Tag: inspiration

Forest Park in the rain

Forest Park in the rain

I went for a walk through Forest Park with Alyson Provax on April 23, 2017, despite the promise of rain. We began on Leif Erikson Drive, at the top of NW Thurman Street. I generally start at the Lower Macleay Trail via Macleay Park – but a first hike with a long-time friend seemed like it warranted something other than my usual route. I wanted to look with new eyes, to consciously note the various textures and hues of the park. I studied my little guide to Forest Park’s native plants, coffee in hand, while I waited for Alyson to meet me – not unlike how I would study before a quiz when I was student. I am out of practice: I forgot at least half of the plant names, and the rain prevented much consultation of the book during the hike.

The rain fell in earnest almost as soon as we entered the woodier, windier part of the trail. We tried to shelter from the fat, wet drops under the viney branches of a young tree just beginning to shoot out its light-colored leaves. A few runners came by, each alone, and smiled laughingly at us as they went past, cautious of the slippery mud as it splashed up their calves but otherwise undeterred. If one wishes to make a regular habit of traversing the Park, one must make peace with damp and mud. We didn’t see any of them again. This is one of the magical properties of the many winding, interconnected trails: you can be surrounded by people and still alone.

I forgot what it was like to hike in the rain. It was beautiful and wonderfully quiet, with more things in bloom than I ever noticed before. We saw trillium – such a strange and elegant flower, with its three stark petals – often accompanied by little bursts of woodland violets (a misnomer, given their distinct yellow hue), fuzzy-budded Pacific waterleaf, salmonberry flowers in vivid pink, and little white petals floating down like snow from the bigleaf maple branches above. My favorite flowers were the Hooker’s fairy bells. They remind me, somehow, of bleeding heart.

Setting identification as a specific goal made me see Forest Park in a more complex way: each texture and shape, once named, became a distinct part of a whole, rather than a wash of tangled but monolithic greenery. I feel like I’ve taken the Park for granted, and am just now learning to appreciate it for itself.

You can read about how Forest Park came to be (much more recently in history than I had thought) via The Oregon Encyclopedia, a project of the Oregon Historical Society.

Mythologia at the Portland Art Museum

It’s not often that I get excited about an upcoming exhibition at the Portland Art Museum. Some of my favorite exhibitions, of course, were in the Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts (Piranesi’s etchings of Rome, Goya’s Los Caprichos, Käthe Kollwitz, Leonard Baskin, last year’s lithographs from Tamarind).

The upcoming exhibition, Mythologia: Gods, Heroes, and Monsters, was chosen in sympathy with the main exhibit, the 120 statues and objects from the British Museum’s collection of Greek and Roman art. I’ll go see that, of course, but what I’m really looking forward to is Mythologia. My work is concerned with myth, folklore, and symbolism derived from these shared stories. I’ve marked my calendar: Saturday, October 20th is the opening day. I’ll probably wait until a quiet weekday to go though; I prefer to have the Gilkey Center to myself as much as possible.

I love walking around on the squeaky parquet floor, looking at prints and drawings. It’s usually one of the quietest areas of the museum, and I can’t help but feel a special kind of comfort there – I was lucky enough to have my history of print class taught in one of the rooms attached to the gallery. It was where I first saw Max Klinger’s work, whose thoughts on the nature and unique purpose of the graphic arts, though arguably outdated, formed some part of the philosophy behind my thesis paper (and my approach to creating work).

The Storytellers

The Storytellers by Miss Birdsong
The Storytellers, a photo by Miss Birdsong on Flickr.

“The Storytellers” is my print for the 2012 PNCA Printmaking Portfolio Exchange. This is the fourth PNCA exchange in which I’ve had the pleasure to participate. It might be my last, and represents a milestone for the printmaking department: this is also the last year of teaching for Christy Wyckoff and Tom Prochaska, two teachers who have been with the department for many years. Change is inevitable, and not necessarily bad, but there is a little part of me that is sad about their retirement. The printmaking department has been like a second home to me for the last few years, and it’s hard to know that it will change. I’ve been very lucky to be Tom’s teaching assistant this academic year; I will be there for the last class he will teach.

Perhaps this kind of melancholy is partially responsible for the mood of my print, though the direct influence is the collection of Slavic folktales that caught my eye some months ago. Each of the three women has a distinct personality, as if each woman is reacting to the same stimulus in her own way. I imagine that they are the storytellers who shared those dark, funny, and cynical folk tales with a curious Englishman. The translation isn’t very good, but it gives the text the feeling of having been told in another language. Traditionally, folk tales are handed down orally from one generation to the next, picking up the lint of changing times and the personality of the teller. Some parts are emphasized, others left out, embellishments are thrown in on a whim. These women represent the link between one generation and the next through oral storytelling.

The theme for the exchange is “fact or fiction” (paper size is 9″ x 12″). Oral traditions occupy a nebulous space that is not fact or entirely fiction. They are by their very nature subjective; the stories express some kind of truth (the character and concerns of a given culture), but certainly do not relate historical facts. As a story changes from one teller to the next, does it lose integrity?  I believe that in our world of empirical knowledge, we often lose sight of the value inherent in the non-factual realm of story.

This is why we have people insisting, against all evidence and common-sense, that the Bible hasn’t changed since it was first penned (despite multiple translations, typos, and varying editions). People fear that if it is not factual that is has no meaning or value. This leads people to insist, very irrationally, that the Bible is a history book full of facts. The Bible really is a collection of stories, told orally for generations, that were eventually written down for sharing and preservation.

These women in my print certainly didn’t tell the stories in the Bible, but I imagine them telling me folk tales, many of which revolve around characters from the Bible and other important mythologies. I wouldn’t mind sitting in a room with them as they share and spin their tales. I’m also looking forward to the exchange, when I will get to see everyone else’s prints, and hear them tell the stories of how those prints came to be.

test proof: Bonfire on Fiesta Island

A few weeks ago, I flew down to San Diego so I could spend some time with Rachelle Houle-Maiser (of Five Feet of Dynamite). She is a very dear and long-time friend of mine, and it was wonderful to spend a weekend with her in Southern California, even if I managed to bring the overcast skies with me. (I was hoping to go home with just enough of a tan to make all my vitamin D deficient friends jealous. Tant pis.)

When I went down, I took a grounded copper plate with me. Why I did that when I couldn’t bring any of my very pointy drawing tools with me (I only packed a carry-on), I couldn’t say. I suppose I hoped I would find something suitable, but I didn’t look very hard.

This image is from a sketch I did from memory. I used absolutely no reference of any kind (a sort of scary situation for me), and just scribbled out a few marks. I won’t even show you the initial sketch because there was so little information in it.

When I landed back in Portland and got home to my etching tools, I finally got to draw on the plate. I redrew the sketch and added more detail. The image you see above is the first print I pulled from the first etch on the plate. There is more to be done, but I’m not going to invest too much in it.

This is my first embarkation into a world of sketchy, less-planned etchings. I will continue to make my meticulous ones too, but this approach allows me to stretch different muscles and exercise different skills.

I cannot leave this unsaid: I write backwards in cursive rather well. It is a trifle of a skill, but one that gives me joy to do well. Not many can do it; I suspect it’s because hardly anyone has a reason even to try, though I do suspect that the likelihood of being able to write backwards is higher among printmakers.

Dorothea Tanning, 1910–2012

Jerry Saltz on Dorothea Tanning, 1910–2012 — Vulture.

I would like to take a moment to remember Dorothea Tanning, who just passed away at the ripe age of 101.  I’ve long admired her wit, sense of humor, paintings, and (my favorite) her thoughts on being an artist who happens to have been born female.  Why are we still saddled with the label “woman artist”?  Can’t we just be artists?

Tanning’s Birthday painting is one of my favorites, and it’s a goal of mine to see it in person.  It was one of the few influential works that I discussed in my thesis paper at PNCA.

That is all I’m going to say, because so many others will say whatever else I could wish much more eloquently.  I’ll leave you instead with an interview from 1990 that I quite like:

Dorothea Tanning by Carlo McCormick – BOMB 33/Fall 1990.

Birthday by Dorothea Tanning
Birthday by Dorothea Tanning, 1942. In the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.