Paul Sutinen


Louis Bunce: Catalyst for making Portland a city of modern art

A retrospective of Louis Bunce's at the Hallie Ford Museum makes the case for the artist as the catalyst for modern art in Portland

There is a retrospective exhibition of paintings by Louis Bunce at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, running through March 26. It is an important show. It is a great show. It is accompanied by a monograph on Bunce by Roger Hull. It is important. It is great.

The importance of Louis Bunce to the development of art in Portland (and Oregon) cannot be overstated. As Hull says in his introduction: “Arguably Louis Bunce was the major Oregon modern artist of the twentieth century—a claim that can be substantiated on the basis of his enormously skilled production in many styles and modes, his friendship with artists on the New York scene that provided links between the Big Apple and the Rose City, his imaginative will to make Portland, Oregon, a city of art as well as roses, and the sheer force of his amiable, extroverted personality.”

Gerald Robinson, “Portrait of Louis Bunce,” 1955, gelatin silver print//Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

The exhibition certainly demonstrates “his enormously skilled production in many styles and modes.” Born in Wyoming in 1907, Bunce graduated from Jefferson High School in Portland. He attended the School of the Portland Art Association (later called the Museum Art School and later the Pacific Northwest College of Art), and spent four years in his early 20s in New York attending classes at the Art Students League. Early on he was enthralled with the paintings of Paul Cézanne, and the early landscapes in the exhibition have hints of Cézanne.

He then seems to have been inspired by the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico in the 1930s, with works like Along the Waterfront, 1939-1940. Here is a view from the seawall along the Willamette, looking north. Two figures lean on the wall, gazing across the river, but the rest is a simplified still life of objects: timbers, post, wheel, bridge and the towers of the Portland Public Market Building (later the Oregon Journal Building, demolished in 1969 for the construction of Waterfront Park). It has the bleakness of de Chirico, but maybe that’s also the bleakness of the Great Depression.

Louis Bunce, “Along the Waterfront”, 1939-1940. Oil on canvas. 34” x 30 ½” /Courtesy Hallie Ford Museum of Art

By the 1950s Bunce, in the spirit of the times, was making abstract expressionist style paintings. For me these are his most powerful works. Bunce combines freedom of form making with explorations of paint application—typical abstract expressionist attributes—with the feeling (not really “depiction”) of the land and sea of Oregon. Burned Land No. 2 relates directly to the series of massive wildfires known as the Tillamook Burn. Other titles such as Bay Composition No.2, Beach—Low Tide, Soft Rocks, Cliffside, or Lava Field, make it clear that Bunce was looking locally for (oh, I hate using this word, but…) “inspiration.”

Landscape-inspired-abstraction continued to be Bunce’s motif of choice through the end of his life, with a few side tracks into “pop”-inspired, paintings of enormous apples and roses, and a series of collages and serigraphs with strange furniture-like motifs (unfortunately not in this exhibition, but in a show of Bunce paper works that just closed at Hallie Ford).


Interview: Tad Savinar on making theater, urban design and studio art

The Portland artist explains how he's sorted his multiple career paths

Tad Savinar has done a lot of interesting things in a career of 40-plus years.

In 1982 he organized an exhibition for Portland Center for the Visual Arts called A Few Good Men. One of those “men” was actor/writer Eric Bogosian who presented a monologue performance. Three years later the play Talk Radio co-created by Savinar and Bogosian premiered at PCVA. In 1987 it was produced by Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Two years after that it was a feature film directed by Oliver Stone.

In the early 1990s he was a member of the Westside Light Rail Project Design Team. Since then he has participated in dozens of design teams and planning projects from Oregon and Washington to Arizona and New Jersey.

Now he is Vice Chair of the Portland Design Review Commission which “provides leadership and expertise on urban design and architecture and on maintaining and enhancing Portland’s historical and architectural heritage.”

But throughout his career he has been known as a studio artist with numerous exhibitions and public arts works to his credit.

Tad Savinar, THE NEW MAN,14 x 11.5 inches,
Digital print on paper,

Currently at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis and Clark College is an exhibition of
34 paintings, prints and sculptures he produced between 1994 and 2016 (along with 9 digital prints conceived during a sabbatical in Florence Italy in 2014). The show, “youniverse—past, present, future—Selected works from Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” runs from January 17-March 5.

This conversation happened last September.

You’ve said that to understand America you need to listen to talk radio and country music. Do you still think so?

I do—and talk to a 12-year-old.


Go for Warhol’s Pop stylings, stay for Corita Kent’s “Power Up”

The Portland Art Museum's Andy Warhol exhibition opens the door to Pop Art, but don't miss the Corita Kent show downstairs

As you enter the Portland Art Museum you are confronted by a wall of big colorful prints with the face of Chairman Mao by Andy Warhol from 1972. I wonder what Mao means to viewers now. The leader of China (back then “Red China” or “Communist China”) died 40 years ago.

Warhol used the stock ubiquitous portrait of Mao Zedong, the same image that was then plastered all over China at the time. It’s interesting to think that then it was politically cheeky for Warhol to use an image of arch-enemy Mao in the same way he had utilized the images of such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor. At the same time, it must have been almost sacrilegious from the Chinese viewpoint to depict the iconic Chairman with a blue face, green lips and arty scribbles.

Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987). Mao (II.91), 1972. Screenprint. 36 x 36 in. Courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. © 2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987).
Mao (II.91), 1972. Screenprint. 36 x 36 in.
Courtesy of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. © 2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts,
Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The framed prints are even hung on wallpaper with purple Mao faces. With his wallpapers that repeated images from his prints and paintings, Warhol was among the first to raise questions of what disciplines were to be considered within the realm of “fine art.” Paintings, sculpture, prints—certainly fine art—but wallpaper?

This survey of Warhol’s work in printmaking, Andy Warhol: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, provides an opportunity to evaluate what he brought to contemporary art thinking, especially to the rise of Pop Art in the 1960s and ‘70s.


Samantha Wall: Painting portraits, freshly

Samantha Wall's drawings approach the human face in a personal way

In the 1997 obituary for Willem de Kooning, the New York Times noted an anecdote from the early 1950s: “An often repeated story has it that the critic Clement Greenberg, who championed pure abstraction, insisted that it had become ‘impossible today to paint a face,’ to which Mr. de Kooning replied, ‘’That’s right, and it’s impossible not to.’”

I thought about that as I looked at Samantha Wall’s series of drawings of women’s faces at Laura Russo Gallery. Some 60 years after de Kooning thought it both impossible to paint a face and impossible to avoid painting a face, Wall has found a way to depict faces that is somehow bold, restrained and, most impressively, fresh.

Samantha Wall,"Ann-Derrick", 2016, graphite on paper, 30 x 22 inches/Courtesy Laura Russo Gallery

Samantha Wall,”Ann-Derrick”, 2016, graphite on paper, 30 x 22 inches/Courtesy Laura Russo Gallery

Wall’s drawings, simply graphite on paper, focus almost exclusively on the expressive parts of the head: the eyes, nose and mouth. These parts are rendered with exacting detail—down to individual eyelashes—recalling both the neoclassical drawing of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and the early grayscale paintings of Chuck Close. The faces are carefully shaded, lightly with little dark shadow—usually just deep darks of the eyes that gaze at us, the viewers. Then there are a few very light linear elements describing the edge of a cheek, or wisps of hair, just enough to make the structure tangible. The marvel to me is that Wall keeps this vignetting of the face from descending into mannered gimmickry.


Harold Feinstein’s camera was always at the ready

A Blue Sky photography show gives us the quick eye of a New York photographer

I’ve been looking at art for nearly 50 years. I rarely get a surprise anymore. I was about a quarter of the way around the front gallery at Blue Sky when I thought, “Holy smoke, who was this Harold Feinstein and why didn’t I know about him before?”

I was looking at Blanket Toss, 1955, a photo of activity at Coney Island. In a broad void of blank sky, a guy in swim trunks flies high above the tossers below. The tossee flails in a gesture that would never be found in painting because the angle produces a hard-to-grasp view of the anatomy—in painting it would not be believable. We would think that the artist had exaggerated, or misunderstood anatomy.

Blanket Toss

Harold Feinstein, “Blanket Toss”, 1955/Courtesy Blue Sky Gallery

But in photography we believe it because it is a photograph, something that records what is actually there. Especially long before Photoshop. The awkward gesture of the tossee is important, but I think the key to the picture is the pair of boys at the front foreground, who have turned away from the action to smile in our direction. In these pictures Feinstein often makes the spectators as important as the performance.


Breaking through: Robert Colescott and JD Perkin

Laura Russo Gallery shows some post-breakthrough art by Robert Colescott and J.D. Perkins

There’s a tantalizing little glimpse of Robert Colescott’s work at Laura Russo Gallery right now. Colescott (1925-2009) was an important American painter, representing the United States in the Venice Biennale in 1997. He is probably best known for his satirical paintings of the 1970s in which he, as a black artist, lampooned racist caricature stereotypes in works such as George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page From an American History Textbook, 1975, a take off on Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, by Emanuel Leutze.

In a 1999 interview, Colescott said of these overt paintings, “it’s about white perceptions of black people. And they may not be pretty. And they may be stupid…it’s satire. It’s the satire that kills the serpent, you know.” These blatant works were very controversial, and 40 years later they are still powerful for their imagery. But we should not overlook the idea that they are also powerful because they are fine paintings.

Robert Colescott, "Call to the Valley", 1965, oil on canvas, 77.5 x 58.75 inches/Courtesy Laura Russo Gallery

Robert Colescott, “Call to the Valley”, 1965, oil on canvas, 77.5 x 58.75 inches/Courtesy Laura Russo Gallery

There are none of the 1970s works in the current small show. There is a big painting from 1965, a couple of big works from the 1990s, and a few works on paper. The 1965 painting, from a time when he taught at Portland State University, Call to the Valley, (about six and a half -by-five feet) is sort of a regular painting for its day. There are ambiguous figures in an ambiguous landscape. Call to the Valley was painted when Colescott was 40 years old. It speaks of a painter dealing with then current painting issues, but not yet finding a strong individual voice. It seems that the subject matter of the 1970s gave Colescott his individualism—so he could paint like he really meant it.


Michael Brophy: The tree and the stump

Michael Brophy's newest set of forest paintings call into question "ugly" as a category

Michael Brophy’s new paintings at Laura Russo Gallery are immediately impressive. The big (six-and-a-half-by-eight foot range) paintings depict the forest, sometimes deep among giant trees, sometimes as the stump land of logging aftermath. For example, in The Orphans, 2015 a hiker is dwarfed by soaring tree trunks, rising well beyond the edge of the canvas. In The Machine in the Garden, 2016, we see a photographer off in the distance point a camera toward us through the truncated pillars of stumps.

Brophy shows us that both kinds of landscapes can be picturesque, if not in conventional ways. But in one kind of picture mankind is the insignificant visitor, and in the other humans have utilized their intellect to bring the forest down to their own size. With this visual confrontation of the primeval with modern decimation both painted with the same kind of objective care, one can be prodded to thinking about how we as city dwellers relate to a forest of trees that can become the stacks of lumber that make our homes.

Michael Brophy, "The Machine in the Garden", 2016, oil on canvas, 78 x 90 inches/Laura Russo Gallery

Michael Brophy, “The Machine in the Garden”, 2016, oil on canvas, 78 x 90 inches/Laura Russo Gallery

In an ART 21 video segment, the photographer Robert Adams talks about his response to seeing and photographing clear-cuts: “It’s not just a matter of exhaustion of resources—I do think there is involved an exhaustion of spirit.” Finding the spiritual connection in the land harkens back to 19th century American landscape attitudes—the unspoiled land of America was akin to the unspoiled Garden of Eden. In both cases, humans intervened.


Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!