Lee Kelly

Profiles & Conversations 2017

From poets to painters to dancers to actors to musicians, 21 tales from ArtsWatch on the people who make the art and why they do it

Art is a whole lot of things, but at its core it’s about people, and how they see life, and how they make a life, and how they get along or struggle with the mysteries of existence. That includes, of course, the artists themselves, whose stories and skills are central to the premise. In 2017 ArtsWatch’s writers have sat down with a lot of artists – painters, actors, dancers and choreographers, poets, music-makers – and listened as they spun out their tales.

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Here are 21 stories from 2017 about Oregon artists and artists who’ve come here to do their work:

 


 

Erik Skinner. Photo: Michael Shay

Eric Skinner’s happy landing

Jan. 18: “On the afternoon that Snowpocalypse struck Portland, Eric Skinner walked into the lobby at BodyVox Dance Center after a morning in the studio and settled easily onto one of the long couches in the corner. As always he looked trim and taut: small but strong and tough, with a body fat index down somewhere around absolute zero. If anyone looks like a dancer, Skinner does. Even in repose he seems all about movement: you get the sense he might spring up suddenly like a Jumping Jack on those long lean muscles and bounce somewhere, anywhere, just for the sake of bouncing.” In January, after 30 years on Portland stages, Skinner was getting ready to retire from BodyVox – but not from dance, he told Bob Hicks.

 


 

Les Watanabe in ‘Sojourn’ by Donald McKayle, Inner City Repertory Company. Photographed by Martha Swope in New York. 1972. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe

Les Watanabe on Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovich, Donald McKayle and his life in dance

Jan. 20: In a wide-ranging Q&A interview, Jamuna Chiarini hears a lot of modern-dance history from Watanabe, who was in the thick of it and now teaches at Western Oregon University:

“During Alvin Ailey’s CBS rehearsals, Lar Lubovitch was teaching in the next studio. I ran into him at the drinking fountain. While living in L.A., I had read articles about him in Dance Magazine. So while he was stooped over drinking, I exclaimed, ‘Lar Lubovitch! I’ve read all about you!’

“At that point he stood up facing me wiping his mouth and looking incredulous like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I then asked, ‘Do you ever have auditions? I would love to dance with you.’

“’Are you dancing now?’ he asked.

“’Yes, with Alvin Ailey next door, but it is only for five weeks.’

“’Where do you take class?’ Lar asked. ‘At Maggie Black’s,’ I answered. ‘Good. Let’s meet at her first class. Then you can rush back to rehearsal. See you next week.’”

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Lee Kelly just turned 85. Through June into mid-July he is showing new work at Elizabeth Leach Gallery. Over a career of almost 60 years Kelly has completed dozens of public and private sculpture commissions. He has major works on the Portland Transit Mall and the Rose Garden in Washington Park. He lives and works on what was a dairy farm in Oregon City; the barn is now a shop/studio. What was pastureland 50 years ago is now reforested and populated with Kelly’s sculpture.

You grew up in Idaho. Did you go to high school there?

No. I came out here.

Where did you go to high school?

Roosevelt, but I went back there and did ranch work in the summer.

Why? Because you couldn’t find work in Portland?

I loved the idea of horses and doing all that.

Lee Kelly in his studio/shop. Winter Garden at Muktinath in process at left. Small
maquette for the sculpture at right in the background.

So now you got a sculpture farm next to horses. When you were at Roosevelt High School did you do any art there?

I tried to, but I got crossways with the teachers.

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Face to Face: K.B. Dixon photographs Oregon artists

The photographer and novelist's new book and exhibition turns the camera on 32 working artists in their homes and studios

Face to Face,” novelist and photographer K.B. Dixon’s new book, features photographic profiles of thirty-two Oregon visual artists, mostly in their studios. An exhibition of the photographs opened Wednesday at Michael Parsons Fine Art in Portland, and runs through February 27. Opening reception is 1:30-3:30 p.m. Saturday, February 6. ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks wrote the introduction to the book. We reprint it here, in slightly revised form.

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Walk with photographer K.B. Dixon into the studios and homes of the thirty-two Oregon artists in Face to Face and it’s as if you’re walking into industrial zones. Which, of course, you are. These are working spaces, and working faces.

Looking at the portraits and studio shots in Dixon’s selection of photographs, I think of muscle and work and energy in repose, just itching to get back at it. Dixon’s photos aren’t tidy images of finished artwork lining pristine gallery walls. They’re backstage documents of the process itself; of the zone where ideas and industry merge and creation begins. Making art is hard physical work, an intense undertaking that involves the brain and hand and sinew and bone. Seeing these practitioners in these settings is like seeing dancers in the studio, or athletes in the weight room.

  • Sculptor Lee Kelly, sitting like a craggy farmer amid the spools and vises of his machine shop.
  • The young drawing and printmaking artist Samantha Wall, pencil in hand, bent intently and precisely over her work desk.
  • Printmaker Tom Prochaska, hair bristling like an absent-minded experiment in static electricity, framed by the gears and wheel of his press.
  • Sculptor M.J. Anderson, surrounded on the steps of her Nehalem studio by a worn broom, a giant dustpan, stacks of buckets, and heavy-duty hooks and chains.
  • Ceramic and steel artist J.D. Perkin, standing amid a welter of hoses and hand tools and a big rustic kiln, torsos and body parts and a big striped head lined neatly on shelves.
  • Painter Laura Ross-Paul, straight and sturdy, balanced between brawny paintings taller than she is.
Lee Kelly. Photo: K.B. Dixon

Lee Kelly. Photo: K.B. Dixon

Like the work of most good portrait artists, Dixon’s photographs perch somewhere between self-aware surfaces and excursions in depth. They’re collaborations, partnerships between subject and artist. The subjects know they’re being photographed, and pose for the camera, but also leave themselves open to the subtleties and secrets of what the camera finds. The results can be startlingly varied, from Sally Cleveland’s anxious gaze, to Jack Portland’s rumpled-Yoda reflectiveness, to Sherrie Wolf’s hands-on-hips declaration of independence, to the elder cool of Mel Katz, leaning back, smiling quizzically, cigarette propped jauntily in hand.

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