Tag Archives: Portland Open Studios

PDX weekend: embarrassment of riches

  • 25 candles for First Thursday
  • BodyVox leans horizontally
  • William Hurt and Harold Pinter duke it out
  • Wordstock throws a bookapalooza
  • Oregon Arts Watch puts on a show (times three)
  • A double feature at Oregon Ballet Theatre
  • Portland Open Studios’ peek behind the scenes

By Bob Hicks

Good lord, what a weekend. Used to be, a person who really tried could actually keep up with significant cultural happenings in Puddletown. Kiss those days goodbye. Portland’s grown up (in a lot of ways, anyway) and we’ve entered pick-and-choose time. You’ll never catch everything worth catching, so pick what looks most intriguing to you and resign yourself to missing out on some good stuff. Even Don Juan can’t sample all the pleasures in the pantry.

A few ideas:

Tom Prochaska, "So Much To Do," oil on canvas, 66" x 88", 2011. Courtesy Froelick Gallery.Tom Prochaska, So Much To Do, Froelick Gallery

Tonight is First Thursday, the mainline Portland galleries’ monthly art hop, and it happens to be the 25th anniversary of the first art walk, in October 1986. Kelly House has this story in this morning’s Oregonian about how First Thursday and the Pearl District grew together, and I have this rundown (partial, as always), also in The Oregonian, of highlights of the October visual art scene. Personal tip: If you have business in Salem, or a free day for a short trip, the double-header of Italian Renaissance drawings from the Maggiori Collection and 22 prints from Georges Rouault’s Miserere et Guerre series at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art is well worth the visit.


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Open Studios: see rare Artistus Americanus in its native habitat

By Bob Hicks

Lots going on in Puddletown this weekend for urban naturalists and aesthetic anthropologists to ogle, from Lucinda Childs‘ migratory Dance opening Thursday at White Bird, to Wordstock, where the abundant literatus scribbilus flock every fall, to the drowsy yet ravishing and oddly energetic Sleeping Beauty at Oregon Ballet Theatre.

"Born to Run," acrylic on panel, Harold OxleyBut for adventurers who really like to see exotic creatures in their natural surroundings, there’s nothing quite like the annual Portland Open Studios, a two-weekend affair (October 9-10 and 16-17) in which 100 of the closely related species artistus Americanus and finecrafter raris domesticus throw open the doors to their work spaces.
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Portland Open Studios: what’s behind the gallery walls

Portland loves process — a politician here can barely duck out for coffee without holding several public meetings first to thrash out which coffee shop she should hit in which geographically underserved corner of the city — and that extends to its arts scene.

Mar Ricketts, master kitemaker and fiber artist, in his Southeast Portland studio.Lectures, tours, workshops, open rehearsals: If it’s a behind-the-scenes peek, we’re there. It’s not enough just to see the finished project. We want to know how it got there.

What was the idea? How was it built? What were the stumbling blocks? Was getting there really half the fun?

In the visual arts, something else kicks in, too: sweet reassurance.

Galleries and museums intimidate a lot of people. They don’t know the language. They might know what they like, but they suspect the cognoscenti would laugh at them. In galleries, they think they’re getting the once-over (and in a few, they are): Is this person a potential buyer? Does she count? Is she worth my time?

It’s not so much that people are afraid of wrestling with tough ideas, it’s that they’re afraid they don’t know the rules. They’re not specialists — and in the minds of the many, the art world has become the province of the anointed few. (In certain rigorously theoretical cases, of course, this is true.) Add to all this the sense of mystery — the popular idea that with artists, something magical happens, beyond the ken of mortal souls — and it’s little wonder that fear keeps people outside the gallery doors.

In fact, the actual making of art is usually a tactile, pragmatic, hands-on thing; down-to-earth in a sometimes literal sense. For all the metaphorical calisthenics in writing about art, artists themselves tend to be practical problem-solvers: What is this thing that’s wormed inside my head, and how can I work it out? Most artists grapple with chance and improvisation more than most of the rest of us, but the good ones do it with method and structure. In spite of C.P. Snow’s famous lament in The Two Cultures (or maybe in support of it), the worlds of art and science aren’t all that far apart, at least in a rudimentary sense. Both involve hypothetically based searches for truth, and in that search both find beauty.

Andrea Benson, weaving yarns in encausticSo let’s take the pressure off and take a relaxed look at how this art stuff really works. That’s part of the idea behind Portland Open Studios, the annual fall tour of artists’ studios across the greater Portland area. In its 10th year, the event includes 100 studios (they’re juried in) and runs the next two weekends: October 10-11 and 17-18. Most studios are open both weekends; the Web site has details.

It’s always fun to see where other people work. I visited three studios before the kickoff, and each represented a different approach to the artist’s workspace.

Bonnie Meltzer‘s studio in North Portland is a storybook sort of place, a small building steps away from the back door of an old farmhouse on a double lot that also holds gnarled fruit trees and a pretty terrific vegetable garden. The studio strikes a balance between orderly and cluttered, with all sorts of tools that a home handyman would be comfortable with, and a motley collection of globes destined to find their way at one point or another into her mixed-media works. A deck outside the studio is set up for sawing and bashing at big pieces of stuff.

Encaustic artist Andrea Benson works from a small studio at Troy Studios, a big brick former commercial laundry building in industrial Southeast Portland that’s home to about 25 artists. She can bike or walk there from her home, and likes having a separate space. A few blocks away, Mar Ricketts, whose fabric pieces range from aerodynamic kites and mobiles to temporary structures for big outdoor events, works in a big single-story space that allows plenty of floor room for laying out his sometimes gargantuan pieces. His studio isn’t a recycled industrial space: It is an industrial space.

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China, Wordstock, studios, ballet: What a weekend!

Days at the Cotton Candy #4, copyright Maleonn

ABOVE: “Days at the Cotton Candy #4,” copyright Maleonn, in China Design Now. INSET BELOW: “Graphic Design in China,” poster for the 1992 exhibition, copyright Chen Shaohua. Both photos courtesy Portland Art Museum.


Quick notes on a Thursday evening:

CHINA DESIGN NOW. I took a much too rapid walk through the installation at the Portland Art Museum this afternoon, and this show’s going to be a dazzler. It opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 17, and you won’t want to miss it. The sheer eye candy is amazing: China’s surge into the 21st century grabs hold of the nation’s traditional love for brilliant color and reshapes it in amazing ways. The show, which originated at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is barely a scratch on the surface of the new China. But, my, the things you see! An important show for Portland because of the Pacific Rim connection, it’s also a whole lot of fun. I have a short table-setting preview in Friday’s A&E section of The Oregonian, and D.K. Row, the O’s lead art critic, will analyze the feast soon. Look for both.

Graphic Design in China, poster for the 1992 exhibition. Copyright Chen ShaohuaWORDSTOCK. Portland’s annual writers’ frenzy heads into its big weekend at the Oregon Convention Center with talks, workshops and publishers’ booths Saturday and Sunday. About a zillion Northwest writers will join such A-list types as James Ellroy and Sherman Alexie. Jeff Baker ran a good preview last week in the O. Willamette Week had some good interviews with participating writers on Wednesday, and I had a handful of interviews with participating writers (young adult novelist Rosanne Parry, mystery man Pierre Ouellette/Pierre Davis, Pendleton Round-Up historian Ann Terry Hill, poet Mark Thalman, kids’ writers Dawn Prochovnic and Brian Martin) in this morning’s Washington County edition of the O. The Wordstock Web site has the schedule; should be a kick.

PORTLAND OPEN STUDIOS. This weekend and next, 100 artists’ studios across greater Portland will throw their doors open and welcome visitors. You can see who, where and when here. I should have a bigger piece posted in a few hours. Grab your map and make your plans.

OREGON BALLET THEATRE. Time to forget the offstage drama and remind yourself of why we care about this brilliant troupe of dancers. This retrospective program, which opens Saturday in Keller Auditorium, features George Balanchine’s celebrated Emerald plus excerpts from a whole lot of highlights from OBT’s own history: Dennis Spaight’s Gloria and Ellington Suite; Trey McIntyre’s Speak; Bebe Miller’s A Certain Depth of Heart, Also Love; Julia Adam’s il nodo; Yuri Possokhov’s La Valse; James Kudelka’s Almost Mozart; and artistic director Christopher Stowell’s Eyes on You and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That’s a knockout of a program. Details here.

DOROTHEA LANGE IN OREGON. In the late 1930s the great photographic documentarian took a large number of photos of Oregon farmers and farm laborers for the federal Farm Security Administration, and the results are a rare combination of art, history and social comment. A selection from those 500-plus images has just opened in the Littman Gallery at Portland State University, and it should be worth going out of your way to catch. The campus paper, the Vanguard, has the story.

CLASSICAL RADIO’S FUND DRIVE. I’ve spent a fair amount of the last few days in my car (don’t ask), and that means I’ve been listening to a fair amount of classical station KQAC during its fall fund drive. Is it my imagination, or has it been a little harder than usual to shake money out of the tree this time around? Seems like every hour the station’s been falling short of its announced goal. I like this station. I wish it were more adventurous in its programming — I’d love to have a more liberal dose of contemporary and even 20th century stuff in the mix — and I shudder every time I hear a listener’s comment that classical music “soothes” them, as if it were some sort of handy on-demand muscle relaxant. But KQAC is an extremely important part of the city’s cultural fabric, and on the whole it does a good job, and it should succeed. Spare a buck?

The Tree of Life: We think it’s made of words

I’ve been thinking about Wordstock, Portland’s annual orgy of wordsmithery, which runs Oct. 10-11 at the Oregon Convention Center.

A tree of words by Holly A. SennLots and lots of good writers will be showing up: Glad, for instance, to see that Sherman Alexie‘s finally making the party, and so soon after nabbing the National Book Award for his first young-adult novel, the wrenching and funny Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

There’s a lot more to Alexie’s book than its few short passages on the art of manly self-delight, but those glowing paragraphs are going to help keep Part-Time Indian in a sort of Holden Caulfield furtive page-flipping, perennial-sales mode for a long time to come.

And I’ve been thinking about another annual people’s celebration of the arts, Portland Open Studios, which runs the same weekend as Wordstock and one more, too — Oct. 10, 11, 17 and 18. Entering its tenth year (Wordstock’s half that age) Portland Open Studios throws the doors open to 100 artists’ studios across the city and invites anyone who’s interested for a tour of the stage shop behind the scenes. For people struck dumb with the dreaded Fear of Galleries, this can be a reassuring and fascinating way to get inside the visual arts scene, to see the everyday workings of everyday working artists, to actually talk with the artists about what they see and think and do.

So then I came across the images above and below from Tacoma sculptor Holly A. Senn‘s just-closed installation at Portland’s 23 Sandy Gallery, and the thought struck me: Senn’s work, which I unhappily missed, bridges the gap between Wordstock and Portland Open Studios.

Senn, who is a librarian as well as a visual artist, makes forests and giant seed pods from abandoned books, reimagining them into fresh new life: words become art become words.

“My art investigations,” Senn writes, “are inextricably intertwined with my work as a virtual reference librarian at Pacific Lutheran University where, while surrounded by books, I interact with patrons who prefer digital resources. As I cut, rip, realign and glue, I reflect on each new generations’ collective erasure of some element of the past and its casting of new ideas into the future. My work is as ephemeral and fleeting as ideas committed to paper.”

What are we in the process of collectively erasing?

23 Sandy’s current show, Broadsided! The Intersection of Art and Literature, seems to be bridging the art/word gap, too. It’s a juried exhibition of broadsides, those fascinating blends of letterpress art and information, by 34 artists from across the United States and Australia. The show stays up through Oct. 31, so there’s plenty of time to see what’s up.


Ballyhoo hullabaloo: Out Oregon City way, in a town that’s ancient by Oregon’s thinly planted European standards, people know a thing or two about tradition. So maybe it makes sense that an old-fashioned play like Alfred Uhry’s The Last Night of Ballyhoo, a drawing-room dramedy that won the Tony Award for best play of 1997 and even then seemed a stylistic relic of a lost theatrical golden age, is on stage at Clackamas Repertory Theatre, the small professional company that performs at the O.C.’s Clackamas Community College.

Uhry’s play, set among the Jewish gentry of Atlanta in 1939, is about the layers of prejudice among the South’s several waves of Jewish immigrants. I’ve never been a fan of Uhry’s breakout play, Driving Miss Daisy — can’t get past the social implications of the sassy rich Southern woman and her devotedly longsuffering black servant — but I like Ballyhoo quite a bit, and the Rep’s production does well by it. My short review ran in Monday’s Oregonian. You can see the longer, more expansive version on Oregon Live.

Holly A. Senn installation at 23 Sandy Gallery