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VizArts Monthly: Community and Abstraction

The delightful vagueness of the term abstract means that it is a perfect binder for many of October's art offerings. Also this month, Portland Open Studios celebrates its 25th anniversary and the Sitka Art International celebrates its 29th year.


When I first began studying art and art history, my first love was American Abstract Expressionist painting, particularly the work of Joan Mitchell. Mitchell was an undoubtedly prolific painter and formidable creative force, hailing from Chicago yet living in France for most of her forty-year-long career. Mitchell’s work embodied everything that made me fall in love with Abstract Expressionism: unapologetic gestures that energetically sweep the lengths of her canvases; concentrated colors, smeared and dragged and pulled in puddles and drips; equal amounts of tenuous quiet and rambunctious loud, perhaps more in feeling than in visual presence. Her paintings are jazz, orchestrating chaos and controlled technique in ways better felt than articulated with words. 

Of course, not every Abstract Expressionist painting works in this same way. In fact, it would be naive to lump every expression of abstraction together, to assume more similarities between them than differences. This is the beauty and thrill of the vagueness of the term abstract. The artists who worked with abstraction as a working method in the mid-twentieth century (and even to this day) use(d) it to tap into various realms of the human experience: the tangible, the ethereal, the psychic, the psyche, the collective unconscious, the emotional, and so on. Such is also the beauty and excitement of abstraction–its ability to serve as an entry point, an illustration, or a way to process the heights and depths of human experience. It’s one of those things that can be rarely explained or articulated, and yet is used to explain or articulate other unexplainables in its own language.

As I was gathering this month’s featured exhibitions, it became clear that abstraction as a language was not just a common thread across the selections, but that it stands alive and well today. As Shane McAdams writes for the exhibition Intuitive Nature: Geometric Roots & Organic Foundations at the Schneider Museum of Art, “abstraction has endured as a language. What didn’t kill it made it stronger. Like any language it has laid foundations, weathered assaults, incorporated foreign elements, invented vocabulary, made rules, broken them, thrown them away, and clawed some of them back.” In the case of Intuitive Nature, the exhibiting artists use it as a way to address its own positions in a historical lineage and the methodology of abstraction at large. David Schell’s Casual Plans at Augen Gallery and You Ni Chae and Brad Mildrexler at Adams and Ollman use the language to push us to think about perception, encounter, and the delight of color and texture–a delight of the senses that will hopefully carry us gently into the fall as the summer sun fades.

abstract multicolored work dominated by yellow and blue rectangles at top and a multi-hued chalice shape on the bottom
Work by Jason Stopa. Image courtesy the artist and Diane Rosenstein Gallery.

Intuitive Nature: Geometric Roots & Organic Foundations
October 5 – December 9
Schneider Museum of Art
555 Indiana Street, Ashland (Tues – Sat 10am – 4pm)

The Schneider Museum of Art reopens after a brief closure with Intuitive Nature: Geometric Roots & Organic Foundations, a survey of eight artists working in contemporary abstract painting and sculpture curated by SMA Executive Director Scott Malbaurn. The exhibition taps into a lineage of abstraction that draws deeply upon explorations of geometric form and bold color, unbound by traditional materials or canvas boundaries. Explorations and formal experiments with light and found or repurposed objects make one think of Carmen Herrera’s paintings or perhaps Dan Flavin’s sculptures. History aside, this new generation of abstract artists lend new voices to and generate fresh excitement for the well-established conversation of formalism, abstraction, and color.

painting of three men - one in a red seater vest and one in white shirt and cap, third in the lower corner with black glasses and a dark cap. A zebra bust is in the background
Work by Isaka Shamsud-Din. Image courtesy Portland Art Museum.

In the Galleries with Black Artists of Oregon
Part of Black Artists of Oregon
October 14, 11am – 4pm
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave, Portland

While Black Artists of Oregon, curated by Intisar Abioto, opened last month (with a spectacular, music-filled opening ceremony!), the exhibition continues its residency with additional programming and special events. On October 14, Black Artists of Oregon will host “In the Galleries” from 11am to 4pm, a series of talks from Portland-based illustrator Eatcho and participating artist Tammy Jo Wilson, along with a performance of works by the late jazz musician David Ornette Cherry by Naima Karlsson and Roman Norfleet titled One Drop to Victory. For members of the Portland Art Museum, an exclusive after-hours viewing will be held on October 12 from 5:30pm-7:30pm. Members will have the opportunity to talk to Abioto, PAM curator of Northwest Art Grace Kook-Anderson, along with some of the exhibiting artists.

rhomboid shape in green with colored  rectangles oriented vertically
Work by David Schell. Image courtesy Augen Gallery.

Casual Plans
David Schell
October 5 – 28
Augen Gallery
716 NW Davis, Portland (Tues – Sat 11:30am – 5pm, and by appointment)

In his most recent solo exhibition with Augen Gallery, David Schell continues to not only intellectually explore but also to casually delight in the pleasure of looking at shape and color. Schell’s irregularly-shaped canvases typically push his viewers to think of them as more than paintings on flat, mutable surfaces, but as independent, almost-sculptural objects themselves, but his new works in Casual Plans focus on the play that emerges from toying with color theory. Think: intensely saturated colors that vibrate when laid on top or next to each other that probably shouldn’t work when put together but somehow do. While you’re there, be sure to also check out Morgan Walker’s exhibition of folk-mythical paintings, Watermelon Song.

installation view of irregularly shaped ceramic work by Brad Mildrexler
Installation view of work by Brad Mildrexler. Image courtesy Adams and Ollman.

You Ni Chae and Brad Mildrexler
September 22 – October 21
Adams and Ollman
418 NW 8th Avenue, Portland (Wed – Sat 11am – 4pm)

The latest two-person show at Adams and Ollman features new works by You Ni Chae and Brad Mildrexler, two artists living on different coasts and working in different mediums, yet brought together by deep material curiosity and explorations of sensorial delight. Chae’s primary work in oil painting taps the history of Dansaekhwa painting with influence from Buncheong ceramics, exploring pigment and color in ways that warble delicately but perhaps contradictorily between pure abstraction and loose representation. Mildrexler’s approach to sculpture mimics the natural world, conjuring likenesses of cliff sides or pitted stalactites through experimentations with happenstance textures, unique glazes, and atypical materials such as wine bottles or scrap metal.

six photo collage of artists at work in eluding painting at easel, printmaking and using major power tool
Image courtesy Portland Open Studios.

Portland Open Studios – 25th Anniversary
October 14–15, 21–22

This October marks the 25th anniversary of Portland Open Studios, a nonprofit founded in 1998 focused on community building and showcasing art guided by a “meet the maker” ethos. During the second and third weekends of October, over 100 artists across Portland and the greater area open their studio doors for a behind-the-scenes look at their work and workspaces. Media approaches by the selected artists range from paint to ink, encaustics to ceramics, sculpture to print, and much more, offering appeal to almost any creative interest. To commemorate this quarter-century anniversary, Portland Open Studios will be offering a limited edition printed studio guide unique to this year as memorabilia, available for a suggested donation.

green sculpture of a your deer (potentially kangaroo) in a reclining position -posterior made of plants, leaves, petals
Work by Rachel Denny. Image courtesy Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.

Sitka Art Invitational
October 13 – 15
Oregon Contemporary
8371 North Interstate Ave. (11am – 5pm)

Literary Arts Presents the Portland Book Festival Portland Oregon

Oregon Contemporary hosts the 29th Sitka Art International, an annual fine art event aimed at connecting nature-inspired artists with new audiences as well as raising proceeds to benefit both the artists and Sitka Center’s nonprofit programs. This year’s invitational was juried by a panel of curators, artists, and directors, including Reuben Tomás Roqueñi, Yaelle Amir, Ashley Stull Meyers, Ebenezer Galluzzo, Patricia Giraud, and Patty Maly, who spent two months reviewing and selecting an impressive roster of 100 artists across a diverse range of mediums. The Invitational exhibition and sale opens first to Sitka Members on October 13 at 10am, then to the general public until October 15th. 

photograph of a wetland with seaweed and barnacled rocks
Work by Rich Bergeman. Image courtesy Walters Cultural Art Center.

Hidden Worlds
October 3 – November 24
Walters Gallery, Walters Cultural Arts Center
527 E. Main Street, Hillsboro (Mon – Thurs 9am – 9pm, Fri 9am – 5pm)

Featuring the work of Ed Labadie, Michael Loen, Rich Bergeman, and Tyler Geel, Hidden Worlds situates itself in a long-standing fascination of finding latent imagery or narratives in the visually abstract– some sort of order within chaos, if you will. While Labadie, Loen, and Geel take painterly approaches to abstraction through emotive gesture and free-form mark-making, Bergman’s use of photography flips the exhibition’s theme to search for the ethereal and haunting within the tangible through his exploration of the infrared light spectrum. 

red background with dual-lobed cutouts revealing newsprint - vegetal decorative elements in brown beneath each cutout
Work by Serhat Tanyolacar. Image courtesy the artist.

In-Between Poetical Absurdities
Serhat Tanyolacar
October 18 – November 17
Linfield Art Gallery, Miller Fine Arts Center at Linfield University
900 SE Baker St, McMinnville (Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm, Sat 12pm – 5pm)

Turkish artist and assistant professor at Linfield University Serhat Tanyolacar presents a solo exhibition of his work across performance, printmaking, and multimedia explorations titled In-Between Poetical Absurdities. Tanyolacar’s work, which has lately taken the form of laser-engraved relief prints, takes poetic approaches to consciousness-raising, pushing against socio-political injustices. Tanyolacar particularly looks at concerns of human rights, consumerism, and censorship in the Republic of Turkey, where he was born, as well as the United States of America. 

print with groin vaulted interior church space, two figures with heads obscured by purple haloes
Work by Beth Robinson. Image courtesy Alliance of OCAC Alumni.

The Close Read: OCAC Alumni 2023 Biennial
October 7 – 29
X Gallery Art Storage
815 SE Grant St., Portland (Sat – Tues, Thurs 10am – 4pm)

The Alliance of Oregon College of Art & Craft Alumni (AOCACA) present their biennial exhibition, curated by former OCAC gallery manager Sam Hopple. The exhibition features 28 alumni across a variety of years from the former private art and craft college, which closed its doors in 2019, brought together under Hopple’s curatorial interest in exploring the present through examinations of the past. Craft, here, is not just the method of technique or creation–it is the “spectral thread” that brings the works together. In addition to an opening reception on October 7 from 5pm-8pm, the exhibition will hold a panel discussion hosted by Karl Burkheimer on October 28 at 2pm.

Jason N. Le (they/them) is a Vietnamese American writer, thinker, and curator based in Portland, Oregon. Their academic background lies in art history and critical theory, focused on postwar American art, identity politics, performance theory, and the genealogy of arts criticism. They hold degrees from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and Portland State University, and their other critical arts writing can be found at Art & About PDX.


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