Especially if you’re an Instagram user, you might be keenly aware of the fact of the increasing ubiquity of images, the preoccupation that people seem to have with content. I think a lot gets lost when we fall into the kind of materialism that goes along with viewing, documenting, ‘using’ things in this way—with pics, snaps, posts. That’s not to say it isn’t fun or flatout unworthy of our time. But to express an impression by way of, say, painting—an act that takes invariably longer, with more concerted effort than snapping a pic—can convey the deeper sense of content that the medium brings to bear. I think that’s why I keep coming back to looking at paintings, why so many do.

This past weekend, I saw a series of paintings by New Yorker Sophie Larrimore, in her exhibition at Nationale titled Sunday Painting. Looking at her work, which continues at Nationale through November 26, I’m reminded of Willem de Kooning’s puzzling statement that “content is a glimpse” and all that it implies—and also what it doesn’t. The curious forms in Larrimore’s paintings appear, then seem to go away, replaced only by contours and shapes, to return again looking somehow more intact than before. The world these forms inhabit is a magic one, clearly composed in similar fashion. And by magic, I of course mean the ordinary, deliberate, rigorous, but altogether impossible work, made to cause enchantment, bewilderment, that a visual artist like Larrimore does. This kind of content, made out of sensation, gives way to further sensation.


Nationale: Through the lens of ‘Foreigners’

At Nationale gallery, Modou Dieng, Bukola Koiki, Victor Maldonado, and Angelica Millán explore the complexity of the immigrant experience


The four artists in the Foreigners exhibition at Nationale gallery explore the duality of life as a foreigner: of belonging to more than one culture, of finding sense and the personal in the complex and ever-shifting American culture. There is no singular American experience. Since colonization, the United States has been a landing pad for people seeking something new, as well as those brought forcibly through the slave trade. And yet it is only recently that the artworld has begun to show notable interest in the diversity of its makers, evidenced by statistics on the race and gender of artists represented in galleries, art fairs, and museums, or in the segregation of museums.

The decisions gallerists and curators make about who will be shown and who is deserving of the public eye are slowly changing, but they are changing, and I would like to believe that the white male monopoly on the art world is crumbling. In this moment, when simply existing and demanding to be seen can be a political action, these four artists convey the sense that although origin is not a singularly defining feature, it impacts the overall experience of life, and as such is carried and displayed in every step.

Nationale, 3360 SE Division St.
On view through November 13, 2016
Modou Dieng, Bukola Koiki, Victor Maldonado, and Angelica Millán

There are few symbols of political place more widely understood than flags. Modou Dieng has painted a European flag in black, white, and gold—the original blue and yellow scarcely evident beneath the surface. The obscuring of specific areas creates a new flag, one with black and white stars, and a subtle window-like grid. The title “Goodbye Blue Sky…” refers to the blue of the flag, which represents the sky by design.


ArtsWatch Weekly: all aboard for Eugene

A Eugene cultural tour, Anne Boleyn's music book, a little shop of horror and a full gallop, monkey business, Yetis, two top art shows, "Hughie," roots music, Alien Boy, guns galore, spirit of '76

There are lots of good reasons to go to Eugene that have nothing to do with Ducks or football. Sure, the presence of the University of Oregon has a lot to do with the quality of things down the valley: two of ArtsWatch’s favorite things, for instance, the Oregon Bach Festival and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, are intimately tied to the university, and a lot of what’s good about Oregon’s new-music scene emanates from the halls and studios of the university’s music department. But the university is far from the only game in town. However you keep your cultural scorecard, Eugene – population roughly 160,000, metro area another 200,000 added to that – consistently hits above its weight.

Here at ArtsWatch we like to keep tabs on what’s happening in the Emerald City, and lately that’s been quite a bit. For starters, check out Gary Ferrington’s Arts Sampler: Eugene by train for a car-free, arts-stuffed weekend, a sort of cultural travelogue for Portlanders looking for a close-to-home adventure. Go ahead, plan an autumn getaway. And if you like, feel free to slip in a football game or a track meet on the side, too.

Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades at Eugene Station.

Portland-bound Amtrak Cascades at Eugene Station.

We’ve also picked up some good features from some top Eugene writers:

— Photographer and arts journalist Bob Keefer, author of the invaluable Eugene Art Talk online journal, has undertaken an almost year-long project of following the development of a new version of The Snow Queen for Eugene Ballet, with a fresh score by Oregon composer Kenji Bunch and choreography by EB’s longtime artistic director, Toni Pimble, who is recognized nationally as a creator of vivid and original ballets. Keefer will write about ten installments leading up to the premiere next spring, and ArtsWatch will reprint them once they’ve debuted on Eugene Art Talk. Here’s Episode 2, focusing on designer Nadya Geras-Carson.


The Best of a Bad Situation

Elizabeth Malaska's paintings at Nationale use the canon for their own purposes

The desire to express a deep appreciation for an artist’s work while knowing that when it comes to writing about that work one feels somewhat out of one’s league… This may be the highest praise an arts writer can give an artist. And while attempting an essay may not do the artist any favors, such it is for me with painter Elizabeth Malaska’s When We Dead Awaken II at Nationale.

First of all, the title has a curious phrasing and demands extra effort to decipher its meaning. It has the flavor of an echo, as if it could be attributed to some older text, a poem perhaps. Sure enough, a quick check of Google brings me to Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It’s the title of his last play, which is about a male sculptor and his long-lost, female model/muse. One day she reappears and, as it turns out, she has been driven mad by his fame and the loss of her role as his dedicated model. Furthermore, she feels as though her soul has been taken in the experience, and from that moment on she has considered herself dead. Somewhat paralleling her disposition, the artist considers her largely responsible for his masterpiece, the work that put him in the spotlight, yet he has felt empty ever since. No surprise (this is Ibsen, after all) they both die tragically in the end.

Having found a context for the title by reading the play, I could have let my research end there had I not then had a similar intuition about the title of one painting in the exhibit, “Not to Pass on Tradition, but to Break Its Hold over Us (the Archive and Its Shadow).” The phrase cannot be random, and in fact, the non-parenthetical part comes from a 1972 essay by Adrienne Rich, the title of which is “When We Dead Awaken – Writing as Re-vision.” I believe it is from here Malaska draws her most direct reference. In short, Rich makes the argument that women need to find a way to write with their own voices, unburdened by the male-dominant narrative that is embedded in the canon. If we consider that this is also Malaska’s goal in painting, then we might do well to take a closer look at this particular painting as perhaps being most directly related to this effort.

Not to Pass on Tradition, but to Break its Hold Over Us (the Archive and Its Shadow)/Elizabeth Malaska

Not to Pass on Tradition, but to Break its Hold Over Us (the Archive and Its Shadow)/Elizabeth Malaska

Here my feeling of ineptitude arises. First of all, as with many of Malaska’s paintings, I find myself wishing I had a deeper knowledge of art history, for the references in her pictorials are many, and presumably full of meanings I will likely fail to grasp. I can, however, hope to provide the reader with a descriptive gist of it all, and in the doing, perhaps come upon some insights.


At Nationale: Still lifes gone wild

Katie Batten, Jonathan Casella, and Sarah Mikenis give a jolt to the old-fashioned still life in 'Everything We Ever Wanted'


Everything We Ever Wanted is chock full of so very much…so much color, so much pattern, and so much meticulous and labor intensive painting by artists Katie Batten, Jonathan Casella, and Sarah Mikenis, that the Nationale gallery is literally set aglow. The blazing hues, abundant accumulations of pattern, and unexpected compositions dare to redefine still life—a genre usually reserved for the staid, static, self-restrained starch and rarely associated with young contemporary artists.

Sarah Mikenis, 'Everything We Always Wanted', 2014, oil on canvas, 48 x 42"

Sarah Mikenis, ‘Everything We Always Wanted’, 2014, oil on canvas, 48 x 42″

The show is titled after Sarah Mikenis’ piece of the same name, which more-or-less reads as still life, but with a dizzying amount of information and untraditional choice of subject and composition. Using the internet as a source for her elaborate cacophony of patterned materials, Mikenis painstakingly paints each item in a pile of dotted, striped, and ruffled textiles backgrounded by intricately patterned wallpaper, and on a floor of similar complexity. The works are one part laundry pile, one part muppet-like creation, one part joy in the ability to have it all. Among the neon glow of the other works in Everything We Ever Wanted, the predominantly desaturated palette of Mikenis’ work softens the frenetic quality of both her own work and the show as a whole, creating impressive balance and acting as a keystone in the gallery.

Katie Batten, You Also Have a Pizza, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 34 x 34”

Katie Batten, You Also Have a Pizza, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 34 x 34”

Katie Batten’s vibrant paintings also play with the tradition of still life, but with clear indication of her generation. From the inclusion of technology to a cheerful, poppy, Lisa Frank palette, the work drips with millennialism. The paintings play off tropes of the classic still life by depicting glassware and food and by flattening the composition. However, instead of fruit and a candle, Batten offers a slice of pizza and an iPhone, and instead of silver and tulips, she employs Ball jars and carnations. The works appear serene and perhaps autobiographical in their particularity.

Jonathan Casella, The Fizz, 2015, acrylic on panel, 30.5 x 24”

Jonathan Casella, The Fizz, 2015, acrylic on panel, 30.5 x 24”

Given the context of the rest of the group show, Jonathan Casella’s work becomes a distillation of still life, in which form and figuration are almost entirely removed. What remains is an explosion of color, shape, line, and pattern that absolutely radiates within the gallery. In a rare visual reprieve, his piece The Fizz has an area of solid fluorescent peach covering the lower half, which functions almost like a surface or table for the shapes and patterns of the upper portion to rest upon. Otherwise the works are abuzz with intricately woven line work, carefully sprayed dot patterns, torn edges of paper or perhaps tape, and paint that appears to be layered and collaged onto the work as much as it is painted on. The pieces take on a dimensional tactility in their frenetic flurry.

Unlike a traditional bottle, bowl, and fruit motif, the objects of the still lifes in Everything We Ever Wanted lend a degree of specificity that suggest unique personality—the tableaus are alive with vibrant individuality. Wearing similar palettes and styles, the paintings appear that they might be of the same social circle, happily coexisting in the gallery. There is a casual and good humored tone to their rapport as they rest comfortably among patterned linens, enjoy a snack, and leaf leisurely through the pages of Artforum. But as casual as the mood might be, the show is absolutely worth taking seriously. The trio of artists create richly layered works that build and reveal, grow and shift, creating an ever changing viewing experience that seeks to offer everything you ever wanted, and comes close at least for a time.

Katie Batten is a Philadelphia-based artist from Chicago who received her BFA from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2012. She has shown at galleries around the country. Jonathan Casella was born in Texas and now resides in Portland, Oregon. He studied art in San Francisco and has shown in the U.S. and Montréal. Sarah Mikenis is a Portland native who currently lives and works in Eugene while pursuing her MFA at the University of Oregon. She is a member of Ditch Projects.

Everything We Ever Wanted is on display at Nationale, noon-6 pm (closed Tuesdays), 3360 SE Division, through July 6.

February Gallery Guide

Skinny Dipping with Hap, Something is Wrong at Hellion, Ok, Cupid? at Upper Playground and more...

Happy Black History Month! This February I’m excited to introduce a new gallery on the scene – Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art – a name that those of you who’ve been in the scene for a while might recognize. But since I fall in the category of people for whom name recognition hasn’t kicked in, I’m not going to vet his local chops here, just give an overview of what it looks like he’s doing with his new space.

Located on Northwest Raleigh Street between 22nd and 23rd avenues, Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art is an “installation-based exhibition space” that will periodically be activated by performance workshops and public talks. The gallery salon (think people chatting philosophy over wine) is a collaboration with Katayama Framing and Murdoch Collections that will present a series of group exhibitions curated around specific concepts.

Marilyn Murdoch (Murdoch Collections), Peter Murdoch (Katayama Framing) and Jeffrey Thomas (Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art)

Marilyn Murdoch (Murdoch Collections), Peter Murdoch (Katayama Framing) and Jeffrey Thomas (Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art)

Installation can mean several different, but related, things in the art world. First, there’s the fairly straightforward idea of installing a show. Depending on the type and scale of work, this will be more labor intensive that simply hanging a few flat works, and can also include activities such as building display cases and temporary walls depending on what the exhibition design calls for.

Second, there’s installation as artistic practice, which is often considered site-specific. This then turns into a pun about the specificity of seeing the work in the place that it’s designed for or responding to (sight/site). Installation art can respond to a lot of things – architecture, community, landscape, ideas, etc., through materials and practices not traditionally considered part of the visual art. In doing so it’s become an interdisciplinary way to create immersive, interactive exhibitions for public audiences.

Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art’s inaugural show is titled The Sum of Its Parts and is curated around the concept of individual works of art that champion the concept of holism as described by Aristotle. Thirteen artists for whom building a whole or complete visual experience is a central component of their artistic practice will present their approaches to the “parts” of their visual practice. Over the next two months (Part 1, and Part 2) new and different work from each of the artists will be installed, creating an evolving exhibition that encourages return visits for an experience that will be greater than the sum of its parts.

The Sum of Its Parts opens Wednesday, February 11th and runs through Saturday, March 7th at Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art, 2219 NW Raleigh Ave. A reception will be held that evening from 5 to 9 p.m. to celebrate the inaugural show and new space. I look forward to seeing you there!


Upper Playground – The rapidly advancing landscape of technology has resulted in countless modern conveniences and comforts, including the ease of connecting with others. As a result, dating sites such as Tinder and Ok Cupid have become wildly popular; most everyone either knows someone, or has a story themselves, about their adventures trying to find love online. In fact, when I was on OkC I posted a lot of the messages on Facebook under the headline, ‘Today in Ok Cupid Messages’ and they still are the most popular posts I’ve made. Fifty24PDX Gallery aims to explore the humor and horror of these experiences in the group show Ok, Cupid? from February 4th through February 28th.



Hellion – Hellion’s first show in their new space is SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YU SUDA. Descending upon us from Tokyo, Japan, Yu has a unique style that is a mashup of vintage Edo era art and a quirky contemporary view of Japan. For all those Portlanders interested in the clash of history and contemporary, this exhibition promises to be full of visual puns and an exuberant approach to (dis)locating our modern habits with regard to tradition. Basically, if you love those Stephen Chow movies (I’m specifically thinking of Shaolin Soccer) you need to get out from under your blanket and see this show. Opening Thursday, February 5th at 6pm, 15 NW 5th Ave.






Hap – While it may seem too cold for it this time of year, Hap gallery’s February show, Skinny Dip, is not full of ice water for you to dunk yourself in, but is in fact an exhibition of sculptures by Lisa Rybovich Crallé. Working with bright colors, organic forms, bold lines and a sense of whimsy, Crallé creates sculptural forms and installations that bring out the theatricality of everyday life. Look forward to works that will engage your sense of play and stop by the opening reception on First Thursday, February 5, from 6 to 8 p.m.




Nationale – From a quaint and steamy babushka’s kitchen, to the elaborate and vast castle of a Norse god, Carson Ellis’s illustrations explore the myriad spaces we call home. In her third exhibition at Nationale, Ellis shares some of the original illustrations featured in her debut book, Home (Candlewick Press). From the practical to the whimsical, Ellis demonstrates that although homes can be very different, they often share a few commonalities: they are places where we spend our nights, eat our meals, and experience our days with friends and family. On view February 11th through March 16th, with an opening reception Sunday, February 15th from 2  to 5 p.m.


Finally, here are the links to two great maps of the many galleries and art institutions of Portland that have intriguing shows beyond the scope of this brief 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!

Elizabeth Malaska’s post-apocalyptic protest

The women in “When We Dead Awaken” are armed and dangerous


A girl holding a sniper’s rifle in a basement with fake wood paneling. A woman wrapped in an American flag. A woman wearing mesh and holding a machine gun. For her newest show at Nationale, “When We Dead Awaken,” Elizabeth Malaska imagines the aftermath of a catastrophe–and presents the viewer with urgent, mysterious paintings that are unlike any post-apocalyptic images I’ve seen before.

My favorite moments in Malaska’s “When We Dead Awaken” are sites of rupture.

In the basement room of You Will Become Me, there is a naked girl in sunglasses whose body is disappearing into the wood-paneling behind her. One of the girl’s legs dissolves into the wall and then reemerges with skin that has taken on the pattern of the wood. She holds a rifle, and it, too, disappears and reappears. You can see traces of where the gun used to be to the figure’s left, as if it has recently been in motion. In Seer, a woman with an American flag draped over her body and framing her face sits at a table that appears to be see-through. You cannot tell if her arm has disappeared into the table, or if the table has disappeared into her arm. In Pause and Give Thanks that We Rise Again from Death and Live, one of the legs of the central figure is obscured by a splash of pink paint.

Elizabeth Malaska's "You Will Become Me"/Courtesy Nationale

Elizabeth Malaska’s “You Will Become Me”/Courtesy Nationale

In an artist talk on December 3 at Nationale, Malaska called such moments evidence of the uncontrollable breaking through, of leakage, and I could not help but think of philosopher and critical theorist Judith Butler and her insistence in Precarious Life that for representation “to convey the human,” it must not only fail, “but must show its failure.” Malaska’s figures won’t stay put. They exceed the viewer’s gaze, trouble it, evade it.

I also read these moments of rupture–of intentional failure–in Malaska’s paintings as a kind of resistance.

“Protest is a fundamental reason I paint,” Malaska states on the Nationale website. “Protest against sexism, against the status quo, against what I should be doing.” Her work raises critical questions about art history, the history of painting, and the figure itself.

What do you see when you go to a museum or open an art history textbook? Malaska asked her audience during her talk: the naked bodies of women. Malaska has painted bodies that push back against the people looking at them. They can defend themselves. They have guns. They can disappear into their surroundings. They are, perhaps, more in charge of your gaze than you are.

Elizabeth Malaska's "Pause to Give Thanks That We Rise Again From Death and Live"/Courtesy Nationale

Elizabeth Malaska’s “Pause to Give Thanks That We Rise Again From Death and Live”/Courtesy Nationale

Malaska has mastered classical technique and shows a range of painting styles and aesthetic approaches in this exhibit, as well as continual shifts in depiction. Sometimes her style is painterly, sometimes highly detailed and exact, sometimes like folk art. There are carefully constructed fields of perspective in some paintings and in others the floors seem to lean against the walls that lean against ceilings, evidence of Malaska skillfully facing the challenge all painters face–how (and whether) to represent a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface–and having fun while she does it.

A painting in Malaska’s previous show, “Only the Marvelous Is Beautiful,” investigates surrealism, and during her talk, Malaska noted that part of what draws her to surrealism is its role as political protest–artists reacting against the surrounding chaos and violence of World War I. Malaska continues that important work in “When We Dead Awaken.” So much art being made now ignores the years-long wars in which the United States is engaged. Not Malaska’s. She faces the violence all around us and dares to imagine what kind of world might follow. Looking at her work, I can almost hear the sound of helicopters, explosions, drones and the missiles they release. Though the scenes she paints are more dystopic than utopic, there is, I think, relief, even hope, that comes when violence is acknowledged rather than ignored, explained away, or denied.

Elizabeth Malaska's "Seer"/Courtesy of Nationale

Elizabeth Malaska’s “Seer”/Courtesy of Nationale

I have long insisted that if anyone is going to get us out of the situation we have created on this planet (wars, environmental collapse, racism, etc.),  if anyone can help forge a new way forward, it will be artists. And ultimately Malaska’s show points to just that possibility: that we dead might indeed awaken.

Elizabeth Malaska’s “When We Dead Awaken” is on view through December 31, 2014, at Nationale, 3360 SE Division, Portland, OR 97202.

Sarah Sentilles is the author of three books, including her recent memoir Breaking Up with God: A Love Story. She is currently writing a book about war, the history of photography, and a violin. She teaches at Pacific Northwest College of Art.  

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