Native Portlander Chris Haberman is a painter, curator, and community arts advocate. Haberman is a storyteller, melding myths and fables with real life grit in a flurry of marks and colors. His studio is situated in a large warehouse space transformed into co-operative studios in the Troy Laundry Building in SE Portland. He is one of the most zealous artists I’ve come across in the Portland art scene. If you live in or have even just visited Portland, chances are you’ve come across Haberman’s art in mural form and in exhibitions. If you haven’t yet, you will. In thinking about Haberman, the R&B musician James Brown comes to mind, “the hardest working man in show business.”
Lorna Nakell: I understand that you left the corporate world to become an artist. What was your career before, and what prompted you to choose the path of an artist?
Chris Haberman: Yep, I needed a job pretty badly, so I took an office job for an insurance company. I told myself, “Well, Kafka worked in insurance and he was a writer, so I can do it too.” It was great for awhile, but then I started selling a lot of art. I decided it was time to cut the corporate cord and do what I really loved.
LN: As a painter you have a distinctly outsider art style. I’ve heard you referred to as an “urban artist,” “ghetto realist” and “urban realist.” Do you mind having such labels? How would you describe your art?
CH: I like labels, they help define things and give focus. Really, every label has some truth to it or a lot of great hype—I like hype too, it helps create a mystique. I define myself as a painter that works from an urban aesthetic. My work is neither realistic nor classically artistic; it is more like cartoons with adult-themed word bubbles. I can draw realistically, its just too much work. I prefer to work with what comes out naturally. Which in my case, is the talent of a 10 year old with a 30 year old’s sense of humor.
LN: Possibly the most prolific artist of his time, Picasso created approximately 50,000 works of art before his death in 1973. You are a prolific artist in your own rite. How many works would you say you have created since becoming a painter? Are there benefits to being prolific?
CH: I have created over 7,000 works in less than 9 years, so I am definitely on the Picasso path. He died the year I was born by the way, so I hold Picasso very close to my heart. My favorite Picasso statement is, “Paint
like a child.” I hold that very dear and never forget it. There is a whole world of subjects, people, landscapes, notions, etc., to pull from, and as an artist, it is your job to digest and redistribute these as your own.
LN: You are an unabashed self-promoter. You leverage social media outlets as well as any marketing guru (Chris currently has almost 4k fans on his Facebook page.). Do you think that’s one of the keys to your success?
CH: Sure, self-promotion is the key to success these days. I do not have an agent or anyone to do this, so I do it myself. I also love people and many of those Facebook friends are really my friends. Mark Twain became famous because he was a relentless self-promoter, self-publisher and self-critic. I follow that school of thought but with a twist: I want to help others as well, and our community.
LN: Do you find that your master’s degree in literature plays a role in your painting process?
CH: I think everything I have digested as an intellectual and creature of study has helped my painting. My studies in literature are very important aspect to my work in the form of storytelling and development of concept. I do not sell pretty pictures, I tell stories in my paintings.
LN: You are involved in many local community projects like street fairs, fundraisers and Caldera projects. What is the importance of this type of artistic outreach in relation to your work or art career?
CH: I am a community person; I enjoy people and helping to organize things at the grass roots level. I never want to be “too” big to be part of a street fair, or to work with kids. Those activities were the basis of my start in
the art world and I never want to let go of them. A few months ago I donated 7 paintings to different causes. Its good for the cause and its good for me (cross marketing really, if you look at it). I have spread my name out in as many circles as possible, and charity is just another circle, it just happens to have a worthwhile end.
LN: Are you represented by any galleries? If not, what is your experience operating outside the gallery arena in the current financial climate?
CH: I have always operated outside that arena. My best sales are in bars and restaurants (The true Portland gallery), which seems to serve many Portlanders. People know me; know I just want to make art and sell it—to do so I have to fit the market.
LN: In addition to creating paintings for exhibition and sale you do curatorial work in local cafes and bars, and create murals independently as well as collaboratively. What have been some of your favorite art experiences over the years?
CH: I have been curating as long as I have been painting, almost. I curate bars/cafes because that is where I got my start and I’ve remained friends with the owners that first gave me a shot. I am just trying to help new artists and give them some skills to help them figure it all out.
I love painting murals and they are always a challenge. My first experience with Jen Mercede (Francis Restaurant mural, Alberta) was over 300 hours on one wall, on scaffolding, in the rain; it was a definite learning curve. Currently, I am enjoying working closely with Jason Brown, curator of the Goodfoot and Po’ Boy Art Gallery. I respect him very much, as a painter, curator, builder and friend, and I think we make a great team. The older I get, the less I want to tackle things on my own. It takes a village….
LN: What are your upcoming projects?
CH: Jason [Brown] and I are working on a mural project right now, and we just finished working together to open the Po’ Boy Art Gallery in his frame shop. We are gearing up for the Big 100 show (100 artists, 1500 works) at the Goodfoot for December.
I am curating a show for Portland Center for the Performing Arts for September, to open with TBA Festival, entitled “The New Brow of Portland.”
On a personal art level, I am working on a series of paintings for a book by K.C. Cowan (Oregon Art Beat) entitled They Don’t Call Them Saints for Nothing. It’s a look at a selection of Catholic saints, where KC did the writing and I did the illustrations. [Haberman recently was an interview subject on Oregon Art Beat.]
I’m also working on a series due out next year called “Maiden Oregon” – where basically I paint one work for every song Iron Maiden (the British metal band) has written in the last 30 years (nearly 100 works) – pretty fun! I love being an artist.
Tia Factor is a Portland-based artist and curator. She received her M.F.A. from the University of California at Berkeley in 2001 and her B.F.A. from the California College of the Arts (CCA) in 1997. Factor has taught at the Oxbow School in Napa, California, for the Department of Art Practice at the University of California at Berkeley, Portland State University and is currently teaching at Portland Community College. In this interview, she shares how her roots stretched from a rural region of Northern California to the burbs of Chicago. She explains how those roots, along with other experiences traveling (nationally and internationally), inform her art.
LN: Your paintings have a very relevant feel in relation to contemporary art sensibilities. They incorporate complex color schemes, with a combination of biomorphic and geometric forms to create almost musical, fragmented, frenetic compositions that suggest real or imagined places and times. What is the significance of the landscape in your art?
TF: There are a lot of reasons I’m interested in landscape and place. I was born in a beautiful and semi-remote backwater of Northern California, the Russian River area in Sonoma County. My parents and I lived up on a hill in the redwoods and were hippies, living close to the land. When my folks split-up, my mom and I ended-up in suburban Chicago where I was raised from the time I was eight years old. I had a pretty rough time of it in the burbs, feeling alienated from my surroundings in the sprawl and rampant development of that landscape. As soon as I could, I graduated early from high school and moved back to Sonoma County, where my dad lived. I had the distinct impression of coming back to myself, of finally being allowed to express who I was. The place really had so much to do with it because I realized through that experience that everyone is way more affected by the quality of their surroundings than they think. Once I began exploring how I was so affected both negatively and positively by my surrounds I dove further into the study of geography, wanting to create images dealing with landscape and the affect it has on people.
LN: You recently created a whole series of paintings based on your move from California to Portland. This seems to have been an important life transition to have spawned this project. This project also has the added complexity of having a social practice component. Can you talk about your process in developing this project?
TF: Moving to Portland has been a pretty intense transition for a number if reasons. I went to school, both undergrad and graduate, in the Bay Area and pretty much every friendship and professional contact I’ve made in the last twelve years happened down there. Though my husband and I bought a house in Portland, it just wasn’t our home even after we put all our stuff in it. I wasn’t really sure how Portland could become my home either. We had actually just come from living in Tasmania for close to half a year and because it was clearly a temporary situation, I retained that privileged sense of being a visitor, not needing to create a real sense of home in that foreign land. But with Portland it was different.
So, I created this project for myself that was related to a project I had just completed during a residency in Tasmania. As part of the residency, I was housed for a month on the outskirts of a prison ruins. I was seriously lonely but I developed a project that remedied the situation. Each morning I would walk around the ruins asking tourists to talk to me about their personal impressions of the place. This helped me feel connected to humanity and the world again. And I found, just as this interview makes me have to clarify my thought process which feels pretty good, people liked being invited to answer questions. They liked participating in someone’s project knowing that what they say may generate a work of art. So, that was the beginning of a more social side to my practice as a painter.
After moving to Portland, I decided to ask the few friends I had here about how it was that they made Portland their home through a formal interview process which I recorded. I took pictures of things they brought up during the interviews and arranged those images into compositions which I then painted with gouache on paper. Sometimes I refer to these paintings as symbolic portraits or a mental map of my interviewee. I’m not sure if it was the effectiveness of this project, having a baby in Portland, being here for over two years or some combination of the above, but I’ve finally began to feel a lot more at home in Portland.
LN: Your paintings combine a beautiful mixture of abstract forms with realistic elements such as building structures, trees and animals. There is also a fine balance between control and chaos in your use of materials. Can you talk about the development of your techniques and imagery?
TF: This combination of abstract and realistic elements is how I represent place from the vantage point of both inner and outer; the fusing of the subjective, personal or emotional reality with the “objectively” real environments surrounding us. I am also interested in the tension between control and chaos. Throughout my art practice I’ve explored issues of order emerging out of chaos and our basic human need to find patterns and meaning in chaotic information. I love the exchange between organic, amorphic patterns and the harder-edges of architectural and geometric forms. In my paintings, this often results in pools of gouache or watercolor drying in naturally formed patterns juxtaposed with harder-edged, refined mark-making.
In terms of imagery, I will often refer to the above themes in my paintings: chaos and order, nature and the built environment, and the interconnectedness of human beings to their environment.
LN: You have been awarded artist residencies in India, Vermont and Tasmania. You talked a little about your experience in Tasmania. How do residencies and travel influence your art?
TF: Travel has been a very important element in my life generally and as an artist specifically. I seem to be the most open to experience when I travel, learning the most about the world and myself in relation to it. When I travel, I try to make art even if it is not the most ideal situation for it. When I learned about residencies, I couldn’t believe that there existed such a perfect fusion of what I most love to do, travel and make art.
I didn’t necessarily make my best work while at any of the residencies but that is not what I think they’re about. The effect those experiences had on who I am will always contribute to what I make as an artist as well as deepen my understanding and curiosity about this world. And there is always something wonderful about being provided a studio space and meeting other artists in a foreign land (or even Vermont)!
LN: In addition to being an artist you have done a stint of curating. What has been your favorite curatorial experience?
TF: Curating for me has never been that easy since it takes a lot of coordinating and communicating with many people, which is not my favorite way to spend my time. That said, I’m now curating a group show of contemporary art from Tasmania which will open here in Portland at galleryHomeland in a year. While I’m super into it and glad it’s happening, I definitely feel the stress of being responsible for a bunch of art being shipped from Australia to the US and trying to make all who are involved happy with the results. It’s easy to think of ideas for shows and get really excited about them. Then comes the real work of making the thing take form.
LN: What projects are currently in the works?
TF: I currently have a solo show up, Places We Call Home, at Swarm Gallery in Oakland California. For that show I began a series called Pocket Canyon that explores the place I was born in rural Northern California which I mentioned in the beginning of this interview. I completed four paintings for that series so far and have begun another one. I’m certain I will do more as I’m just beginning to come to terms with that place I no longer call home.
Tia Factor is currently represented by Swarm Gallery, Oakland, CA. You can find out more about her work by visiting her Website.
Kathleen Lane is a freelance writer who has worked for several agencies including The Martin Agency, McKinney and Work, Inc. She has also worked as a staff writer at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam. Lane was co-founder of ART 180, a Richmond, Virginia nonprofit that partners volunteer artists, writers and musicians with children living in difficult circumstances. Currently, she is active in the arts community of Portland, OR as a writer of short fiction and as creater and co-host of SHARE, an event series that brings artists from various disciplines together for an evening of creating and sharing.
LN: At what age did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
KL: I was one of those quiet observer kinds of kids, with most of my social interactions taking place in my head, so in a way I guess I’ve always been writing stories. I remember looking around and noticing who was embarrassed or sad – at least I believed I could see this! They were probably perfectly fine but that didn’t stop me from constructing
entire narratives around them. I didn’t think seriously about writing, though, until I joined Tom Spanbauer’s critique group. All of those smart, hilarious, open, honest people sitting around a table telling their stories – revealing secret parts of themselves, “going to the dark places,” as Tom says. I was a square girl from Eugene, Oregon, so it really shook me up – in a good way. I needed a good shaking.
LN: I know you’ve had experience with several types of writing, from children’s books to ad copy. What is your favorite genre to write?
KL: Short stories feel most natural to me. Anything longer than twelve pages and I lose track of the story. Plus I like the experience of entering a world, getting to know the people there, then moving on. Fortunately, I’m more committed to my real relationships.
LN: Who are some of your favorite writers? What are you currently reading?
KL: Many favorite writers – Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Munro, Tom Spanbauer, Steinbeck, Harold Pinter, Flannery O’Connor, Bob Dylan, John Updike– have to throw Edward Gorey in there, too.
Right now I’m reading Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and Charles DiAmbrosio’s The Dead Fish Museum. I just finished Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, which has everything I love in a book – strong character and language, and a narrator you believe in and want to listen to for 500 pages.
LN: You recently started an invitational art event called SHARE with friend Margaret Malone. Can you speak a little bit about SHARE’s origins and the concept behind it?
KL: It started as one of those “wouldn’t it be amazing if…” kinds of thoughts. We loved the experience of gathering writers together, so what about widening the circle and bringing in other artists? I was also at a not so good place with my writing – I felt like I was dragging it around with me wherever I went, it had become heavy and just not very fun anymore. I really needed to find a way to get the joy back.
Everything about SHARE is joyful. For each event we invite a different group of artists– musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers, actors, writers, chefs. (Past artists are invited to return, so the group grows a little each time). A few hours before the event, Margaret and I text a one-word prompt to the artists. At 6:30PM everyone arrives at the studio – a lovely space in China Town’s Goldsmith Building – and finds a space to work. 7:00PM, we start – writers at their typewriters, musicians at their keyboards, artists at their sketchpads… we’ve had actors and dancers rehearsing in the hall. Then, after two hours, we come back together and share what we’ve made.
LN: What are some of the most surprising projects that you’ve seen take place at a SHARE event?
KL: Honestly, all of them. Every project has been surprising in its own way. We had Shawn Bowman who gave each artist her own pet goldfish for the prompt “Temporary”. Her experiment was whether or not we’d grow attached to our fish and want to keep them (uh, NO). For the prompt “Organ”, Noah Nakell created Experimental Organ, a five-foot tall foot-pump operated organ made entirely of paper, cardboard tubing and masking tape. Andrew Dickson had us in hysterics with his power-point presentation for “Hoodwink”. But really, I’ve been amazed by all of the creations – all of the actors, dancers, writers, painters, musicians who are able to pull such beautiful poignant stories out of themselves in just two hours time.
In fact, I have to say, my favorite part of SHARE is what happens before the sharing – those two hours when everyone is working. I love the mix of sounds and materials… and smells. We had a “food artist” at our last event – he brought in a portable stovetop and cooked up (among many other dishes) bacon– which, of course, was not at all distracting! The smell of bacon combined with writers banging away on their vintage typewriters and Lynn Yarne arranging chicken hearts into the state of Oregon while Corrina Repp composed a song (listen below) in the hall was heaven to me.
LN: SHARE is now going into its 5th event. How has it evolved since its inception and are there any offshoots?
KL: We’re making little adjustments as we go, but what we’ve loved about the events is that each one feels as new and frightening as the first. Because each event is a different group of artists, there’s no predicting or controlling how the evening will go. There’s so little that’s within our control that it’s really an exercise in being open to whatever happens – the nervousness, the awkward moments, all of it.
Some ideas for offshoots have come up. Courtenay Hameister, who has been a great energy and idea source for us, suggested a larger event and even a weekend retreat, but we haven’t made any plans yet.
LN: How has being involved with SHARE affected your writing, if at all?
KL: I get really inspired by artists who don’t put any worry or judgment into their art. At SHARE, you only have those two hours, so there’s no time to think about your audience and what they might think of your work, there’s only time to create. You have to just go with your first impulse and see it through – and then be willing to stand up and share it. Seeing people being brave with their art has made me want to be braver with my writing.
LN: You recently had a short fiction story titled “In the Jetway” published by Swink Magazine . Can you share the premise of this story?
KL: “In the Jetway” is the story of a woman so desperate for connection that she invents connection. It’s also about how it’s possible to be surrounded by people – be within feet of people – and still feel a deep loneliness. Sounds like a fun read, right?
Actually, to be honest, I didn’t set out to tell that story. Most of my stories begin with a thought or phrase and either I keep going with them or they float away. In this case, I happened to be standing in a jetway behind a bald man – I’ll leave it at that.
LN: What I really enjoyed about this story is that I can truly imagine it being spoken by you, which is incredibly telling of the honesty of your writing style, especially in this excerpt:
“Right now I could walk up there and squeeze that old woman’s arms. I could squeeze her arms, I could tickle her in the pug folds of her neck, I could pick that old woman up and spin her around and around until her shoes fly off.”
I think many people have those sorts of thoughts, but you are able to convey them in such a humorously, poetic conversational way. Is this story indicative of previous work?
KL: I guess a lot of my stories are about characters with tangled internal lives – characters who find escape by way of their imaginations.
Maybe I listened to too much Hank Williams Sr. growing up, but I’ve always loved stories that have a kind of sweet sad longing to them. I’m also a fan of dark and sometimes inappropriate humor! (See Edward Gorey)
LN: What writing projects are forthcoming?
KL: I have a story coming out in the next issue of Poor Claudia . It’s part of a short story collection I’m working on – which also includes “In the Jetway”.
LN: Do you have any future plans for SHARE?
KL: Invite in more lovely people and see what happens.
For more information about Kathleen Lane visit: www.kathleenlane.info
TJ Norris is a Portland based interdisciplinary artist, curator and writer. He recently received a grant, his first, from the Regional Arts and Culture Council to enable him to do a complete redesign of tjnorris.net which will be released in mid March. In the process, he has dropped his public service blogging project, ‘unBlogged’, after three years of publishing. He talks about striking a balance between creating and curating, the differences between the East and West coasts and gives a window into his creative process.
LN: Where are you from originally and what brought you to Portland?
TJ: I grew up in Boston and the outlying regions of New England. So much history and tradition, so much of that old Irish Catholic spirit! In the interim of the years I also lived in Nova Scotia while on an international exchange program in Halifax. I also briefly lived in both Washington, DC and Brooklyn, NY. Getting to the West Coast took me nearly ten years. I longed to be near the Pacific and tested the waters of both the Bay Area and Seattle before I found the charm of Portland too hard to ignore.
LN: In addition to being a multidisciplinary artist you are a very active curator. Is it difficult finding time to do both?
TJ: Not really, however that’s where the power of Libra kicks in, but it is a delicate balance for sure – the time commitment aspect. As an active studio artist reliant on our cultural economy I must budget the release of any creative project, and right now I’ve taken a short step back from most of my freelancing in favor of producing new work for exhibition. It feels like a proper break. But when my cravings to write or put together a show flare up there’s not much I can do except act on it.
A renowned writer for Art in America once chortled to me that one cannot split time between an active studio practice and still wear a curator’s garb. It stopped me in my tracks for a moment and called to mind artists who’ve been at this crossroads like Alfred Stieglitz, John Baldessari, Liam Gillick, Jeff Koons – the list goes on. Check out this piece: CuratorsinContext.ca.
At first I completely poo-poo’d his comment, and still do in large regard, but the key of success here is the allowance of time. I guess after owning my own gallery (Soundvision) and curating for several institutions (Tufts University, SUNY/Binghamton Art Museum, Linfield College) I’ve grown accustomed to the academic head cocking that comes with drawing outside the lines. The greater balance can be perceived as a gray area between the obvious overlaps and potential conflicts – I’m still willing to risk it after nearly three decades exploring the genre.
LN: So, it sounds like you are switching your focus to doing more art making. Does that mean you don’t have any upcoming curatorial plans?
TJ: I’m taking a respite except for the traveling ‘SQFT’ show which has been through Portland and Boise; though the intent is to get it to cities in WA, BC, MT and NoCA before putting it to bed. The Sun Valley Center for the Arts has confirmed to be its final venue in mid 2011. The exhibition will include up to 75 artists by its completion.
LN: Your curatorial/artistic experience spans both the East and West coasts. How do the two art scenes compare?
TJ: I find the East Coast a bit edgier. There seems to be a heavier reliance on social practices, color and form from here to LA. In cities like Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Boston and New York you experience more interdisciplinary conceptual art, a combination of genres. And while these generic observations are fleeting, under it all, painters are still painting realistic landscapes alongside both oceans in the infinite quest for an ideal.
I remember a show in the late 80’s that broke the mold which was curated by Dana Friis-Hansen called “LA Hot & Cool” at MIT’s List Visual Art Center. It seemed curious and somewhat shocking at the time. It made a statement. For some reason it seemed explorative, of the “new” new. Today, to really rock the audience one must use a combination of traditional process and a deeper exploration of technology.
LN: I can definitely see evidence of that sort of combination of traditional process and exploration of technology in several of your photographs. I can also see sculptural concerns of form and mass played out in your photographs. How do you decide when an idea needs to be a photograph and when it needs to manifest as something else?
TJ: Form just makes sense of itself somehow. Though it makes me think of how I’ve really gotten into the groove of the Northwest. Maybe it’s a secret recipe, a combination of what you don’t see and just letting things simply be. I like to experiment with the aspect of chance – it is very important to my process, especially in the digital era, without contact sheets! Although developing something of physicality, something 3D or installation-based dictates itself often by nature of the presentation space. I love playing on the repetition and echo of architecture.
LN: The images in your work are bold and graphic depictions of what seems to be a personal exploration of opposites: internal and external, natural and man-made, private and public. Some of your compositions are meditative in their minimalism. Can you talk about your artistic influences?
TJ: My greatest influences are simply incidental. There’s nothing better than looking at a sudden reflection from a new angle or the way fog erases everything in its wake. The public and private, indeed.
LN: Congrats on your new representation with Beppu Wiarda Gallery. I understand that you are slated for a solo show. Do have any ideas brewing for that?
TJ: Yes, the show is scheduled for 10/10. My birthday is on the tenth. Initially counting, geometries and lots of numbers floated about, as did titles like “Random” which may have stuck. I’m excited to work with Gail, Stan and Stephanie. They have been incredibly supportive of my vision since we met a few years back.
Recently I moved my studio into a rural area outside of Portland and am developing some new ideas for a series of images. I’ve shot about 300 initial test shots that are under review, but probably won’t use any of them. There’s got to be a clean way to visually dissect three visual planes at once, yes? The Velvet’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” comes to mind.
TJ has several exciting projects in the works. He has collaborated with NY artist Scott Wayne Indiana to create a limited edition, glow-in-the-dark t-shirt. The shirt is soon to be released by Plazm Thread . Next month his photographs will be included in the Red Dot Art Fair in New York. TJ is also working on a collaboration with composer Leif Elggren which will be held in Stockholm. His work can be seen in Portland at Beppu Wiarda Gallery.
John Dempcy is a Seattle based artist whose work has been exhibited nationally and, most recently, internationally. His intensely colored paintings are process oriented with imagery influenced by his interest in the sciences. Dempcy is represented by several galleries including Augen Gallery in Portland, OR and Grover/Thurston Gallery in Seattle, WA.
LN: I notice that you received your BA from the University of Washington, but also received an Associate of Applied Arts from the Art Institute of Seattle. What were your areas of study at each institution?
JD: I was interested in pottery when I started at the University of Washington. I studied with Robert Sperry and was drawn to his textural, painterly surfaces. That got me experimenting with drawing, and then I discovered painting. After four years at the UW I wanted to get out into the world and travel, so I left with a general art degree. Later, I went back to school and studied graphic design. More for practical and financial reasons than for artistic direction. Even so, I developed my artistic skills, and afterwards, working in the field, I gained an understanding of how to run a business and deal with clients. That has come in very handy as a fine artist.
LN: Your paintings resemble scientific experiments related to the study of molds or infectious diseases – enticing, but potentially hazardous. The circular shaped, colorful, patterned ink splotches seem very process oriented. In these paintings are you exploring conceptual concerns similar to those of the color field painters of the ’50s and ’60s? Is there a deeper meaning behind the surface beauty or is the illusive content left up to the viewer akin to a Rorschach inkblot test?
JD: Early on I responded to the work of Mark Rothko, Morris Louis, Clyfford Still and other painters of that period. I liked the color and minimalism behind their work. I don’t share the conceptual concern that abstraction be an end in itself. As you mention, my work has a scientific bent to it. I reference microbiology and genetics and strive for a feeling or look that points to that. I feel a sense of wonder when I contemplate the biological systems in nature that form such complex structures of function and design. It’s beautiful on the surface, but powerful in potential. I want to bring a sense of that to my painting.
I’m also interested in the implications of genetic engineering, chemistry, and pharmacology that hold the promise of a better life, but at the same time, with our growing, but limited understanding of the mechanisms of nature, hold the potential for unfavorable consequences. Think, “Better Living Through Chemistry.” On the one hand, it has been a boon to humanity. On the other hand, it has introduced factors that threaten our health and existence. Going further, I see this all as the process of human development. Live and learn. Which brings me back to painting. It’s a process.
LN: Tell me about the origins of this painting series. How have they developed over time?
JD: Years ago, I read a book on microbiology and became fascinated by the function and processes of cells. Looking at microscopic pictures of cells and bacteria, I saw a way to make paintings around it. I had been working with wax at that point, but I was not happy with the results. It was out of necessity that I had to simplify my painting process because I lost my studio space and started working in the kitchen. In retrospect, it was a fortunate development. I moved to acrylics on paper at that point, and soon found that by dripping paint I could make beautiful, round, organic forms that looked like they were from under a microscope. I chose to place them in a grid format referring to cell structures. Working on a clayboard panel, I have been able to achieve more vibrant colors and interesting effects as the paint spreads and flows.
Lately, I’ve been working on more complex arrangements based on genetics and the consequent building of cell structures to form organisms. The science is really secondary for me. I see a lot of possibilities with painting and art in understanding how this all works. I’m trying some new ideas and feel ready to embark on a new chapter of this particular direction.
LN: Are there any contemporary artists whose works inspire you or influence your own?
JD: In a former artistic period, working on semi-metaphysical pieces with flowers and birds and bees, I discovered Darren Waterston whose work captured the essence of these ideas I had been working with, but in a more elegant and inventive way. Waterston’s work revealed how clumsy my attempt at figuration was and I decided then to move back to pure abstraction. He has moved more to abstraction also, and his work continues to inspire and inform me. After I started working in my current vein, with drops of paint on a grid, I discovered the work of Jaq Chartier. I love her work and the simplicity of the idea that leads to this beautiful complexity. There are similarities to our work in form and concept, but we chart a different course. Klari Reis works along the same lines as I do. She takes forms that she sees under the microscope and creates fantastic microscapes that are a joy to look at.
LN: What do you struggle with in your work?
JD: I have a very interesting process and it’s easy to be taken in and led astray by the cool effects and beautiful colors. If I don’t keep my awareness I tend to create pretty pictures that are vacuous in the end. Beauty goes deeper. Another challenge is working with the paint. An integral aspect to my process is allowing the paint to flow and mix. I base my work on nature, and letting the nature of the paint do its work is crucial. My role is to define the idea and composition, paint with some skill, then allow the nature of the paint to do its thing. Failure comes when I don’t trust the process.
LN: From Jan 7th-31st you’re having a solo exhibition in Sceaux, France at Galerie Pierrick Touchefeu. Can you tell me what that experience has been like? How is your art being received?
JD: This is my first show in Europe. I’ve learned a lot about shipping work through Customs. Have all your paper work in order! My wife is German so I travel in Europe, and I am comfortable dealing with the language and cultural differences. Fortunately, the gallery owner speaks some English and communication has not been a problem. The show seems to have been received well. I’m selling work, and a couple of French art bloggers have picked up on the show with positive reviews.
LN: What projects are on the horizon? When do you plan to show in Portland again?
JD: This year my goal is to make bigger paintings. Double the size. I started very small because I had to learn to control the paint, or, really, understand how to let it go. With a larger size and some new forms I will be showing at the Seattle Art Museum’s TASTE Restaurant in March. In May I will have a solo show in Portland at the Augen Gallery. Hope to see you there.
My first interview is of Portland, OR artist Derek Franklin. He is a recent BFA graduate of PNCA who has exhibited and been involved in several curatorial projects around town. Currently he is represented by Pulliam Gallery.
DF: Not that all shops are this way, but the couple in which I work never had very progressive ways of thinking, and for the most part were hard to work for. This was not the only reason. I had always wanted to attend college in some context, but neither of my parents graduated high school, or held the knowledge to allow me an excellent chance at pursuing a college education. It seemed ridiculous in the beginning to even consider art as an educational track to matriculate into. I studied a large amount of anthropology and history in community college while, taking a painting class every term. I did this simply because I enjoyed it, and I was mostly focused on the figure, which I believe the process of learning was much like my sheet-metal apprenticeship. When I decided to transfer to a BFA program I was not interested in any programs in Oregon, so I stayed at community college for two years studying painting and life drawing. I knew this was not the type of art I wanted to pursue, but I figured it was a good skill to learn and it made people think I had some talent, which I question and find to be a humorous notion. I wanted to be all in when it came to art, and if at any point I was not, I damn well be having a goodtime. This could relate to the people who surrounded me as an industrial fabricator and that Patrick Rock recently reminded me of. People everyday commit their entire lives to certain specialized things, they spend all their free time, money, and space on these hobbies. This can be drag racing, rock collecting, art collecting, model training building, all of which are aesthetic, and beautiful. Sometimes this person much like in art after many years of dedication, research, blood, sweat and tears leave their jobs to pursue these things professionally. This was inspiring to me, and inspires to keep looking at art. I finally went to PNCA and enjoyed my education in printmaking. Many skills have transferred from fabrication to art (with a small a) the first of which anyone who knows me well knows is community. Of course building helps too, but it doesn’t meaning anything if there are no ideas.
LN: Your work echos a lot of the esthetic and conceptual concerns of the modernists while maintaining contemporary relevance through humor and historical insight. What appeals to you about modern art?
DF: Modernist Art is interesting, because we are now in third generation appropriation of it, which is already strange enough. Then we are taught about modernist art through a tertiary experience of art school slide presentations, or library monographs. If we actually get to see a piece it is mediated by the museum or collector from its original context, or used as a conceptual crutch to open a conceptual basis for contemporary works. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is interesting, and opens the door for borrowing those aesthetics and even ideas to explain different culture phenomena that you have encountered.
LN: What are your current inspirations?
DF: I am really inspired by contemporary ceramics works by artists like Sterling Ruby, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Jeffery Mitchell, etc. I thing this will also bring a much needed bigger place for Peter Volkas in the story of art history. Reality TV, you tube, tumblr, my friend’s work that exists in a post punk culture realm. Paul Thek, and Robert Smithson should have a revival. Mark Mander’s recent show was outstanding. Urs Fischer, Wade Guyton Rikrit Tiravanija. Writing wise I am inspired by Zizek’s writings on psychoanalysis and cinema and Ranceire’s writing on the third citizen and spectators. Smithson and Halley I can read over and over.
LN: The primary platform for the arts seems to be shifting away from a traditional gallery centered format to a more open-ended realm. Attention is being directed to social practice interests and an “anyone can make art” attitude. In your view, what role do the arts play in society today?
DF: Art can and continues to function on many different poles. Social practice can be very good and very conceptually interesting, but I do not know if can reach a wider audience, because there needs to be a vast knowledge of theoretical discourse to understand the works. It needs the traditionally system regardless if it is willing to admit it for critical discourse, posterity, an not have a system to be adversarial towards. Generally Social Practice and Relational Aesthetics are based in Marxist economics specifically social interstices, a fear of the extinction of social interaction caused by the mediation of technology, and anti object, which relates back to society of the spectacle. These are viable concerns in working aesthetically and have a long history in art, which seems to be quickly forgotten. Currently, I see a large amount of ethical issues in these relational practices, which relates back to Thomas Ceville’s arguments in primitivism, Hegel’s modernity, and neo-colonialism. Today art is contemporary because we say it is, and this is to the artists’ advantage. If we can prove it is no matter what it is. As for anyone can make art, I buy it and find myself increasingly mesmerized by the everyday. For example in Portland 82nd AVE, dive bars, and the Internet blow my mind frequently.
LN: If you could pick the perfect venue for your art what would it be?
DF: I am not picky, and enjoy being involved in any exhibition from gallery to garage. I do feel most spaces in Portland are rather small, and I would like some room to spread out sometimes, but that may be my responsibility to facilitate.
LN: What projects do you have going on right now and what is planned for the coming year?
DF: Graduate School fall 2010, two curatorial projects in the works, one group exhibition in Chicago, a couple of small artist books, and that is it. I am currently working on two new bodies of work, which I hope to have finished in early summer.