Froelick Gallery

VizArts Monthly: December edition, signs and whispers

The arts exhibitions in Portland are full of wonders and portents, never before seen in these parts.

We have reached the threshold of the December First Thursday/First Friday matrix of arts openings. You may enter, restoreth your sanity and perhaps purchase an item or two or three for special people on your holiday list. Or you can return to the soulless clicking of online shopping! For my money (what little there is of it), I’d prefer to give those special people arts experiences (tickets, memberships, actual art, music) or the means to make them themselves (paints, instruments, dance class) than participate in the random circulation of consumer goods I know are close to obsolescence even as I fork over the cash. And that’s just a small part of the problem with them—though I’m in danger of arguing myself out of the ho-ho-ho spirit if I dive into this particular rabbit hole.

Anyway, I’m better off bundling up and hitting the galleries. Below, a few of the gallery openings that caught my eye, then a list of shows at a few institutions that you might want to see before they come tumbling down, and finally some ArtsWatch stories in the visual arts realm that are worth some attention, at least in my book and I hope in yours.

Upfor Gallery: Michelle Grabner curated last year’s Oregon Biennial at Disjecta, and she’s also an artist, deeply involved in using domestic fabrics as source materials. Anne Crumpacker also uses traditional materials and traditions, in this case bamboo and the Japanese art and crafts tradition. Does freedom await us inside the “empty” areas of those patterns and designs?

Blackfish Gallery: Ellen Goldschmidt’s new paintings explore the past, via family photo albums. “These pictures ponder the inner life of a child sensitive to her perilous environment and the lingering echoes of emotional trauma experienced in the shadows. It’s not the whole story, but it is my attempt to create, in the language of paint, a partial memoir of my emotional life.”

Ellen Goldschmidt, “Essential Male”, acrylic on board in birch frame, 23.5 x 23.5″/Blackfish Gallery

Froelick Gallery: Speaking of memories and images of the past, Micah Hearn turns to his Southern roots in his first solo show at Froelick Gallery.

Micah Hearn, “Mantle and Sink”, acrylic, oil stick on canvas /Photo Mario Gallucci

Charles A. Hartman Fine Art: For the past year, Rachel Davis has been keeping a visual notebook, a “Book of Days,” to record her responses to the tumult around us—political and environmental. She writes, “…this new US political landscape and its ripple effect around the world required its own visual language. With how rapidly events have changed from day to day, it necessitated working on something small to respond to with immediacy. The equivalent of a painted tweet.”

Rachel Davis, “May 1”, Watercolor on paper,
5″ x 5″

*****

Somehow Wayne Coyne’s King’s Mouth has the perverse effect of showing us how capitalism ends—inside a big, shiny installation with a foam tongue to lounge on as a light show synchronized to Flaming Lips songs fills the cavity around you. Or maybe that’s just me. Coyne is the frontman for the rock band Flaming Lips, but he’s also followed other artistic pursuits. This installation, which also includes Coyne drawings completed on the road, continues at PNCA’s Center for Contemporary Art & Culture through January 6 in the 511 Gallery. PNCA’s public art spaces will be filled with lots of other cool stuff this month, too.

Wayne Coyne’s “King’s Mouth” is at PNCA, for your edification/Courtesy of PNCA

Is Cloud of Petals an invitation into a “safe” future, where roses are stripped of their thorns? Is it a warning? Or is it a strange environment that you make sense of in your own way? Maybe it depends on your mood. The second exhibition by Disjecta’s curator-in-Residence Julia Greenway is an installation by Sarah Meyohas, and we’ll let them explain:

“…the artist organized a crew of 16 men to pluck the petals off 10,000 roses. These performers selected and photographed each petal according to the artist’s stringent guidelines. The images were then uploaded to a cloud server, where they became “inputs for an artificial neural network”, an algorithm that builds, connects, and intertwines to create a system that is self-learning, rather than programmed.

Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer is lead into Disjecta’s darkened and cavernous gallery space. Headsets are suspended from the ceiling, displaying the virtual environments created from Meyohas’s network of petals. Also on view is Meyohas’s 30-minute highly saturated 16mm film, documenting and contextualizing the scope of the artist’s unique process at Bell Labs.”

The exhibition continues through January 13.

Cloud of Petals Teaser from Sarah Meyohas on Vimeo.

This is the last weekend to see Bill Will: Fun House at Lewis & Clark College’s Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art. Maybe think of it as a very large, 3-D, experiential political cartoon aimed directly at our times. “In the context of state terror and mystification, clinging to the primacy of the concept of truth can be a powerful and necessary form of resistance,” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue in their analysis of the post-modern condition, Empire. Laurel Pavic reviewed Will’s show for ArtsWatch.

Bill Will, “Bloat”/Photo by Robert M. Reynolds

The show closes on December 10.

Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is back in the state of Oregon—it last showed here in 2015, and I happened to rub a few words together about it, including these:

“So, a consideration of Ai Weiwei is going to be messy, a mixture of art, history, politics, and cold, hard cash. He’s responsible directly for some of the confusion—I’d even say it’s part of the point of what he does. But a lot of it is indirect, the world’s interpretation of Ai, how it deals with the freedom of artists (and other citizens) and entangles them in its self-defense mechanisms.”

The installation continues at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Oregon through June 24, 2018.

Ai Weiwei, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold, 2010, Bronze with gold patina, Dimensions variable. Private Collection. Images courtesy of Ai Weiwei.

*****

 

Recent ArtsWatch stories with a visual arts bent that you might want to consider?

What is the artistic gaze? How is it shared? Artist friends Friderike Heuer and Henk Pander go eye to eye in the studio—he with his paintbrush, she with her camera—and produce a deep double portrait. Heuer tells the story in words and photos.

Hannah Krafcik reports on the extraordinary artists at Field of View, a program of Public Annex that places developmentally disabled artists in artist residencies in the Portland area. The story of how Public Annex came to be winds around the complex history of the State of Oregon’s treatment of this particular community.

Paul Sutinen continues his series of interviews with prominent Portland artists, this time talking with Lucinda Parker.

Sutinen: I think that Frank Stella said something to the effect that you learn more from your fellow students than from the instructor.

Parker: You learn a lot from what they do. There’s no question about it, that you learn a tremendous amount by watching people make stuff—and it’s the making of it, the stroke-by-stroke, the changing of it—that’s why you have to be in a studio. If you go by yourself to your own studio and think you’re going to learn art, the echoing chamber of your isolation make it hard for you.

What Mel Katz says is true: it takes 10 years to learn how to use a studio.

You have to learn how to get in a groove, to provide your own criticism of yourself, you have to learn how to appreciate what you’re doing, and you have to learn how to look over your shoulder and it out front at the same time.

That’s all we have time for today, I’m afraid. But the comments section is open for your suggestions for upcoming or ongoing arts events. Don’t be shy!

Susan Seubert’s days of the dead

The Portland photographer's "Not a Day Goes By" at Froelick Gallery opens a door to thinking about suicide and its roots

They are masks, topographies, transparencies, transient spirits floating between being and nothingness, human faces shrouded in veils of plastic like a second skin. Composed and startling in their alabaster absences, they are images of the dead. And not just any dead, but the self-chosen dead. “If you Google ‘asphyxiation’,” the Portland photographer Susan Seubert notes with a hint of bemusement, “it’s not something you want to see.”

Nevertheless, she did. What she discovered, among other things, is that asphyxiation is the number one method of suicide in the West: cheap, relatively easy, relatively unmessy. And so it became the focus of her most recent show, Not a Day Goes By, which is running through May at Portland’s Froelick Gallery. Selections from it also will travel to the global showcase of the Venice Biennale in mid-May, a prestigious career boost: She’ll be in the collateral exhibition Personal Structures at the Palazzo Bembo, and by coincidence, she says, in the same space Oregon painter James Lavadour had in the 2013 Biennale, “a beautiful, big, nice space that’s got window light.”

Susan Seubert, “Asphyxiation #8,” digital photographic print on aluminum, 40 x 30 inches, 2017. Edition of 10

Death in Venice. Death in Portland. Death in the Arctic, in the Antarctic, on the high seas. Death wishes, death trauma, inevitable death. Death glorified, sanitized, hidden away. Death by one’s own hands. Seubert’s exhibit on a subject most people don’t like to think about includes two series: Asphyxiation, a grouping of 40 x 30 inch images printed on aluminum, and Method of, another series of smaller prints, 12 x 12 inches each, depicting various methods of taking one’s own life. They are passionate and controlled and free of irony. The larger images in particular are unsettling and revealing. These ghostly images of faces misshapen by clinging bags of clear plastic are confrontational, and yet they’re not. The photographs are beautiful, simple, gorgeous in a way that seems strangely moving and serene, like Pietàs of the underworld.

It’s this beauty, I think, that makes the Asphyxiation photographs so remarkable and close to heartbreaking. They are overt expressions of a mute muddle of anger, sorrow, confusion, and tears that have been purified into single images that are both stark and overflowing with intimation. Who are these people? Who were they? How did they get here? Why?

Seubert is a highly respected veteran fine art photographer who also has a successful career as a photojournalist, often traveling the world on assignment for National Geographic and other magazines. It’s her global perspective, partly, that put her in the frame of mind to dive into the meanings and metaphors of suicide. “It came from a very dark moment in my life,” she says. “It started last July. I’d just got back from somewhere … North Pole, South Pole …” she stops for a moment to laugh. “I’ve been so many places for my work I lose track.”

It was also about the time the national presidential race was beginning to tighten up, and she found herself both angry and despondent about it. “I was very depressed about a lot of things, but one was how far backward we’d gone culturally. I thought we’d moved past this as a human race. I found myself deeply saddened by that. … the rise of Trump and this utter disdain for restraint.”

Susan Seubert, “Asphyxiation #1,” digital pigment photographic print on aluminum, 40 x 30 inches, 2017. Edition of 10.

And so the photographs have a political impulse. But their intimations run broader, and deeper, than mere electoral issues or personalities, unsettling as those may be. The images of suicide suggest as well the willingness, almost the compulsion, of contemporary humans to commodify and destroy the larger world that keeps them alive, evidences of which Seubert has witnessed in her travels to the far reaches of the globe. “All of the dead animals I’ve seen, all the trash, up in the Arctic,” she says. “Mainly plastic. Plastic, plastic, everywhere. No matter where I go on the planet, it’s everywhere. Most of it travels on the oceans. And it does not decompose. It breaks down into smaller and smaller bits.” She’s seen whales entangled in fishing nets, and animals – like sea lions – growing in grotesque deformities around plastic six-pack rings that trap and squeeze them: “They’re just bulging.” The stubborn continuation of practices that imperil crucial environmental balances, and the push to strip away what safeguards exist, suggest a kind of human death wish, or at the least a willful denial that actions can have lethal consequences.

Looking at the Asphyxiation portraits up close got me to thinking of other artistic responses to death in this culture that is both obsessed by and, well, deathly afraid of it. I thought in particular of the exhibition Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America, which I saw a few months ago at the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan, and which seemed almost the inverse of Seubert’s Not a day Goes By ­– not a contemplation of death as a reaction against life, but a celebration of life in spite of death. The paintings in Securing the Shadow, mostly from the early and middle 19th century and mostly made by naïve artists (there were also many postmortem “mourning portrait” daguerreotypes, the old technology giving way to a new and cheaper one), tended to be vividly colorful, unlike Seubert’s palette of cool receding whites and blacks and grays. Looking at them I had the clear sense that they were attempts to keep the dead alive, at least in memory, not as faded beings of sorrow but as vibrant everyday presences. If they were children, as so many were, they seemed active; ready to play. With childhood mortality so high, a relatively prosperous family might have three or four of these posthumous portraits on the wall, along with three or four or more surviving children: everyone together, dead and alive. Many of the paintings, if you strip away their circumstances, seem cheerful: bright pieces of Americana that you might hang on your wall next to a folk art weathervane or a painted wooden flag.

Death for sale: Items in the shop from the “Securing the Shadow” exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum.

The deaths addressed in Not a Day Goes By are different, because they are not deaths of disease or age or accident or even war but deliberate deaths, chosen by those who carry them out on themselves. Yet the act of suicide is both a response to and a negation of the world outside the self, and so what that world does and how it treats the matter of life and death are inevitably pieces of the process. And we are living in a carnival of death. As it happens, I saw Seubert’s show on the day the United States dropped “the mother of all non-nuclear bombs” on Afghanistan, a country that has been known as “the graveyard of empires” since long before American involvement in it. It was also three days before Easter, the day that much of the world celebrates the miraculous rising from the dead of a man-god. And it was scant days before, oh, let’s see: a triple slaying in Fresno by an apparent religious extremist; a “lost” U.S. aircraft carrier heading for a confrontation with a nuke-threatening North Korean despot except it turns out it wasn’t; and the apparent suicide in his jail cell of a onetime NFL football star convicted of murdering a friend after a tiff in a bar. Death is in the air, and it seems that much of the world is in love with it, even if it sometimes seems the love that dare not speak its name. As the old song goes: everybody wants to get to Heaven, nobody wants to die.

Leonardo Alenza, “Satire of the Romantic Suicide,” ca. 1839, oil on canvas, 14.4 x 11.2 inches, Museo Romantico, Madrid

Death, of course, is a natural part of life and regeneration. But violent death – by war or catastrophe or murder or suicide – tends to fascinate us. Maybe it’s the idea of the natural order being accelerated, or interrupted; of some violation in the ordinary progression of things, and wondering, considering the blunt force of private trauma and human history, whether the violation isn’t itself part of the natural progression. Artists have always responded to death, from the cave paintings of prehistory to the anti-vivisection jeremiads of Sue Coe’s paintings and the slice-and-pickle body counts of Damien Hirst’s cynical sculptures. The evidences in art history are too many to count. A million Crucifixions, corpus Christis, martyrdoms of the saints. Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith hacking off Holofernes’ head. The heroic martial images of Delacroix. Jacques-Louis David’s bathtub-murder scene The Death of Marat. Léon Cogniet’s piercing Tintoretto Painting the Portrait of His Dead Daughter, a heart-shattering study for which is in the collections of the Portland Art Museum. Images of suicide abound, too, from paintings and sculptures of the deaths of Cleopatra and Sappho and Socrates to Leonardo Alenza’s Satire on Romantic Suicide, an 1839 painting of an artist teetering over a cliffside. Many of these involve action, drama, even some sort of heroism, all of which are notably absent in Seubert’s portraits of quietude. The Catalonian sculptor Damia Campeny’s 1804 Dead Lucrecia, with its alabaster stillness and slumped absence of gesture and expression, comes much closer to matching the endgame mood of Seubert’s portraits.

Damia Campeny, “Dead Lucrecia,” 1804, marble, 53.1 x 49.2 x 24 inches, Llotja de Mar, Barcelona

Seubert’s aesthetic skill separates the photographs in Not a Day Goes By from purely political, and certainly from sensationalist, art. There is, to use an old-fashioned word, a strange lovingkindness to them; a sense of dignity and honor in spite of their contortions. The curves and crevices and striking whites leaping out of shadow give them a feel of marble: “The whites are what define the image,” Seubert says. The heads themselves are 25 percent larger than real life, so they dominate but don’t overwhelm. And crucially, printing the images onto luminous metal creates a shimmering, shifting, mirror effect, so that when you view one of the portraits you also enter into it. Seubert worked closely with digital expert Phil Bard and the San Francisco area lab Bay Photo to get the precise effect, which couldn’t be clearly anticipated earlier in the process. Until mid-December all of the images were digital, and Bard helped match the prints in color, tone, and treatment.  What Seubert refers to as “that performative aspect of seeing yourself in the image” creates a connection to, and so perhaps an empathy with, a person who has chosen to disconnect.

Susan Seubert, “Manner of: Tonto Sword (Seppuku),” digital pigment print on Thai silk tissue paper, encaustic medium, clayboard, 12 x 12 inches, 2017. Edition of 10

The smaller Method of prints that make up the second part of Not a Day Goes By are also technically precise, but with a very different layered approach that makes them look a lot like graphite drawings. “I decided they should be very dreamy,” Seubert says of these quiet images of the many methods of taking one’s life, from the ritual disembowelment of seppuku to syringe to razor blade, noose, handgun, bullet, pills, a bridge to leap from, a convenient tub for drowning. Each photograph is printed on Thai silk tissue paper (“I used that because it has a very drawn quality”), and coated via encaustic, or wax, to further the illusion of aesthetic separation from the reality they represent. Although they aren’t angry or satirical in the same way, and the images are much simpler, they remind me in approach of Goya’s The Disasters of War series, which is blunt in its depiction of atrocities but worked and shaped into contradictorily pleasing final form. I don’t see overt anger in either of Seubert’s series, although the expert craftsmanship may suggest a calculated fury.

Susan Seubert, “Manner of: Drowning,” digital pigment print on Thai silk tissue paper, encaustic medium, clayboard, 12 x 12 inches, 2017. Edition of 10

Creating a series about suicide is bound to be controversial, or just unnerve people for whom the subject is too close or disturbing. “I’ve gotten a number of personal messages from people who refuse to come see the show. And I understand that,” Seubert says. Yet in the end, what might have seemed a closing-off of conversation became instead a beginning. Not a Day Goes By, Seubert says, “opened up this odd door. Everyone was really open to it.” The covered faces in the Asphyxiation series belong to models, several of them Seubert’s friends, who agreed to be part of this photographic journey into the macabre: “It was such an interesting process. It made me realize I was not as isolated as I thought I was.”

Introduced to the project, people began to tell their own stories about suicide – of family members and friends who killed themselves; of helping a frail and dying friend hasten the end. “I didn’t ask people to share it,” Seubert says. “I showed them, and they shared it.” Not a Day Goes By, like most art, is not a suggestion or a prescription but an invitation to a conversation: a strange and fascinating transformation, this melting-down of pain and isolation into something embracing and somehow beautiful. It is, of course, one of the things art does. Things mystify and also open up. Even viewed though a glass darkly, there is a piercing of the light.

*

Susan Seubert’s Not a Day Goes By continues through May 27 at Froelick Gallery, 714 N.W. Davis St., Portland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three painters: Nooks and crannies

Painters Gregory Grenon, Paul Green and Morgan Walker renew and celebrate old themes

There was a time, long ago, when “art” was thought to “progress” and nobody wanted to be behind the times. There were art “movements” and if you weren’t riding the tide, you weren’t taken all that seriously. Nowadays, the fog of art progress has long parted and we can savor the idiosyncratic nooks and crannies of individual artists. Now, along with wondering why some artists do work that is so “far out,” we can calm down and wonder why some artists find satisfaction in doing work that celebrates and renews old themes.

Take Morgan Walker who has a small show at the Augen Gallery right now. His paintings and drawings look downright conservative. We see figures in landscapes. The paint has the scumbled feel and the muted color of the Barbizon School of 150 years ago. They just feel “traditional.” Then you look at what’s going on and feel unsettled. Something just isn’t quite right.

endless_summer1

Morgan Walker, “Endless Summer”, 2015, oil on canvas, 20 x 26 inches/Courtesy Augen Gallery

Endless Summer, 2015, is a small (20 x 26 inches) landscape that made me think of Corot—a flat grassy field in the foreground, a line of slender trees along a horizontal fence line, more field beyond and a small mountain in the distance. But then there are three more things in the mid-foreground: a small campfire-sized flame, a pig, and a woman dancing. The woman, pig and fire are small in relation to the overall scene, and they are hazily painted. We have an “impression” of them in this impressionistic landscape.

What is the story here? Is there a story here? They seem like an unlikely apparition. The fire seems dangerous in a grassy field and the woman seems to be dancing, though she could be waving “hello” to someone outside the scene. The pig seems to be slowly lumbering forward. Do we have beauty/beast/danger? Or maybe we have an artist thinking, “OK, a woman dancing by a fire—what if I threw a pig in there?”

visitor1

Morgan Walker, “Visitor”, 2016 oil on canvas, 18 x 26 inches/Courtesy Augen Gallery

In Visitor, 2016, there is a sweet landscape of fields, hills and a small tree—and a woman, a watermelon, a goat, and a fish lying on a patch of grass. In 19th century landscape painting usually some tiny figure (or figures) gives scale and a sense of the insignificance of humanity among the grand works of nature. For Walker the foil against nature is capricious—“Eh, let’s throw in a watermelon.” Or, to recall the idea of the Comte de Lautréamont (Isidore-Lucien Ducasse):Beautiful… as the fortuitous encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.” In Walker’s works, these little oddities provide the jab of meaning that takes a “nice” landscape and prods us to really give attention.

Next door at the Froelick Gallery, we have a fortuitous exhibition of small paintings by Paul Green from the 1990s, from the estate of an astute collector. Evidently Green ceased painting a while ago, which is unfortunate for us. While Walker’s style recalls the 19th century, Green’s has the feeling of the 15th. The paintings are small, painted with early Renaissance clarity and flatness, with a tiny brush, and they have an air of mystery.
In Renaissance paintings, especially religious paintings, things are happening that nowadays we often don’t understand and depicted objects are symbols that are now obscure.

GRE028_Salve_web

Paul Green, “Salve”, 1996, acrylic on panel, 14 x 12 inches/Courtesy of Froelick Gallery

Similar obscurities occur in Green’s paintings (and he uses some symbols from painting history: white lily, say, or pink carnation). For example, in Home, a big shirtless man stands in a hole in the ground and releases a bird from a slit in his chest. In Porcelain, a man holds a female porcelain doll and delicately raises her arm to touch his cheek. In Salve, a large bare-breasted woman holds a small man and licks his forehead. These scenes are immediately strange. Something’s happening here and what it is is exactly clear—why it is happening is not clear.

GRE030_Lure_web-1

Paul Green, “Lure”,1994, acrylic on paper on panel, 16 x 15 inches/Courtesy of Froelick Gallery

In Lure, 1994, we see what looks like a sleeping man. He is shirtless, with relaxed hands on his abdomen. His head and torso are angled up from a dented pillow. Is he in the middle of rising or reclining? That’s important—because of the fishhook piercing his forehead and the slack line connecting it somewhere above, beyond the picture. Is he rising to slacken the line? Is he really asleep and about to fall back and then feel the jerk of the hook? His pillow seems to have been dented by his head, but there isn’t enough slack in the line to allow that. Maybe this is torture, but the man seems to sleep through it.

What does this painting mean? I’m reminded of Aaron Copland’s statement: “The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer would be, ‘Yes.’ And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be, ‘No’.” (From What to Listen for in Music.)

While Walker and Green have made works that have traditional art historical style references, Gregory Grenon’s paintings at Laura Russo are another kind of familiar-yet-different. These are not quiet understated paintings. They are bold colorful people painted in reverse on glass. They seem like people you might know. They are portrait-like, but painted “expressionistically.” Eyes are big, lips are plump, ears tend to be simple thick C-shapes. Strong outlines tie everything together.

What I Shouted

Gregory Grenon, “What I Shouted”, 2016, reverse oil on glass, 47.25 x 39 inches/Courtesy of Laura Russo Gallery

The familiar format of the portrait painting allows Grenon to explore a kind of pictorial imagination different from the subject imagination of Walker and Green. The figures and their of clothing can provide a fundamental format so Grenon can explore color and shape. Edgar Degas said, “They call me the painter of dancers. They don’t understand that the dancer has been for me a pretext for painting pretty fabrics and for rendering movement.” The color is the key to making these paintings be more than caricature.  Look at the choices of blue-greens in the background a skirt in What I Shouted, 2016.

Grenon paints his frames. They become integral to the paintings. Many artists paint their frames, but usually that painting is just decorative. In Grenon’s works, the color of the frame is usually essential to making the rest of the color in the painting work. In I Won’t Be Wronged, 2015, the brilliant orange frame contains a thin blue line along its inner edge, the complementary color heightening the brilliance of the orange. The frame glows around the black background of this portrait.

I Won't Be Wronged

Gregory Grenon, “I Won’t Be Wronged”, 2015, reverse oil on glass, 47.5 x 38.5 inches/Courtesy of Laura Russo Gallery

Writing about Grenon’s work 30 years ago, I said, “But his main strength for me is color, whether it is brilliant or grayed. Traveling over a cheek or under an eyebrow in one of these faces you can find the most surprising juxtapositions of color. There are oceans of subtlety within the borders of these faces. The face is the constant and everything else changes.” He’s still at it. I don’t think he’s stuck in his motif, but utilizes it the way Morandi explored the simple still life or Rothko explored the possibilities of color and nuanced edges of floating rectangles for decades.

These shows are reminders that something slightly new can be embedded within what seems like the “same old stuff.”

NOTES

Morgan Walker shows at Augen, 716 NW Davis St., with new paintings by Matt Cosby, through April 30.

Paul Green shows at Froelick Gallery, 714 NW Davis St. through April 28. 

Gregory Grenon shows at Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st Ave., with selected works by Jay Backstrand, through April 30. 

A death in the family: Rick Bartow

An Oregon giant dies at 69: "We’re made up as much of what we’ve lost as what we’ve gained"

The news came this Sunday morning, as news so often does, via Facebook. A mutual friend posted something sad and cryptic, about losing a good friend the previous night, but she named no name. I scrolled down a little more, and came on another post, from his longtime close friend and gallerist, Charles Froelick, along with a picture of Rick looking not lean and energetic and on the brink of sideways laughter, as I suspect I’ll always think of him, but gaunt and reflective, as if moving slowly to somewhere else, someplace private and unbreachable.

“I’m gathered with incredible people who have broken hearts and strong spirits,” Charles wrote. “Rick Bartow passed away last evening after bravely battling congestive heart failure. His family and close friends surrounded him with love as he exited Earth. His poetry and genius will live on. More info and service plans will be announced.”

Rick Bartow, 2015. Photo courtesy K.B. Dixon, from his book "Face to Face: 32 Oregon Artists"

Rick Bartow, 2015. Photo courtesy K.B. Dixon, from his book “Face to Face: 32 Oregon Artists”

So there it was. And I found myself responding not first as a journalist – here is news, and it needs to be told, and I must tell it – but viscerally. This wasn’t just a public loss, but a personal one as well. I had written about Rick, this extraordinary Oregon artist and man, several times, and I knew him, not well, but in certain ways deeply: He had told me things and shown me things that people don’t always tell and show when a stranger asks to step into their lives for a while, and that humility and generosity created some sort of bond.

Continues…

Johanson and Prochaska: Media speak

Painter/printmakers Tom Prochaska and George Johanson allow the medium to help with the message

“The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan’s phrase from over 50 years ago seems hackneyed now and we too often skate over its fundamental meaning. Over time the phrase has been most related to mass media, especially television. But in looking at good old-fashioned artworks, the link between medium and meaning is crucial. Painters can make paint important in itself, and there is a difference in meaning between a sculpture in plaster and one in bronze.

With many of the Portland galleries showing printmaking this month, in preparation for the SGCI (Southern Graphics Council International) Conference at the end of March, there is an opportunity to examine the relationship of the variety of print media to the meanings effectively carried by them.  One of the important medium/message aspects of printmaking is that the results tend to be on paper, and we understand them differently from works on canvas. The paper is often beautiful in itself, and we don’t say that of canvas. Also, since most prints have traveled through a press, the artist’s “hand” is not there. There is a different set of choices made. Generally, everything is planned before the paper goes through the press. Everything that might be “spontaneous” happens before the ink hits the paper.

Two shows, right next to each other, at Augen and Froelick Galleries are particularly interesting. Both involve “older” artists, Tom Prochaska at Froelick (through April 2) is 70, George Johanson at Augen (through April 2) is 87. Both utilize old-time printmaking techniques: etching for Prochaska and linoleum cuts for Johanson (linoleum is the modern version of wood blocks, the oldest form of printmaking). Both also show paintings along with a suite of prints and we can see how the choice of medium, painting or printmaking, affects the result. However, the best thing is that there are some compelling artworks, objects for deep looking.

Continues…

It’s the final week of February, which means we’re entering last-chance territory for a lot of gallery shows, even with that bonus leap day tagged to the end. So like the White Rabbit trying to catch up on a few very important dates, last week I hit the streets. For starters, I walked into the artist-run Waterstone Gallery for the first time since it recently moved into the old Quintana Gallery space at 124 Northwest Ninth Avenue. The gallery is long and lean and crisp and clean and welcoming, with a side opening into the Annie Meyer Gallery next door: in its heyday, the late lamented Quintana occupied both spaces.

Shu-Ju Wang, "Annuvadah," gouache, color pencil, Print Gocco, cold wax on paper mounted on board, 8.5 x 6.5 inches.

Shu-Ju Wang, “Annuvadah,” gouache, color pencil, Print Gocco, cold wax on paper mounted on board, 8.5 x 6.5 inches.

Shu-Ju Wang was handling the gallery that day – the members take turns – and her own show, Imbue/Imbuere, was installed in the gallery’s front half, where it will remain through next Sunday, the 28th. In the back half was a selection of work by other gallery members, many of whom reside at that fertile intersection where craft and art meet. There were carved pieces by R. Keaney Rathbun and Stan Peterson that were appealingly reminiscent of folk art, for instance, and a big brawny mixed media piece by Ann Lindsay. The move’s been good, Wang said, maybe because Powell’s City of Books is that much closer, and because the gallery now has a couple of popular daytime eateries, Pearl Bakery and Fuller’s Coffee Shop, on either end of its block. At any rate, people are stopping in, and if the number of red dots on the wall labels is any indication, they’re doing some buying, too.

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The house on the wall, the house in your heart

Ritsuko Ozeki's Froelick Gallery show was part of the artist's reconciliation with Japan's 2011 tsunami

By SAMUEL EISEN-MEYERS

Ritsuko Ozeki’s recent show “Distance” at the Froelick Gallery was full of prints, specifically aquatints, and selected paintings. Some of these were small, and some were very large assemblages of smaller prints. They depicted ordinary things—houses, staircases, trees, dolls, a dress, but each specific piece had an unusual transformative power that appeared to plumb the deeper channels of the human condition.

As I circled the thematically grouped artworks, I felt loss, dread and revitalization. Ozeki’s simplified color palette and spare imagery seemed abstract, a radical reduction of means, and that made them seem allegorical somehow and by that route managed to connect directly with my own memories and stories.

Ritsuko Ozeki, "A Doll", Print etching, aquatint    20 x 20 in./Courtesy Froelick Gallery

Ritsuko Ozeki, “A Doll”, Print etching, aquatint
20 x 20 in./Courtesy Froelick Gallery

The story that generated “Distance” in Ozeki is a widely shared one, at least in her native Japan—the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, and led directly to the drama around the Fukashima nuclear power plant disaster. Ozeki says that she found herself confronted and overtaken by emptiness, a void felt by many Japanese and even around the world.

After a time when she couldn’t create new work, Ozeki found herself identifying with natural objects and simple forms, first in a show called “Scene” and then in “Distance.” She emailed this account from Japan.

“After the great tragedy attacked Japan in 2011, I had a hard time getting back to create an artwork. The show “Scene” was the first show after the tragedy. I used black empty frame images and also used stairs, hallway, and forest as motif to create “the story” that fill into the empty frames. They were all created for mourning/memorial meaning. Four years past, then I was able to objectively observe what’s happened to the area where the earthquake attacked. The “Distance” means not only expressing the length as distance, but also using emotional separation as distance too.”

Although deeply affected by the events, Ozeki was able to construct a “scene” and framework for a show that captured a deep and raw space.

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