Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ben Killen Rosenberg at PSU

The only work of Ben Killen Rosenberg I had seen previously to his current show was a large group of self portraits. He used to work as an illustrator and those pieces were quite impressive. So I was curious to see “Thank You for Having Me” at the MK Gallery at PSU which opened on the 23rd. Ben created 54 paintings based on the visitors of PSU’s Monday Night Lecture Series. Our video is here. Related article in the Vanguard here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Elizabeth Peyton

I love the work of Elizabeth Peyton, who has a show up at the New Museum. There’s a review in the Times by Roberta Smith. You can also check out the James Kalm Report, which I highly recommend.

The video contains statements by the curator who has worked closely with Peyton for years. She stridently insists that Peyton is a “hybrid” between painting and conceptual art and that her biggest influence is Warhol. I’m not quite sure what to think of it, as I believe that a lot of painting is and has been conceptual. It’s not something which started in the 20th century. I also can’t think of one living artist who isn’t hourly under the sway of Andy Warhol.

It’s funny how an interest in pretty rockstars needs to be dressed up, justified and historicized. I know I wasn’t the only young girl who drew made-up glamorous faces. All my boys looked like girls - which is probably why the high school portraits I made of David Bowie were the most recognizable, since he was blurring those lines anyway.

One time Randy Moe, Portland portrait artist extraordinaire, asked me why his work was a big deal (at least to me). After a long harangue, I said, look, do you know Elizabeth Peyton? He didn’t. There’s a lot of similarity - the difference being that Moe paints his friends, artists and rockers of P-town, whereas Peyton paints artists and rockers of the world. (Here is his portrait of the artist Tom Cramer and one of James Chasse Jr.).

Maybe the adamant stance is necessary when the artist is a woman painting pretty people. One thing I found interesting is how even though Peyton is adding lipstick and eyeliner to all her subjects (like Liam and Noel Gallagher and Jarvis Cocker), she is dressed down herself. In interviews I found of her on Youtube and elsewhere, she is casual, undone and unpainted, perhaps taking no chances lest you confuse her as an object and not look at the objects that she makes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bruce Conkle at Rocksbox

Bruce Conkle has a show called Friendlier Fire at Rocksbox. We made a video, which includes some of his Alpenhorn soundtrack. The show has something for all the senses - it even smells like fire.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pretty Ugly by Jim Neidhardt and Kerry Davis

Jim Neidhardt and Kerry Davis did their best to convince me that their show at 12 x 16, Pretty Ugly, is about aesthetics in popular culture. What objects are pretty and what are ugly and how do we react to them? They divided color palettes and rooms into ugly and pretty as a point of departure.

Something they observed in this video was how we often find “ugly” more interesting, deeper, more provocative intellectually. The artists observed how people want to go deeper with ugly – whereas “pretty” was often trivialized, written off as thin and one dimensional. If something is pretty, no big deal.

And guess which gender is attached to which? Much of the show was amusing, but the observation in this video that “If you pit Pretty against Ugly, Ugly always wins,” gave me pause for thought. I know some pretty women making pretty art. It can make for a double dip of doubt.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

a pretty personality

In a previous post, another blogger asks how much the personality of the artist influences the work. This question came to me right at a time when I was wondering just what was at the core of my own current painting. I had just interviewed Mark Smith, who stated that he was once told that he had almost too much facility with paint - and so clarity of intent became paramount with him. Aesthetics were not a big part of our conversation, save to say that he does “curate” his color choices out of the found fabric from the bins. And it’s not just the “pretty” which grabs his attention. Sometimes he likes the repulsive, he said, something he can reinterpret or salvage.

But as I return to painting from a hiatus following the Richter Scale, I’ve found that meaning, intent, theory, concepts and all the rest of it takes a big back seat. Can’t say exactly why this is but perhaps it has something to do with just the need for survival. If paint is to survive for me in these lean times, it has to come down to essential brass tacks. There’s not enough money, time or kudos to hang it all on anything else. I just wanted to find my way back to paint, wrapping the territory up in color and light and figure out the manifesto later.

Of course that is tough because not everyone has the same idea about “beauty” and in fact some people really hate it. Some in the art world find beauty circumspect and thin. Art serves community, agendas and ideas and just about everyone is “challenging” something. Maybe this was the question the blogger was asking – can an artist just serve (or rather, serve up) their personality?

So today was a perfect day to check out “Pretty Ugly” at 12 x 16. Kerry Davis and Jim Neidhardt have put together an exhibition which addresses the pretty and the ugly, all comprised of found objects. (I’ll have a video of it up soon.) The artists said that many people liked the ugly over the pretty, or at least found those objects more interesting. I couldn’t help noticing, too, how rooted in gender the dividing line was: the color pink ruled the roost of the pretty room. No doubt the show meant to be much more about aesthetics than gender, but then again a word like “pretty” is kind of loaded.

Maybe that is why the title for Mary Heilmann's show was so great, almost provocative: "Some Pretty Colors." Like how dare that be enough. But it surely is.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mary Heilmann

I love the work of Mary Heilmann and am sad that I am nowhere near her recent exhibitions. Check out her story by Dorothy Spears at the Times and the lovely slideshow. And my favorite video of James Kalm so far has got to be his report of Heilmann’s show at Zwirner and Wirth.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wild Beauty at the Portland Art Museum

Today I visited Wild Beauty at the Portland Art Museum. These photographs of the Columbia River Gorge start in the 1800s when the Gorge still looked as Lewis and Clark must have seen it and as the Indians had seen it for thousands of years. The ending date for the exhibition is in the 1950s when work along the Columbia was finished. The dams had been built as had the Great Highway and the railroad and things were never the same.

Right across the street from the museum is the Oregon Historical Society, where I’ve been volunteering a bit as a transcriber for their Oral History Project. My latest project is a transcription of the story of Harry Heising, a pioneer who worked on the building of Celilo Falls - so part of this exhibition seems to narrate Mr. Heising’s life. He tells of great beauty but also of frozen winters when nearly everyone starved, of people who took the law into their own hands. He recalls seeing, as a child, wild horses running by the hundreds like thunder to drink at a river, sometimes drinking till they died. Heising also survived the Great Depression and like so many Oregonians, left his land to work at the shipyards in Portland during the Second War.

The photograph on the website does not begin to capture the expanse and range of this show. It is almost exhaustive and even surprising, which I think is quite a feat for historical landscape photography. The curator Terry Toadtemeier (who along with John Laursen has a book out on the show) gave an amusing account of how he had very little to read, when it came to photography out of the Pacific Northwest, when he began his work on this subject in the 1970s. This exhibition is possible because of his focus over the decades.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gregory Grenon at Laura Russo

More than one person here in Portland has given me their own ideas on why Gregory Grenon paints women and what they mean. So I thought I would ask the artist himself during the installation of his current show at Laura Russo.