Category Archives: Visual Art

It’s only a flesh wound: from Botticelli to Van Dyck, a museum’s art and soul

Bernardo Strozzi, "St. Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor." Early 17th century.
Bernardo Strozzi, “St. Lawrence Giving the Treasures of the Church to the Poor.” Early 17th century.


Art Scatter lives! We admit, we’ve been remiss. We haven’t filed a post since July 28 of 2012, for heaven’s sake. That’s 10 months. Our last post was about the demise of the fabled Classical Millennium music shop (which, we’re happy to report, lives on, if in extremely truncated form, inside its big-daddy Music Millennium) and that sort of depressed us. Plus, we got busy with other things, not least of which was posting quite a bit on Oregon ArtsWatch, and also conducting a little daily art-historical experiment called “Today I Am” on Facebook. It was partly through that endeavor that Carol Shults of the European and American Art Council of the Portland Art Museum asked me if I might give a gallery talk to the group: just pick any topic as long as it relates to those galleries, she said.

So I did. My talk, called “The Way of All Flesh”  (thanks, Sam Butler), took place last Thursday in the museum’s Renaissance gallery, with just a peek around the corner into the Baroque. It covered eight paintings, with quick swipes at a few others, ranging from 1500 to roughly 1640. And it was fun, even if I rambled a bit too freely and didn’t quite cover everything I’d expected to. When you’re in the galleries, looking at the actual works instead of looking at slides of them in a lecture hall, you tend to toss away your notes and just talk. What follows is the more or less formal speech I didn’t give, but which formed the basis of my more conversational remarks in the galleries.

All of the pictures, by the way, are gathered from the museum’s relatively new and growing online photo gallery of works from the permanent collections. It’s a great project; check it out when you can. – BH



The title of my talk is “The Way of All Flesh.” I’m sorry if you came thinking I was going to do a slide show about nude bicyclists pumping through Puddletown. Not gonna happen. Instead I’m going to talk about the ways we’ve looked in Western civilization at life and decay and death. That’s not really the bummer it might sound like, because in the process we get to look at a handful of pretty fascinating paintings covering a little over a century, between about 1500 and roughly 1635 or 1640.

The subtitle is “Purity, Pain, and Pragmatism from Caroto to Van Dyck.” If I hadn’t submitted it before I’d finished my research, I’d have changed it to “from Botticelli to Van Dyck,” because Botticelli’s small painted devotional “Christ on the Cross,” which really starts things off, is from 1500, ten years before Caroto’s intimate painting “The Entombment of Christ.” I figure that’s a good mistake, because anytime you can kick off an evening by looking at a Botticelli, you’ve got a fighting chance.

Continue reading It’s only a flesh wound: from Botticelli to Van Dyck, a museum’s art and soul

Link: Bartow carves a notch in D.C.

By Bob Hicks

Not too long ago I visited Oregon artist Rick Bartow at his Newport studio and got the lowdown on his latest big project: a pair of 20-foot-tall pole carvings, depicting Raven and Grandmother Bear, that will be installed September 21st outside the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall, just about a block from the White House. Public commissions don’t come a lot more public than this.

Twin poles in the process: Next stop, National Mall. Photo: Laura Grimes
Photo: Laura Grimes

On Friday night I published an essay about it, In the studio: Rick Bartow carves a spot on the National Mall, at Oregon ArtsWatch. Bartow talked about teamwork, community, the value of rolling with the punches, what engineering’s got to do with it, why the carvings are NOT totem poles, and a lot of other stuff. For good measure, he and his folk/blues band, Rick Bartow and the Back Seat Drivers, provided the soundtrack for a Newport Saturday Night.

An excerpt from the essay:

The project’s gone remarkably well, if you discount the numerous design changes, the struggles to align art with engineering for the permanent installation, the steep learning curve, and the occasional flareup of vision problems from Bartow’s unexpected stroke about a year and a half ago. Originally each pole was to feature a big glass disc – sun on one, moon on the other – designed by Bartow’s partner, glass artist Nancy Blair. That changed when Corning Glass scientists looked the plans over and declared that at some point the constant stress of sun, rain and wind would cause the discs to burst. Government engineers, not surprisingly, blanched at the prospect of glass showering over tourists on the mall below.

Link: Feves’ clay motion at craft museum


By Bob Hicks

Betty Feves (1918-1985) was a pioneering American ceramic artist who lived most of her working life in the Oregon desert town of Pendleton but gained a national reputation as a thorough modernist in a tradition-bound medium, and not coincidentally shattered a few glass ceilings as she went about her work. Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft has just opened a fascinating retrospective of her work, Generations: Betty Feves, and I covered it for Oregon Arts Watch. The result is this story, Betty Feves: down and dirty with the clay.

An excerpt:

“In Feves’ case, (art and craft) seem inseparable. Her more mature work, the stuff where you see more of her and less of her influences, is pared down and elemental, more purely suggestive than representational of anything specific or immediate. But you also see, very clearly, the landscape in which she lived her life: the geologic curvatures and textures, the size and brawn, the brown-based desert colors that shift suddenly and sometimes burst into flame. Things crack and sag and curl, and sometimes their glazed surfaces look like wood or stone. But usually lurking somewhere is the spine of the land. Its impact is inescapable, as in the paintings of the late Oregon abstract artist Carl Morris and the works of Pendleton artist James Lavadour, whose celebrated international career got a kick-start from Feves’ prodding and encouragement.”

Illustration: “Six Figures,” date unknown. Raku on wooden base. Collection of Feves Family. Photo: Dan Kvitka

Link: Pander in war, Wilis on the loose

Henk Pander, "Resistance Asleep," oil, 1995.

By Bob Hicks

I just posted this story, Pander transported: memories of a time of war, on Oregon Arts Watch. It’s a look at Dutch-born Portland artist Henk Pander’s remarkable series of paintings and drawings at the Oregon Jewish Museum based on his childhood memories of World War II in his hometown of Haarlem. An excerpt:

“Even more cadaverous, and ravenous, is the 1999 ink drawing ‘Soup Kitchen,’ in which thin skull-eyed children bend over bowls of thin liquid. This might be Pander’s memory of the winter of 1944-45, the hongerwinter, a time of famine caused by harsh weather and a German blockade, during which those who survived (18,000 did not) did so partly on a diet of tulip bulbs and sugar beets. War is an act of waiting, and people wait in these drawings and paintings. They endure, if that’s the right word, and they anticipate, and they simply – wait. For the next bad thing. For the end of the next bad things.”


And in Friday’s A&E section of The Oregonian, my preview interview with the charming Lola de Avila, stager of Oregon Ballet Theatre‘s new version of Giselle, ran. Besides talking with de Avila, one of those great old-time dancers who wastes no time declaring that today’s dancers are better-trained (well, she’s one of the people doing the training), I spent a couple of hours in rehearsal watching her teach the corps de ballets how to act like perfectly ghastly Wilis. Which, of course, is what they’re supposed to be. You can read the story here.

ILLUSTRATION: Henk Pander, “Resistance Asleep,” oil, 1995. Courtesy Oregon Jewish Museum.

Scatter update: Deemer’s hyperdrama, Mothers of God, women with whips

By Bob Hicks

With Mrs. Scatter on the road eating fresh pineapple and downing margaritas with childhood friends, Mr. Scatter and the offspring have been batching it the last few days.

Mrs. Scatter's fresh pineappleWhile that’s led to a somewhat more relaxed sense of structure (oh, my goodness: is it midnight already?), the basics have been covered: boys showered, sheets washed, fruit or vegetables shoved down reluctant teenager’s plant-averse throat, same reluctant teen’s homework swiped at (eek! it’s finals week!).

It’s also led to a more, well, scattered approach to Mr. Scatter’s schedule. While Friends of Scatter Barry Johnson and Marty Hughley have been dutifully hitting the theaters and discovering interesting things (Barry wrote about the Fertile Ground new-works festival’s Famished, Meshi Chavez and tEEth for OPB; Marty wrote about the fascinating-sounding The Tripping Point: An Exhibition of Fairytale Installations, also at Fertile Ground, for Oregon Live) Mr. Scatter’s been going with the flow.

This is how the flow went.


On his way to Mochitsuki on Sunday afternoon (one son was watching Jane Campion’s The Piano for his English class, with a welcome assist from Ms. Reality’s Netflix account; the other was home listening to Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King on CD), Mr. Scatter ran into actress Eleanor O’Brien, who was standing on a sidewalk outside the Tiffany Center with a stack of postcards for her new show, Girls’ Guide: Dominatrix for Dummies, which will run at Theater! Theatre! Feb. 10-26.

Continue reading Scatter update: Deemer’s hyperdrama, Mothers of God, women with whips

Link: On mad hatters and picture books

By Bob Hicks

melodyowen_alice3In Down the rabbit hole: Melody Owen makes a book, which is new on Oregon Arts Watch, I tell the tale of … well, of Melody Owen making a book. Actually, it’s more about the publication party for the Portland artist’s new book, Looking Glass Book, at Publication Studio, in a tuckaway corner downtown. The book consists of collages inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books, and the whole thing makes for an interesting tale.

Also well worth checking out at Oregon Arts Watch is ‘My Flashlight Was Attacked by Bats’: Farewell to poet Marty Christensen, in which Leanne Grabel, Doug Spangle and Mark Sargent offer heartfelt, eloquent and only mildly profane tributes to the late poet, who died January 5. Farewell to another cantankerous player from the old and gritty Portland.

From our stove to yours: small bites

By Bob Hicks

What’s been cooking lately in the Scatter kitchen? Well, a lovely baked dressing made up mostly of mushrooms, celery, onions and leftover bread slices (Mrs. Scatter’s clean-out-the-fridge creation). And another batch of baklazhannia ikra, or “poor man’s caviar,” an addictive eggplant/tomato/onion/pepper relish that William Grimes discovered recently in one of those great old Time/Life Foods of the World cookbooks and kindly passed along as a recipe in the New York Times.

Photo by Keith Weller/Wikimedia CommonsThings have been cooking outside of World Headquarters, too. I’ve recently signed on as a regular contributor to Oregon Arts Watch, the ambitious online cultural newsmagazine masterminded and edited by my friend and former colleague at The Oregonian, Barry Johnson. I’ve filed a couple of pieces there already:

A few other things that’ve been keeping me hopping, each of which should be coming out in story form sometime soon:

    • An evening up a dark alley to The Publication Studio for the opening celebration for artist Melody Owen‘s new book, which has something to do with mad hatters and rabbit holes.
    • An afternoon at the Portland Opera studios, where I discovered general manager Christopher Mattaliano leaping up and down with a cutout version of a gingerbread witch as singers from Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel watched and nodded.
    • A morning at Milagro Theatre, talking with Dañel Malàn about the perils and pleasures of touring the country to perform bilingual plays in tucked-away spaces – and whether the world is really going to end with the Mayan calendar in 2012.

Hal Holbrook in 2007. Photo: Luke Ford, Commons

  • An hour’s conversation on the phone with Hal Holbrook, octogenarian actor and uncanny channeler of the late, great Mark Twain, on topics ranging from politics to history to the unhappy state of print journalism and what it means to the future of democracy: “It’s a good paper. But as I remind people, it’s called the Wall. Street. Journal. Not The Journal. And it’s owned by that guy, Murdoch, who’s in all that trouble in England.”

Lots cooking, and more coming up. Last night I had an odd dream: I’d accepted an assignment from a glossy magazine to do a spread comparing two versions of barbecued pulled pork from famous Southern restaurants. This was a touchy situation for an ordinarily vegetarian/pescetarian writer, who was sorely tempted to do some serious taste-testing. In my dream I solved the problem by contacting the chefs of each restaurant and asking them to send me a towel soaked in their secret sauces. I then breathed in the aromas deeply, and began to type. If you should happen to stumble across this story somewhere in print, don’t believe a word it says.



  • Photo by Keith Weller/Wikimedia Commons
  • Hal Holbrook in 2007. Photo: Luke Ford, Commons

John Buchanan dies of cancer at 58

By Bob Hicks

John Buchanan, the flamboyant former director of the Portland Art Museum, died on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, after a struggle with cancer. He was 58.

John Buchanan, 1953-2011Buchanan left the Portland museum in 2005 to become director of the much larger Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which encompasses the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the nearby Legion of Honor. He was director there from February 2006 until his death. Here is Kenneth Baker’s obituary for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, who was the Portland museum’s consulting curator of European art during Buchanan’s years here, said Saturday morning that it was apparent to his friends and his wife, Lucy Matthews Buchanan, that Buchanan’s days were short when he told Lucy before Christmas that he wouldn’t be returning to work.

For John, such a thing was unthinkable. He was a tireless worker, a man who was energized by the details and occasional high drama of the museum world, and who loved the art of the deal. Nothing stimulated him so much as creating and selling a vision about the world of art.

Continue reading John Buchanan dies of cancer at 58

Art and storytelling, Best Friends Forever

By Bob Hicks

The fun thing about art is that it always seems to come with a story. Not that the stories are more important than the art — at least, not usually — but they do have a way of getting a potentially esoteric subject down to the nitty gritty.

Alfred Maurer, "George Washington," Portland Art MuseumMartha Ullman West, whose tale about the painter Titian and the man-about-Europe Pietro Aretino provided the pith for our previous posting, took a break from the thickets of her book manuscript to send along another quick story, this one about the American painter Alfred Maurer, whose 1932 Cubist version of George Washington was included in a piece I wrote in this morning’s Oregonian about images of faces in the permanent collection of the Portland Art Museum. The story was a sidebar to my cover story about Titian’s La Bella, which is on temporary display at the museum. Martha’s father, to complete the setup, was the New York painter Allen Ullman, and her grandfather was the artist Eugene Ullman, so inside stories about artists flowed like wine in her childhood home.

Continue reading Art and storytelling, Best Friends Forever