“A lot of those Old Portland spaces and faces are gone now, but there is a part of that old town, the town that raised me, that remains. If you want to really get to know my city, it’s worth getting to know some of the people and places that made Portland a pretty cool place to be, long before Fred and Carrie got here and started putting birds on everything.”
Writing for Thrillist in 2018, author Kashann Kilson discusses what it’s like to have grown up in Portland, Or. While they lament the disappearance of dive bars where you could get an excellent burger on the cheap, they simultaneously celebrate some of the changes the city’s undergoing. As they put it, Portland in the ’90s was “a town where young people couldn’t wait to leave.”
Kilson also goes on to lament the decline in diversification in the wake of The Great Recession. Increasingly, marginalized communities are pushed out to “the numbers” east of 82nd Street. It’s a complicated feeling, when you’re simultaneously thrilled about the influx of new artists and communities, looking for a place to be themselves and live their best lives.
As Kilson notes, Old Portland is still here, you can see it in the Ghost Signs of Old Town and the odd, eccentric ephemera and bric-a-brac that is impossible to ignore, like the horse rings that line our streets.
New Portland is growing up around the skeleton of the Old Portland. Its ghost is still here, inhabiting the present, animating its bones with its weird, witchy dance.
“The Ghost of Old Portland is still here, inhabiting the present, animating its bones with its weird, witchy dance.”
All of this is made manifest during First Thursday, Portland’s monthly art crawl, where galleries unveil their new exhibits and openings. It’s the easiest, best way to get a glimpse and an overview of the Portland art scene, in its current iteration.
November 2019’s First Thursday was an example of Portland’s roots as well as an example of where it’s headed. Folk and outsider art were well represented, as a nod to Pdx’s funky, quirky side but high-quality, museum-ready pieces were also in no short supply.
Take a stroll through First Thursday and find yourself excited and renewed about the present and future of Portland, Oregon! We’re still here, as weird as ever.
November 2019 First Thursday @ PNCA; Portland, Or.
Let us start by stating the obvious. There are a lot of galleries that participate in First Thursday every month. Suffice it to say, we saw as much as we could. In this instance, our reviewer was just one skinny, witchy boy, hustling like mad to take in as much as possible. There’s only so much that two eyes and two legs can see in a 3-hour span.
Considering the wide array of different styles, techniques, and communities on display, it’s hard to say if there’s any kind of cohesive local identity to Portland’s art scene. A focus on activism and social justice is one common thread that united many of the gallery shows we observed. A reverence for the natural world and for local indigenous cultures was also nearly ubiquitous.
It does seem that there is a regional identity to the local art scene. You’ve just got to dig for it. First Thursday is one way to delve into the local psychosphere in search of dreams, memories, visions.
We’re going to focus on one group of shows, for starters, from the always-fabulous Pacific Northwest College of Art
Pacific Northwest College of Art
PNCA’s collection of exhibits for First Thursday was pure class, as always. The local art and design school featured numerous displays throughout their many gallery and communal spaces, showcasing both student work as well as a traveling exhibit.
Organize Your Own: Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements
Activist-minded individuals in 2019 are faced with a conundrum. How to support and spread awareness around causes yr passionate about, without derailing or taking over the conversation?
This conundrum can leave those who don’t belong to the demographics being primarily affected by societal ills to feel that they can’t speak out, or about, certain topics.
This conversation serves as the focal point for Organize Yr Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements, a traveling exhibit originally founded in Philadelphia in 2016 and now traveling the gallery circuit throughout North America.
Speaking to the need for organizing and activism within one’s own community, one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Stokely Carmichael, said “One of the most disturbing things about almost all white supporters of the movement has been that they are afraid to go into their own communities – which is where the racism exists – and work to get rid of it. They want to run from Berkeley to tell us what to do in Mississippi; let them look instead at Berkeley… Let them go to the suburbs and open up freedom schools for whites.”
Organize Your Own is a group show of newly commissioned work, speaking to the complications of creating activist-minded artwork, and why it’s necessary to do so. It also featured artwork and promotional materials surrounding the show, including event posters and prints, showcasing art and amplifying the voices of different marginalized groups.
Dave Pabellon‘s c/o Jalenta is a fine example of art and design coming together to speak to under-served communities. Inspired by the poem “Hands” by Peggy Terry from the 1972 chapbook Time Of The Phoenix, Pabelton translates the text into American Sign Language (ASL), to reach a community who may otherwise miss out on the moving, incantatory powers of Terry’s original text.
Text-based arts were well on display throughout Organize Your Own, as can be seen from Mary Patten’s Words For Today, pencil drawings of several influential works on African-American art, including a poem by Langston Hughes. Patten’s pencil drawings also offer a moving visual metaphor for the way that African-American voices are often drowned out in the conversation around art and activism. The text is washed-out, almost impossible to decipher. It drives the point home in a way that a hundred long-winded thinkpieces or academic essays ever could.
Taken as a whole, the words and images seemed to spring to life – ebullient, vibrant, dripping with passion – in a way that individual mediums never could.
It’s a compelling vision of why visual art, interdisciplinary artforms, and group shows, are more important than ever – fostering conversations and bringing communities together, breaking art out of the frame and into our real lives and consciousness.
Organize Your Own is on display in the Center For Contemporary Arts and Culture in the 511 Building of PNCA.
Artists On Display In Organize Your Own:
Anna Martine Whitehead (with Thread Makes Blanket)
Helen Shiller’s Keep Strong Magazine photo archives
Society Editions collaboration with the poets of the Young Patriots Organization
“We are Hilltop, a group of makers whose shared foundation at the Oregon College of Art & Craft has deeply informed our process – a process rooted in intentional materiality and nostalgic impulse. Despite vast differences in media and in approach, the work we present today bears the mark of our friendship and of the lessons we’ve learned together. Bless the network.”
The Hilltop exhibit in the Gallery 157 space of PNCA’s 511 Building offered an opportunity to see the next generation of rising Portland artists and speculate on the future of the city’s art movement.
An appreciation of the artisanal, the personal, handmade and homemade was well on display, like with Stormie Mitchell’s adorable, whimsical Weeibols. Mitchell’s clay sculptures were spared from being merely kitsch with exquisite details, high-quality materials, and, seemingly, some sort of narrative. Mitchell’s Weeibols seem more like some kind of animistic totem than flea market fare, although they’re a bit of both. And that’s a good thing.
A similar blending of the personal, the quaint, the artistic, and an almost Holy, reverential feeling could be found imbued in the weathered, worn Victoriana of Maya Capalbo’s Fertile – a Victorian dollhouse infused with hibiscus tea, lipstick, perfume, and dried flowers.
Several paintings displayed some of Portland’s more contemporary fascinations, most notably the shifting face of love and desire. Evan Kirby’s Trinity and Talya Johnson’s Miriam both seemed to speak to queer sexualities and body positivity, making for some much-needed representation of every kind of love.
Johnson’s Miriam is a particularly powerful statement, being almost larger than life in scale and rich and opulent in oil paint finery, revealing the subject as the god(dess) they obviously are.
The Hilltop show at Gallery 157 is a good example of a trend i’ve been noticing in Portland in recent years – a focus on installation and a sense of space. Time seems to stand still in these surreal, strange atmospheres, like being invited into someone’s bedroom, frozen in time so as to better investigate the moment.
It’s hard to say if this is a wider trend or something particular to Portland. It seems the myth of artistic development, of linear cause and effect, has momentarily been put on pause. It’s a relief, with so many meta-narratives to keep track of. Can’t we stop the world for a time? Can’t we just stop and look and think, even for a moment?
Hilltop Artists On Display Include:
As usual, PNCA was stacked to the brim with brilliant, inspired art. Even the nooks and crannies of the library had an interesting art installation. Jordy Brown’s Invigorated Intentions is a fine example of some of Portland’s fascination with naturalistic mediums and imagery, most notably a fondness for bone art. Invigorated Intentions is a visual metaphor for the way that nothing is ever still or certain, with its bizarre skull-like form being constantly suffused in shifting light.
In their own words, speaking on Invigorated Intentions, Brown says:
“This piece is a testament to the conglomerative nature that is our existence. It is a reflection of the translations that occur when imaginative thoughts are brought into this physical world. How did these ideas make their way into my imagination? Furthermore, the idea that these imaginative thoughts themselves are every bit as much a part of this reality as the things we can see and touch with our eyes open. Imagination is reality, explore yourself.”
Even the seating area is stuffed with inspired fine art, simultaneously museum-worthy yet entirely personal. Effy Mitchell’s Please Mind Your Head is a collection of Polaroid-sized portraits of their life around Portland.
Humaira Tasneem‘s Zen Seeing is a beautiful-yet-simplistic series of pen-and-ink line drawings as a meditation on the world around them. Tasneem’s drawing are deceptively simple, revealing a true artist when you really stop and look.
Artists gaze intently at the world around them and translate those visions and the feelings that accompany them in bold outlines and subtle shading. They help us to make sense of the world around us and to see the world in new, poetic ways. Tasneem’s drawings speak to the intersection of both art and solid design, stripping the world down to its bare essentials so its inherent divinity and poetic spirit can shine forth.
About Emerald Tablet Collective
Emerald Tablet Collective is a group of artists , writers, designers, musicians, and performance artists dedicated to gathering and sharing magick and mythological artworks from throughout time and across various cultures.
Emerald Tablet Collective are bringing back the ancient science of Hermeticism, a combination of art, science, magick, and philosophy, working in nearly every conceivable medium in several cities. Emerald Tablet Collective are based out of Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles, California.
Emerald Tablet Collective Includes:
Adam S. Lichi