Portland Columbia Symphony Adelante Voices of Tomorrow Beaverton and Gresham Oregon

The allure of interconnection

"Eartha" at Adams and Ollman presents seven artists' visions of the natural world.

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When we’re stuck inside, we crave the outdoors. You’ve probably noticed it this year, too. It’s been easy to compartmentalize nature as a singular entity—we’re either in it or we’re not—and it feels quite distant during pandemic times. But perhaps our relationship to nature could become more fluid, more interconnected, more spiritual. Such is the central topic of Adams and Ollman’s group show, Eartha, featuring the works of seven artists grappling with their place in the natural world. The exhibition successfully creates openings and liminal spaces, encouraging deeper thought on human-flora-fauna relationships. 

Ann Craven, Moon (Pink Crescent, Cushing, 8-25-19, 1:30 AM) (2019). Oil on linen. 14 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

Eartha includes fifteen artworks, primarily paintings with a few pastel works on paper in the mix. The works are split between Adams and Ollman’s back gallery room and their office space. The small gallery room, occupied by a few people comfortably, grants an intimate feel to the viewing experience. One feels enveloped by artworks in a small space. Likewise, the paintings installed in Adams and Ollman’s office area integrate with books, a desk and chair, pottery; these functional objects deepen a sense of relationship between the art on display and daily life.

In the gallery room, Amy Bay’s trio of textural floral paintings feel like homages to all things decorative, patterned, and lush. Each has a zoomed-in quality. Flowers explode from all sides, occupying each painting’s entire frame. 

Across from Bay’s paintings, Ann Craven’s Moon (Pink Crescent, Cushing, 8-25-19, 1:30AM) is a simple rendering of a luminous pink moon, part of Craven’s extensive lunar painting catalog dating back to 1995. The painting has an immediacy and purity, settling well alongside the other pieces in the room. 

Maureen St. Vincent, Three Stacks and a Rock (2019). Soft pastel on paper with custom frame. 36 x 28 inches. Image courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

Maureen St. Vincent’s Three Stacks and a Rock, a soft pastel drawing on paper with a custom frame, brings in more ambiguity and space for interpretation. The drawing isolates three rocky bluff vignettes as viewed through oval openings, reframing the landscapes both literally and conceptually. The openings feel fleshy, perhaps hinting at the body’s relationship to the natural world, or the body as navigable terrain. Three holes in St. Vincent’s custom frame create a balanced absence against the three openings in the pastel drawing. 

While each work in the gallery room hones in on nature’s openness to interpretation, the standout pieces are Hayley Barker’s Beverlywood and Riverwood. Barker’s mark-making finds equilibrium in a space between gesture and intention, abstraction and representation. The works feel like recognizable landscapes, but not quite, as though Barker’s compositions were pulled from a dream. Unexpected, bright color-pops mingle among neutral tones. Beverlywood is more impressionistic, while Riverwood has a more traditional landscape composition. In Riverwood, Barker plays with reflection and renders an astronomical body, but her color choices still make the scene feel surreal. Side-by-side, the two paintings conjure a sense of peering into an alternate world.

Hayley Barker, Riverwood (2020). Oil on linen. 12 x 9 inches. Image courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

Moving into Adams and Ollman’s office, the first paintings I spot are Ka’ila Farrell-Smith’s Get Out NDN and Under Fire. Farrell-Smith employs traditional Indigenous aesthetics and abstraction to explore landscapes between Indigenous and Westernized worlds. Farrell-Smith is also the sole artist in the show to utilize text in her work; I spot the word HUMAN in both paintings, and MAKLAK in Get Out NDN. The paintings have an intensity that causes one to stop and stare at the abstract lines and jagged scribbles. A black and white palette alongside neon orange and green demonstrates the artist’s fearlessness. Although it’s difficult to come to a precise conclusion from viewing the paintings, urgency is embedded in the works.

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Further back in the office, another Amy Bay painting, My Condolences, and a second Maureen St. Vincent piece, Untitled, are installed across from each other. Both pieces expand further on themes the artists raised in their other works on display; St. Vincent’s Untitled is even more bodily than Three Stacks and a Rock, with undulant shapes and suggestions of pubic hair and flesh. Bay’s My Condolences is framed by ultra-thick paint dabs begging to be touched. I wonder if these works could have been displayed more prominently. Installed far back in the office, they don’t feel as though they’ve been given adequate attention. 

Mariel Capanna, Hose Bow, Flowers, Trumpet, Duck (2020). Oil on panel. 16 x 20 inches. Image courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

Mariel Capanna’s paintings embed a wealth of information onto small canvases. Two of Capanna’s paintings, Hose, Bow, Flowers, Trumpet, Duck and Flowers, Fountain, Six o’clock contain thick, blocky shapes coalescing to become detailed outdoor scenes. Cars, palm trees, ladders, umbrellas—all slowly emerge the longer one gazes at these dense scenes. It’s no surprise that Capanna sources imagery from films, documentaries, found photos, and home videos. A playful, game-like quality to the works turns the viewing experience into a search-and-find. 

Conversely, Capanna shows her depth by switching it up in Candles, Flowers, Flowers, Chair. This painting is far quieter, with delicate flowers and candles floating cloud-like against a backdrop of sky. Capanna plays with notions of time in nature, creating visual representations of speed and slowness.

Emma Cook, The Pig and the Cat (2020). Oil on upholstery. 44 x 27 inches. Image courtesy of Adams and Ollman.

While Hayley Barker’s paintings stood out in the gallery room, Emma Cook’s monochromatic painting The Pig and the Cat is most striking in the office space. Against a background of dark crisscrossed lines, Cook paints a diverse range of characters pulled straight from a folkloric fantasy. Anthropomorphized pigs, figures with devilish grins, and abstracted creatures surround the painting’s edges and meet in the middle, furthering a storytelling effect. The result is subtly unsettling, hinting at exploitative histories.

Eartha provokes more questions than answers, and perhaps that’s one of the exhibition’s goals. What potential for transformation exists in our relationship with the natural world? How does the body navigate natural spaces when considered through lenses of gender, politics, colonization, and spirituality? Each artist in Eartha answers the question in their own way. This openness to a wealth of answers helps prompt an ongoing conversation to begin.

Eartha is on view at Adams and Ollman (418 NW 8th Ave) through December 19th. The gallery is open by appointment only.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lindsay Costello is an experimental artist and writer in Portland, Oregon, with an academic background in textile research at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. Her critical writing can also be read at Hyperallergic, Art Papers, Art Practical, 60 Inch Center, this is tomorrow, and Textile: Cloth and Culture, among other places. She is the founder of plant poetics, an herbalism project, and soft surface, a digital poetry journal/residency. She is the co-founder of Critical Viewing, an aggregate of art community happenings in the Pacific NorthwestHer artistic practice centers magic, ecology, and folkways in social practice, writing, sculpture, and installation.

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