Be the Bread

Fiber Optic Spook— Boise, ID
October 9, 2009

I asked my four year old neighbor what I she was going to be for Halloween.

She shrugged her shoulders.

So I asked her what I should be for Halloween.

"A piece of bread!" she said with great exuberance, rocking forward on her toes and clapping her hands together.

A piece of bread. . . that's the best costume idea I've heard in some time.



Bottle Brush at the Veteran's Memorial— Eagle, Idaho
October 9, 2009
Click on image for larger view.

Further evidence that the light in Idaho can be every bit as crisp and theatrical as the light of the Willamette Valley.


Confusion will be My Epitaph

For those of you concerned about post-modernism's effect on your immortal soul (or transient corporeal life) there is an intriguing lecture at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church this week. I've cribbed the press release for you to peruse. . .

* * * * *

Confusion will be My Epitaph: Cultural Disorientation, Social Fragmentation and the Post-Modern Experience— What Does Christianity Have to Offer?

In this inaugural lecture of Grace's Seminary-for-a-Night, Steve Clarke will take us on a journey beginning with the thoughts of 18th century moral philosopher Andrew Fletcher and 1960's rock band, King Crimson, through contemporary film and art, to pause before the canvasses of Edvard Munch, Andy Warhol, and Rembrandt van Rijn. Focusing on the signs of post-modern cultural disorientation and the resultant confusion experienced by many, particularly young people, Steve will explore ways in which the Christian story speaks to our time.

The Rev. Steve Clarke is currently the Ministry Development Officer in the Anglican Diocese of Willochra (Australia), Senior Lecturer of Theology and Mission at Flinders University, South Australia, and Visiting Fellow at St John's College, Durham University (UK)

* * * * *

Grace Seminary-for-a-Night
Wednesday, October 28, 7:00-8:30pm
Grace House, 1511 NE 17th Ave.
Portland, Oregon


Ryan Pierce at Elizabeth Leach

Ryan Pierce, Blue Rooster, 2008
acrylic on canvas over panel
Represented by Elizabeth Leach Gallery*

I graduated in a hail storm with Ryan Pierce a little over six years ago. Both Ryan and I received BFA's in Craft with an emphasis on drawing and painting. Over the course of four years we took many classes together, and I remember thinking then that Ryan Pierce already had what so many of us did not: a direction. His passions and proclivities, while inchoate, were in place.

I tell you all this as means of disclaimer— I respect and admire Ryan Pierce. I have for years; and while that doesn't make me uniquely qualified to review his solo exhibit at Elizabeth Leach Gallery (on display through the end of this month), it does offer me an extra layer of personal presumption about understanding his technical tendencies and allegorical preoccupations. Some art critics write reviews with far less. . .

* * * * *

The first thing that struck me about the work in Written from Exile was that Ryan has pushed himself to become a far more painterly painter. Many of his stylistic tendencies from years ago are still very much in effect: saturated complementary colors (the blues and oranges of Blue Rooster), crisp graphic shapes (the furrowed ground upon which said Blue Rooster stands), and the outlining of select shapes with a tidy line of darker tone (as evidenced in the rocks clutched by the blisteringly orange talons of the aforementioned Blue Rooster)— but they are tempered by a newer acquiescence for allowing the nature of the paint to run a bit wild.

Carefully selected areas of textured under-painting are allowed to contribute to the overall melange of color, and they contrast well with Pierce's very crisp, albeit periodically fussy, draftsmanship. There are rag wiped waves of glaze-infused pigment in Sea Oats (After Cormic McCarthy) and suminagashi-like tree trunks that dominate the landscape in The Fog Collectors (After Ival Lackovic Croata). This acceptance of the process of painting allows the drips and stains of the developing work to contribute to the palimpsest of imagery, and resonate well with Pierce's themes of environmental shift and the marginaliazation of human existence within a world both fecund and wasted.

Ryan Pierce, Havasu, 2009
acrylic on canvas over panel

When considering Pierce's subject matter, it is hard to not be struck by the oddly blasé view of mankind's future that he presents. In Havasu a wrecked motor boat has been consumed by desert and surrounded by equal parts cacti and plastic water bottles. Arizona's aquatic playground has become naught but sand and refuse. Only a fire pit outside of the capsized boat and a sleeping bag (which may or may not be inhabited) grant any evidence of continued human existence. The boat has been draped to provide the sleeper an escape from the sun, but the drape is more a funerary shroud for the former Havasu than it is an expression of human survival.

In fact, most of the references to humanity in the show are references by way of necessity; by which I mean that Pierce wishes to convey to the viewer that some semblance of humanity will survive the impending environmental upheaval, but he does so only to point out that our role will be that of any other creature trying to scratch out survival in an ultimately ambivalent environment. We'll have no divine spark. We'll feel no sense of entitlement. We will not recognize the tools of our own fall.

Ryan Pierce, Umpqua, 2009
acrylic on canvas over panel

Umpqua, which is hung next to Havasu, is even more overtly narrative, depicting a wood paneled trophy room that has been attacked by the very woods it used to victimize. Deer graze off grass growing atop the floor and the trophy heads of boars mounted to the wall leeringly sprout tufts of green. Books slide off hardwood shelving and a snag has fallen through the ceiling to crush the wooden dining table. The deer have accessed this former interior through broken plate glass windows that are now simply reminders of the former separation between inside and out. The narrative is clear— so clear as to be almost patronizing, and therefore, in my mind, the least successful work in the exhibit.

Ryan Pierce, Comet, 2009
acrylic on canvas over panel

If you contrast Umpqua with the magnificently painted, and far less pontific, Comet (which hangs on the opposite wall of the gallery) a sense of how Pierce is also working towards a much more subtle exploration of Nature's intrinsic power can be gleaned. There is no evidence of the human figure in this turquoise lagoon, no sleeping bag amidst the massive blue pumpkins or abnormally green ferns. Comet dangles a smoldering oil drum over cereleun blue water. The drum is lashed to a tree limb that looks as if, at any moment, it will lever forward and extinguish the flame in the lagoon below. The surrounding environment may already look irradiated; it may suffer even more from that final infusion of burning chemical, but ultimately it continues to put forth life. The vines adorn the tree limbs and the ground cover works its way around the remnants of a barbed wire fence. The eradication of man's folly is inevitable. Mother Nature, through dent of her longevity and our extinction, is granted the TKO.

It is not without cause that Pierce's most arresting paintings are the ones that show the least evidence of human activity. The apocryphal presence of the roosters pull far more conceptual weight than the allegorical thicket that makes up Easter Island (pictured on the show card for the exhibit). Easter Island's cautionary tale about capitalism, fascism, religious dogma and environmental control, while beautifully rendered, just feels too similar in its over-loaded presentation to the inane quantities of goods, ideas, and beliefs being critiqued.

Despite the few ups and downs I encountered in Written from Exile, I feel that Ryan Pierce delivers an impressive show. It is for good reason that he is one of the more talked about artists in Portland right now. As was true all those years ago in our painting classes, he is at his most poignant when he's pursuing his themes without resorting to the explicit narrative. In the future, I hope that Pierce treats his paintings as the stenography of environmental possibility, not the moralizing indictment of an irredeemable mankind. That doesn't necessitate that he dilute his direction, only that he question when enough is truly enough.

*Written from Exile will be on display at Elizabeth Leach Gallery through October 31, 2009. All images copyright Ryan Pierce.


The Seductive Properties of Beauty as Rationalized Through an Unsanctioned Reference to an Undeniably Greater Photographer

Veteran's Memorial— Eagle, Idaho
October 9, 2009
Click on image for larger view.

I read an interview with Keith Carter many years ago that percolates to the front of my mind every time I take a picture like this. In that interview he relates how, one day, he was out looking for images to photograph when he happened upon an old grave yard. Knowing full well that it was impossible to enter a graveyard with a camera and not leave without a roll of cliches he stopped himself at the gate.

And then he went inside and shot some film anyway.


Mormon Cricket

Mormon Cricket, Hulls Gulch Reserve, Boise, ID
October 9, 2009

Most of these massive insects had long since swarmed their last in Boise's Hulls Gulch. As we hiked we primarily found them chewed up and expelled in great piles of desiccated coyote scat. My brother-in-law snagged this dark lady from the trail side as we meandered back through the sage and bottle brush.

It is easy to imagine how horrifying it would be to experience them in the thousands: swarming over every surface, always on the move to avoid being bitten and consumed by the hundreds of thousands that are behind: the hundreds of thousands that are anxious to devour the weak and the slow. . .


It started over the ridge.

It started over the ridge. 2009
acrylic, leafing, toner, and wax on panel
10.5" x 10.5"
Click on image for larger view.

I used to hike to this small canyon near our house in La Canada and, on the ridges that surrounded the shaded glen, there stood some monumental electrical towers. When I hiked beneath them my body would quiver from the buzz of electric current coursing through the cables far overhead. You could tell from the lack of scat underneath them that the deer had an aversion to the power lines. I suppose, had I more sense, I would have heeded such a sign and steered clear of them myself.

But one cloudy day I stood below a tower with the seed of a headache forming and the hair on my arms being coaxed upward by the electricity. In the distance stood this bleak little tree silhouetted against the dismal sky. And it struck me that to a person standing off some distance from me, I would be no more than a silhouette as well. Just the form of a man standing on a ridge that could hide anything on the other side of the slope.


Week, Tweet Week

4T Hiking Trail Map, Portland, OR*

I want to understand the culture I live in. Really, I do. But it seems to grow faster and simpler just as my life grows slower and more complex— which puts us, if not at odds, certainly on opposite ends of a continuum.

I was mentally reviewing my week today as I hiked along Portland's new 4T trail; so named because it is an urban excursion that requires a tram, train, trolley, and trail to complete the loop. In doing so I realized that truncated Twitter-like statements about events do lend them a profundity (or at least mystery) they might otherwise lack if I employed a bunch of useless context. So, in a little deviation from the norm here, I decided to share the highlights of my week as they might have been depicted had they been tweeted. . .
  • Running through a deluge of hail, blue tarp blowing out behind me, in a brave attempt to save the carcass of a dragon killed earlier that day.
  • The Weasley's busting Harry out of solitary using a flying car they "borrowed" from their father. Don't scoff because I'm only getting to the second book now— I teach children for a living, and don't have much time for reading the pop culture sensations that shaped their lives.
  • Party banners from discarded upholstery fabric. . . Martha would be so proud.
  • A business man on the MAX reading "The Portable Thoreau" while rocking out on his portable music device.
  • Deciding that towns which insist upon one-way grids in their three block downtown area are deluding themselves in some pretty profound ways. That's right, I'm talking about you Hillsboro.
  • Sliding along at 22mph 500 feet above Portland in a silver pea pod on wires. The Jetsons' theme song rattles against my skull as I stare at rooftop gardens and the glistening line of the Willamette River.
  • Being told that I should be selling $60,000 worth of artwork out of every show if I want them to be successful. So that's what I'm doing wrong. . .
  • Along with that whole lack of capitalistic vision comes the pleasure I had at giving two lovely works to Brandon as thanks for sacrificing weeks of summer to ensure I had two shows that came nowhere near $60,000 sales.
  • Scolded! As an adult! By another adult! Insanity.

*Note that this is a different map than that provided by Portland Metro. It also depicts the slightly longer scenic route through Marquam Nature Park. This route has less time on roadways, but also leaves you wondering where to go when you find yourself below OHSU at the Marquam Shelter. Perhaps I just missed a sign, which is great, as it forces me to do the whole thing over again soon.