson sees project benefits as three-fold. The artist makes money from the sale of art and gets to see it publicly displayed. The businesses get to own an original piece of art, and the community is exposed to work by a local artist.