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What you see & what you get

ArtsWatch Weekly: Photographic tales of Black Portland; picturing Pride; symphony's new chief; more.


PHOTOGRAPHS TELL STORIES – all sorts of stories, in all sorts of ways. What seems like a simple process – point a camera, click, catch an image of the reality right in front of you – can take on much more varied and creative form in the hands of an artist. Yes, sometimes great photographs seem to come out of nowhere, as if by accident. But, like any other artists, great photographers have visions of their own, and the camera is the instrument of their vision. 

Father and child. Photo by Richard Brown, from his memoir “This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience.” 

Portland photographer and activist Richard Brown, who was born in Harlem in 1939, is one of those visionaries, as Maria Choban makes clear in her fascinating essay Brown in Black and White, written on the occasion of the release of Brown’s memoir, This Is Not for You: An Activist’s Journey of Resistance and Resilience, which he wrote with Brian Benson. The book, which contains two dozen of Brown’s remarkable photographs of Black life in Portland and elsewhere, suggests the complex and creative interplay of art and action and community in Brown’s life. 

“Brown learned how to illuminate Black skin so that Black people’s personalities shone,” Choban writes. “His body of work illuminates Portland’s Black community, bringing it out of the shadows so that we see in his photographs the everyday reality and rich complexity of his community.” And she quotes Intisar Abioto, the immensely talented photographer from a younger generation of Black Portlanders. “He’s right up there with one of the greats, in my mind,” Abioto tells Choban, who adds: “(Abioto) considers Richard Brown an important documentarian of Black Portland in the 1980s and ‘90s whose photos ‘could be in the Smithsonian collection, definitely need to be in the Portland Art Museum collection, definitely, like, Schomburg. It’s history!’”


“Stars and Stripes,” from Portland’s 2014 Pride Parade. Photo: K.B. Dixon

K.B. DIXON, A PORTLAND PHOTOGRAPHER AND FICTION WRITER and a frequent contributor to ArtsWatch, is another artist who makes his camera the instrument of a personal vision. Sometimes he shoots in the studio (ArtsWatch has published several portfolios of his portraits of writers, painters, and other Oregon artists) and sometimes he’s out on the streets, looking for moments that speak to bigger things. In his new photo essay Portland Pride: Back to the Past, he alerts readers to the mostly virtual events of this year’s slimmed-down Portland Pride festival and virtual parade (events begin Saturday, June 12) and, going through his back files, creates a fresh portfolio of celebratory moments from Pride Parades past: “They allude, I hope, to celebrations future.”


It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing: Violist Hillary Oseas gets in the groove at an early June Classical Up Close outdoor concert. Photo: Joe Cantrell

A JUNE SERIES OF 14 FREE OUTDOOR CONCERTS IN AND AROUND PORTLAND by the group Classical Up Close has been a tonic for musicians and music lovers alike – part of a warmup, along with live outdoor shows at Zidell Yards and a new performance space at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, for a return to live performances after more than a year of shutdowns. The Oregon Symphony, for instance, in which most of the Classical Up Close musicians also play, returns to its downtown Portland concert hall in October. ArtsWatch has been running a series of visual and written reports on the Classical Up Close series, prompted by regular contributing photographer Joe Cantrell, who decided to attend, and document, all 14 performances. Taken together, the stories present a kind of free-wheeling, artist-designed exuberance at getting back to the music, and perhaps a promise of better things to come.


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The concerts continue through June 14. ArtsWatch’s series so far, covering the festival’s first nine performances:


David Danzmayr, new music director of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. Photo courtesy OSO

IT’S SOMETIMES NECESSARY TO RESTRICT THINGS: AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID DANZMAYR. Most of the musicians in Classical Up Close are also members of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, and when they return to the rehearsal hall in September to prepare for a live 2021-22 season in Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, they’ll be greeted by Danzmayr, the Austrian conductor who takes over as music director following Carlos Kalmar’s two decades in the position. In the first of two pieces, Charles Rose talks with Danzmayr about programming, technique, the balance between old and new, and other aspects of the job. “As a conductor you have to be smart and not take everything on all the time,” Danzmayr says. “You want to be an advocate for new music, in my case more towards new American music, because composers need an advocate, someone who plays their music, and you want to play the great pieces, the standard repertoire. But you’ve got to pick and choose. If you do all styles, all eras, all countries, it’s easy to have too many scores to learn for the first time and face the danger of having a surface-level understanding. It’s sometimes necessary to restrict certain things.”


Leanne Grabel, performing at Ivories Jazz Lounge and Restaurant in 2012. Photo via Facebook

LEANNE GRABEL TALKS ABOUT COMEDY, OUTRAGE AND THE HEYDAY OF PORTLAND’S LIT SCENE. Amy Leona Havin kicks off a series of interviews with Portland poets by sitting down for a conversation with Grabel, a standout since 1975 on the city’s poetry and performance scene, and an illustrator and memoirist who often uses transgressive wit as her work runs deep. “According to Grabel, her knack for comedy comes from her adolescence where she was ‘part-brain, part comedian, and part preppie-wanna-be for some odd reason’,“ Havin observes. “Fortunately for us, Grabel has stuck to her oddball ways. Her poems, full of integrity and taut one-liners, present the plight of the outcast while having a thumb firmly on the pulse of contemporary culture.”

Kim Stafford, Oregon’s ninth poet laureate.

KIM STAFFORD’S GREAT ENERGY SWAP. Where does language live? “We’re back to where poetry has escaped the book,” Kim Stafford declares. “It’s not in the zoo of the library where it’s looking out through the bars of its cage. It’s not imprisoned in school or the literary estate. It’s being handed to a person. It’s being read to a person. It’s been written with a person.” In a wide-ranging conversation, Danielle Vermette talks with the Oregon poet and former laureate about literature, the artistic possibilities of QR codes, the world of editing and publishing, and poetry as an active social exchange.



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Novelist of the aristocracy Edith Wharton at her writing desk (library included).

RADIO HOUR: WHAT ON EARTH IS XINGU? An aural adaptation of a slyly cutting short story by Edith Wharton, as it turns out – and, as Amy Leona Havin declares, a “lively, captivating radio hour with poignant cultural commentary and laughs to boot.” Cygnet Productions has pulled together an all-star cast to play “the affluent ladies of a 1900s book club. Pompous, pretentious, and egregiously self-congratulatory, the literary Lunch Club faces a surprise twist when acclaimed author Osric Dane joins them for a visit.” Havin talks with Cygnet director Louanne Moldovan about how it all came to be.

THEATER BEYOND AGE LIMITS. It all began, Max Tapogna writes, in 1978, when Bonnie Vorenberg was walking down a cracked sidewalk in Eugene, and had an epiphany: aged things have a beauty of their own. So began a career as an advocate of senior theater, which has blossomed into an international following through her Portland-based ArtAge Senior Theatre Resource Center, which among other things publishes plays written for older actors. “I want to show that by doing theater onstage that growing older can be a good time of life,” Vorenberg tells Tapogna. “That’s the whole reason we are doing this.”


“Bamboo Mountain, Potato Hill” is a diptych inspired by Wang’s exploration through food of what it means to be an immigrant and an American.
“Bamboo Mountain, Potato Hill” is a diptych inspired by Wang’s exploration through food of what it means to be an immigrant and an American.

EXPLORING PATTERNS OF IDENTITY. “Through her love for patterns and problem-solving,” Juniper Yarnall-Benson writes, “Shu-Ju Wang creates art that highlights the immigrant experience and the importance of ecology to all people, regardless of nationality.” Wang, who left her native Taiwan as a teen to attend school in the United States, gravitated to a career as a software design engineer at Tektronix in Beaverton. She was drawn to the links among science, mathematics, and art, and eventually began to work full-time as an artist, drawing on her fascination with pattern and finding ways to address her concern with environmental degradation. She’s now a member artist of Portland’s Waterstone Gallery. This story originally appeared on ArtsWatch’s community-partner website The Immigrant Story

PUTTING A NEW FACE ON NEWPORT’S ‘AMBASSADOR.’ “It’s been a beloved Newport icon for 16 years, a welcoming vision on the edge of Nye Beach, towering 21 feet tall, arms outstretched in greeting,” Lori Tobias writes. “Its image can be seen in brochures, magazines, and on the camera rolls of countless photographers from all over the world. But now, The Ambassador, the metal-and-glass sculpture by late artist Sam Briseño, is in trouble. The glass face is broken, passers-by report seeing chunks of metal on the ground, and one dog walker confessed he no longer felt safe walking the pups beneath those winged arms, rickety with rust.” Tobias tells the tale of the giant sculpture’s temporary disappearance for reconstructive surgery and a triumphant return.

Glass artist Teresa Kowalski will replace the broken glass of the face. She chose green glass for the original work, to add a representation of the “earth” element to the metal of the statue and water it faces. Photo by: Bill Posner
Glass artist Teresa Kowalski will replace the broken glass of the sculpture’s face. She chose green glass for the original work, to add an “earth” element to the metal of the statue and the water it faces. Photo: Bill Posner


Tualatin Valley Creates’ Arts & Leadership Incubator helped artist Emily Miller adapt and broaden the original idea for her Ghost Net Landscape for applying creative transformation to the problems of ocean degradation. 

CULTIVATING CREATIVE COMMUNITY. In the latest chapter of our continuing series “The Art of Learning,” Brett Campbell takes a deep look at Tualatin Valley Creates’ innovative Arts & Leadership Incubator, a program that pairs Washington County artists with others who can help them define and realize large projects. The most recent Incubator class included ten artists, and Campbell writes in depth about three: a teaching artist with “a vague idea about setting up interactive installations at playgrounds to give kids hands-on experience with science and art”; an artist whose installation “helps collect tons of used and reclaimed fishing gear and brings it into public spaces for community art creation”; and an artist seeking to raise awareness of Multiple Sclerosis by transforming diagnostic Magnetic Resonance Image scans into powerful paintings.“Washington County arts organizations are very collaborative,” TVC executive director Raziah Roushan tells Campbell, noting that many of the region’s galleries, cooperative organizations, theaters and more tend to be open to collective ideas, rather than many of those in Portland that seem to follow a singular (often the founder’s) vision. 


All Classical Radio James Depreist

ZOOM BOOK TALK WITH MARTHA ULLMAN WEST. The Portland Ballet presents a Zoom book chat with the Portland author, dance critic, and frequent ArtsWatch contributor, who’ll be talking at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 12, about her new book, Todd Bolender, Janel Reed, and the Making of American Ballet. Reed, who grew up in Portland, and Bolender were crucial figures beginning in the 1930s in the evolution of a distinctly American style of ballet. You can read an excerpt from West’s book on ArtsWatch, Young, fit, and ‘Fancy Free,’ about the making and triumph of Jerome Robbins’ first ballet, in which Reed starred.

FILMWATCH WEEKLY: FOUR DEBUTS, WITH FRIGHTS AND DELIGHTS, AND ONE LONG-LOST RELIC. Oh, the horror (and the comedy, and other stuff, too). As movie houses begin to reopen, Marc Mohan discovers a mini-flood of fresh new films.

MUSICWATCH MONTHLY: GET OUTSIDE. Charles Rose scans June’s offerings and discovers a creative mix of recorded or streamed music and, increasingly, actual live performances, many of them out of doors. But big players ranging from the Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum to the Roseland Theater and Wonder Ballroom are beginning to book acts, too.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."


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