Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Oregon College of Art and Craft Visiting Artist Exhibition, Winter 2014-'15

Adrien Segal, Watertowers, #100-103, wood and cast concrete
I recently got to join two friends on an excursion to the Oregon College Art and Craft in Portland, where we saw a show of work by the College's many visiting artists of 2014. Each artist was represented by only one or two works, and from those we were left to draw our conclusions. I liked it. The  modestly sized Hoffman Gallery, a white room with a ceiling so high and dominant windows allowed a great diversity of works to be displayed without clutter or interference from one another: It was the curator, of course, not the room that made it so lovely.

Adrien Segal's Watertowers #101-103 was the instant hit with all members of our party. Three geometrical towers—engineered structures, uprights, constructions—do what water towers are meant to do by supporting shapes that we associate with water storage. These forms are disconcerting—funny even—because they don't take form imposed by rigid materials like their towers, but rather, they impart fluid form to elastic containers—balloons— that sag and droop under the weight and movement of their contents. Water wants to pool into a flat form.
Adrien Segal, Watertower, wood and
cast concrete

Yet in order to remind us of water balloons and liquid's rebellion against form, Segal has made the containers of concrete in three different finishes. Each seems to have been cast from a balloon, so they have indeed taken their form from the contents. 

As Segal asks us to consider our efforts to contain nature to serve human convenience and sense of architecture, Margie Livingston beguiles with order, disguise, and our assumptions in "Bumpy Grid #2." Livingston's medium is
Margie Livingston, Bumpy Grid #2, acrylic skin on wood, 12 x 14 x 3"
acrylic paint skin. This is created by layering clear acrylic gel and color (or painted design) in a process of spreading, drying, and repeating, until a smooth skin of the size and required weight result. 

Livingston's skin certainly seems to me like Caucasian skin pulled across a square that only in a forced sense can be called a grid: The placement of the "bumps" hardly suggests the evenness of a grid. 

Margie Livingston,
Bumpy Grid #2
The color and the smooth texture, which close-up can be seen to contain tiny bubble "pores," gave me reactions both of intense, human identification and of equally personal revulsion. The repugnance was a reaction to the bold and black nails, placed with martial regularity around the frame, almost crucifying the skin in place on the wood.

The sense of compassion it instills in me, though, has to do with the idea of disruption beneath the skin. It could in fact be no disruption at all, but an alternative structure, some other form of life or order within the grid. If we think of the skin as personal and human, we can imagine any of the phenomenal powerful process that work, break down, repair and reorder underneath it. Our bodies are fragile, durable, symmetrical, unique, flexible and brittle. I find that this piece—strange, yet bland, yet full of effort and stress—to be a haunting image of the wonder of corporeality.
Julia Heineccius, 1000 Steps, copper, silver, nickel
electroformed brooch, 5 x 5 x3."

I was delighted to find that a small sculpture I admired—an elaborately stepped, precious pyramid that would raise the pilgrim into proximity with golden gods—proved to be a brooch. As a sculpture, Julia Heineccius's piece was intriguing in its small size: The viewer has to collapse a little to get close and examine its details, its colors of copper and brass that could be paper or straw or metal, the mystery lay in the details that recommend it to the gods as well as to oneself.

Julia Heineccius, 1000 Steps, copper, silver, nickel 
electroformed brooch, 5 x 5 x3."
As a piece of jewelry, I love this all the more. Rather than a tiny sculpture, it is an outsized, show-stopping ornament. One could not with good conscience grab it to feel its heft and dream about the garment to which it might be attached, but I imagine that it could as easily be a man's as a woman's. It could be worn on a hat, a shoe, a belt: It's a piece that inspires even more than it decorates. This is jewelry that generates  persona.  

There are twelve artists in this show, certainly a great testimony to OCAC for giving so many artists studio space and time, and their students access to very innovative and deeply engaged artists. I'll mention only one more, however, Evan Baden.

Baden shows two large-format photographs selected from a project about the imaginary Taradiddle High School Yearbook. This portrait of two boys, from the "after school" section of the book would strike me no matter what the photographer's intended use or context for it, simply for its formal beauty. The deep peace communicated by the face of the boy who is being held is reinforced and heightened immeasurably by Baden's skill in composition, focus, and color. 
Evan Baden, "Daniel and Isaac, from the After School chapter of the Taradiddle
High School Yearbook Project, 2014-15." 40 x 50."
The beautiful boy, with perfect skin and a lovely mouth has colored lips and blue eyes that are not, in a work of this quality, only the gifts of nature, but of the photographer's sense of compositional balance. The palette of pinks and blues remains in a moderate range but it flows, from the blue shirt through the stripes of the pink one into the shadows or stains on the wall and even into the hair on the neck of the faceless boy. The pink is not only in the tee, lips, skin tones, and on the wall, but is highlighted on the ear, and, up close, on flaws on the main subject's skin.

The mouth, stacked eyes, stripes on the sleeve, stains on the wall, and forearm and fingers of the embracing boy all provide gentle verticals, where the major forms of the picture are triangles large and small. The shapes in the foreground sleeve and in the bodies of both tee shirts; the crook of the arm; the chin of the blue boy, and its shadow; the face of the pink boy. All these fit together gently, like a soft puzzle with a balanced variety and similarity of textures and tones. I find this photograph deeply pleasing. It communicates through its elements the rest and retreat it depicts.

I would be happy to have visitors like OCAC's, as I would be happy, were I more often in Portland, to frequent this beautiful gallery where such great things are happening.


  1. You know I really love to attend Artist Exhibitions, I enjoy watching great art work by young Artists and Aboriginal Art work is my favorite kind of art. I have so many aboriginal paintings at my home.