Wonky-Scapes, a truncated history

I was prevented from hanging my upcoming exhibit Wednesday afternoon by construction issues, so I decided my spare time could be spent rummaging around in my brain, thinking about how I got to doing wonky plein air and studio city-scapes.

The exhibit is Wonky PDX: City-Scapes by Yours Truly, showing at the Full Circle Gallery, 640 SE Stark Street, Portland, OR, opening reception 6–9 on Friday May 6 (just in case you are the one human being whom I know who hasn’t gotten the message yet.)

[Although instead of “Yours Truly” I used my own name. I like “Yours Truly” better and maybe next time….]

I have been painting towns, hamlets, villages, near-ghost towns, and the city of Portland since 2007, when I spent two months painting from a studio in an old bank building that fronted the hamlet (450 persons) of Basin, Montana. The months were December and January; I was (am) a plein air painter, but painting outside, except for a gag photo shot, was not an option. But painting the town in front of me, once the windows cleared of ice was.

Here’s the very first painting I did in Basin:

Brad’s Place, Basin Montana, 12 x 16″, oil on canvas, 2006

Brad’s place was directly across from the Montana Artists Refuge studio where I had my residency. Brad’s place required painting, in more ways than one.

I think I painted most of the houses in Basin (I could see most of them from my windows), as well as attempting to paint a geologic map of a timeline of the world. The latter had real problems and eventually got cut up into some nifty abstracts which were subsequently rolled and buried for the ages to admire.  But the paintings of the town were many and varied and a delight to work on. One of the last paintings that I did, however, was the beginning of, not necessarily a wonky style, but a considered concern for connections and context.

It began with a map:

Basin, Montana, Winter 2006-07,¬† about 20 x 60″, Oil on canvas, 2007.

And then I began surrounding the map with specific structures and elements from the village, much wonkier than the structures and scenes I had been painting in the previous weeks:

Basin in Winter, Oil on canvas, about 7′ x 5′, 2007

Anyone who has been looking at my wonky cityscapes will recognize some pre-history here. This is a connected set of paintings, like the Petrified Forest Set. Moreover, the Brick building that is so prominently featured (the Montana Artist’s Refuge, the bank-turned-art-studio out of whose windows I stared) is facing east in one painting; west in another. A third version(top center) allows the viewer to look through it to the town itself, although the town is apparently inside the building.

Context, all context and connections and relationships, among the streets and buildings, the dogs that ruled the town, the schoolhouse where the kids who gathered to peer into the studio windows spent their days, the little stream that ran under the ice down to the Boulder River — lots and lots of parts of Basin, even the Buddha and Shiva that hovered around the Artists Refuge — all jumbled into this set of nine paintings.

So here’s the leap — from that village, in 2007, to a set of paintings in 2010, when I found myself working the St. Johns Bridge in Portland Oregon. First there were “studies,” the equivalent of the paintings of buildings in Basin. I call these paintings studies because that’s a good art term. Actually, I thought of them as paintings, real, honest to goodness paintings, stand-alones, because who knew if I’d ever go back again and do more.

 

 

 

Except for the last, these are all about 12 x 16″, done plein air. A couple have bit the dust (or more literally, been sanded down to dust). A couple will be in the upcoming exhibit. And there are some others so bad I didn’t photograph them.

But that itch about the St. Johns Bridge couldn’t be satisfied. So I went back to the bridge every day for a couple of weeks and completed the eight panels, 16 x 12″ that comprise the panorama that the bridge presents:

St. Johns Bridge, Portland Oregon, Panels 1,2,3,&4, each 16 x 12″, 2010

 

St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, Panels 5,6,7,&8, each 16 x 12″, 2010

St. Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon, 12 x 96″, Oil on masonite, 2010

But that itch, that bee in my bonnet about time, space, place, connections and relationships still bugged me. I hadn’t really done Cathedral Park, that sprawls right under the Bridge. I hadn’t painted the bridge as you can see it from the old town that sits on the hills above Cathedral Park. I hadn’t painted the funny little side park on the Willamette Greenway, an extension of Cathedral Park, that sits beside the Portland Water Pollution Control building. And somehow, I hadn’t captured the sense of being there, painting, for hours, and coming back the next day and painting for more hours.

So this spring I painted the bridge from one of the streets that fronts the River:

And I painted the Water Pollution Control Lab Park, with its own artwork by Don Merkt, whose Sculptures, Raindrop, are enclosed in meditative paths.

And I took a studio painting that I had been struggling with off-and-on for months, painted over it with titanium white, and, after reading about Thomas Hart Benton, Jackson Pollock and a bunch of old masters, I finally got what I wanted.

Our Bridge, 30 x 40″, Oil on canvas, 2011

So is this the exhibit? Heavens, no. Nothing from Basin, Montana, will appear in it. The St. Johns stuff has been seriously culled (as I said, sanded over). But these last sets from the St. Johns “studies” resulted my conscious-brain breakthrough, my recognition, slow in coming, of what I have been doing since 2007. What I do is this:

I find a place to paint, I paint a bunch of scenes that are relatively comprehensible, only sort-of-wonky, I absorb the place by returning again and again, and finally, if I’m lucky, the stars are aligned, and I’ve held my tongue correctly, I can produce a contextual painting or set of paintings that satisfy me. And now I even understand a bit about composing these composites, these collectives, these wonky-but-true visions that had been unconsciously appearing in my art for the last four years.

In the exhibit in addition to Our Bridge, I have composite paintings of the Fremont Bridge, of McLoughlin Boulevard, and of that street corner at 6th and Alder. And in my head, I have others, just waiting for the right time to spill onto the canvas.¬† I also will have, in the exhibit, “studies” which are sometimes just as wonky as the collective artifacts are. Onward and upward with the arts, and thank heavens, I’ve finally figured out what I’m doing. Four years — not too long, considering….

And by Thursday, with any luck, I’ll even get to hang the exhibit that opens on Friday.

–June

 

 

 

 

It Was A Dark and Stormy Day: Day 28, Nov 28, 2009

Well, it wasn’t exactly dark — just amazingly, wondrously, hideously, wildly stormy. I’d add more adjectives, but Jer won’t let me. It was also teeth chattering cold, but I couldn’t resist having the big barn doors open to watch the sky and desert as the storms came and went.

I was at the Barn at the usual time today. There were tourists everywhere, including a couple of trailer-campers on the other side of the road. I guess these were holiday-seekers who didn’t want to pay to park their rigs. People kept dropping in to see the art — Riley McCoy, the museum volunteer, was sending them along. He stopped by while a couple from the LA area were being chatted up by David Lancaster and I was chatting up the other David (Berg), a board member who was helping David L. work on the cistern. Riley handed me a bagful of fresh strawberries and the wind and rain started.

So when people weren’t pulling up out front, I played my new flute (more on that another time) and thought about painting. I didn’t actually think much; I mostly thought about thinking. And I played my flute. And someone else would pull up to get in out of the rain, which wasn’t actually hitting the ground, only the roof. Between the talk, the flute and the jingling of the tin roof, it was fairly exciting.

About 2 PM things settled down, so I decided to work on some easy stuff — the plein air panels I did a few days ago.

Here’s the back of the McCoy’s house, which was the Episcopalian Church. It’s the back of the house because I was painting in the afternoon and the house faces east. All glare and deep shadow on that side. Besides, looming over the back of the house is a honking big sign for Motel 6, next to the Casino up the road aways, and that tickled my sense of wacky hamlet-scapes. So this is today’s version, a second draft:

The McCoy’s House, Beatty Nevada, 16 x 12″, Oil on masonite 2009

I also updated the Beatty Library a bit:

Beatty, Nevada, Public Library, 16 x 12″, Oil on masonite, 2009

It’s absolutely typical of my wacky hamlet-scapes, perhaps because I’ve been painting landscapes too long. They get wackier as I get further out of practice.

That didn’t take long, so I decided to take on another painting I did outside in the warmth (now dissipated entirely, it seems) of last week.

The Phoenix Motel (missing its trees), draft 2, 16 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2009

This one needs the mountain to glow more; it was painted about 4 PM and the motel was in shadow while the mountain was playing on my eyeballs. But it’s coming along.

I couldn’t bring myself to upgrade the Chamber of Commerce Building (another view of the Beatty Mountain included); the wheeled vehicle seemed too hard. So I started in on a semi-abstract (think Maynard Dixon with no horses or humans) that I had been working on last week. I’m liking the change of pace –less detail:

Salt Flats¬† near Beatty Nevada, 16 x 12″, Oil on masonite, 2009

I had just begun on the far mountains when Jer appeared, so this too will get a bit more attention.

I couldn’t face the big canvases today, but tomorrow I will be brave and valiant and true-hearted and strong. Besides they must be painted so they can dry before they get carried home. And Charles fixed the spot lights so I can see to paint more better as well as to photograph better (probably more, too). With any luck (send good vibes this way) I’ll have them done within a day or two.

On the way home, I made Jer stop so I could take this photo of the continuing storm.

I thought all those painters who showed the sunlight streaming from the clouds were making it up <snort>

Reporting from Goldwell House, which is much warmer and cozier than the Red Barn, even if the scenery is less spectacular.

Goldwell Open Air Museum: diary of a residency

Day 1, February 16, 2009

We arrived in Beatty, Nevada, 100 miles north of Las Vegas, on Sunday, February 15th. We stayed at the Phoenix Inn,  currently under renovation by a friend of Charles and Suzanne Hackett-Morgan, who are the founders, chief board members, and construction/clean-up crew of the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

The Phoenix Motel is worth a painting all its own.

phoenixinnphoto

The Phoenix Inn, Feb 2009

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