Sunday, August 21, 2011

Art in a small town: on juried shows – Real People 2011

I grew up in a small town but I couldn’t breath in a small town. For the past 8 years I’ve lived in a South Asian neighborhood in Chicago, where the savory curry air and minor key of the call to prayer is occasionally punctuated by mariachi music and the pounding base of a sub woofer.

It’s anything but country but I do remember that it was in the country, in Sunshine Studios under the tutelage of portrait and landscape plein air artist and retired U.S. Air Force wife Phyllis Oliver and afterschool popcorn sprinkled with lemon pepper, classical music and a good dose of Right vs. Left political debates, that I learned the fundamentals of painting and drawing. And it was in the North Kitsap Junior High School gym, on portable gray folding walls during my hometown of Poulsbo’s annual Viking Fest, that I learned that the art that gets the most reaction from the crowd probably won’t win first prize - in 1989, I made a disturbing assemblage painting, inspired by the Dec. 1988 Lockerbie Bombing, which featured Barbie doll legs blasting out of the side of the Pan Am Flight 103. Many a mother’s tongue clucked, “What has the world come to that our youth are focusing on so much violence?!” I think the painting is still somewhere in my parent’s basement and the bomber, Abdelbasset al Megrahi, was released in 2009 after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.

Earlier this summer I got an invitation to jury a national figurative art show for The Northwest Area Arts Council (NAAC) called “Real People 2011” (most likely as a result of my realistic 2006 charcoal Loving series). Despite NY gallerist and art world mavin Edward Winkleman’s advice on juried exhibitions and my general principle never to participate in shows where there is an entry fee involved, I said yes and was promptly sent a link to review over four hundred art works. I had no idea who the artists were or where they were coming from. All I had were the visuals and a brief description of the work. I ranked them on a scale of 1-20 and my results were compiled with two other jurors (Chicago gallerist Dan Addington of Addington Gallery and a McHenry county artist Rodger Bechtold) and then 80 works, that received the highest average ranking, were selected.

The NAAC organizers graciously invited me to meet them to review the show early and eat lunch with them at LaPetite Creperie. Sure, no problem. The day I went to meet them, I realized that I thought I was jurying an art show in Chicago at the “Near Northwest Arts Council" (Wicker Park Center). I believe in giving back to the community and I remembered that when I was very young, I had been selected for a juried show at that venue. But this show was for the “Norwest Area Arts Council” in McHenry County in Woodstock, IL! An hour and a half northwest of Chicago through cornfields and too many toll ways, Woodstock was put on the Hollywood map by Bill Murry in the 1993 Groundhog Day movie.

Old Court House Art Center in Woodstock, IL
Upon walking into the old courthouse/jail where the exhibition is held, my first impression was surprise that I really had no idea about the sense of scale from seeing works online. Almost without fail, every work was a different size than what I had imagined. You also have no sense of resolution in photographs online or the surface and texture of a work. Subtlety and nuance just can’t compete online. So what stands out instead are bold blocks of colors, dramatic value contrasts, and strong central images. 

But what makes a work actually good both online an in person? You’ll have to go to the opening on August 27th to see which artists the shows judge, Rodger Bechtold, selected (in person) for the top prizes and honorable mentions but here are three art works from Real People 2011 that that worked for me online and were even better in real life:

Portland, OR Christine Zachary for her Ashcan School of art palette, Edward Hopperesque lighting and general sense of unrest as seen in her painting “Longing.” On her website she says she “concentrates solely on objective painting.” Is there any such thing? It’s the subjectiveness in her work that intrigued me.
Christine Zachary's "Longing" as seen on her website.
Christine Zachary's "Longing" as seen in real life at Real People 2011. The intimate scale, old school modernist dark frame, and the enameled surface of the painting were not apparent online.

Aiea, HI Ann Oshita’s “Barbie Expressionist I.” She describes here inspiration as coming from “cultural icons, children, and my sister” as “they enable the depiction of triumphs and tragedies.” I was drawn to her rough depiction of a confident red haired vintage Barbie – this girl, with her designer clutch in hand, looks like she is going somewhere. Oshita is a graduate from Parson School of Design in fashion and illustration and also from Wellesley College in Art History.

Ann Oshita's "Barbie Expressionist I" as seen in Real People 2011

Slayton, MN Laura Veenhuis’ oversized stylized oil painting of a badass smoking cool wrinkled old lady named “Kitty.” On her website she says it’s the first of 7 in her “Tormented Women” series and “The theme relates to thoughts or feelings that challenge people everyday to be a good person or to lead a God pleasing life.” I thought it was a portrait of a snooty art collector surveying her surroundings! I believe g-d would like all of us, big cities and small towns et al, to appreciate art (make it, buy it, view it, critique it, whatever). Art is, after all, one of the pleasures of a reflective and engaged life no matter where in the world you are.

Installation view of Laura Veenhuis' "Kitty" in the Old Court House and former jail turned art center in Woodstock, IL
Real People 2011 is held in the Old Court House Arts Center located at 101 N. Johnson, Woodstock, IL 60098. The exhibition is open August 4 - October 2. Gallery hours: Tues-Sat 11am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm. A reception will be held on August 27, 2011. Call 815-338-4525 for more information.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

48 hours in Stumptown: Portland Arts & Culture

I flew out to Portland, OR August 4-5th to participate on a panel discussion on mixed race Asian American (aka "hapa") art and identity organized by the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in conjunction with Kip Fulbeck's Part Asian/ 100% Hapa exhibition. I grew up outside of Seattle but since I left in 1991, I have never really had the chance to get to know Portland's arts and culture scene and truly capture the "Dream of the 90s."

With just 48 hours to explore, I came away with the impression that Portland is an organic foodie heaven with a crafty DIY arts culture and lot's of homeless advocates. Across the board, all the folks I met were very civically engaged. A new friend told me that she recently went to an unveiling ceremony for a public toilet that PHLUSH had been fighting for. If any of you have watched Portlandia, you know it's easy to make fun of (read the NY Time's review) but it's "weirdness" is also terribly endearing. I'm not sure how much fiscal sense this brand of liberalism all makes (they don't pay any sales tax...a totally shocking concept for me, coming from Chicago) but I enjoyed the book stores, good coffee, micro brews, local wines and knowing that the lamb burger with feta, dried apricots, pine nuts, roasted red onion, and spicy mint yogurt was from nearby Anderson Ranch. I didn't catch the name of the lamb or what his quality of life was but I'm sure if I asked the folks at Davis Street Tavern, they would have known. 

Keep Portland Weird
I visited the sprawling Nike campus in nearby unincorporated Beaverton, OR
Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center
Nicole Nathan, Director of Collections and Exhibits, and me at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center
Kip Fulbeck's Part Asian/100% Hapa exhibition on view at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center through Dec. 31, 2011
Dr. Patti Duncan, Associate Professor of Women's Studies at Oregon State University, leading a discussion on mixed race Asian American identity and a tour of the Fulbeck exhibit for APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon). We all went out for karaoke and dumplings later that night at the Voice Box. They specialize in infused sake cocktails and are known for their bacon cheeseburger dumplings.
Panel discussion moderated by Tim DuRoche with fellow Hapa and Critical Mixed Race Studies scholars/artists Emily Momohara and Dmae Roberts at the University of Oregon.
It's a small world! In the audience at the University of Oregon was a classmate of on of my Auntie Nora from Hilo, HI - Pam Mattys.
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Executive Director Mari Watanabe and artist Emily Momohara the morning after our panel discussion.
I walked through the gallery district near Portland's Chinatown - I especially enjoyed viewing NY-based artist Ming Fay: Full Circle at Butters Gallery. Read Bob Hick's review in the Oregonian. The show was a mini retrospective of Fay's work and it was great to see his new work alongside the older pieces. He's making these colorful spray foam blobs that read like over ripe fruit with candy petals.
Gallery owner David Butters looking at Ming Fay's work at Butters Gallery.
Another top pick is Rick Bartow: Coyote's Road through August 27th at Froelick Gallery
Rick Bartow's Bear Mother Dancing on Ignorance/Fear
They were still installing this show but if you are in Portland later this month, be sure to check out Niki McClure: Cutting her Own Path, 1996-2011 opening on August 18, 2011 at the Museum of Contemporary Craft

I didn't bother to stand in line for an hour at Voddoo Doughnuts. Every time I walked by there was a line out the door. Locals said that the best time to go is late at night.
If you go to Portland, be sure to grab a cup of coffee at Stumptown Coffee.
I asked the a barista at Stumptown where she suggested I go to lunch. She said they all eat at the food trucks but for something a little more upscale to try the new Little Bird Bistro. I was in a hurry to get to the airport so I just grabbed a soft roll, fried cod, celery root sandwich at the bar.