Jack Ryan constructs new realities within his work, layering information into forms that overlap and interlace. He connects congruent, and at times disparate, ways of understanding the world within his art, mining the realms of philosophy, sonic and optical theory, poetry, cognitive theory, and popular culture.
As an interdisciplinary artist, Ryan’s primary material is sound. Thinking of it as a tangible material helps me to better grasp how he works with it. He bends and molds it. He pulls sound from objects and spaces; he creates compositions. He speaks of “tuning” his work, whether adjusting sound itself or his ideas around it. He folds sound into systems, metaphors, processes, and pathways, using it as a means to explore the intangibles of human experience. These intangibles are then interpreted, manipulated, and reconfigured into physical form and again into sound.
Ryan presents these layers of information loosely, allowing the audience to move in and out of his world. Each viewer brings their own meanings to the objects and symbols. I speak to the visual formalism of his work, but Ryan dismisses that aspect. He says perhaps he hasn’t gotten away from it entirely. I say perhaps he shouldn’t aspire to that goal. His interest lies in combining sculpture, light, sound, drawings, and instruments into sensory experiences, then observing their effects.
On View: April 9- May 20, 2017
Images 1-4 photographed by Work Sighted
Roxanne Jackson's craft-based sculptures and Julia Oldham's drawings and videos delve into the dualities of creation and destruction, beauty and the grotesque, and transfiguration and deformation. Each artist generates her own magical dream world, with creatures both real and imagined, to explore the relationship between humans and animals through narrative and folklore.
Exhibition Venue: Art Gym at Marylhurst University
On View: January 17 - March 18, 2017
Michelle Ross’s work is, above all else, beautiful. It contemplates poetry, language, space, and the body. She weaves between different series using various methods that intersect as well as diverge, but all of her works share a formal elegance and refinement.
Beauty is a word that’s so overused, I try to employ it rarely, focusing instead on the larger ideas in art. But Ross’s concepts are so embedded in the formal relationships that make up her work, I can’t separate out the beauty. The tensions between opposing qualities and materials, the push-pull between gestures, the works’ thoughtful relationships with their sources and the bold geometric redaction of those sources—this beauty isn’t simple. This beauty exists because of imperfections—the revisitations of works that failed, the constant responsiveness Ross has to her own work. Too much, too exact, too raw, too light, too pink… These excesses are all part of her work, and how Ross brings them into balance creates the refinement within that work.
In both design and writing, this catalog is a thoughtful reflection of multiple sides of Ross’s art. Many aspects of her practice are explored—from a thorough consideration of her work within the wider context of the history of collage, to a personal essay about living with one of her paintings, to an interview with Ross about the relationship between her artistic practice and the studios she’s inhabited. Three writings by Ross are also included, giving us deeper insight into how she thinks about her own work and into her emphasis on language and titles.
Michelle Ross: The Desire (New and Selected Works) is the largest selection of Ross’s work exhibited in one show to date. Some of the pieces have never been shown before, including works on magazine pages that have informed larger paintings; new fabric works; and large floor pieces that Ross refers to as “floor paintings.” Presenting these pieces alongside some of her most notable paintings in recent years allows the viewer to make connections between the different bodies of work Ross has created and the diverse materials she’s used over time, leading to new understandings of her practice.
Exhibition Venue: Art Gym at Marylhurst University
On view: October 11 - December 9, 2016.
Inspired by Jen Delos Reyes newly released book, I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song: How Artists Make and Live Lives of Meaning, the summer project took place in a small geodesic dome on the Marylhurst University campus. Each day, Delos Reyes served cocktails in the dome during happy hour and discussed the ideas in the book. Invited artists also hosted events and talks each day, and on Sunday, July 31, Delos Reyes gave a reading from her book.
Schedule of Events
5 pm: Happy hour cocktails in the dome with Jen Delos Reyes.
6 pm: Talk with homeschool co-founder Victoria Anne Reis about the pop-up art school and a performative/interactive lecture from Giovanna Olmos.
1–4 pm: Sunday Painters Group kicks off its second semester, based around Delos Reyes’s book, by inviting six artists (including one artist duo) to lead thirty-minute activities based on a simple chore or activity they typically do on a Sunday afternoon. Activities were led by sidony o'neal, Takahiro Yamamoto, Joaquin Dollar and Martina Kocmanová, Jade Novarino, and Mami Takahashi.
5 pm: Happy hour cocktails in the dome with Jen Delos Reyes.
5 pm: Happy hour cocktails in the dome with Jen Delos Reyes.
6 pm: Reading with Jen Delos Reyes and a conversation with Namita Wiggers.
On view: July 29 - 31, 2016
Donald Morgan and Virginia Poundstone often combine imagery with sculpture and space: Poundstone’s bent metal sculptures with photographs of flowers printed on their surfaces, Morgan’s flattening of dimensional objects into hard-edged abstractions. Also, both artists delve into source materials for their practices. Most recently, Morgan has looked to literary works and films to ponder the nature of adaptation, while Poundstone draws on nonfictional accounts of the flower industry in her exploration of humanity’s commodification of beauty.
In the past, iconic images from the natural world of the Pacific Northwest have been one of Morgan’s main sources. His work in Covers, Adaptations, and the Scarcity of Blue turns to fiction instead. The series Complete Works, inspired by an imaginary author’s life’s work, comprises the covers of fictitious novels reissued at the end of a fruitful literary career. Morgan displays his modernist sensibilities in the pairing of these striking cover designs with the counting dots of a children’s book. His titles appear on the upper left side of each diptych, some made up completely and some loosely adapted from books he admires. The piece Source Material (Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner, Count and See by Tana Hoban) further emphasizes the notion of adaptation by laying out his sources in a vitrine whose color matches the black surface of the diptychs.
Poundstone’s larger-than-life images of the rare blue poppy in its Himalayan habitat, reproduced on Mylar, envelop the movable walls of the Art Gym. The slick, shiny Mylar highlights the imperfections in the walls and the material, drawing attention to the fact behind the fiction: an image of something we haven’t seen in real life, adhered to a wall, is not the rare thing itself. This truth is emphasized by a pair of images, one on the “back” of each wrapped wall, that show a joltingly artificial blue rose held by an outstretched hand, absent the natural world.
The nuances of playing with flattened images and dimensional space, as well as the intertwining of fiction and fact, evoke interesting parallels between two artists who are currently working in different subjects and mediums. As Morgan designs book covers, Poundstone’s works wrap the room like a book jacket gone askew. Her blue roses peek between the walls as viewers read the title of Morgan’s piece The Daffodil and the Vortex. Both artists explore how presentation alters the nature of a source, whether a plant or an original work of art. That alteration becomes the subject as much as the source itself in these artists’ adaptations.
On view: March 29 - May 13, 2016
From space, it seems an abstraction—a magician’s trick on a darkened stage. And from this distance one might never imagine that it is alive. It first appeared in the sea almost four billion years ago in the form of single-celled life. In an explosion of life spanning millions of years, nature’s first multicellular organisms began to multiply.…
Only a hundred thousand years ago, Homo sapiens appear—man.… Rising to a world population of over five billion people, all descended from that original single cell, that first spark of life. But for all our knowledge, what no one can say for certain is what or who ignited that original spark. Is there a plan, a purpose, or a reason to our existence? Will we pass, as those before us, into oblivion, into the sixth extinction that scientists warn is already in progress?
Or will the mystery be revealed through a sign, a symbol, a revelation?
—Dana Scully, The X-Files, “Biogenesis”
Abstraction isn’t easy to talk about. Counting the uncountable, naming the unnameable: these feel like futile activities. But the very ambiguity of the process is what allows artists to approach concepts difficult to touch on otherwise. In an effort to discuss this exhibition as a whole, I turned to the philosophical musings of FBI Special Agent Dana Scully. The images of our planet that she describes—zooming in until all one can see is a single cell, then zooming out until details are lost in the expanse of the universe—speaks to how scale is thrown off by abstraction: the macro and the micro are seemingly interchangeable at points.
Similarly, the question of whether a sign, a symbol, or a revelation will explain the unexplainable, the cause of humanity, acknowledges our ongoing search for truth. Abstraction gives artists a way into the unknown and unnamed. Freed from the demands of representation, they’re able to explore process more purely or engage with the ephemeral, the sacred, or other intangibles.
Furthermore, the duality in The X-Files between belief (represented by Fox Mulder) and scientific examination (Dana Scully) is echoed in the variety of projects found throughout this exhibition. Some hinge upon intuitive choices, while others are executed according to a more cerebral, conceptual plan.
A friend told me about a couple, a musician and a visual artist, who often find their creative impulses to be at odds. The artist works from the head; the musician works from the gut. It seems that abstract painting can come from either place. Artists’ reasons, methods, and results may vary, but there is a growing, unifying energy within the world of abstract painting at this moment. It feels irreverent, exciting, freeing. It is Right Now. It’s fun.
There’s no simple way to sum up the impulses of those artists working in abstraction, except to say that theirs is a great impulse. And perhaps we shouldn’t try to explain that which defies explanation. Artists are drawn to abstraction—it allows for both a loose structure and a way of breaking the rules. As much as the genre is accepted and revered, there is still something pretty punk about it.
On View: January 12 - March 5, 2016
Iterations, Translations, Poetry, and Music
Kartz Ucci’s (1961–2013) work was diverse in media and method. For all her ways of approaching ideas, she was often engaged in translation—between languages, between mediums, between technologies and emotions, between color and sound. Her own work was a translation, iteration after iteration. This made the process of creating her retrospective challenging, but ultimately deeply connected all of us who were involved with Kartz’s practice and with her mind. Which is the final piece? Do we realize this remaining unfinished work or show the last version? How do we envision what she would want for this show?
Kartz was always moving forward and always looking back, striving for new ways of approaching the subjects and concepts that drove her. She was not looking for the easy or the simple; she wanted the truthful and the meaningful. Her continued reinvestigation of the same projects was not a compulsion as much as it was a sign of her ongoing reflection on the world and her work.
There are things lost in translation, but there are things gained in it as well. Unexpected meanings and connections, the voice of the author, the very choice of what and when to translate inform the meaning of any work. As Ucci worked, each piece led to the next. She’dwant to use a new material to present a past work, or she would see a new thread to follow. She’d think of a bolder or subtler way to get to the same place, and sometimes she’d want to exhibit different versions of the same piece together.
This is not the mind of someone focused on an end result. She presented beautiful and fully realized installations and works in her life. At the same time, Ucci was always revisiting, reinvestigating, rehoning, and remaking her works. There is beauty in that—someone who is making work as if in sand to blow away, but who is using TVs and vinyl and sound instead. And who gets up the next day to begin/continue.
We all wish Kartz were here for this show. We’d all like to hear what she wants to do next—the latest idea or the latest reworking. I wish I could see all of the versions of an opera for one that she would have made if she’d had a longer life. How beautiful would it have been to see a show of each iteration in the gallery, full of life and energy and variety and repetition, one after the other?
I know she wasn’t finished with her work, but I also know she never would have been. This is just another iteration.
On View: October 4 - December 5, 2015
Heidi Schwegler is an artist working in a variety of media, most frequently sculpture and video. She is concerned with the impermanent nature of the corporeal, the surprising resilience of the discarded, and the inevitability of decay. She is transfixed by the damaged, the overworked and overwrought. Schwegler’s work champions vulnerability—she finds objects that are transformed, even mangled, and preserves them in a more permanent, albeit altered, state. But it's a strange sort of championing; at times she causes the vulnerability. Her interest in the natural decay of humanity’s ephemera leads her, at points, to be the demolisher as well as the guardian of the discarded.
She has a complex relationship with craft. At times she rejects it. At other points, she uses her great knowledge of craft to expertly subvert form and function. Above all, Schwegler’s art is about the idea of the tragic, and ultimately, of the human.
Schwegler is a significant artist of the Pacific Northwest. She is a Hallie Ford Fellow (2010) as well as Associate Chair of the MFA in Applied Craft + Design, a joint program offered through the Oregon College of Art and Craft and the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Botched Execution: Selected Works by Heidi Schwegler 2004-2015 presents a selection of works created over the past decade, with several works recreated as site-specific pieces for the Art Gym.
On View: April 7 – May 15, 2015
To be an artist is not a matter of making paintings or objects at all. What we are really dealing with is our state of consciousness and the shape of our perceptions.
— Robert Irwin
We're all sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.
— Tennessee Williams
Ben Buswell’s art is a striking balance of beauty and concept. He makes choices to restrain the seductive nature of the work, and avoids mastery of materials. By using abstracted or displaced images and cutting those images, he denies our recognition as well.
For Buswell, this is necessary to make work. His art is an investigation into the world of memory and meaning, but he is mindful that the viewer does not understand a story or image outside of their own language or lens. He states, “Illustration is not good enough, language is not good enough.”
He views the problem of representation, where there may be varied interpretations based on personal experiences, as a starting point rather than an end. Ideas of perception permeate his work, as they do in the work of Robert Irwin, an artist Buswell admires. But unlike Irwin’s art, his work comes from a personal narrative and he leaves threads of this narrative visible for the viewer. Buswell gives us a reference to recognizable images, however altered, as an entry point to the concepts in his work.
Buswell’s work exists on the edge of dichotomies in several ways, between image and object, between language and experience, and between the physical and the spiritual. His imagery of surfaces of skin and water allude to this; the surface is the edge between one thing and another. Memory is physical – it is the firing of synapses in the brain – and so it cannot be truly shared. There is always the final dichotomy of self and others.
On View: February 17 - March 27, 2015
Photos by: Worksighted
allusions interventions, and conventions in contemporary photography
Photography is ever shifting, as tied to technological advances as it is to art history. From its beginning, photography has been defined by its accessibility and reproducibility – by the ways it differs from painting. As a result, photography’s relevance within a fine art context has been questioned repeatedly. It has been restricted by conventions, limited in its definitions, and frequently separated from other artistic practice – often as much by photographers as by others.
The artists in Shifting Practice work with photography, utilizing the medium and engaging in a larger dialogue with what the medium is and will be. Each artist approaches photography in accord with its technology, history within art, or popular and commercial uses.
Chas Bowie’s (Portland, Oregon) images were inspired by authorless, documentary photographs and images from magic books that were created to showcase misdirection and slow reveals. As he created the still-lives, he connected deeply personal meaning with homages to these types of non-art photos. His images reflect a history of photography as well as a reformation of the familiar into something new. Teresa Christiansen (Portland, Oregon) constructs sets that combine objects and photographs that have been cut, folded, and torn. She rephotographs the sets, fusing the objects and images into one mediated layer of information, creating a new scene that is both real and imagined. Dru Donovan (Portland, Oregon) recreates true narratives in her staged portraiture. She blurs the line of documentary and fiction in her explorations of bodies’ uses in self-expression and in emotional connection and the care of others.
Joel W. Fisher (Portland, Oregon) investigates the power of context by examining and recreating images from a variety of historical and cultural viewpoints. His workRozel Point, joins an image of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, abstract images captured from the view of standing on the jetty, and curved decaying cow legs from the area. Each of Isaac Layman’s (Seattle, Washington) photographic constructions combine many images into one seamless, hyperreal image. When Layman uses household objects in larger than life-sized works, the mundane becomes remarkable. These works are further altered in scale as they focus on the texture of surfaces, connecting with abstract expressionism in result, if not in method. Paula Rebsom’s (Seattle, Washington) disrupted nature scenes are an extension of her earlier sculpture practice in which she built objects and photographed them within nature. These new works are created using motion sensor cameras, documenting an interaction between animal and object/image. The resulting photograph is both a crafted intervention and a straightforward documentation of a fleeting moment.
On View: January 6 - February 6, 2015
Yipes. Is that what she thinks of me? That I’m far gone enough to be put in a straitjacket in front of a potter’s wheel where I can sculpt vases with my one free nose?
— Steve Martin, The Pleasure of My Company
Humor is a cognitive human experience. Despite the belief that dissecting a joke is what ruins it, people study and probe humor repeatedly. There are many understood purposes for humor — social connection and communication, challenging accepted ideas, the childlike joy of play, and, ultimately, laughing in the face of our mortality — but studies have yet to fully grasp what makes something funny. Contemporary artists employ comedy to various ends: at times visual art gives us a piece of the joke or a mismatch of comedic parts and ideas, embracing the uncertainty and magic of humor.
A crucial element in joke-telling is that the listeners make a leap for themselves, connecting what is stated and what is implied. This kind of engagement heightens the humor. Within art, we may be asked to look even further, to make more associations, and at times to create our own punch lines.
The Art Gym presents Paraprosdokians and Rubber Chickens, an exhibition of art exploring humor that includes works by Bruce Conkle, Jonathan Gitelson, Jamie Isenstein, Matt Jacobs, Alicia McDaid, Ralph Pugay, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Jordan Rathus, Patrick Rock, Ben Sanders, and Lindsey White. Each artist works with humor — addressing comedy tropes and props, playing off of methods and forms, creating darkly humorous situations, automating jokes, or using comedic timing. The exhibition includes painting, sculpture, video, performance, photography, drawing, prints, and site-specific work.
Inspired by natural phenomena, Bruce Conkle (Portland, Oregon) creates work that addresses contemporary attitudes toward environmental concerns. Often employing humor and the mystical, his art places man within nature, examining what he calls the “misfit quotient” between humans and their surroundings. Jonathan Gitelson(Brattleboro, Vermont) explores the ordinariness of life in his artwork. He searches for the oddities to be found in everyday situations in which people find themselves constantly bombarded with information. This project uses aggregated closing statements as punch lines to a joke that Gitelson began, finding the humor in something as common as a Google search. Jamie Isenstein’s (New York, New York) work addresses the absurdity of humanity through the use of her own body or through the anthropomorphization of sculpture. Utilizing slapstick and the theatrical, she creates exaggerated and distorted stand-ins for the body that involve us as viewers. We are implicated as part of the work and part of the story of the sadness and humor of mortality.
Matt Jacobs’ (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) art addresses and upsets formal aesthetic expectations. He rethinks everyday objects by disregarding function and using intuition. Chance and play come together in works melding the interests of two-dimensional and three-dimensional art practices. Combining pop-culture references, personal experiences, and therapeutic sharing, Alicia McDaid(Portland, Oregon) connects with darker—and funnier—aspects of psychology within her performances. She uses stand-up comedy, theater, and dance to create a mishmash of the human condition. Her works aim to open up the audience by “making them laugh so that they can cry.” Ralph Pugay (Richmond, Virginia, and Portland, Oregon) undermines accepted ways of thinking by combining absurdist narratives, pop-culture tropes, visual/literal jokes, and dark humor. His cartoonish paintings grab the audience and push us to rethink what we know, leaving room for larger existential reflection.
Sara Greenberger Rafferty (Brooklyn, New York) creates mixed-media works from sources such as stand-up props, portraits of famous comedians, and slapstick situations. Her work elicits comparisons among artist, performer, and viewer. By making abstracted bleeds of these figures and objects, Rafferty points to our own nostalgia, vulnerability, and human frailty. The artist as performer is overtly present in the videos and performances of Jordan Rathus (Brooklyn, New York). She counters our expectations for a story by removing much of the narrative in favor of repeated edits and revelations of staged behind-the-scenes moments. We reevaluate television, advertising, and our own documented memories through the viewing of her deconstructed, funny, and dizzying work.
With a punk-rock aesthetic, Patrick Rock’s (Portland, Oregon) performative and sculptural work embodies a male outlook, destroying an established norm with humor and camp. In this work, he laughs, and we laugh along, at the absurdity of passive-aggressive approaches to controlling the border of the public and the private. Ben Sanders (Los Angeles, California) uses vivid color and ’80s style in his pop paintings and sculpture. Calvin Ross Carl aptly points out that Sanders’ works “feel like [what would happen] if you got bored while painting still lifes and wanted to make comic books instead.” The physical slapstick moment is frozen in time (or repeated forever) in Lindsey White’s (San Francisco, California) photography and video work. She plays with mundane props and repeats gags in visually compelling ways. The concept that comedy is tragedy plus time is turned on its end within her work: if time is never-ending, is everything more tragic or just funnier?
On View October 5 – December 5, 2014