Various Venues, Portland

Continuing for varying lengths of time through April in Portland were: paintings by Ben Shahn at Reed College; the 34th International Exhibition of Northwest Printmakers at the Portland Art Museum and “100 Contemporary Prints from Greece” at Portland State College.

The Shahn show included 30 works by the artist from 1931 to 1958, some brush and ink drawings but mostly tempera and watercolor paintings. The latter, generally, were bright, flat and satiric. Titles give some idea: Destroying Wine, Exterior of a Closed Bar, (from the artist’s Prohibition Series of 1933–34), Laissez Faire—1947 an athletic knuckle fest, and Maternity Clinic—Do I Deserve Prenatal Care? dated 1940. In all of these we saw the dry and brittle line and acrid wit one associates with Klee, Grosz and Steinberg. Shahn’s composition is enormously elegant; his colors, beautiful. Form is of the symbolic sort; that is, a meaty projection with two holes in it—somewhat properly situated—makes a nose. Most of the paintings, including the comparatively recent pieces of the Lucky Dragon series were loans from the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, both of New York, and the Museum of the City of New York.

The German esthetician Lessing uttered a mouthful when he said: “Keep each of the arts within its own natural territory.” At the Printmaker’s Annual at the Portland Museum were prints which looked like sculpture under glass and some which resembled paintings, also under glass. Perhaps the revolt in the visual arts has gone too far. More items than we care to think about end in incommunicable symbolism or primitive decorative hedonism. Emotion is very private, very precious. Of the abstractionists, only Jennifer Dickson’s color etching Moon over Water, and Kenneth Auvil’s serigraph The Sentinels struck one as being neither thin nor trite. Possibly to this list should be added the color etchings of Vera Berdich and Janet E. Turner, the woodcut by Mary Chenoweth and the serigraphs of John Solem and Joseph Fay. What disappoints in this assemblage of 148, of which approximately one-quarter are from western Europe, are the obvious formulas of drawing and of stylistic evocation employed, unfortunately, more for their own sake than for any useful expressive purpose.

Twenty Greek printmakers were represented by 100 proofs at Portland State. “The artists,” said the brochure which accompanied the display, “all belong to the generations of the two world wars. . . Theirs is the work of individuals who lived through the dramatic years of those wars and the revolutions in art which followed.” Euthymius Papadimitriou, one of the pioneers of cubism in Greece; Nicolaos Ventouras, one of the first abstract engravers and followers are represented by grayish woodcuts, lithographs and intaglios which owe much to Picasso and Braque. One had the impression these pictures were chosen from considerations of visibility rather than subtlety.

Astounding in its implications was the announcement this month by interior designers for Portland’s fast rising, slab-like 23-story Hilton Hotel that the hostelry will be adorned with pieces of art by the natives.

David T. Williams and his assistant, Ron Barrows, recently approved final master sketches for 637 serigraphs by Louis Bunce and R. Bert Garner. The prints will be the Conrad Hilton’s second heaviest investment in local art since the commission last year by hotel architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill for a fountain sculpture by Portland artist Tom Hardy. The pictures will eventually hang in the hotel’s 500 bedrooms. Paintings by Louis Bunce, Robert Colescott, Richard Davis, Mary Davis, Frances Van Hevelingen and Michele Russo are also being considered.

At the Image Gallery this past month Charles Heaney, a retired Portland jewelry engraver and close personal friend of the late C. S. Price, exhibited some enormous landscapes on relatively small canvases. Stretches of the sage-land in the southeast part of the state and the Steens mountains are Heaney’s most effective subjects. They are painted at some moment after sundown or before sunrise, in pinks and lavenders and delicious browns . . . At Marylhurst College, “artist-of-the-month” was Eugene Pizzuto, associate professor of art at the University of Washington. He displayed brush and ink landscapes and a number of action paintings composed of complexes of free, vivid strokes—some of which evoked geological, foliage and other natural forms . . . At the Tunnel Gallery, Chester Murphy came on with a show of oils—coastal landscapes principally—in the best tradition of the Christmas Card. The Tunnel, scene of bootlegging activities in the 30’s, has become a haven for those who completely reject the fresh life breathed into much of today’s art.

Andy Rocchia