Art show not for the dogs

By Gabriel Lucich


This term, Clackamas Community College welcomed Filipino-American artist Ralph Pugay (puh-gai), 40. Pugay’s current exhibit, “Paintings from the perspective of dog poet Pepper Meadows,” is showing now in the gallery through October 27. 

If you don’t know that CCC hosts a rotating series of art exhibitions at the Alexander Gallery in the Niemeyer Center, you should. 

Each term Clackamas Community College’s gallery director Kate Simmons and a team of faculty coordinate the nomination and selection of an artist’s work to fill the campus gallery.

Simmons chose Pugay with help from fellow art faculty member Mandee Schroer,  one of the painting and drawing instructors at CCC. Schroer has  known of Pugay’s art since attending Portland State University and thought the exhibit would inspire students at CCC to explore new paths.

Soon after the exhibitions open, artists come to the gallery to speak about themselves,  their work and to participate in a question and answer session.

Students, staff and community members filled the gallery to capacity for Pugay’s talk on Oct. 4, awaiting the opportunity to get inside the mind of the artist.

Pugay’s art isn’t like anyone else’s. His Catholic-Filipino heritage bleeds through in subtle ways that not everyone will notice. It’s funny to choose “subtle,” in any part of the description, as that is the last word that should be used to describe Pugay’s art. 

Pugay’s paintings are darkly comical, deep and sometimes painful, while homages to consumer culture and family dynamics are evident. 

“My Catholic upbringing definitely affects the aesthetic choices,” he said when asked about the themes and motivation in his work. “Symbolism, illumination and Christian parables, they all have a big influence. I try to create motifs or tableaus. Tableau is more accurate, because they are narrative-driven. There are themes of misguided certainty or catastrophe running though much of it. Finding people in mob-like situations or rituals in my paintings is pretty common as I find that distressing.” 

There are also elements of whimsy that can make the observer smile. Skepticism about our modern world oozes out of the brush strokes and there are statements in his tableaus that seem like they’re railing against ableism and ageism.  

Pugay’s attention to detail is particularly keen. In “Separated Man,” a husband and father either comically  explodes or disassembles in front of his family, bringing to mind the many ways that parents sacrifice their lives to the household. Pugay pays close attention to anatomy in this, as the many pieces of the father show in great detail.

“All the ideas really get pulled from my gut,” he said, “I try to interpret and understand words and language in an attempt to find a more nuanced view of the world. As a painter, I listen to a lot. Conversations, audiobooks, podcasts, music, TV, etc., and try to capture the images that come to me as I listen.”

Pugay will make you think about the painting content and smile with his more intentionally primitive and snarky dog comics, which are a massive departure from his more typical style. This new style was developed upon his arrival to the Rauschenberg Artist Residency on Captiva Island in Florida.

“I arrived and my art supplies hadn’t yet,” Pugay said, “They had plenty of ink and newsprint-type paper around, so I started experimenting with using those mediums.”

“My usual paintings have a lot of fine detail,” Pugay said, “that requires a lot of small hand and finger movements, so using the ink and paper, I wanted to try large movements of the arm and shoulder, just to see what I could produce. I’m kind of obsessed with primitive images.” 

It’s not going to be everyone’s taste, but that is art. Pugay’s art will make you consider different views and bring new ideas to light.

Ralph Pugay

Ralph Pugay speaks to attendees of his artist talk on Oct. 4 at Clackamas Community College Photo by Ethan M. Rogers

Gabriel Lucich