Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art

Bill Will’s ‘Fun House’: The political cartoon meets the contraption

The longtime Portland tinkerer artist gets us up-to-date with his madcap political devices

The Thanksgiving leftovers are cleared out of the fridge and perhaps you’ve almost forgotten your awkward conversations with random relatives. Before the fog of holiday merrymaking fully settles in, take a dark December afternoon to contemplate the “state of the union” as presented in Bill Will’s exhibition Bill Will: Fun House at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis & Clark College. The “fun” is short-lived, but the exhibition provides a clamoring commentary on the follies of contemporary American society.

Will is a long-time Portland artist. Though a painter by training, he is best known for his public art, sculpture, and installation work. Installations have allowed him to satisfy his attraction to small machines and contraptions. Sometimes they resemble Rube Goldberg-like devices, but Will’s often deliver a commentary on American life and times.

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

As suggested by the title, the exhibition is meant to hearken back to the tradition of the carnival attraction: an interactive exhibit in which the viewer activates the illusions. I’m not sure what it says about my upbringing, or me, but I’ve never been to a “funhouse.” I have an impression of distorted mirrors, menacing clowns, and squeaky mechanical projectiles. I associate the whole concept with a horror movie in which the (stupid) protagonist tries to escape a deranged killer by hiding in the carnival funhouse. Obviously, this ends with visions of knives and blood spatters. So perhaps I went into the exhibition with warped expectations.

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Interview: Tad Savinar on making theater, urban design and studio art

The Portland artist explains how he's sorted his multiple career paths

Tad Savinar has done a lot of interesting things in a career of 40-plus years.

In 1982 he organized an exhibition for Portland Center for the Visual Arts called A Few Good Men. One of those “men” was actor/writer Eric Bogosian who presented a monologue performance. Three years later the play Talk Radio co-created by Savinar and Bogosian premiered at PCVA. In 1987 it was produced by Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Two years after that it was a feature film directed by Oliver Stone.

In the early 1990s he was a member of the Westside Light Rail Project Design Team. Since then he has participated in dozens of design teams and planning projects from Oregon and Washington to Arizona and New Jersey.

Now he is Vice Chair of the Portland Design Review Commission which “provides leadership and expertise on urban design and architecture and on maintaining and enhancing Portland’s historical and architectural heritage.”

But throughout his career he has been known as a studio artist with numerous exhibitions and public arts works to his credit.

Tad Savinar, THE NEW MAN,14 x 11.5 inches,
Digital print on paper,
2014

Currently at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery at Lewis and Clark College is an exhibition of
34 paintings, prints and sculptures he produced between 1994 and 2016 (along with 9 digital prints conceived during a sabbatical in Florence Italy in 2014). The show, “youniverse—past, present, future—Selected works from Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” runs from January 17-March 5.

This conversation happened last September.

You’ve said that to understand America you need to listen to talk radio and country music. Do you still think so?

I do—and talk to a 12-year-old.

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Eric Stotik: The horror surrounds us

Portland painter Eric Stotik, once a miniaturist, has created a huge, circular, apocalyptic painting for the Hoffman Gallery.

By GRACE KOOK-ANDERSON

Stepping into the Hoffman Gallery from the scenic campus of Lewis & Clark College, we see sets of small paintings hanging around the spacious room of the front gallery. The intimate scale of Eric Stotik’s paintings in this gallery compel us to look closely, as if observing a medieval scroll or the delicate lines of Indian miniature paintings. Stotik’s images however bear scenes of horror, suffering, and often pain. They are surreal, perhaps familiar from our darker dreams or more horrid realities. And the small scale demands a closer look, drawing us into the distressing images more intensely.

A panel from Eric Stotik's set of 11 panels, 5 feet high by 45 feet long./Photo: Bill Bachhuber. Courtesy of the Hoffman Gallery

A panel from Eric Stotik’s set of 11 panels, 5 feet high by 45 feet long./Photo: Bill Bachhuber. Courtesy of the Hoffman Gallery

I am reminded of Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War series of prints (1810-1820). Privately created, Goya captured his countrymen’s struggle against the French army during Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain. The illustrations captured not only the horrors of the war, but also its aftermath and famine. Though Stotik illustrates some specific scenes, much of his imagery appears timeless, non-specific, and collage-like. They are images that cumulatively capture the horrors of war through the present moment.

Often painting first in a gray scale, Stotik layers multiple transparent pigments. This adds to their drama, but it also illuminates moments, jumping to the surface, crisp forms undeniable. Stotik paints not just on more traditional canvases, panels and Arches watercolor paper, but other surfaces including a mechanic’s rag; a used, carefully unrolled, cigarette paper; and a bank bag. Though he is not interested in the objectness of materiality in his work, it is undeniable how much impact these surfaces have. In Stotik’s case, this alchemic process opens up a visual language to the viewer.

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