Corey Arnold

Photography review: Photographs from the cold and wet

Corey Arnold's depictions of life at sea and Aleksey Kondratyev's ice fishermen contain a sublime shiver


Cold and ice were not the first things that I wanted to ponder mid-May, especially not this one, coming after a cold and rainy spring. But Blue Sky Gallery and Charles A. Hartman Fine Art both scheduled “cold and ice” shows before they could have known what we would be facing, so the perception of mockery with a late-arriving spring is probably unintentional. Neither Aleksey Kondratyev’s Ice Fishers (Blue Sky) nor Corey Arnold’s Aleutian Dreams (Charles A. Hartman) indulges springtime escapism. Instead they demand begrudging weather optimism: There’s always someplace colder than here.

Corey Arnold’s photographs are mesmerizing in their figuration of another life, one far more dramatic and dangerous than my own. Arnold spent eight seasons as a commercial fisherman in the Bering Sea. Though he no longer works in the industry directly, the current body of work was shot in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands. Aleutian Dreams returns to the subject of fishing and the sea while also chronicling life in a place with little division between “civilization” and the “wild.” Bald eagles rummage through garbage bins or patriotically adorn flagpoles (Dumpster Diver and Bald Freedom) and foxes roam the streets (Roadside Friend).

Corey Arnold, “Tad and Octopus”, 2017, Archival pigment print/Courtesy Charles A. Hartman Fine Art

Arnold’s approach to human subjects has changed in this series. Earlier photographs confirmed stereotypical expectations: the bearded man in waders (Ben and King (2009)) or the sea-hardened, turtlenecked figure in The Irish Skipper, Rossaveal, Ireland (2010). Aleutian Dreams includes no faces. In Rob and Skate, Rob’s face is entirely blocked by the fish, and in Tad and Octopus Tad’s head is covered by his orange hood so that all we see is his apparently gentle cradling of a limp octopus: an awkward pieta for the ocean set. In Pedro Mending, the hood of his outerwear shadows his face so the figure becomes an apparition in yellow against black net. People are named but faceless, subsumed by the enormity of the sea life and gritty necessities of the task at hand.

The experience is beautified and sanitized, expunged of visceral realities such as biting wind or stench of fish. The way dreams should be—all of the nice parts, the adventure without the discomfort: The Deadliest Catch translated from reality television to the art gallery, more beautiful and poignant and without the foul language or acerbic personalities.


Aleksey Kondratyev’s photographs have less apparent drama. All are untitled. Most are single figures in billowing plastic bags against a snowy backdrop. Honestly, my first thought was the parental injunction against putting plastic bags over one’s head. This only confirms my coddled and well-mitttened upbringing. The Ishim River is in Kazakhstan, where it is cold. Not Portland “when is the snow going to melt” cold, but horrifically, brutally cold, up to 40 degrees below Fahrenheit cold. These makeshift plastic shelters are the only protection from these temperatures as the figures bend to the business of ice fishing.

Aleksey Kondratyev, Untitled, 2016, archival pigment print, 24″ x 30″/
image © Aleksey Kondratyev/Courtesy of Blue Sky Gallery

The shelters have a strange geometry, some are human-shaped ovoids while others are more directly reminiscent of their rectangular bag origins. Some appear sturdier than others, a blessing in the form of thicker-ply or even woven plastic. A few are patched with yellow tape. All are ingenious adaptations of the idea of “shelter.”
The figures inside the bags are vague forms hunched over unseen portals to the river below. Far more visible are the necessary tools: a plastic bucket, a hand-cranked drill, a can of Nescafe, a folding chair (at least some nod to comfort?). Particularly curious are the images of two or three fishermen right next to one another, but in their own shelters: a telling depiction of isolation in community.

Kondratyev includes several close-up images through the plastic. These are enigmatic. Condensation and ice mar the undulating plastic surface. Without the context of the shelter images, I would have no idea how to read these smaller works and yet their intimacy and draw is undeniable.


Both Arnold and Kondratyev make photographs dealing with fish and ice, but the real parallel here is the venerable artistic tradition of the sublime. The sublime has many meanings in philosophy, but the one most familiar in art is Edmund Burke’s 18th century definition: the sublime is equal parts awe and terror. The sea has always been a favored subject in the consideration of the sublime, beautiful and dangerous. It was especially popular subject when people were dependent on it for transportation, trade, military protection, even light. Caspar David Friedrich and Joseph Mallord William Turner both painted several churning sea images. Arnold’s Dark Sea and Shifting Sea link directly to these predecessors.

Corey Arnold, “Colliding Sea”, 2015,
Archival pigment print/Courtesy Charles A. Hartman Fine Art

Kondratyev’s embrace of the sublime is less obvious but offers a fitting commentary for the contemporary world. Ice fishing is a traditional and historic practice on the Kazakh steppe. Plastic bags are a modern invention. The shelters represent a marriage of tradition and convenience: they lend a modicum of control in an unforgiving landscape.

Control, however, is an illusion. A plastic bag doesn’t protect against sub-freezing temperatures. The way we talk about climate change implies that we have some control over nature. We made the mess; we can fix the mess. But nature doesn’t care about us. Weather isn’t benevolent or malevolent. We are always outmatched. Our best efforts and most fervent attention, while urgently necessary, amount to little more than a film of plastic held together with some yellow tape.

Be in awe. Be terrified.

And be glad that it isn’t actually that cold.


Corey Arnold’s Aleutian Dreams continues through May 27, 2017, at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, 134 NW Eighth Ave.

Aleksey Kondratyev’s exhibition continues through May 28, 2017, at Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW Eighth Ave.

Missing the Sun? Here’s some Art!

Abigail McNamara at Duplex, Alaskan Fisherman Photography at Hartman, Terry Atkinson at YU and more...

Now that Portland has entered the time of year when we rarely see the sun’s light or feel its warmth, I thought I’d bring to your attention the installation by Abigail McNamara at Duplex Gallery. Over the past few weeks she’s been installing her site-specific work directly onto the gallery walls, and her imitation gold leaf has the same sheen and malleability as the real deal. Gold has long been a sacred material. First recognized for how the metallic qualities resembled the sun, its symbolism expanded to include heavenly realms and divine figures, and its meanings continue to grow to fit contemporary life’s needs.

The artist at work

The artist at work

A graduate of Lewis and Clark College, McNamara’s early work reflected her interest in natural processes. Nowadays she’s more likely to investigate the boundaries between natural and human patterns through maps of suburban sprawl, charts of population shifts, and the binary language of data. Her use of gold, as a natural material with deep cultural significance, is an appropriate medium to explore how nature mediates culture and vice versa.  These themes of growth and decay combined with a meticulous craft techniques create the foundation for her time-based art.

Her creative practice has moved into the realm of performance as she’s installed her work over the past month while the public has been able to stop by, watch, and ask questions. The time and resources for this ambitious, interdisciplinary project have been made possible thanks to a Career Opportunity Grant from the Oregon Arts Commission. A First Thursday reception, November 6 from 6-9pm, will mark the end of the artist’s creative process, and the start of when viewers can bask in in her completed work. Abigail McNamara will be on view at Duplex Gallery, at 219 NW Couch St, through November 21st.



Roger Kukes, Land Labyrinth (Green).

Roger Kukes, Land Labyrinth (Green), acrylic on paper.

Augen – For dystopian landscapes full of ecological destruction, nuclear warfare, and the clash between native and colonial cultures, look no further than Theater of the Land. Roger Kukes will fill that quiet hole in your heart and make it swell with doubt as to whether civilization as we know it will survive the converging crises you’re mostly content to ignore day in and day out. I could make some comparison to the hellish landscapes of Hieronymus Bosch and the manifest destiny of 19th century American Landscape painting, but you don’t need art history to know we don’t live in an ideal world. Then again, maybe it’ll give you some hope to see your nightmare looking back at you.


Katherine Mead, Kite Craft, mixed media collage.

Katherine Mead, Kite Craft, mixed media collage.

Gallery6pdx – For lighter but still stimulating looking, check out Field+Frame. Katherine Mead’s mixed-media collages use architecture motifs to frame landscapes in ways that play with perspective. Though less content driven, Mead’s compositions demonstrate the power of juxtaposition when handled by a mature artist.


Corey Arnold, Fight or Flight, archival pigment print.

Corey Arnold, Fight or Flight, archival pigment print.

Hartman – In coining utopia as “no-place”, Sir Thomas Moore located our “good-place” on the farthest fringes of civilization.  Corey Arnold’s newest body of work, Wildlife, is a series of compelling images of life on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness. Arnold has long been captivated and continues to be influenced by the natural world in his work as a fisherman and a photographer.



APAK, Secret Sanctuary (detail), gouache on wood.

APAK, Secret Sanctuary (detail), gouache on wood.

Hellion – November is your last month to catch a show at Hellion before they take a two month hiatus from exhibiting. So hurry over to see In the Toy Box and Dreams within Dreams before the month is out. Remember the awkwardness of middle school? Well Ikumi Nakada does and creates soft, illustrative style images of boys and girls on the onset of puberty. These works will help sooth your shameful memories of that time. For lush, imaginative paintings of a magical far-off word, husband-wife team APAK has you covered.


Image not available for Terry Atkinson, Greaser, mixed media and oil.

Image not available for Terry Atkinson, Greaser, mixed media and oil.

YUTerry Atkinson is an exceptionally influential British conceptual artist who founded the artists group Art and Language. Without a doubt you’ve seen derivative works by PNCA grads for years. After enduring all that you might as well go see the internationally famous version at Yale Union this month so you can say you did. On display are early works fabricated for the first time on site. Atkinson calls them Greasers, but most people understand them as paintings. Be sure to bring a rigorous class analysis of the art world with you for their opening reception on Saturday, November 8th from 3-5pm.




Finally, here are the links to two great maps of the many galleries and art institutions of Portland that have great shows beyond the scope of this humble guide:

Portland Art Dealers Association Galleries and Alliance Members

Duplex Collective’s Gallery Guide

Don’t forget to mention the shows you’re looking forward to below in the comments!


“Pink and orange. A lot of pink and orange.” This was the initial assessment of a female painter friend of mine regarding Corey Arnold’s latest exhibition of photos, “Graveyard Point,” at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art. I didn’t particularly want to hear this, making associations with those colors in a way that will only get me into trouble should I make them explicitly known. After all, Arnold’s photos are so manly. But yes, the rain gear the fishers wear is orange, sometimes pinkish, and the sunset sky has a pink tinge mixed in with an array of other colors. And yes, we’re supposed to be beyond all of that blue/pink thing, right?

But man oh man, Arnold must be a man’s man.

Corey Arnold’s “Ben and King”/Charles A. Hartman Fine Art

Intended to be humorous, this assessment, I know, is too simplistic, and were I to persist, I would be doing Arnold and his photos a great disservice. However, if “Ben and King,” the large format photo of a jubilant fisherman (who looks a bit like Arnold) embracing a large, bloody and rigored salmon is not an image that screams maleness, in a very traditional way, I don’t know what is. Or rather, I’ll back off again, admit to a desire to catch a salmon that size and suggest the political complexities of the world Arnold photographs are not limited to ones of gender representation on fishing vessels.

And where salmon are concerned, this is merely the tip of the political iceberg. Consider our own local conflicts in Oregon: Sea lions are maligned for eating salmon at the bottom of the Bonneville Dam and allegedly are shot by sport fisherman. The tribes maintain rights to fish on the Columbia River and the sport fishermen kvetch. The commercial fishing vessels offshore bring in tons of fish that would otherwise make their way into the rivers, and again the sport fishermen, and probably the tribes, grumble. Dams, mining and logging have also greatly diminished salmon runs. Even the fish hatcheries, the folks who struggle to keep the rivers alive with fish, albeit with supposedly less genetically diverse strains, do not escape the blame game. And, of course, there was a time when sport fisherman knew no bounds to the length of their stringers. Everyone wants a piece and no one wants the blame for the diminishing fish runs.

My plumber fishes. He also hunts. He saw my fishing gear and asked me where I fish. I wouldn’t tell him. He saw my gun cleaning kits as well, and assuming I hunt, showed me photos on his smartphone of the big blacktail buck he harvested last season, as well as a black bear, both with him posed alongside his kill, his handmade rifle just as much part of the picture in each. (The sculptural equivalent is taxidermy.) I learn that he is part of a volunteer organization that takes disabled veterans and the terminally ill on hunting trips.

Now, while I am sufficiently cynical to formulate an irony around this kindness, namely, the hunter as the hunted or a death before a death (some animal rights folks might be even less generous), that does not completely negate the compassion involved in such gestures. Add to this a kind of kinship some hunters and fishers will say they feel with their prey (contrasted with the attitude of those who prefer not to consider where their fleshy protein originates), and we can readily stray into the realm of archetypes readymade for artists to make of them what they may.


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