Ryan Pierce

Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce: mysteries in the wilderness

The exhibition 'Eyeshine' combines the work of Ryan Pierce and Wendy Given that grew out of a shared Signal Fire Outpost residency


Eyeshine is the first of a series of exhibitions that Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce are presenting around the subjects of wildness and the night. In the bright and airy Autzen Gallery at Portland State University, the artists reflect and touch upon these and other interests that stem from the natural world.

The idea for Eyeshine came together as Given and Pierce hosted this past summer’s Signal Fire Outpost Residency—an intensive residency program set on public land. Their discussions, usually at night after full and active days, wandered around such topics as wilderness, animal and plant imagery, nocturnal life, and the embodiment of mysticism.

'Eyeshine' features the work of Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce at Autzen Gallery, PSU/Photo by  Matt Blum

‘Eyeshine’ features the work of Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce at Autzen Gallery, PSU/Photo by Matt Blum

Though both artists are inspired by nature, their work doesn’t idealize the natural world, and neither takes on romantic notions of the untrammeled landscape. Rather, both Given and Pierce are concerned with nature in its present condition through an historic lens—a contentious landscape, rife with the consequences of modernity.


Interview: Ryan Pierce talks to Gary Wiseman, embedded artist

A Signal Fire residency allows artist Gary Wiseman to bunk with Bark, an environmental group watchdogging the Mt. Hood National Forest


Through November 21, Portland ‘Pataphysical Society is exhibiting new work by Gary Wiseman, made during Signal Fire’s Tinderbox Residency. Signal Fire is an arts organization that I co-founded with Amy Harwood in 2008 to provide “opportunities for artists and activists to engage in the natural world.” What this mostly means is that we run a nomadic artist colony and several backpacking and canoe trips every year, at little or no cost to artists, on the public lands of the American West. We have a particular interest in public lands as a forum for intellectual and cultural engagement, seeking to tease out the complexity of our landscape’s history.

Tinderbox is a new idea for us in 2015: What if we support an artist to work “embedded” with an environmental group that’s dedicated to defending public lands? The artist could have space within the group’s office, access to their staff and reports, and join them in fieldwork as well. The natural choice to partner with for this inaugural season was our friends at Bark, the watchdog group defending the land and waters of Mt. Hood National Forest from logging and development. We worked with Christine Toth, a visual artist on staff at Bark, to select Gary as our first resident. He generously agreed to be our “guinea pig” for the project.

Gary Wiseman's exhibition at Portland 'Pataphysical Society/Photo by Mario Gallucci

Gary Wiseman’s exhibition at Portland ‘Pataphysical Society/Photo by Mario Gallucci

Gary has earned a reputation as a concept-driven artist, whose work shifts from highly formal painting and sculpture, to photography, to participatory events, such as a series of 33 tea parties that he organized as aestheticized art happenings in the Portland area. Prior to Tinderbox, his most recent project was a show of all-white canvases, collectively titled The B-Painting Archive, which consisted of 81 paintings in all that had been overlaid on nine substrates. By viewing each piece through a special smartphone app, one could unearth the history accrued there, like watching the evolution of a determined but indecisive artist searching for the perfect solution.

Over the past four months, Gary has worked from a desk in Bark’s office, making work in response to Bark’s mission and methods. Early on, he seized on a fascination with the systems and maps that support Bark’s work in both the forest and in the city that adjoins it. As forest fires dominated the summer news feed, Gary explored recent burns with Bark staff and volunteers, learning that the ecological importance of wildfire contradicts and complicates the politicized narrative trumpeted by land management agencies like the US Forest Service. In the charred forests, Gary scraped charcoal into jars, which he then made into ink. He used this tiny piece of the forest to render maps of the fire perimeters.

At the same time that Gary was mapping the fire landscapes of Mt. Hood, he was thinking about the social structures of the Bark office, of the people and moving parts that operate an effective environmental nonprofit. The maps of canvass routes—the area each member of the door-to-door fundraising team would cover each day—became fascinating diagrams. Gary copied and distilled one for each member of the canvass, worked and reworked them, and printed the final series as a group of arcane glyphs. They are inscrutable without context, but each one speaks to an actual route taken by an actual person, and maybe donations to keep the organization afloat.

I talked and emailed with Gary this month to learn more about his experience at Bark and what, if any, impact it had on his artistic practice.


By Patrick Collier

Editor’s Note: On his travels around Portland’s galleries and museums, Patrick Collier often sees a narrative or a common theme develop between individual pieces of work from different exhibits. “Spot On” is a new feature that will explore these stories and notions.

In her book, “A World of Fragile Things,” Mari Ruti writes, “It is impossible to love life…without loving transience.” As the pink flower petals that filled Portland’s curbs last week decompose and give way to light brown seeds floating down from other trees, this particular moment in the Cycle of Life seems easy to embrace, though the human conceit is that we are both part of and apart from the source, from nature in both its lower and upper case “N” incarnations.

Of course, transience contains permanence, for as things change, there is no turning back to the way they were: Alterations are a kind of death as much as something newly born. And so artists both celebrate and issue dire warnings about it. I offer four current examples:

Mary Wells, "Summer (Tempest)"/Courtesy Augen Gallery

Augen Gallery is showing Mary Wells in its middle room.The title of the exhibit, “Renaissance Expressionism,” is every bit as ambitious as her paper mosaics are meticulous. Her “Four Seasons,” displayed together on one wall, reveal her investment, heart and soul, in nature’s splendor, an overabundance she wishes to share so much that beneath these pieces she has mounted a small MP3 player and headphones with corresponding movements from Vivaldi’s Baroque violin concertos of the same name. She even provides rather expensive-looking magnifying lenses should one wish to more closely examine her abundant detailing.

Ryan Pierce, "Devil's Thread"/Courtesy Elizabeth Leach Gallery

The Bible asserts that Man shall have dominion over Nature, but Ryan Pierce’s latest paintings at Elizabeth Leach Gallery portray a world where our efforts to prosper from the soil have gone awry. Post-apocalyptic and allegorical, these works suggest a time of hunger, chaos and extinction (even our own) that already exists in many parts of the world. More disturbing than these paintings, Pierce also presents us with three discrete sculptures, each a cut crystal bowl containing a small number of seeds and a silver spoon. Surrounding these bowls is an arrangement of small white envelopes, much like the ones in which garden seeds are sold.

I saw this work on opening night and visited again seven days later, only to be horrified to find that two of the three bowls were nearly empty. Why my reaction? The sculptures are titled “Pathogen I – III,” and each gallery label describes the plants the seeds might become. They are all prolific weeds that have been genetically modified to resist the herbicide commonly known as “Roundup.” If Pierce has indeed altered these seeds and they have been scattered by gallery visitors, idyllic suburban and urban lawns and gardens are now in peril, for efforts to make them pristine through chemistry may be nigh impossible, as we have learned from the cross-pollination of genetically modified crops. I knowing just how prolific these weeds are from my time as an organic vegetable farmer: Gardeners, prepare for more time on hands and knees!

Brooks Dierdoff, "Game Bag"/Courtesy of Disjecta

Which brings us to the hunt. Disjecta is hosting the University of Oregon MFA exhibit this month. I travelled to Kenton to see one artist’s work in particular, for I had seen Brooks Dierdoff’s exhibit, “Harvest,” a couple months ago at Ditch Projects in Springfield. As I expected, much of the same work was in his MFA Thesis exhibit, minus a few pieces I missed seeing again. And while his work benefitted from the expansiveness of Ditch for his solo, I was glad to see that his video, “Game Bag (Headlights),” had a wall to itself at Disjecta.

Dierdoff took up deer hunting (referred to it as “harvesting” by serious practitioners) while studying in Eugene. Much of his art following that experience demonstrates an ambivalence toward the activity, perhaps none more so than “Game Bag.” The scene is lit by two headlights shining out from the dark background. In the foreground we see Dierdoff inside a semi-transparent game bag, very much the womb until he begins to hoist himself with a pulley mechanism, replacing the deer, becoming the vanquished and leading to a meditation on life and death ripe with potential for a psychoanalytic reading.

Heidi Schwegler, "This Is You"/Courtesy Chambers@916

I don’t know if any animal other than humans can experience remorse; however, I have witnessed what might be a form of grief when a calf dies and is taken away from the mother cow. I have also experienced what I want to interpret as that same cow’s anger as she chased me into the woods the next morning. Although we are warned about our tendency to anthropomorphize, ultimately, we gain empathy (and experience remorse) based only on what we have felt and learned from our experiences, which include experiences with animals. The rest of our “understanding” is merely a guess, and to that degree, we are alone, unsure and separated from our herd.

This may be the overarching theme of Heidi Schwegler’s exhibit at Chambers@916. The shivering little pink lamb front-and-center in the gallery, while giving one a chuckle, slowly turns into a remonstrance, for we remember times in our life, perhaps from our earliest melancholy memories, that we have been that forlorn little animal. But all is not lost. Take a look at Schwegler’s video, “Sadly Optimistic,” in the back kiosk to remind yourself that we continue to engage with the hope that something worthwhile and remarkable lies ahead that can then be made into art.


Patrick Collier is an artist who has been writing about the arts for more than 15 years. He has written for the Midwest journal “The New Art Examiner,” and most recently for “UltraPDX” and “PORT.” Collier came to the art world by an indirect route, via degrees in Philosophy and English Literature, later receiving an MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to moving to Oregon in 2003, Collier and his wife operated the Chicago gallery bona fide to critical but not financial success. The same can be said for their organic farm located outside of Salem. When not in his studio or visiting galleries, Collier is likely aboard his trusty tractor Tragedy turning compost.

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