paul maziar

The ArtsWatch year in Visual Arts

This year the arts fought back by finding space for everyone and creating spiky work that reminded us where we are

We live in the best of times—at least measured by the profusion of visual arts in Portland and the state. The number of artists and the places they have found and created have both continued to grow. The thin infrastructure of existing institutions and galleries hasn’t been able to keep up, and so 2017 found us in the middle of a boomlet of new alternative organizations, cooperatives, groups and galleries. Many of these had a social and/or political bent to them, which makes perfect sense in this year of political tumult. The best form of resistance, both to the short-term national political condition and to the long-term drift away from democracy, is to develop new ways and platforms to share art-making, which itself can be a call to reflection and an appeal to shared experience and values. We will get out of this together, and when we do, we want to bring everyone with us.

As I wandered through the ArtsWatch visual arts stories of 2017, I was struck by two things. The first was that our resources were entirely insufficient to keep up with all that was going on. The second? The stories that our arts writers—all freelancers—created in response to what they encountered still managed to sketch an outline, an abstract, of what was going on. Hannah Krafcik, Paul Maziar and Nim Wunnan wrote about new galleries, new organizations and new artists showing in alternative locations. Paul Sutinen produced a series of interviews with some of our most decorated artists. Bob Hicks wrote compelling stories about the Portland Art Museum’s programming and the reimagining of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education in its new Pearl District digs. And we had several one-shot reports—about an artist collective in Cuba, art made from the detritus washed ashore in Bandon, Oregon, and the back-and-forth between a model-photographer and the painter recreating her on canvas.

If you scroll through our visual arts category, you can find these and lots of other posts, most of them longer-form, all of them committed to grappling with art, artists and the culture in which they operate. The list that follows isn’t my peculiar assessment of the “best” visual arts stories of 2017. It just illustrates what I’ve been talking about, in one way or another.

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New voices of ArtsWatch 2017

A dozen writers have joined the ArtsWatch ranks this year. Find out who they are, and what they're bringing to the cultural mixer.

In one important way it’s been a very good year for Oregon ArtsWatch: We’ve added a lot of good writers to our mix, deepening and broadening our coverage of everything from dance to theater to music to visual arts to literary events and more.

ArtsWatch has been able to add the voices of a dozen new contributors because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation.

In 2018 we hope to add even more fresh voices and perspectives to our continuing engagement with Oregon’s complex and diversified cultural life.

Meet 2017’s new writers, from A to Z (all right; A to W), and sample their work:

 


 

TJ Acena

A Portland essayist and journalist who studied creative writing at Western Washington University, TJ was selected as a 2017 Rising Leader of Color in arts journalism by Theatre Communications Group. He writes about theater and literary events for ArtsWatch, and also contributes to American Theatre Magazine and The Oregonian in addition to literary journals such as Somnambulist and Pacifica Literary Journal. Web: tjacena.com

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Greg Watanabe with Mao on the wall in “Caught.” Photo: Russell J Young

CAUGHT IN A LIE, OR A TRUTH

Acena reviews the installation and performance Caught at Artists Rep, a play that crosses the line between fact and fiction, fake news and real. “If it feels like there’s something I’m not telling you about Caught, you’re right. Don’t take it at face value: There’s a hidden conceit to the show. But discovering that conceit is what makes Caught compelling.”

 


 

Bobby Bermea

 

A leading actor, director, and producer in Portland and elsewhere, Bobby specializes in deeply reported and insightful profiles of theater and other creative people for ArtsWatch. A three-time Drammy Award winner for his work onstage, he’s also the author of the plays Heart of the City, Mercy, and Rocket Man.

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By PAUL MAZIAR

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.

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Jordan Clark: The painter’s spaces, inside and out

A new set of paintings by Jordan Clark reflect the painter's deep sense of space

By PAUL MAZIAR

There are eight new Jordan Clark paintings in oil and flashe on view at Stumptown on Southeast Belmont. The exhibition, titled abridge, a breeze, comprises all abstract works — seven on paper and one on unprimed canvas. All of Clark’s pictures are full of life—especially this show of new, brightly-colored work—but they don’t bear any of the typical realism that you might expect from something inspired by life.

Jordan Clark, “breeze”,
16×20”, acrylic, flashe, spray paint on paper

I talked with Jordan about his artistic practice and some of his affinities over a couple of pints at a local watering hole. The conversation lasted a couple of hours and, after being transcribed, took up nine typewritten pages. You could say our meeting was congenial, a good time. Having talked with Jordan, it seems clear that despite the supreme effort it apparently takes an artist to cultivate and keep up such prolific work, these things are a byproduct of lived experience. They occur in a continuously balanced cycle of work and play, thought and action, solitude and interaction.

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