Art crawl for one

I extended my 3-day Labor Day weekend into 4 days by taking Friday off from work. I slept in, took the poodle for a quick bathroom run around the block, then returned to dawdle over oatmeal for breakfast. I added enough frozen blueberries to make it deep purple and added enough granola and maple syrup to make it taste like candy. I drank lots of coffee.

I took the poodle out for an extended walk through North Portland’s Pier Park (which you may recognize from the television show Grimm). With the pup sufficiently tuckered, I showered and dressed and drove downtown. I planned to look at art.

Parking was harder than I expected. I’ve become used to Pandemic Parking in an empty downtown. But this delay was fine. I was inadvertently timing my arrival for 15 minutes after opening. Perfect.

My first stop was Laura Vincent. The doors were locked and the lights were off. My next stop was also closed. Galleries do not open on time.

I walked around the Pearl district seein’ stuff. I gawked at all the new things that grew up when I wasn’t looking, and watched crews preparing the park blocks for some kind of festival. I caught sight of the gallery manager unlocking the door, so I made my way there.

At Laura Vincent, I saw works on paper by Clive Knights.

“Returned” - Collage on paper, mounted on panel

Knights’ collages are surprising. They appear to be so painterly, yet they are flat like glass. These images evoke mountains and water and seem to tell stories, but then become entirely abstract when stepping back a few feet.

I liked these enough, I bought the catalog.

I chatted with the gallery manager a bit, we talked about how Knights had just returned from a residency in France. I wondered how all this art made it back from Paris. She told me that all the works were created on paper, then later mounted onto panels. I like getting a little behind the scenes info like that. We chatted some more. I lamented that I don’t do this often enough. She added me to their event email list.

Next I stopped by Froelick Gallery to see some little landscapes by Benny Fountain.

“Night Lights in Idaho” - Oil on Panel - Benny Fountain

These paintings are tiny. 8” x 10” or so. I walked by these at first to look at some giant, lavish, abstract paintings in the back gallery.

But I came back and lingered. This body of work includes landscape paintings from Palouse, Idaho and Provence, France. They are very minimal paintings. Literally, as in there’s very little paint. The economy of the images is striking. There’s just enough there to capture the scene and nothing more. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s really hard to be so sparing.

A student painter begins by conserving their paint. Stretching it out with lots of thinner. After critique and admonishment, students begin to lavish paint on their canvases. Fountain’s paintings are way at the other end of that spectrum. Where needed, the oils are applied heavily, elsewhere the primed panel lay bare.

I wanted to stop into Augen Gallery, next door. They are still observing COVID protocols and my mask was in my car’s glove box, several blocks away.

I left feeling like painting is really neat and I should go make some. I walked over to Blick’s art supply store. (Everything in downtown Portland is walkable). I picked up two 2’ x 3’ canvases and one 2’ x 2’ canvas. I had plans for these canvases.

Before heading home, I stopped in to Russo Lee Gallery.

Installation view of work by Mary Josephson

After my experience with Beeny Fountain’s little paintings - paintings that grew on me until I loved them - I tried really hard to get something out of this show.

But this smells too much like art school and I cannot connect with it.

The gallerist at Russo Lee mentioned she was just going to step over there for a moment, and would be right back if I had any questions. I silently bolted out the door once she was out of sight.

I went home with my brain tingly and ready to get to work. I unwrapped my canvases (I measured them this time). I have a number of big canvas prints rolled up, standing in the corner, waiting for action. I selected two, opting to leave one canvas in the chamber for later.

After lengthy reflection - I chose the best two, the two that can become completed paintings.

Prints on canvas, mounted to stretched canvases, ready for painting.

I should play hooky more often. It’s productive.

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