Portland’s spring visual arts shows celebrate women and their sense of self

Yoshiko Yap

Maybe it’s because I’m writing this during Women’s History Month, but women and their sense of self and purpose seem to be in the zeitgeist in the lineup of spring shows. There’s also a bright throughline of emerging artists whose work draws on their Mexican-American heritage. Here are nine shows to celebrate spring and women in the arts.

Close-up of a mixed-media piece of art.

Jenene Nagy’s “untitled (night 2)” (2021), graphite and flashe on dyed flax paper.Courtesy of PDX Contemporary Art

The work in this solo show by California based artist Jenene Nagy draws from a series of paintings she started at the beginning of the pandemic, when what came next was both unclear and uncertain. Hand drawn grids on handmade paper are painstakingly painted in with daubs of gouache, flashe or watercolor. Their titles reflect times of day: shades of blue watercolor for “day”, modulated squares of white on earth-toned paper for “dusk,” and yellow-gold flashe on black for “night.” The paintings feel inward facing and at the same have a sense of looking out into the world, of watching time go by while scrupulously marking it.

Through April 1, PDX Contemporary Art, 1825B N.W. Vaughn St.; pdxcontemporaryart.com or 503-222-0063.

Plants are embedded into acrylic.

Rui Sasaki’s “Subtle Intimacy” (2013) in a previous installation.Collection of Usagi no Nedoko, Kyoto, Japan. Image courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden

The multiple installations in this garden-wide exhibition continue glass artist Rui Sasaki ruminations on place and time. She incorporated botanical detritus from the Portland Japanese Garden into fired glass panels for her ongoing series, “Subtle Intimacy,” which includes panels of glass embalmed plant specimens from Japan. Pieced together, these will be hung as a room within a room in the garden’s Pavilion Gallery. A glass sculpture cast from a corner of Sasaki’s house in Kanazawa, Japan will be placed inside the garden’s tea house, and her ethereal piece “Amayadori” (translated as “taking shelter from rain”), an installation of nearly invisible glass stringers, will hang at the wisteria arbor in the Strolling Pond Garden.

Through June 12, Portland Japanese Garden, 611 S.W. Kingston Ave.; japanesegarden.org or 503-223-1321.

A painting of a woman covered in a striped blanket

Gina Contreras’ painting, “Revelations and Revaluations,” acrylic and gouache on canvas.Courtesy of Chefas Projects

By turns wry and vulnerable, Gina M. Contreras’ work is an ongoing series of self-portraits that depict her own curvaceous body, frankly naked, in a space populated by objects that recall her Mexican American heritage. A colorful striped blanket and a tiger cobija blanket make frequent appearances, as do religious paintings. While the skewed perspective and bright, flat colors recall votive paintings, the subject is a modern woman navigating modern times.

March 24-April 22, Chefas Projects, 134 S.E. Taylor St., Ste. 203, chefasprojects.com or 503-719-6945.

An abstract painting depicts a woman and various foods.

Brianna Spencer’s painting, “All the Little Things You’re Made Of,” acrylic and ink on canvas.

Brianna Spencer’s gleefully sensuous paintings depict her and her partner, George, in high-fructose colors. In her new work, the Portland artist, who will soon welcome a new baby, adds a little third figure to her compositions.

March 24-April 22, Chefas Projects, 134 S.E. Taylor St., Ste.203; chefasprojects.com or 503-719-6945.

James Castle was born in rural south-central Idaho in 1899. Born deaf, he is supposed to have never learned to read or write. But he could draw. He was encouraged by his parents to create, and create he did, using the materials at hand. His parents were postmasters, and he had ample printed material as inspiration and raw material. Using soot from woodburning stoves mixed with spit, he recreated the rooms, buildings and landscapes of both his childhood and adulthood on scraps of paper and in notebooks. His assemblages, folded paper tied with string and dabbed with color to form birds, animals or the abstracted figures of people, are ingenious.

April 8-May 6, Adams and Ollman, 418 N.W. Eighth Ave.; adamsandollman.com or 503-724-0684.

Close-up of a monochromatic painting.

“Chilly dilly,” a new monochrome painting by Emma cc Cook.Courtesy of Adams and Ollman

Emma cc Cook recently described self-taught Idaho artist James Castle as a longtime hero on her Instagram. Born nearly a century later, in Minnesota, she shares a similar magpie affinity for translating visual ephemera into her dusky paintings. The impressively large monochrome paintings are framed out with hardwoods, such as mahogany and walnut, making sturdy constructions of the grouped panels. Heavily applied black paint on upholstery creates textural surfaces, which are interrupted by sharp, quick drawings that are inserted like snapshots or postcards into the compositions.

April 8-May 6, Adams and Ollman, 418 N.W. Eighth Ave.; adamsandollman.com or 503-724-0684.

A photograph shows women bathing in a pool.

“Oneonta Gorge” (2007/2022), a photo from Justine Kurland’s photographic series, “Of Women Born.”Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Leach Gallery

In 2005, Justine Kurland embarked on a cross-country trip from New York City to the Pacific Northwest, traveling in her van with her photography equipment and her one-year-old son. Along the way, she recruited mothers to pose naked in nature with their babies and young children. The resulting series, “Of Women Born,” takes its name from a 1976 essay by the feminist writer and poet Adrienne Rich, who wrote about how ideas of motherhood could be used to oppress women and alienate them from their bodies. Kurland’s photographs are empowering, enigmatic and slightly witchy. Portland based artist Jessica Jackson Hutchins isn’t typically associated with watercolors – she’s known for work that combines large ceramics with found objects, such as furniture – but both she and Kurland are now the mothers of teenagers. Perhaps this shared experience, or a shared experience of the Pacific Northwest will be the informing thread in what’s being described as a collaborative exhibition where pieces from Kurland’s series will be shown side-by-side with watercolors by Hutchins.

May 4-27, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, 417 N.W. Ninth Ave.; elizabethleach.com or 503-224-0521.

A colorful painting depicting two women waving at each other by a fence.

Ree Artemisa’s painting “Chainlink Harvest” (2021), acrylic on salvaged board.Courtesy SATOR projects

Xicana artist Ree Artemisa can paint large – they recently completed a mural for Meta’s Bellevue offices – but they also make smaller works, such as flippy paper “fortune tellers,” zines and paintings on salvaged wood panels. These last are flat and bright, recalling Mexican folk painting, and densely layered with plants, flowers, fruit, prayer candles (of the sort found in the corner bodega), bees, birds, and cats. A free-spirited figure with long braids and paint-stained jeans often cavorts amidst this collection of things and symbols. The exhibition will include new paintings and a installation of hanging handmade objects, among them a piñata made expressly for the show. Taking advantage of good timing, the opening reception will be a Cinco de Mayo celebration; the piñata will be festively broken at the closing reception.

May 5-June 4, SATOR projects, 1609 S.E. Third Ave.; satorprojects.com.

In 2021, the now defunct contemporary art institution Yale Union gifted its historic Southeast Portland building to the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, to be used as its headquarters and as a place for exhibitions, events and other programming celebrating Indigenous culture. The second exhibition in its new space will present traditional and contemporary art from a traveling exhibition of work by Alaskan Indigenous artists. Dozens of artists, artisans and collaborators are listed as co-curators of the show, which includes a dazzling set of Lingít dance robes (the silvery herring stitched across the backs of the robes seem to swim off of them as a school), woven Lingít and Haida cedarbark hats, Chilkat Protector masks, birch bark baskets, selfies of traditional tattoos, soapstone seal oil lamps (the soot these create is used in traditional tattoos), a graphic novel, and “Healing Stitches,” an installation of red atikluk, a traditional hooded tunic with a distinctive front pocket, that calls attention to missing and murdered Indigenous women.

May 19-Aug. 4, Center for Native Arts and Cultures, 800 S.E. 10th Ave.; nativeartsandcultures.org or 360-314-2421.

Briana Miller, for The Oregonian/OregonLive

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