My new show opens up…next week! If you’re in Portland, come to the First Thursday opening on April 2, 2015.
When I started preparing for this show, I found myself wanting more than anything to find a way to bring the in-depth investigation and focus of the dye paintings to larger works that used the same variety of paper and media that I have used in my sketchbooks for years. Gouache, watercolor, ink, graphite, charcoal, and pastel, multiple colors and surfaces of paper, all create their own effects and describe different moods and aspects of the winter landscape in Portland and beyond.
Working with these materials to create finished images that still keep the immediacy of my sketchbook studies has sometimes been a challenge, but I always did want to see where the unmarked paths led.
(And apologies, all who are seeing this in progress – I’m in the process of updating Pernoctalian so that you see more artwork on fewer pages. Twiddling with vines and twigs is a lot more fun than twiddling with metadata.)
“We travel with the hope that something unexpected will happen.” -Andrew Bird
When I go out to make sketches and photographs for a painting, sometimes I wind up painting the structure that was my intended destination, and sometimes I find accidental landscapes, where light and weather have temporarily transformed a random spot by the side of the road. I usually find those places because I am waiting for something, because the trip has gone awry in some way. What I was waiting for becomes less interesting than what I am looking at.
The hope for something unexpected applies to the technical process of creating the art in the show as well. When I interpret the same subject using different media (intaglio, monotype, dye paintings, as well as the preliminary images) I find that each method expresses a different mood or approach, and has different surprises.
The show is named for four of the highways that parallel the Columbia River.
Special thanks to Gabriel Liston and Jane Pagliarulo at Atelier Meridian for their technical assistance and encouragement.
The work in Surrounded by Water is a record of my first year living back in Portland, after eight years of visiting only in the summer. Moving back here gave me ample opportunity to explore and paint bad weather, high rivers and cloudy night skies. During the winter I was able to see familiar bridges from unfamiliar vantage points. As the seasons changed I made several studies of one location- a railroad bridge and flooded turnaround on Hayden Island Drive.
Several of the paintings and prints in this show were inspired by two group expeditions- a tour of four bridges made possible by Regional Arts and Culture Council and Atelier Meridian, and a tour of West Hayden Island led by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. I choose specific locations in Portland largely for the way their formal visual qualities evoke a certain mood, but those places acquire new meanings when I learn their history, ecological significance or engineering details. Usually, I don’t find out about those things until long after a painting is finished. By taking the opportunity to tour parts of Portland usually closed to the public, I was able to see favorite subjects in a new way.
PARK, n. An area of land set aside for public use, as:
a. A piece of land with few or no buildings within or adjoining a town, maintained for recreational and ornamental purposes.
b. A landscaped city square.
1. To put or leave (a vehicle) for a time in a certain location.
While the subjects of many of these paintings are parks within Portland, the title of this show is meant not as a noun but as an imperative: Stop the car and get out. These are places that are best experienced, or indeed can only be seen, by traveling on foot.
Whether deliberately planned or coincidental, these places allow us to observe the city without being swept by in the flow of traffic, and to experience time as changes of light and atmosphere, both ephemeral and eternal.
City structures observed at length also become establishing shots for countless possible narratives, historical sites that will never be in any guidebook but where, every day, people mark unrecorded events with contemplation, celebration, or mourning.
Here is one such story: on March 23rd, I took a walk on a drizzly, near-freezing morning in early spring. The landscape I encountered – the bleakness of bare branches and concrete contrasting with a surprising, exuberant pink- was so different from the summer’s overgrown vines , comfortable temperatures and clear skies that Portland itself seemed transformed, and inspired its own series of paintings.
While city parks may be designed to give city dwellers some exposure to “nature” (or at least plants) it is those parks we create ourselves, by stopping and watching and drawing, which begin to reveal the entire spirit of the place .
Magee Field appears in this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine.
Subscribers can see the page online here.
Interstate Bridge was reviewed by D. K. Row last week in the Oregonian‘s online and print editions. (Full review behind link.)
In order to unify a show of work done in a variety of media, I focused on a very specific part of the Portland landscape: during my most recent visit to Portland, I spent many days walking over and around the Interstate Bridge.
On summer mornings, there’s a marked contrast between the visual and tactile experiences of walking across a bridge that is part of an interstate highway: clear skies and crisp shadows and high distant views, traffic noise and constant rough vibration underfoot.
Monoprints and graphite drawings on blue paper, largely monochromatic and low-contrast, are a venture into a different medium and also serve as studies focusing on the structural elements of the bridge. I let the resulting geometry and texture in the bridge studies suggest the color and mood of the sky and landscapes in the dye paintings.
For the past ten years certain locations in Portland, and certain structural and natural elements in the landscape, have held my attention. During this summer I returned to several of those locations, including industrial Southeast, the unfinished ground of the south waterfront, and those corners, out in back of the new shops and restaurants, where North Portland still kisses the interstate.
In those places, massive concrete curves, streetlights and wires, rivers and their bridges, fennel and blackberry plants- elements that, though not exclusive to Portland, are emblematic of the Portland cityscape – combine with the shifts in hue and texture that mark the Northwestern night sky’s transition from summer to fall.
A third of the paintings were started on location: the rest were painted from the summer’s sketches and photographs in my Pittsburgh studio. Each morning, surrounded by images of bridges and viaducts and power lines, I watched ODOT cameras refresh the still-dark sky over I-5, and painted as the season changed in two cities, three time zones apart.
In the summer of 2002, I moved from Portland to Pittsburgh. In the summer of 2003, I travelled back to the Northwest to visit Portland. Three Rivers and Other Watery Places is a collection of paintings of the past year.
Several of these paintings record my first impressions of my unfamiliar new home in western Pennsylvania: many of these images are of things literally out of their element. Other paintings record the transition of seasons, climate, and human interaction, especially along waterways, and west along US Highway 30 and the interstate highways that overtake it.
Water has long been used as a metaphor for inevitable change and the passage of time: you can’t step into the same river twice, the saying goes. But can you step into the same road twice? Single images of bridges, construction sites, and other intermediate structures continue to explore transitions in the landscape, while two-panel narratives represent a geographical or temporal change in which the viewer is the impermanent element.
Things that Go is the title of a children’s book that features various forms of transportation. The phrase also refers to transition, impermanence and the passage of time.
These paintings continue my observations of three themes: structures related to travel and transportation, the relationship between Portland’s constructed and natural environment , and moments of accidental significance within everyday routine.
Six years ago, my work documented an ongoing road trip that came to an unexpected halt in Portland. The road took on new meaning as my experience of Portland changed from a random and temporary destination to a place where my family, career and community began to develop. If I covered a hundred miles in a day, it no longer meant that I had found a new and compelling place to explore: it meant that mundane errands had taken me all over the city, and I would end the day exactly where I had started.
Well, maybe not exactly where I had started. The places we call home can be altered radically by unseen events. The social, cultural and historical forces that lead to a city’s physical transformation do not necessarily manifest as bulldozers outside the door. Some of the structures and places in these paintings seem unchanging and quiet, maintaining an illusion of stability. Some are already gone. Sometimes the sky gives the only clue that time is passing.
99E expands five years’ exploration of sites in North, Northeast and industrial Southeast Portland, in Oregon City, and in northern Salem. These sites are all located on or near the same road: Oregon Highway 99E. These paintings follow the road south to its end.
99E is a portion of the old Pacific Highway which begins in North Portland near East Delta Park (originally Vanport), and runs south until it merges with 99W to become Highway 99, ten miles north of Eugene in Junction City. I-5, the interstate highway that replaced 99E in the 1950s, has a sameness to it throughout most of Oregon: fences and embankments separate it from the places named on the exit signs. Highway 99E grew out of the cities and towns and takes part in the life of those places, reflecting their passage through time.
The areas near old highways are some of the first places in a region to change: stone, iron and concrete age quickly under modern traffic: strip malls and new commercial development form a kind of lit-up stucco crust which surrounds the older centers of town. On other stretches of highway – those relegated to the status of “scenic back roads” by the presence of the nearby interstate- the evidence of human activity is reversed. Businesses are moved. Walls come down. Empty foundations are picked apart by patient roots, if no wrecking ball is handy.
When the road leads out of town, where does it go? The answer changes more quickly than expected. In the past several weeks, four buildings have disappeared or been renovated. Traffic patterns have shifted constantly around blinking arrows and orange cones. Billboards have changed their allegiance more than once, of course. Fields have been harvested. These paintings began late this summer when there were more than twelve hours of daylight and skies seemed unusually clear: now the afternoon light is a new color. Darkness comes earlier each night. There’s moisture in the air below the clouds: the streets shine, and the city skies reflect the color of the lights below. Already everything looks different.