Michael Brophy

ArtsWatch Weekly: Steampunk Sweeney, award season begins

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It’s a brilliant beginning. Sitting in the audience you’re not quite sure whether it’s part of the music or some Victorian version of an emergency air raid warning: that long sharp shriek of a whistle that pierces the air and just keeps on slicing like the blade on a piece of heavy machinery run amok. Then the orchestra barges dissonantly in, and the chorus raises a clangor, and you’re attending the tale of Sweeney Todd, the closest thing the world of musical theater and opera has to a steampunk antihero.

Smoke-spewing factories and magical elixir: Toby (Steven Brennfleck) plays the crowd in Portland Opera's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Cory Weaver

Smoke-spewing factories and magical elixir: Toby (Steven Brennfleck) plays the crowd in Portland Opera’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Cory Weaver

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which has two performances left on Thursday and Saturday at Portland Opera in a production featuring the magnetic bass-baritone David Pittsinger as Sweeney and Susannah Mars as the ghoulishly pragmatic Mrs. Lovett, is a musical tale grounded in the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, under whose disruptive rules and relentless sway we still live even if the rough promise it ushered in has taken on the aspect of a ghost revolution. Sweeney! Sweeney! He’s our conscience, our warning, our mirror. Plus, he sings. And that steampunk shriek keeps coming back now and again, just to remind us of what special brand of seductive, human-devised hell we’ve entered.

ArtsWatch reviewers Bruce and Daryl Browne took in a Sunday afternoon performance when the temperature outside was a sweltering 100 degrees, and report an almost-full house. “Perhaps they came in from the “city on fire” in shorts and spaghetti straps because they wanted to see great musical theater,” they write. “Maybe this was their very first opera production. Or they came because it was Steven Sondheim’s grisly musical-turned-opera, a tale of moral decay across classes with magnetic appeal to a diversity of theater goers. But aye, we ought not worry about the why. Just know that Portland Opera conjured the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim and those present were treated to a stunning afternoon of entertainment and artistry.” Read the full review here.

 


 

PAMTA, PAMTA, WHO’S GOT THE PAMTA? If it’s June, this must be theater award season. The Tonys arrive in New York this Sunday, June 12, complete with national television audience. Portland’s Drammys follow up on June 27 in the Newmark Theatre. And last night, Monday, the PAMTAs – the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards – kicked things off with a big bash in the Winningstad Theatre.

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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.

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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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