Southbound and Down

Have you ever had a museum all to yourself? It’s one of those freak occurrences that rarely happens, like going to a movie theater by yourself, and then the movie starts and you realize that no one else ever came in. Honestly, unless you’ve worked in a museum, it probably rarely happens.

In the spirit of dipping my toes back into the outer world, into things I once enjoyed before the mere presence of people (no matter how benign) was enough to be processed as a threat to my existence, I took a trip down to Salem, OR to visit the Hallie Ford Museum, the excuse being to check out the first phase of a two-part exhibition of prints from the Crow’s Shadow Retreat in eastern Oregon. I’d visited the Hallie Ford at least a couple of times before, and even the most crowded I’d ever seen it wouldn’t have qualified as even a slow day at the PAM or MoPOP (which is also no measure of the value and quality of the Hallie Ford), but there’s a considerable difference between a few other patrons and zero other patrons.

I walked up to the front desk, and told the woman that I had purchased a ticket for 2 PM.

She replied, “You must be Clayton!”

As she said that, I noticed another man who was wrapping up his visit, and that was the last non-employee I saw in the building during my time there. This was part of the appeal of the trip – during the last year, my only art viewing consisted of visiting a gallery in Portland that a couple of friends had a show up in last fall. Right before things really changed, I’d visited another gallery to see some enormous woodcut prints, and I remember doing that elbow bump thing we did for about three weeks with the artist before chatting with him for a while. So the steps the Hallie Ford is currently taking (I’m sure they’re on their website), combined with it not being jammed up with people made it an ideal location for me to put some art in my eyeballs.

I went knowing that the reason I was there – the prints in their Print Room – wasn’t really likely to be my cup of tea. That’s saying nothing about the quality of the work, simply that I rarely connect in a meaningful way with work that’s nature-oriented, regardless of medium. So I wasn’t putting a ton of weight on that part of the museum, this was a trip out to see something, hopefully spark some ideas. I generally liked the prints, I suspect some of them would have resonated a bit more if I’d watched an artist talk, gotten a better feeling for where each of the artists were coming from. And there was the matter of while these were prints, honest-to-God fine art prints, my chief experience as a printmaker has been in making etchings, some woodcuts, but never screen-printing or lithography. So I also didn’t have a toehold in technique to really immerse myself in the prints.

The first part of the museum I checked was on the main floor, I can’t recall the exact name for it, but it was a selection of work from Pacific Northwest artists, in a variety of media. It was in the middle of this exhibit that I saw the first piece that really grabbed my atttention. This is “Blondie,” an oil painting by Arvie Smith.

This is a lively, colorful painting that jumped off the wall in the midst of more mannered work. My real mental work started on this piece later, when I was preparing to post a pic of it on my Instagram stories (as I tend to do). The realization hit me, posting this piece in full is exactly the sort of thing that can get you suspended or banned from a platform. This is an aggressive, challenging piece of artwork that uses stereotypical imagery to make a point about that imagery itself. If a person who’s been targeted with this kind of imagery doesn’t have the right to address it, who does?

But on social media, online, none of that matters. Everything is binary, good or evil, racist or woke, ones or zeroes. There is no room for context, no time for deeper thought, and sure as hell no place for self-examination or admitting you were wrong about anything ever. You know, all the stuff that gives people a chance to be better at anything ever. The first reaction is all that matters, and that fellow in the bottom left, if posted on social media, would have been lightning rod for anyone who didn’t agree with me for any reason to run me off of that platform. I ended up posting a cropped version of the main figure on my stories, both neutering the artwork and making me question why on Earth I was participating in a platform that couldn’t deal with art that had anything meaningful to say.

In wandering through the building, there were some unexpected delights. There was an early Van Gogh painting (in Salem, OR!!!), a Diego Rivera painting, a Rodin sketch. The show of middle eastern coins was fascinating (the oldest being something like 1400 years old!). And then kitty corner from the Rivera painting was the other piece that really struck me. It’s called “Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a (very large) lithograph by Enrique Chagoya.

Similar to Arvie Smith’s piece, it’s colorful, energetic. There’s elements of found art incorporated throughout the piece, like little hidden jokes you stumble across, one after another. It speaks to optimism snarkily, a somewhat fatalistic look at the distance yet to be traveled, both literally for those seeking to find a new home, and metaphorically, in the distance between those people and acceptance from the people wherever they’re headed to. It plays with familiar imagery, and warps it for effect. It felt like an acknowledgment of the duality that people are having to flee to find a better life, but that maybe no best life exists. We all have work to do, distance left yet to travel.

I crossed paths with the lone security guard a couple of times, and talked to him for a couple of minutes before heading down to the lobby, where I talked with the woman at the front desk for a few minutes. All in all, I was there about an hour. I doubled back to look at those two aforementioned pieces a couple of times during that time, as well as getting another look at the Van Gogh. I’d paid for two hours of parking, but the last year has done a lot to erode my attention span, particularly away from home. Even with literally no one else around me for the vast bulk of my time, I reached the limit of my focus more quickly than I would have liked.

The second phase of the Crow’s Shadow Retreat prints opened this week (I believe), I hope to get back down there again in the next month or so to see the others, but also to spend some more time with some of those pieces that lodged themselves in my head on this trip.

Alice Neel at the Met

Earlier this month, the New York Times did an article about the Alice Neel retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum. She has been a hero of mine for a long time and I’m happy to see her getting this level of acknowledgment.

After reading the article I spent some happy hours poking around the internet and found this lovely portrait done by Neel (1900 – 1984). There’s a lot more out there, including some interesting interviews.

Guy’s Aunt, Oil on canvas, 1965

A Favorite Podcast

I listen to podcasts while I do mindless studio prep activities and while I walk the dog,  garden and clean. One of my very favorites is The “Anthropocene Reviewed”, written and presented by John Green. He “reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale”.  A recent episode was about Agnes Martin’s series of paintings, “With My Back to the World” and Hiroyuki Doi’s drawings. I give it 5 stars.

Image result for with my back to the world by agnes martin

Image result for hiroyuki doi

Local Color

I recently did a quick, completely unscientific, bit of internet research to find how many artists live and work in the Portland area. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive source for that information but, I did find a few interesting factoids:

  • A “Citylab” article written in 2017 says Portland/Vancouver had the 3rd highest “Location quotient” (that’s the artist to regular human ratio) in the country.  Los Angeles and New York City topped the list.
  • The Portland Open Studios Tour  has a substantial number of artists (as many as 100) who open up their workspaces to the public on 2 weekends each fall.
  • And according to the artists’ resource website, “Artists Network”, Portland is among the top 10 “leading art cities conducive to an artful life”

I’m not certain what “artful life” means, but presumably there is some quality drawing creative people to the area. And given the relatively large numbers, I wasn’t surprised to find a show of 2 local artists worth mentioning, when I visited  Elizabeth Leach Gallery  this week.

“Erosion”, by Christine Bourdette includes sculptures and drawings. Ryan Pierce’s “Hot Hex” has his latest large scale paintings. Both artists address issues of environmental degradation.

Christine Bourdette

Christine Bourdette – “Tectonic Shimmy”, 2019 – Vellum, pigment-based ink, wood and gesso

Christine Bourdette 1

Christine Bourdette – “Rift”, 2019 – Paper, pigment-based ink, sand, sawdust and gesso


“Erosion” also includes Bourdette’s graphite and colored pencil renderings of geologic formations.

Ryan Pierce

Ryan Pierce’s “Prospect (for David Buckel)”, done in 2018, is one of a number of paintings in his exhibit, “Hot Hex”.

More information about Bourdette and Pierce can be found at their websites:



What can I say. I do love textures and patterns, and I like to photograph them. Vacation photos are a smorgasbord of landscapes, plants, and textures, and in rare cases, people. I rarely use the photos for inspiration in my artwork, but I collect them. Organic, inorganic, natural, man-made, colorful, monochrome. It’s all about the texture.

texture 1
metal drums
texture 2
texture 3
grate through rainy windshield
texture 4
latte foam
texture 5
texture 6
pallets and pilings

6th State

We have reached the midway point in our Edition Variable’s “Group-of-Six” collaboration.  These pieces will cycle through our group one more time, as each artist has another chance to add to the “narrative” of each work.

Here are some highlights from the “6th State” of our collaboration:




5th State

Our artists have added more layers to each of our six canvases – here are the results:

“A Lullaby”   Sleep, my daughter, sleep, and when you wake to everything that’s quick and breathes in every part of you, dream, my daughter, dream.  – Gary Gildner Limberlost Press  1995


“Ask Me”   You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden, and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say.      William Stafford (excerpt) You Must Revise Your Life 1989


“Refuge”  I see the lamp, the face, the eye, an altar where the soul bows, a gladness and refuge. My loving says, “Here. I can leave my personality here.” My reason agrees!  “How can I object when a rose makes the bent backs stand up like cypresses?”  The Soul of Rumi (excerpt) trans. C. Barks 2001

insight and inspiration: Kenojuak Ashevak

Born and raised in western Canada, I have been interested in the prints and sculptures created by the Inuit artists of Canada for many years. This documentary about one most revered Inuit artists, Kenojuak Ashevak, was originally only available on the National Film Board of Canada’s website. I was happy to recently discover the 1964 video on YouTube. Hopefully, that means it will be available for many years so others can appreciate the rigors of travel across the snow-covered landscape by dog sled and spending the night in an igloo.

The documentary also shows how Kenojuak’s drawings are carved into stone and printed. Kenojuak Ashevak became the first woman involved with the printmaking co-operative in Cape Dorset. The West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset still exists and thrives. In 1978, Dorset Fine Arts was established in Toronto as the wholesale marketing division of the co-operative.

Preening Owl by Kenojuak Ashevak 1995

While I had studied Inuit art and I had seen a lot of work in galleries and museums, I had never met an Inuit artist. Several years ago, the Froelick Gallery hosted one of Cape Dorset’s artists, Saimaiyu Akesuk. I welcomed the rare opportunity to hear a contemporary Inuit artist share the origin and challenges of her artistic process and the details of a very different culture. While Akesuk no longer has to dog sled to the studio, it appears that that she and Kenojuak share a similar visual dialog steeped in their culture.

Counting Birds by Samaiyu Akesuk 2015

****** For those of you interested in following contemporary Inuit artists, Dorset Fine Arts, the wholesale marketing division of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, has an Instagram presence: @dorsetfinearts

West Coast Jazz – Louisville, Kentucky November 2018

“Deborah Spanton is currently exploring experimentation, variation, and improvisation, as well as reflecting upon the strange and unsettling mood in which those of us who call the United States home find ourselves living.  West Coast Jazz is her first exhibition east of the Rocky Mountains.  A painter and a printmaker, Spanton is a west coast artist through and through, her influences include the  pop-art themes and candied hues of Wayne Thiebaud, the wild southern California  landscapes of David Hockney, as well as the decidedly not-west-coast body-related work of Kiki Smith and Louise Bourgeois.”

— John Brooks,  QUAPPI Projects Gallery,  Louisville, KY

As part of her gallery show, Deborah invited the artists of Editionvariable to participate by riffing on one of her prints, an interior view.  Here are the results.