Feminist photography and emotive still-life paintings
By Gabriel Lucich
The Art Department has debuted a multifaceted new showing from two local artists at the Alexander Gallery on the Oregon City campus.
Grace Weston is a photographic artist that explores cultural and feminist ideas through her work. She plays with archetypal figures in the form of cultural images, texture and light to create images that are evocative of earlier ideas and artforms.
Rachel Kalman’s richly textured paintings are both modern in subject matter and technique, while also anchored firmly in the classical romanticism of the Baroque Era and Dutch Masters.
On Nov. 16, artists Weston and Kalman came to talk to students and community members about their art and the exhibit, “Menagerie.”
Weston does explore many ideas, but in reality, she plays with and takes photographs of dolls.
“The dolls can be somewhat limiting, as they have expressions of their own,” said Weston. “I’m starting to look into removing all paint from their faces, and painting them myself using watercolor pencils. I’d love to get to the point where I can change all their expressions. I’m not a Photoshop person, I’m really very hands-on. The images aren’t composited, everything is done in camera, but I will clean things up.”
Her subjects don’t talk back, get hungry or tired. There’s no drama involved, other than what she imbues them with. Her take on Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam is titled, “Divine Intervention,” and shows a female deity surrounded by infants handing a bald “Adam,” a stack of condoms, as if to say, “You’re alive, now be responsible with what you’ve been given.”
“This particular series that I’m presenting here is a feminist series,” she said. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading on women’s art. This series is restaging or reconceptualizing older stories, even the Bible story and the creation myth. I wanted to flip those stories.”
Weston’s work conjures a lot of different feelings from different viewers.
Kalman’s work also requires some explanation.
“I think that to a lot of newer, fledgling painters, the Baroque Era has a lot to offer, mostly because it’s so glitzy and glamorous. There’s so much overconsumption that’s present in the images coming out of Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. That defined a lot of my aesthetic preference,” Kalman said.
“ The fruits and flowers are all allegorical. Everything has its place. I can become quite obsessive about what things mean and why they are placed in certain locations in my paintings. In the Dutch still-lifes, there’s this almost nefarious underbelly with gorgeous yummy surfaces and that’s actually reflective of something wrong……like there’s a little bit of decomposition involved.”
“When composing an image, it is very dependent on what I have in my studio and what is feeling most relevant to me at the time. Sometimes that is something that happened to me personally, or it might be a larger geopolitical event or environmental disaster,” Kalman said.
It is easy to see, when looking at her paintings, that she has many influences, and that the subjects and ideas in her still-lifes are pulled from everywhere. One of the paintings on display was inspired by the California fire season.
“I made sure there was plenty of greenery, the plants present in the painting were Eucalyptus boughs, an introduced and invasive species in California so oily that it explodes when it catches fire,” said Kalman, describing the subject matter in her painting “Kincade,” on display in the gallery.
Students and faculty alike had much to say about the new exhibition.
“I really like seeing their craft and how they simulate depth in the art,” said Mitchell Horn, 22, an art student here at the college.
“Phenomenal,” said CCC President Tim Cook, who was also on hand for the artist’s presentation. “I love the contrast between the artists and their unique take on art history.”
The CCC Art Department curates several of these exhibits a year. Generally each with a corresponding artist talk. Each is interesting, and the selections are widely varied. If you haven’t visited the Alexander Gallery before, you owe it to yourself to stop in and view these carefully chosen works of art.
The Alexander Gallery is located on the first floor of the Niemeyer Center, at the CCC Oregon City campus.