Visual Chronicle of Portland: new acquisitions now on view

Visual Chronicle of Portland: new acquisitions now on view

Toward the end of last year, Polygons No. 5 (Oregon Blueberries) was acquired by the Regional Arts & Culture Council for the Visual Chronicle of Portland collection. A special exhibition of all new acquisitions made during 2016/17 is now on view at the Portland Building, through April 21, 2017. Visual Chronicle works normally move around, exhibiting on rotation in different public buildings throughout Portland – so this is a rare opportunity to see many from the collection at once, and probably the only opportunity to see all recent acquisitions together.

Polygons No. 5 (Oregon Blueberries) is also one of the pieces I keep referencing regarding works I’m proposing for PDX-CSA. Learn more and buy in before April 16.

An edition of my first handmade book, A Means of Centering the Mind, also found a home in a collection at the end of 2016, in the Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College in Claremont, California.

Acquisitions like these are important: they allow artwork to remain accessible to the public, making sure that culture is not accessible only to the top income-earners; they offer essential financial support, particularly to early- and mid-career artists – even those whose work may not be suited to commercial galleries. The National Endowment for the Arts is responsible for supporting a multitude of organizations across the United States, including the Regional Arts and Culture Council. RACC makes Oregon a great place to be an artist, and I have certainly benefitted directly from their programs.

Unfortunately, the National Endowment for the Arts is on the chopping block in the current proposed national budget. If you are a U.S. citizen, please contact your representatives to let them know that the NEA is essential, and that you are against de-funding the arts.

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A Means of Centering the Mind, 2009-15, accordion book, 4.75 x 3 x .25 inches (closed), ed. of 6.
Community Supported Art

Community Supported Art

Earlier this year, I was invited to participate in the PDX-CSA program. The spirit of it is why I agreed: it offers affordably-priced original artwork at the concept stage, meant to encourage aspiring and nascent art collectors to invest (their reward being not only the finished art, but following along as the artists create the work), while offering artists a measure of financial security for their project yet preserving their creative autonomy (unlike most private commissions).

The individual projects are all priced at $175 or less, while “pairings” (related yet independent work by two simpatico artists) offer the opportunity to purchase two projects at a small (around 10%) discount: an instant collection.

I proposed small gouache pantings, in the manner of the Polygons series, focused around Portland’s Forest Park. $175 is probably the least anyone will ever pay for one of my original paintings, making the individual buy a great deal – and the pairing with Alyson Provax even better. I’ve long admired her work, and I’m thrilled by the chance to share ideas, influences, and hikes through our famed city wilderness.

Pre-buy now through April 16, 2017.

Heather Lee Birdsong and Alyson Provax, PDX CSA artist pairing.

Polygons Process: Sketchbook to Sketchup to Substrate

The sketches I make when preparing a new Polygons painting look simple, but it takes quite a bit of time to draw each form. I draw, erase, redraw, making smaller and smaller movements as I get closer to what feels right. The way they lean, the balance of obtuse and sharp angles, the height to width ratios, are all gestures invested with emotional resonance. It is deliberately analogous to the way I think of people: I remember them less from their looks or names, and instead think of people in terms of how they feel – how they inhabit space, the emotional resonance of their interactions. Over time, people who feel similarly begin to blur together in my memory.

Once I’m satisfied with the shapes, I reconstruct them in Sketchup and move them around. This program gives me incredible latitude to play with them, establishing spacial relationships that evoke narrative.

When the drawing is resolved, I redraw the whole scene on a flat, bright piece of hot-pressed paper. The final part, which is often the most difficult, is the color. I probably spend more time mixing than anything else – there are very few out-of-the-tube hues in my work. I like gouache for its flatness and ability to be rewet after it dries on the palette.

I’m not yet sure what color these ones will be. The colors I drop in with Sketchup may establish an overall tone, but they rarely carry over to the actual painting.

New work in polygons

New work in polygons

For the last several weeks I’ve been painting instead of making prints. I was feeling a bit of an itch to paint, it’s true, but the primary factor is that printmaking is difficult to do without the right equipment and supplies – supplies too toxic or messy, and equipment too expensive or cumbersome for a one bedroom apartment with two humans and a graceless cat. Gouache is easier. Cleaner, faster, smaller, lighter.

I think all artists fantasize about possessing endless, or at least very generous, resources that allow for the freedom to create whatever is in our heads. But the reality is that restrictions of time, space, and (mother of all) economics often shape our practices. The years for this struggle are long and arduous: it takes time to build relationships with art dealers, curators, consultants, collectors and institutions. Extraordinary work (we hope) must happen within the most quotidian constraints.

Recognizing the practical limitations I must contend with for now, I began painting in gouache. I thought of them as studies, at first: rough, unfinished little things that I would dream up bigger, better, someday. My partner chided me for calling them studies. “What are they studies of?” he asked. I said something very clever, I’m sure, but I was dissembling. I was afraid to invest in them. What if they didn’t work out? I haven’t painted in years. Shortly after that conversation, I stopped calling them studies.

These six are, I believe, a solid beginning. It’s so satisfying to work serially, to give myself a wide but coherent land to explore. I’m excited to see where these take me – which might be the best and most satisfying way to feel in the creative process.

This week: SGCI in Portland

This week: SGCI in Portland

The annual Southern Graphics Council International Conference is happening right here in Portland, Oregon from March 31 through April 2, 2016. Even if you aren’t a member of SGCI and aren’t officially attending the conference, many events are free and open to the public – including a few exhibitions I’m involved with: two as exhibitor and one as curator.

Iteration includes work by ten PNCA professors, staff and alumni. Mastery/Emergence features work by PAN members and Emerging Printmakers Residency graduates. The exhibition I curated at UpforVariable States: Prints Now, considers the intersection of printmaking and technology through work by eight artists from all over the United States.

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Iteration: printmaking pop-up

March 31 – April 2, 2016
Reception March 31, 6:00–8:00pm
Hand-Eye Supply: 427 NW Broadway, Portland, OR

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Mastery/Emergence: PAN Members & Emerging Printmakers

March 30 – June 1, 2016
Reception April 1, 5:00–8:00pm
ECOpdx: 2289 N Interstate, Portland, OR

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Variable States: Prints Now

March 3 – April 9, 2016
SGCI NW Gallery Walk: March 31, 6:00–8:00pm
Artist talk: Brenna Murphy & Alyson Provax
Saturday, April 2 at 2:00pm
Upfor: 929 NW Flanders Street, Portland, OR

I will mediate the conversation between Brenna Murphy and Alyson Provax, centered around the co-evolution of printmaking and digital media, and how that relates to their respective practices. Murphy, working primarily in digital media, uses 2D and 3D printing and computer-aided design to manifest her ideas. Provax works in letterpress, silkscreen and etching; she recently began using these techniques to create animated gifs and digital video works.