Oregon artists seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the natural world, and it makes sense. Yes, the Pacific Northwest is ultra-beautiful, but our green state has also been the site of devastating wildfires and heat waves that serve as a regular reminder of the climate crisis. The natural beauty we feel so strongly about also demands our protection, and real solutions often feel out of reach.
This month, local artists (and some from more far-flung locales) are doing what artist Julia Oldham describes as “giving nature a voice.” They’re creating visual reinterpretations of environmental reports, grappling with paradoxes of reverence or control of nature, and speculating about evolutionary possibilities.
Although tinged with the climate anxiety that impacts so many of us, these exhibitions serve a vitally important function—they encourage us to imagine a different world. Read on.
Marc Handelman: Discovery of a Flower / Contours of a Pond
July 16 – August 27
SE Cooper Contemporary
6901 SE 110th Ave, Portland (Sat 11 am – 5 pm)
Unraveling the political, ideological and ecological underpinnings inherent to the construction of identity, Marc Handelman’s Discovery of a Flower / Contours of a Pond reflects on the role of nature in the current climate of white nationalism, alt-right ideology, and eco-fascism through small scale paintings and a video animation. Handelman challenges the empirical nature of specimen collection and identification by reimagining the type collective archive of the Oregon State flower, Berberis aquifolium (Oregon grape). In Reflection Pool, the Brooklyn-based artist pairs imagery from corporate environmental reports with white nationalist and eco-fascist propaganda slogans.
Land Art Show with Sighted Land: An Off-Site Location
420 NW 9th Ave, Portland, and elsewhere (various times)
Throughout August, Blackfish Gallery will present a wide variety of visual art and performance works inspired by the ’60s and ’70s-era Land Art movement. In partnership with local Native American visual artists, Blackfish will both exhibit works in the gallery and shuttle visitors via artist-run buses to their “Sighted Land” space (described as “four acres of farm, forest, and private wetlands in the East Columbia/Blue Heron neighborhood.”) At Sighted Land, visitors can watch a carving session with Native artist Toma Villa and engage with works by many other participating artists. Back at the gallery, catch the drum ritual by Merkaba Heart on August 4, the Native American art and craft market on August 6 and 7, and other offerings throughout the month.
Willie Little: In My Own Little Corner
August 5 – October 2
8371 N Interstate Ave, Portland (Fri-Sun 12-5 pm)
The final exhibition in Oregon Contemporary’s Site program, an exhibition series that replaced the 2021 Portland Biennial, Willie Little’s In My Own Little Corner is a deep exploration of the artist’s upbringing as a gay Black child in ’60s and ’70s-era rural North Carolina. Little’s installation includes found objects, sound elements, and photographs that invite the viewer into his sensitive, imaginative world.
Christian Rogers and Shohei Takasaki: Curly Hair / Hot Metal
July 15 – August 28
15 SE 22nd Ave, Portland (hours vary throughout exhibition, see website for more information)
In Curly Hair / Hot Metal, artists Christian Rogers and Shohei Takasaki explore themes of lust and desire, creating bright, passionate works with explosive color palettes and sharp forms. Rogers sources imagery from vintage erotic magazines to reflect on queer history, while Takasaki references urban planning and architecture, but both artists’ works feel graphic, strong, summery, and uninhibited.
Church of Film: SHADOWPLAY: Women in Experimental Animation
August 24, 8 pm
Clinton St. Theater
2522 SE Clinton St, Portland ($8, tickets here)
Portland is lucky to have Church of Film, a low- and no-cost screening series that’s brought rare, boundary-pushing cinema to the city for years. This time around, catch SHADOWPLAY: Women in Experimental Animation, a round-up of women’s animated experiments from the silent era to the present day. The surreal compilation of films includes Lotte Reiniger’s silhouetted fairy tales and Mary Ellen Bute’s jazzy “visual music.”
Sarah Meadows: Tanglefoot
July 30 – August 27
Melanie Flood Projects
420 SW Washington St #301, Portland (Fri-Sat 12-5 pm)
In Tanglefoot, Oregon artist Sarah Meadows delves into the complexity of humanity’s relationship with nature, compiling archival imagery and her own photographs to consider both the natural world of our imaginations, and what exists in reality, side by side. What’s unveiled is a curious paradox—we revere nature, yet seek to dominate it. Meadows’s flash-lit photos are explorative and sensory, yet embody a faint anxiety.
June 16 – September 21
Collaboration between Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette and FISK Gallery
Various locations and hours
Initiated by Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette and supported by FISK Gallery, Shared Window spotlights small community businesses with fresh, eye-catching artworks by local artists. Through September, stop by Zaap Thai, Community Warehouse, Star Kitchen Thai Food, Turning Heads Hair Styling Studio, Que Sabrosa, and Cedo’s Falafel & Gyros to feast your eyes on bold, graphic advertisements by Portland creatives Salomée Souag, Francisco Morales, Miyu Shirotsuka, Momo Gordon, Reshidev Rk, and Nia Musiba. Don’t forget to show the businesses some love while you’re there!
Patricia Vázquez Gómez: BorderXers
June 11 – September 10
1312 Commercial St, Astoria (Sat-Sun 1-4 pm)
Looking closely at the myriad ways in which one can be a “borderxer”—moving freely, shirking gender norms and heteronormativity, challenging oppression, and refusing to be broken—Patricia Vázquez Gómez shares prints and multimedia works that ask the viewer what borders they have yet to cross. The thoughtful exhibition (and cool t-shirts) are worth a trip up to Astoria.
Julia Oldham: The Birth of the Hyperforest
517 SW 2nd St, Corvallis (hours vary, see Instagram)
Eugene-based artist Julia Oldham aims to give voice to the natural world in her narrative works, and The Birth of the Hyperforest is no exception. Oldham’s 4-channel video projection, which blends footage of clearcutting in the Cascades with hand-drawn and digital animation, is immersive and a little creepy. A crackling radio transmission layered over the video warns the viewer about the evolved “dendrotopes.” (Got questions? Oldham will host an in-person tour of the exhibition on August 18 at 5 pm.)
Yuyang Zhang: stupid little life
Blue Sky Gallery
122 NW 8th Avenue, Portland (Wed-Sat 12-5 pm)
Yuyang Zhang is a true inspiration. Amid a grueling, 20-month O-1B visa petition application process, the China-born artist (who has lived in the United States for the last decade) channeled his anxiety into mixed-media digital collages and photographic diptychs with a careful, delicate grace and subtle sense of humor. With nods to cultural hybridity, queerness, and diasporic identity, Zhang’s works draw from Chinese communist propaganda and American societal totems, resulting in what the artist describes as “sad beautiful things.”
On the Ledge
Tuck Lung Gallery
140 NW 4th Ave, Portland (Fri 5-8 pm, Sat 2-5 pm)
Organized by Blanchet House of Hospitality, On the Ledge helps support the nonprofit’s mission to address food insecurity and housing instability throughout the city. Proceeds from artworks sold are split 50:50 between artists and the organization. The exhibition is on a “Comfort Food” theme, so prepare to work up an appetite with mouthwatering artworks from local creatives like John Early, Claire Christy-Tirado, and Louise Preston.
PAM/CUT’s screening lineup at Whitsell Auditorium this month is an art lover’s dream. August kicks off with Seattle documentarian Reed Harkness’s documentary Sam Now on the 5th (it took twenty years to make!), followed by artist Saul Williams’s Afrofuturist fantasy Neptune Frost on the 6th. Then, comic book writer-turned-director Dash Shaw’s kaleidoscopic trip Cryptozoo screens on August 12, followed by Miranda July’s Kajillionaire on the 19th, and beautiful, buzzy documentary Fire of Love on the 20th. Whew!
Itching for more film? Check out the bicoastal screening event throwntogetherness on August 5 and 6 at NW Marine Art Works.