Art Is More Important Now Than Ever—And We Can All Do Better

When people’s lives are being threatened because of the color of their skin or the way they pray, when people are having bottles broken over their noses because of whom they love, when families have to worry about being separated by mass deportation, when swastikas are being etched on walls, when nothing feels safe anymore, it’s easy to think that art doesn’t matter.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Never is art more essential than in times of separation; it is the ultimate force of creativity, hope, reflection and revolution.

What art does best is to hold up a mirror to the full spectrum of our humanity, to shine a light on our greatest failings alongside our greatest virtues.

I have seen so many things in the past year that have given me reason to feel optimistic at a time when it feels like the world is crumbling.

At Portland Art Museum, I witnessed Native photographers Will Wilson, Wendy Red Star and Zig Jackson gracefully challenge the legacy of Edward Curtis, the white ethnographer whose documentation of Native communities had frozen them in time for a century. These artists took back agency and humor, they honored the women that Curtis had effectively erased from history, they offered collaboration in place of exploitation.

I saw an exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery by photographer Jim Lommasson, who travels the country collaborating with Iraqi and Syrian refugees for the project What We Carried. Lommasson photographs the objects that are most dear to his collaborators and invites them to write their stories on the photos. He has recently been asked to extend the project to include Holocaust survivors.

I met an artist named Erica Thomas who challenges the patriarchal notion of what success in the art world should look like. She hangs a neon “Artist in Residence” sign in the window wherever she is working, creating a lifelong self-proclaimed artist residency. Her marriage appears on her CV as an ongoing project, the most collaborative work of her life. She empowers us to create without first having to ask for permission.

I sat for a one-on-one performance with artist Sharyll Burroughs, who rejects the label “artist of color,” because her work seeks to prove that all language and categorization is too small to contain the full breadth of our humanness.

Related: A Portland Performance Artist Turns Racist Imagery and Words Into a Lesson

At the show The Soul of Black Art at Upfor Gallery, I wept in front of a pair of images, hung side by side. The first was a photo from the Jim Crow South, in which an elderly black man climbs a steep set of stairs to get to the colored entrance of a movie theater. In the photo next to it, another black man climbs another steep set of stairs, but it was President Obama boarding Air Force One.

Before I had a chance to allow the full extent of that progress to wash over me, I turned to the adjacent wall. On it hung a diptych by painter Arvie Smith depicting a mob of white women and men with guns hanging black men from trees by shackles, slave ships in the distance.

This is art’s job. It keeps us honest by telling us how far we’ve come in the same breath as it reminds us how much farther we need to go.

To those of us in the art world who care so deeply about nurturing a culture that is inclusive, this is our time to be activists. Curators, arts writers, arts editors, gallery owners, board and jury members, administrators of large funding bodies: We must recognize the awesome responsibility of being gatekeepers, of being among the privileged few who help to determine an artist’s creative and financial viability in the marketplace. And we must use that power with care.

To my fellow arts writers: Go out of your way to see shows of underrepresented artists. Every review you give to an artist of color, a female artist, or a queer artist adds a line to their résumé, which makes him or her a more competitive candidate for grants, fellowships, residencies and future exhibitions. And if you are a white writer reviewing an artist of color, if you are a man reviewing a woman’s show, if you are a straight person reviewing a queer artist, be mindful of how you impose your experiences and your perspective on their work; we are not always equipped to properly contextualize it. Through interviews, we can allow these artists to speak about their work in their own words before we seek to comment on it. Take the extra time to get the artist on the phone.

To all of the curators, gallery owners, and executive directors of arts institutions: Continue showing work of underrepresented artists. Double down. But don’t expect that this in itself will be enough to engage the communities that have felt unwelcomed, unwanted and unrepresented for a long time in the white-box art world.

Related: Portland’s Newest Gallery Is Only Representing Female Artists

Most of the people who have influence in the art world have slowly worked their way up within galleries or arts nonprofits. So if you’re in a position to hire people for entry- and midlevel positions, extend your search beyond the pool of graduates from the local art schools and consider interns, preparators and gallery assistants from other communities. Establish curatorial fellowships for people who have an abiding passion for the arts but have not, perhaps, had the luxury of consistent exposure to the art world or a formal arts education.

To those of you who, so far, think that this article doesn’t pertain to you because you don’t consider yourself to be a part of the art world, please hear me: You are even more essential to the arts than the rest of us. You are the audience. You are, quite literally, our reason for being. So, please, after you’ve taken to the streets, take to the galleries and the museums. In our city, where 42 percent of the population is without religious affiliation, these institutions are our houses of worship. They connect us with something greater than ourselves. They offer the comfort and solace of beauty, and provide endless examples of what the human hand can do when it is guided by the heart. I promise it will astonish you.

Going to the galleries is always free, and the Portland Art Museum offers free admission on the first Thursday of every month, so if you’re a student or you have a large family, please don’t let finances be a barrier. If you want to go to the galleries but you feel unwelcome or intimidated by the prospect, or if you feel self-conscious about asking the wrong questions, email me and I will take you on a tour myself. (It is worth noting that you are in good company; I do this for a living, and there are still a few galleries where I, too, feel unwelcome.)

And to all of the artists out there: Take to your studios. Channel your outrage, your fear, your anger and sadness into a painting, a sculpture, a play, a dance performance, a film, a photograph, an essay, a drawing. Channel your optimism into something beautiful. Your creativity gives us hope; it opens up pathways of empathy, vulnerability and understanding. Creation counteracts destruction. Keep creating, friends. Keep putting meaningful things into the world. For yourself. For all of us. We need you now more than ever.

Gresham Students Will Paint a Mural to Mark The Site of Racially-Motivated Killing

On August 10, 19-year-old Larnell Bruce was run over and killed in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven on 187th Avenue and East Burnside Street. The man driving the car, a documented member of a white supremacist gang, is now awaiting trial for murder, alongside charges that he attacked Bruce because of the color of his skin.

Ever since, people in the community have begun writing messages of sympathy on the store’s wall.

Now, a group of high school students, along with local artists, will replace those messages with something more permanent: a mural that will celebrate diversity, unity and inclusion in the form of a tree.

The Gresham Youth Advisory Committee worked with artist Brook Stein, along with youth mentor Rudy Rolon-Rivas, who works in gang prevention programs, and a few Gresham High School alumni to design the mural, which they started painting earlier today.

(City of Gresham)
(City of Gresham)

“We mainly wanted to focus on diversity,” says Alysha Hipes, a senior at Sam Barlow High School. “We wanted to do something that would show that [killing] wasn’t what Gresham was about.”

“The main ideas are people of different racial backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds, and showing imagery that represents hope and equality and inclusion and unity,” says Brynn Lerma, also a senior at Barlow. “The MAX and the sculpture above the MAX are there because that’s one of the most iconic things we see.”

IMG_8217

“We had a community meeting at the Rosewood Initiative and we wanted to open it to the public,”says Jessica Harper, the Youth Advisory Committee’s faculty advisor. “We posted signs at the scene and asked people who were tagging to come and be a part of the meeting. We didn’t have a personal connection with Larnell, so they talked about what they wanted it to look like.”

(City of Gresham)
(City of Gresham)

The students proposed the mural as a way to stop the graffiti, and also represent the community as a whole.

“I’m hoping the people that were tagging will see that we put so much work into this and won’t destroy it and that we put it there for them and it has more of a meaning than to stop them from tagging,” says Lerma. “I think it ‘s a good opportunity to say what Gresham is about.”

The 5 Art Shows We’re Most Excited To See This Week

It’s easy for me to get into a rut visiting the same galleries every month. Last week, I had an experience that made me want to break out of all my routines: Someone invited me to a dance performance that I would never have sought out on my own. It was a small company I’d never heard of, and my expectations were very, very low.

Turns out, the performance was inspired—far better than many I’ve seen from the biggest and most respected dance companies in town. It reminded me that we often give short shrift to the unknown, the out-of-the-way, the dark horses.

So this week, my top five visual art recommendations are for shows at venues I have never been to (or, in some cases, even heard of) before. A lot of them aren’t even galleries. Many of the shows involve artists—some emerging, others well-known—bringing art into places you wouldn’t expect to find it.

Let’s drive a few miles outside the Pearl. You never know when something new will surprise and delight you.

1. Annexation & Assimilation: East 82nd Ave

Jade/APANO Multicultural Space, 8114 SE Division St., 503-545-0480. Through Nov. 17.

Artist Sabina Haque has spent the year as an artist-in-residence with the Portland Archives & Records Center. Combining large-scale video projections, poster installations and oral histories, Haque uses her bold and graphic style to tell the stories of how the cultural and demographic landscape east of 82nd Avenue has changed over the last century. Filling an 8,000-square-foot space with creative commentary, Haque draws our attention to a part of town we often ignore. Call ahead for a tour.

2. Quantum Paintings

Eastside Exchange Building, 123 NE 3rd Ave., 503-334-8624. Through Dec. 31.

JeffSheridan

What appear to be four large-scale paintings of vastly different landscapes—verdant fields to vistas of brown rock—are, in fact, artist Justin Auld’s experiment in unpredictability. Auld begins each piece by throwing a paint-soaked rag at the canvas. “This is the quantum experience,” he says, “allowing chance, movement and time to intersect to lay the groundwork for the imagery.” From there, the landscapes emerge, and the final meditative compositions belie their chaotic beginnings.

3. Growth/Proliferation

The 4th Dimension Recovery Center, 3807 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 971-703-4623. Nov. 4-Jan 5.

Multidisciplinary artist Jeff Sheridan creates highly textured and intricately detailed paintings on panel that echo both micro and macro forms in nature. The same image looks, at once, like a planet as seen from space and a single-cell organism viewed under a microscope. He is showing his new body of work at a center that serves young people who are in drug and alcohol recovery. It’s a reminder that art sales, accolades and press coverage are great for an artist, but true success comes from making even the smallest difference in someone’s day.

4. New Works/Obras Nuevas

One Grand Gallery, 1000 E Burnside St., 971-266-4919. Nov. 4-26.

Ivan Salcido

Ivan Salcido creates sculptures, paintings and installations from found, recycled and cast-off materials, transforming everyday functional objects by giving them new purpose. “From the rugged deserts and urban landscape of El Paso, Texas, to the majestic and fertile terrain of the Pacific Northwest, the diversity of cultures, topography, textures and shapes of the world continuously influence me,” says Salcido.

5. Aesthetic Dysfunction

Ford Gallery, 2505 SE 11th Ave., 503-449-3305.

Nov. 5-Dec 3.

Artist Karen Wippich layers newspaper clippings with black and white photographs and bold blocks of painted color, creating collages that have the effect of propaganda images from an alternate dystopian reality. She plays with scale, making compositions in which ’50s-era businessmen can loom Godzilla-like over crowds of people all looking up in wonder.

Artist Tim Kowalczyk’s “Analogue Skies” Show Creates a Nostalgic Reverie of Objects

In the tiny backroom at Eutectic Gallery, conceptual ceramicist Tim Kowalczyk creates a nostalgic reverie that will take you back in time.

For Analogue Skies, he’s hand-built small, hyper-real objects like matchbooks, carnival ephemera and Polaroids out of stoneware. The work may elicit a double take from viewers who are slow to believe that a cardboard matchbook, seemingly bent and soggy from being in someone’s pocket, is made of ceramic.

Tim Kowalczak - Analogue Skies
(courtesy of Jennifer Rabin)

A white paper target from a carnival shooting gallery, re-created in porcelain, hangs from fishing line strung between two walls. The target boasts a red star at its center, and the text beneath reads, “All [Red] Star Must Be Shot From Card To Win A Prize.”

Kowalczyk’s target has two holes, a larger one through which the fishing line is threaded and another the size of a BB—an artifact, perhaps, from the first shot fired. What is most remarkable about Target is the way it’s lit in the exhibit.

A strong spot casts a shadow of the target onto the far wall. The resulting dark rectangle contains two points of light, one larger and one smaller, a constellation twinkling against the night sky.

This makes sense, given that the show was inspired by Kowalczyk’s move to the country, where he has taken up stargazing. “I now think of myself as a bizarre collector of objects who re-creates relationships between mundane things and a sky filled with stars,” he says.

The relationship is carried out in a series of stoneware Polaroids, hung in an array against one wall. Some are unexposed blanks, their black squares framed by white borders, while others appear misdeveloped, streaked by the blur and drag of chemicals across their surface, resulting in multicolored explosions of celestial patterns. An outdated technology, rendered in uncannily realistic detail, captures something timeless and infinite.

Matchbooks are the subject of three of Kowalczyk’s sculptures. Fading Stars is the most powerful because its matches appear to have been consumed and curled by fire, lying in a charred pile next to the empty book. It is a tactile remnant of something that can never be touched: Stars, like matches, burn brightly for a time only to burn out.

Analogue Skies feels intimate and personal because it gives us the sense that Kowalczyk is searching for something within the vastness of the sky, inviting us to search with him rather than telling us what he’s already discovered.

SEE IT: Analogue Skies is at Eutectic Gallery, 1930 NE Oregon St., 503-974-6518, eutecticgallery.com. Through Oct. 29.

Sculptor Ellen Wishnetsky-Mueller’s Newest Show Is Like a Good, Cathartic Mixtape

Some people think that viewing art is an intellectual or an academic exercise, that you should leave the gallery with a headful of insight. And that’s one way to appreciate it. But you can also experience it the way you listen to music. You know the feeling of playing an album that reaches every cell in your body and makes you feel better about your place in the world? Visual art can be like that, too.

When that happens, as it did for me when I saw sculptor Ellen Wishnetsky-Mueller’s show Material Witness, it bypasses the brain entirely. During my final lap through the gallery, my partner asked me why I loved one of the pieces so much. After thinking hard about it, I said, “I have no idea. I just do.”

Wishnetsky-Mueller is a minister of opposites, bringing together the inflexibility of metal with the malleability of textiles, marrying the dull and the shiny, the masculine and the feminine, the rusted and the pristine. Her work feels visceral because it embodies the contrasting natures in all of us.

Slow, Hot, Wind II, a small-scale monochromatic piece that hangs unassumingly on the wall at Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art, is a perfect example of antithetical beauty. A sheet of grey steel, folded over itself, traps a piece of gray felt in frozen undulation. Where the steel is rigid, rectilinear and sharp, the felt is kinetic, rounded and soft, appearing to move in rippling waves. Even the choice of color supports the dichotomy, with the warm gray of the fabric offsetting the blue-gray cool of the metal. The grip of the steel, which holds the felt in place, seems to both stifle the fabric and to allow for its free expression, another example of opposing forces.

Two tall aluminum half-cylinders sandwich folds of tulle between them in Eclipse. Get close and you can see your fuzzy reflection in the inner curve of its concave silver surface, as the gold textile billows outward, muted and diaphanous, from the shiny pristine edge of the metal. The piece transports you from the terrestrial to the cosmic.

Across the room, a rusted steel grid pins virgin wool to the wall, forcing it flat at the center, but unable to prevent it from spilling out the sides in downy tufts. The metal exerts its influence on the textile, but cannot contain its will.

A neat stack of gray felt sheets stands on a nearby pedestal, topped by a sheet of steel. This is where Wishnetsky-Mueller displays a virtuosic understanding of her materials. Compressed within the large, thick stack, in slightly varying shades of gray, the felt appears to harden into layers, like strata of sedimentary rock fixed in the geologic record. Wishnetsky-Mueller manipulates the steel’s edge by folding and rippling it, causing it to take on the quality of fabric. She maintains the contradiction of materials, but reverses them—the textile now immutable, the metal fluid.

Standing in the gallery, you can feel the decay of rust eating through steel, the newness of raw wool, the passage of time represented in the slow settling of the earth. You can feel the rigidity of death and the fluidity of life. In capturing these irrepressible forces, Wishnetsky-Mueller communicates something about the cycles of nature and the organizing principles of the universe. The show takes you through the tracks of our existence, like a good mixtape, cathartic and transformational. It isn’t something you have to think about.

SEE IT: Ellen Wishnetsky-Mueller’s Material Witness is at Jeffrey Thomas Fine Art, 2219 NW Raleigh St., 503-544-3449. Through Oct. 29.

The Portland Art Museum Will Add a Three-Story Mark Rothko Pavilion

The Portland Art Museum announced a major expansion yesterday: the creation of a three-story pavilion that will connect the museum’s freestanding buildings. It will be named the Mark Rothko Pavilion, after the abstract expressionist artist most famous for his Color Field paintings. The expansion comes as part of a $75 million dollar capital and endowment campaign.

The museum also announced a new partnership with Rothko’s children, Christopher Rothko and Kate Rothko Prizel, who will lend the museum their father’s paintings over the next 20 years.

The wing won’t be exclusively devoted to Rothko paintings, but will include 9,840 square feet of new gallery space, a new Education and Design Lab, and new space for the museum’s library. There will also be a third-floor sculpture garden.

(Portland Art Museum)
(Vinci | Hamp Architects)
(Portland Art Museum)
(Vinci | Hamp Architects)
(Portland Art Museum)
(Vinci | Hamp Architects)

After immigrating from Latvia, Rothko spent his youth in Portland. He took art classes as a teenager at the Portland Art Museum, where he also had his first solo exhibition. An anonymous donor donated $8 million for the pavilion to be named after the artist.

The pavilion will be designed by Chicago-based architect Vinci Hamp Architects, who has designed several special exhibitions for the Portland Art Museum. The project is set to break ground in 2018 and be completed by 2020 or 2021.

The Five Art Galleries We’re Most Excited to See at First Thursday

Willamette Week publishes on Wednesdays. Portland’s art galleries open new shows on the first Thursday of the month. For a long time, that’s made it tough for us to cover new shows the way we’d like.

In the year I’ve been the art critic here, I’ve written preview listings for shows I have not yet been able to see, cobbling together information from press releases sent by artists and galleries—which isn’t a great way to write about art.

We’re trying something new this month. Instead of writing a page of listings for shows I haven’t been to yet, I’m offering up a handful of recommendations for shows that I’m most looking forward to seeing, in hopes you’ll look forward to seeing them too, and maybe we’ll bump into each other at the galleries.

Fuse-Portland Dance Portrait

Employing the talents of 45 dancers, photographer Jingzi Zhao creates portraits of our city through captured movement. Zhao places dancers in quintessentially Portland locations, photographing them mid-gesture in a way that evokes place more than just an image of place ever could. In the highly stylized compositions, dancers hang upside down in a MAX car, contort themselves on cafe tables with coffee cups balanced on their heads, and hang in midair over the Willamette Valley like birds riding a thermal. Multnomah Arts Center Gallery, 7688 SW Capitol Highway, 503-823-2787. Through Oct. 25.

On Democracy

(courtesy of Dan Tague)
(courtesy of Dan Tague)

The gallery at Newspace Center for Photography continues to show provocative work that asks difficult environmental, sociopolitical and economic questions. This month, a group exhibition of videos and photographs reflects back to us the democratic ideals that we’re aiming for and where we’re collectively failing. Expect to see representations of the best and worst of this country’s political system at a time of profound upheaval. Newspace Center for Photography, 1632 SE 10th Ave., 503-963-1935. Through Oct. 29.

Night Lights

Every First Thursday, from now through April, different artists will project their digital work onto the side of the Regional Arts & Culture Council building as soon as the sun sets. This month, artist Renee Sills beams instructional dance videos into the night, so be prepared to knock elbows with strangers at a sidewalk street party. Regional Arts & Culture Council, 411 NW Park Ave., 503-823-5426. Oct. 6.

Camp Here Tonight

Conceptual artist Wynde Dyer takes on the role of activist with her installation of beautifully crafted tarp-quilt tents meant to raise awareness about Portland’s housing crisis. She wants us to think about solutions, like each of us putting one of her handmade Camp Here Tonight signs in our front yard, promoting a place where someone without a roof could sleep safely for the night. Fine art meets civil disobedience meets social justice. Littman Gallery at PSU Smith Student Union, 1825 SW Broadway, No. 250, 503-725–4452. Through Oct. 27.

James Florschutz Open Studio

It’s an honor to be invited into an artist’s studio. It is an act of vulnerability to allow another person to stand in someone’s creative space, to see unfinished work. Often this honor is reserved for gallerists and curators, which is why I’m excited that sculptor James Florschutz, who creates incredibly intricate pieces from found materials, is opening his studio to everyone on First Thursday. Shuffle through the sawdust on the floor, ask how he suspended thousands of pencils for an upcoming commission, smell the work in progress.
James Florschutz Studio, 618 NW Glisan St. (enter through Wolff Gallery), 503-928-2411. Oct. 6.

Voodoo Doughnut Will Have Life-Size Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Voodoo Dolls This Week

Feeling particularly angsty about this year’s election? Stick a pin in it.

Voodoo Doughnut will play host to life-size voodoo dolls of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump this week. And yes, you get to abuse them.

From 4 pm to midnight on Wednesday, Oct 5 and 6 pm to midnight on Thursday, Oct 6, Voodoo Doughnut Too will will let you push pins into life-style Hillary and Trump Dolls, with your “wishes” for election reform attached.

Astoria artist Shane Bugbee created the dolls after being upset with this year’s presidential election candidates. Among other works, Bugbee’s previous art includes releasing an audio recording of the last dying breaths of Dana Plato of Diff’rent Strokes, and publishing a book with serial killer John Wayne Gacy, as well as Cooking with a Serial Killer Recipes from Dorothea Puente

And a shocker: Voodoo is also creating special Trump and Clinton doughnuts for the occasion.

You can also buy mini versions of Bugbee’s Trump and Hillary voodoo dolls from website Artwork of Prophecy. These are $13 each, or $20 for the pair. Pins come included.

Screen Shot 2016-10-03 at 9.46.38 AM

Voodoo Doughnut has been a Bernie bro from way back, creating at least four different Bernie doughnuts in the past year and even getting a visit from the man himself.

(@voodoodoughnut Instagram)
(@voodoodoughnut Instagram)
(@voodoodoughnut Instagram)
(@voodoodoughnut Instagram)
ChKSnsNU0AAiVfO
(Twitter/Lauren Blanchard)

Screen Shot 2016-10-03 at 11.37.41 AM

Related: Bernie Sanders Was Greeted in Portland by a Friendly Bird

(@voodoodoughnut Instagram)
(@voodoodoughnut Instagram)

After their Voodoo Doughnut appearance, the Clinton and Trump life-size voodoo dolls will be on display at Upper Playground (23 NW 5th Ave.) for a week, starting Friday, Oct. 7.

Someone Vandalized the Iconic “Machine” Mural on North Williams Avenue

The iconic “Machine” mural on North Williams Avenue was vandalized last week.

Artist Tom Cramer’s brightly-colored mural, painted in 1989, is a landmark on the rapidly-changing street and it became a lightning rod for artists rights when the building “Machine” is painted on was bought by local architect Daniel Kaven earlier this year, prompting rumors of new development.

Related: Division Street gentrification seen through Google street view

The two gray graffiti tags appeared on the “Machine” mural late Sunday night or early Monday morning. Cramer immediately filed a police report and put out a call for information on the Save “Machine” from Demolition Facebook page.

(photo from Tom Cramer)
(photo from Tom Cramer)

“It seems like it may have been some type of inside job,” says Cramer, “because this is the first time anything on this scale has occurred in the nearly thirty years of the murals existence.” He calls it a “hideous and criminal act.”

“I immediately primed over the violated parts and my plan is to re-paint immediately,” says Cramer.

(photo from Tom Cramer)
(photo from Tom Cramer)

The mural is protected from destruction or defamation by a 1990 Federal Law called the Visual Artists Right Act. Cramer and his lawyer say they will pursue legal action if developers move to tear down the mural.

Related: Can Federal Law Save This Threatened Black Lives Matter Mural?

Portland Police visited the mural on Thursday and are launching an investigation into the graffiti.

“Never in the history of the mural has such a horrible violation occurred,” wrote Cramer in an e-mail asking supporters for any information on the tagging. So far, no one has come forward.

Samantha Wall’s Drawings Explore the Simultaneous Invisibility and Hypervisibility That Women of Color Experience

In a series of graphite drawings of women of color, Wall renders her subjects’ eyes, nose and lips—the features that most often telegraph race—in photorealistic detail. They jump from the paper, perfectly rendered, while the rest of the figure disappears into the whiteness of the background, into the whiteness of the world.

Wall, who is of Korean descent, brings forward the things that we use to categorize each other, leaving the essential nature of each woman to our imaginations or assumptions. She wanted to make a statement about the simultaneous invisibility and hypervisiblity that women of color experience on a daily basis: “It affects all of my interpersonal relationships. It affects my work. Sometimes I feel like it’s difficult to talk about it.”

In another series as part of the solo exhibition, Wall uses her own body as the subject of monochromatic life-size portraits. She draws herself from head to toe using water and India ink on translucent sheets of Dura-Lar film. When the black ink hits the surface of the water, it meanders into alluvial networks so astonishing the figures look as if they could have only been created by an act of nature.

(courtesy of Laura Russo Gallery)
(courtesy of Laura Russo Gallery)

Even though she is the model, Wall is clear that these are not self-portraits. “I become an archetype, a stand-in,” she says. “The bodies I see represented in galleries and in museums don’t look like me. I’m re-creating the idea of what a universal body can look like.”

The series was made during a short period during which Wall was dealing with great loss.

“That work is sitting so close to my grief that it’s hard to give it words,” she says. “Making it is a way of recording.”

The scale of the pieces, all titled “Undercurrent,” is representative of the enormity of that task, but the figures themselves appear strong and steadfast. “I feel like I’ve lost too much already,” says Wall. “At least within my work I have the power to prevent that from happening.”

Wall’s images have a certainty to them that is, perhaps, born of her loss.

“It’s causing me to hold on tighter to the things I do have control over—my body my voice, my agency—trying to find a way to bring them to the forefront.” JENNIFER RABIN.

SEE IT: See Me See You is at Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st Ave. Through Oct. 1.