The Earth inches around the sun a fraction less than one degree between December 31 and January 1, and yet somehow I still believe that something momentous has occurred. “Thank the far-flung heavens that 2017 is over,” I exclaim aloud to myself and anyone within hearing distance. People roll their eyes in agreement, make the universal gesture of disgust (raising the index and middle fingers toward the mouth), even snarl audibly—these are the times we live in. We are hoping for better, or at least no worse, a psychological imperative, maybe.
I resolve, I resolve, I resolve. And for some minutes, hours, days, under the spell of those resolutions, I may feel a new lightness in my step. All the same, I know that the environment that produced those universal gestures of disgust hasn’t changed very much during that one degree of revolution (will someone out there check my math?).
Fortunately, the culture itself, our local culture, still has the elements that offered me support during 2017, no matter how grotesque it seemed. I’ll paraphrase Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in “A Thousand Plateaus” (and pardon me if it’s wildly inappropriate here): In 2017 there were “lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories”; but I also found “lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification.” Mostly I found them manifest and represented in the creative acts of art I bumped into during the year, and even in the society itself occasionally, often prompted by a state of mind initiated by the arts.
Lines of flight. Movements of deterritorialization and destratification. Deleuze and Guattari’s book was published in 1987. And yet…I’m sifting through the experiences the culture offers looking for those same things some 30 years later. Degree by degree, as the Earth revolves. Which maybe itself is a line of flight.
Some art exhibitions opening in January that may destratify your consciousness?
Russo Lee Gallery: Michael Brophy is best-known for painting the great forests of the Northwest, often after they’ve been clear-cut by timber companies. He recently talked to ArtsWatch’s Paul Sutinen at length, and he explained how that interest began:
The clear-cut thing happened—my dad retired from being a school teacher and he built a beach house—they always wanted to do that. So I’d go down to visit and help out sometimes. It was in Manzanita. One time I took Highway 53, which goes from Elsie to Nehalem. They were logging this road so I saw it get cut down—a month later it would be like, “Holy shit, all the way to the horizon.” So I pulled over and I did a little pencil drawing. Then I did the painting of it, and it caused such as stir. It was incredible. People were really angry about this painting.
Oregon’s forests are a contested zone, and they have been, really, since the Tillamook Burn. This series of four fires—the largest of which, the first in 1933, consumed 350,000 acres of old-growth forest between Forest Grove and the coast—led the state government to begin a reforestation program, and the various stakeholders in the forest started to contend over the formulation of government policy in the state. Those continue to this day, and Brophy’s paintings remind us that there is unfinished business in the woods, no matter what our position on healthy forest stewardship might be.
This current show moves along to geological formations—lava flows—and the constructed environment of the suburb, though the woods still figure. Brophy’s paintings shares the stage at Russo Lee with new work by Marlene Bauer, who takes on the misty memories of the places of her childhood in a series of charged small works of acrylic and ink on paper.
January 4-27, Russo Lee Gallery, 805 NW 21st Avenue
Elizabeth Leach Gallery: , 417 NW 9th Avenue
The venerable Elizabeth Leach Gallery has curated several group shows in recent years, each more sharply considered than the last. This one is a sort of black and white show, featuring black and white artworks by Jason Vance Dickason, John David Forsgren, Stephen Hayes, and Jackson Pollock in styles ranging from abstraction to figuration. The most surprising may be abstract expressionist pioneer Pollock, represented here by ink and print images that oscillate between the abstract and figurative poles. Hayes’ primal monotypes of female nudes are also a highlight.
M.K. Guth will share the space with her newest interactive installation, Instructions for Drinking with a Friend, which involves sharing the ritual of drinking whiskey with a friend. You’ll have to sign up to imbibe: This is NOT a new Pearl District watering hole.
January 4-27, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, 417 NW 9th Avenue
Nationale: Emma Kohlmann will be showing a series of small paintings that she calls “Sun Spots” at the the small and edgy Nationale gallery. “They are portholes into a world that isn’t entirely the world we live in,” gallery owner May Barruel writes. “Fantastical, ambiguous, joyous, they are unbound by a specific identity, not tied to a binary.” The mystical jazz artist Sun Ra is involved and so are Kohlmann’s signature zine wallpapers.
January 5–February 6, Nationale, 3360 SE Division
Stephanie Chefas Projects: Who was the winner of the “competition” between Picasso and Matisse? Well, here in Portland, based only on their obvious visual influences on local artists, I’d have to go with Matisse. Kellen Chasuk’s Plastic Flowers, a solo exhibition of floral still life paintings, is an example of what I mean. Matisse didn’t paint soda cans, cell phones or spliffs, as Chasuk does, but he did give painters a clear and open-ended path forward. Pierre Schneider in his magisterial Matisse, quotes a Matisse note “scribbled” in 2005, just as he was figuring things out:
“To use drawing to indicate the expression of objects in relation to one another…To use color for its luminous intensity, in its various combinations and harmonies, and not for defining objects.”
I’m heading for the paints right after I finish this!
The Art Gym: Former director of the Art Gym Blake Shell (she’s now the executive director of Disjecta) organized Endings: Srijon Chowdhury and Bobbi Woods. In Chowdhury’s oil dreamscapes, images seem to arise out of nowhere, arriving with uncanny power. Woods uses photography in a similar way, dislocating objects from their usual contexts. Adding to the complexity of this show, both Woods and Chowdhury will curate exhibitions at their own gallery spaces, Chicken Coop Contemporary (Chowdhury) and Private Places (Woods).
January 16-March 4, The Art Gym, Marylhurst University, 17600 Pacific Highway (Hwy. 43)
Hallie Ford Museum of Art: MK Guth has an installation at Elizabeth Leach Gallery this month, and you might think of the whiskey there as a “Salud!” before you sit down for the main meal at Hallie Ford. MK Guth: Paying Attention collects a range of new and previously created still-life installations, all of which are interactive, directly or not. One of them, Dinner to Plan a Revolution features a shelf with various objects, a suggested menu, and instructions that Guth says are “designed to bring a group of people together in discussion around a table to speak to what they each believe needs changing.” In these discombobulated times we need ways to connect, both to art and to each other. I am really interested in seeing Choreography for Reading Aloud, which includes books, manuscripts, letters, and diaries selected from the special archives of the Willamette University library—the diaries of the great Salem photographer Myra Albert Wiggins, for example, the papers of politician Norma Paulus, the AIDS journals of Paul Wynne, and many more.
January 20 – April 1, Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Willamette University, Salem
Disjecta: For this solo exhibition, Flood, at the great Disjecta space in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland, New York artist Portia Munson will collect materials on her cross-country drive to Portland. Her large installations accumulate objects of all sorts and from various media, reflecting on American consumer culture, both objects it makes and those it discards. In Flood, she intends to create a variety of works, including video, immersive installation, and large format photography, thought the details and theme will depend on that long, winter drive.
January 20-March 4, Disjecta, 8371 N. Interstate Avenue
Broadway Gallery, PSU: We started with Michael Brophy’s clear-cut paintings, and we’ll conclude with an exhibition of field burning photographs by ArtsWatch writer Patrick Collier. Clearing forests and clearing fields are different activities, of course, not least because a clear-cut forest takes many years to grow back while a burned field starts to regenerate almost immediately. But they are both dramatic interventions of humans into their environments. Here’s Collier, writing about this show:
“I always had a strong affinity to the land, but not until my stint as a farmer did I consider creating landscape photographs. It was then I developed a better understanding of the land’s form, whether carved out by human intervention or by the splendor of natural processes. As a farmer, I felt compelled to control the land, while the artist in me was moved by the beauty all around me.”
Humans have been using fire as a tool for clearing land for many thousands of years. When white settlers first made their way to the Oregon territory, they often arrived in early fall and they always encountered dense smoke and charred ground. Here’s John Kirk Townsend, writing about his travels across the mountains and along the Columbia River in a book published in 1837. It’s the epigraph of Chapter One of William G. Robbins great ecological history of Oregon, Landscapes of Promise.
“We crossed…a steep and high mountain, called the Blue….The whole mountain is densely covered with tall pine trees, with an undergrowth of service bushes and other shrubs….the grass has been lately consumed, and many of the trees blasted by the ravaging fires of the Indians. These fires are yet smoldering, and the smoke from them effectually prevents our viewing the surrounding country.”
Like Brophy’s clear-cuts, Collier’s photographs of field burns aren’t necessarily polemical. But they do put you right alongside the fire as the smoke billows around you, or, stepping back, they reveal the contours of the land, just as he says, only blackened and, yes, still smoldering as Townsend discovered 180 years ago. They are interested in the process, the event, the aftermath, the experience—or at least that’s what they deliver.
January 24 to May 15, Broadway Gallery, 1620 SW Park Avenue, Lincoln Hall, 1st floor