Flower art to beat the blues
Summer may be a memory — wasn't it 100 degrees here, just six weeks ago? But Portlanders who want to stave off their seasonal affective disorder, with something other than LEDs, might want to immerse themselves in flowers.
The supermarket flower fridge is one option, but a better one, until April 30, is a show called "The Earth Laughs," at the Lobby Gallery at 2871 S.E. Division St. (free, Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
"The Earth Laughs" includes prints from famous artists such as David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Alex Katz, plus some stunning new digital work by Petra Cortright and Max Johnson. There are also sculptures dotted around this lobby — because that is what it is.
The gallery is free and open to the public, at certain times, and is the lobby of the Ellen Browning building. This is a block of cohousing which Molly McCabe built primarily to house her own parents. McCabe is also an art collector. She engaged Austin-based consultant Sima Familant to curate some of her treasures on a floral theme.
The dominant piece right now is called "Flowers and People, a whole year per hour." Twelve monitors, integrated into a very big panel, on one wall, show computer generated flowers on a one-hour loop that represents a year. The seasons are not obvious, but the changes are both subtle and drastic. Petals wave and are detached and float though the air, without gravity, while new blooms grow and others vanish. There is no decay, only change. Turn away for a few minutes and the whole color scheme may have changed from pink and purple on a navy background, to acid yellow sunflowers on green. There are dahlias, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, peonies, and many more, all rendered in Computer Graphic Imagery, like a video game. Motion sensors make the movement react to people as they walk by, although it is hard to detect.
Big in Japan
TeamLab is a group of people who also have their own museum in Tokyo. Familant saw another of their works at The Blue in Miami, which was flowers projected over the viewers in the room.
Here the view is from above. "It's a little bit dislocated, that you could be anywhere," Familant told Pamplin Media Group. "Also, because the flower types are always changing, the artist doesn't really say anything specific about geography. It doesn't matter where you are, you're always going to be seeing life and cycles and death and growth."
Familant added, "I've had people come in and say, 'Don't ever take this down,' which is the nicest compliment, people just love seeing it."
The gallery attendant and lobby person at the Ellen Browning building is an art history graduate, and artist, Beck Alfaro. She works on a laptop, and frequently looks up at "Flowers and People".
"It's this sort of meditative experience sitting here and being bathed in the light and colors," Alfaro said. "I'll be sitting here and working on something focused and look up and there's a whole different color scheme, a whole different pattern of flowers and petals. Even the way that the shapes float across the screen, weightlessly is captivating, and inspirational."
It clears her mind.
"When I look up and I see these screens that are completely separated from what I'm doing, it makes it easier to clear my mind of the busyness that I'm experiencing my own work."
Around the corner is a digital painting on aluminum called "Supergirl Kryptonite" by Petra Cortright. It has colorful flower shapes in the foreground over a light blue sky. "Petra (calls this) a painting without paint" Familant said. "All the images are done from digital imagery that she collects, she has an entire archive of images She talks a lot about how this is the way that we're seeing things these days, we're always patching things together." Familant said Cortright is connecting it to other flower painters, such as Monet.
Nearby are four monoprints by Andy Warhol. Each one is made of several sheets of paper, usually three, and they overlap slightly, so you never get a pure rectangle. Each flower outline is the same, but the color schemes, and the color of the paper, changes. It's classic bang-'em-out, Factory Warhol.
"Warhol was very well known for is repetition," said Familant. "Let's say it's all Marilyn Monroes, it's all soup cans, but you're seeing different variations where you're noticing different things." Familant likes the idea that monoprints are the same throughout the series, but there's something in that's always changing.
And collectors seem to love Warhol.
"When I look at a flower that's more pinks and reds, it feels very different than the flower that's more on the blue paper. I definitely have a whole different kind of mood, or it's a different vibe. Warhol is so good at taking something very simple and making you stop and really focus on it," Familant said.
Max Johnson's "Flower Tree" painting shows a stark, gnarled tree like a dwarf maple, putting out different colored flowers. The paint of the pale blue background is thick and striated, as though applied with a comb.
"An oil-on-linen painting is always static and never changes, and Max Johnson talks about how he loves painting, because you always are going to see the same thing every time. So, it's almost the exact opposite of the teamLab idea, (where) you'll never see the same thing twice, ever." Familant said that, as closely as she had looked at his work, she had never noticed that the tree was outlined in black until a middle schooler pointed it out at an artist talk. To her, that showed that a painting never changes but the viewer changes all the time, as they do when rereading a book over the years.
On a tripod by the window, with white gloves for touching the pages, there is "David Hockney: A Bigger Book," filled with the British-born artist's greatest hits. On the wall are some prints of his iPad paintings of Yorkshire. Mostly trees and bushes, some sections are like pointilliste finger paintings. It's not his best work but it shows him experimenting in his seventies.
"He figured out how to create images with an iPad with this program called Brushes," said Familant. "At first, he just made sketches, then started hanging his sketches in his studio, and he realized they looked really good."
She said Hockney walks this road in Yorkshire every day when he is visiting and brings his iPad.
There are some Alex Katz flower prints in the hallway on the way to the apartments: orange poppies and purple tulips, with dark green leaves on pastel backgrounds.
"Alex Katz is 93 years old, and he just had a show at the Guggenheim in New York. Everybody's talking about him, he's incredibly important, and he's still making more work," said Familant.
"What you're seeing seems very simple. It's always very flat, there's no kind of dimensionality to it. He wants you to see the idea of the flower, or the idea of whatever it is that he's showing you. He's keeping it two dimensional. They're almost anti-digital. These images are like candy. They feel almost like gift wrap. They're just fun and sweet."
This is a pop-in show.
"Molly is very interested in philanthropy and being open and having people enjoy them," Familant said, about the owner of the art. "She wanted to go to share the art collection with the community of Portland. Also being on Division Street, they want to be connected to a very interesting, fun community, with restaurants and shops and people walking, to be a part of that."
The shows at the Lobby Gallery change every three months, so move quickly. This bunch of flowers is not one to miss.
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