Various Venues, Portland

To confirm the current feeling that nothing artistic, cultural or otherwise goes on in Oregon, and that the West Coast is composed of Washington and California, it seems as if many useful purposes could be served by permanently closing the borders. For instance, exhibition chairmen, when faced with the problems of assembling a West Coast show, wouldn’t become confused upon realizing that some artists do actually exist in that chunky hunk of land between the two states.

One of the more agreeable benefits from sealing the borders would be the absence of such shows as the most recent one at Reed College in Portland. Assembled by the Curator of the San Francisco Museum of Art, this exhibition was brought here by a group of Reed College patrons who understandably might have assumed that any such show from California would be suitable for showing in Portland. A more uninspired, anaemic, mechanical, and less painterly show would be hard to find. The most generous thing one can say about these artists, who are from the David Cole and Rose Rabow Galleries in San Francisco, is that these paintings are poor examples of their (perhaps) more vital work. Some of us here in Portland have even been to San Francisco and know that more exciting things than this show indicated are going on down there. Some of the artists represented were Richard Bowman, Jerrold Davis, Faralla, Gordon Onslow Ford and Lee Mullican.

During November Louis Bunce had an exhibition of his most recent paintings at the Fountain Gallery, and both artistically and financially, the show was extremely successful. Bunce is a landscape-oriented painter but in his recent paintings he seems to have made a conscious effort to use figurative elements (as the figure is never too specific this trend is perhaps only temporary). The great strength of the show is in the structure of the paintings. For a number of years Bunce has been interested in ambiguous spatial ideas and has always been concerned with the formal elements of painting—in this show the additional interest has been to saturate the canvases with moods, evidenced by such titles as Constant Irritation, In And Out and Secret. If there is a weakness in the show, albeit a minor one, it is that some of the paintings appear quite different from others because he moves from the organic figure-related form to a much more generalized structural form. For instance, there is a vast difference between the slab-like forms of Tapestry and the more open drawing of Presence.

Portland State College held a painting and sculpture exhibition during November called “Measure 8” which included works by Jay Backstrand, Jon Colburn, Bert Garner, Jim Hibbard, Margo MacKusik, Eric Marcoux, Jerry Vanderline and Don Wilson. Vanderline is a recent graduate of Portland State and the others are all fairly recent graduates of the Museum Art School. Particularly impressive were the works of Jim Hibbard whose paintings, although visually quiet, were lively and mature. Most of his paintings were related in subject matter to junk shops, but the more successful ones used this theme as a jumping-off point to a more abstract expression of great space, darkness and quiet. Backstrand and Colburn also had some excellent paintings in this exhibition.

“The New Landscape,” the November exhibition at the Image Gallery was a misnomer unless, of course, one was completely unacquainted with the old landscape. However, it was a very interesting show, rich in color, and indicated that the Oregon landscape does indeed look very different from the oriental mystic landscape of Washington and the arid horizontal landscape of California. Although many of the artists take their inspiration from specific locations, all of the paintings were seasoned with ideas and attitudes which have more to do with contemporary art than with surrounding nature or the regional qualities of the landscape. Duck Pond, by B. J. Gardner (with its orange-blue contrasts), Nightfall, Portland by LaVerne Krause, and Western Exposure by George Johanson were some of the more notable paintings.

“Winter Drawing Show Number One” at the Image Gallery during December was, as a whole, fresh and good. A drawing show such as this one gives a more candid idea of what each individual artist’s thoughts and concerns are before they can be distilled into a painting. Plus their regular contributors, the Image included some good drawings by a few out-of-state artists: Ralph Johnson and James Balyeat (Univ. of Calif. at Davis), Bill Hixon (Seattle), and James McGarrell (Indiana).

Harry Widman is currently having an exhibition of his most recent paintings at the Portland Art Museum and it is impossible not to be struck with the difference between this show and the one which he had several months ago at the Image Gallery. The earlier paintings seemed cool, two-dimensional, and structurally related to the all-over composition of Mark Tobey. The present paintings, almost all large canvases, have a definite emotional commitment, and the all-over form has given way to larger massed areas. They are more spatial, more controlled and more varied in color. The color relationships are unusual in that there is a bleached quality and an intensity at the same time. The feeling in the paintings is more intense than anything he has done before and results in a very exciting show.

The Portland Art Museum is also showing an exhibition of paintings, reliefs in wood and cement, and sculptures by Gonzalo Fonseca, and an exhibition of 20th Century Drawings from the Museum of Modern Art. Fonseca, an Uruguay-born artist presently living in New York, is a former student and follower of Torres-Garcia. The symbols which he uses, ladders, moons, fish, clocks, etc., are similar to those used by Garcia and seem by now to have lost much of their potency. One certainly responds with the intellect but surely with less emotion than the artist would like.

P. Burnham