Art professionals on display

Portland State’s art pros are always working hard at their practice. This month, two university alumni are exhibiting the fruits of their labor at the Augen Gallery DeSoto Building, right in the heart of the Pearl District.

The Augen Gallery will show the pair of individual exhibitions from April 3–26, with an opening reception scheduled to run concurrent with downtown Portland’s First Thursday on April 3.

PSU art professor Sara Siestreem will exhibit Sonnets, a collection of paintings and prints contemplating visual poetry. Adjacent to Siestreem’s work, artist and KBOO talk host Eva Lake will show her recent body of collage works, collectively titled Anonymous Women.

Siestreem, who works in mixed media through a combination of color field painting and automatic drawing, noted that she explores symbols in her work. Drawing from her background as part of the Hanis Coos tribe of the Umpqua River Valley, she contemplates humankind’s relationship to the land in her art making.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the Fukushima disaster and its effects. The contaminates in the water, and the damage to the fish,” Siestreem said. “The Hanis Coos are salmon people, and fish a big part of our culture. This body of work is a progression of that awareness.”

One such piece, “whales and clean water,” uses expressive strikes of graphite and color in a series of vertical strokes across the picture plane. Soft washes in reserved yellows and greens inform the background, while a thick overlay of translucent blue acrylic washes over the central expanse. The artist’s brushstrokes are evident in the blue, and cut wavelike structures into the space to illustrate the ocean’s play.

Bob Kochs, Augen Gallery director and curator, pointed out that it was precisely Siestreem’s sense of abstraction that drew him to represent her work. He noted a tendency in many of Portland’s established galleries to exhibit representational work, which depicts objects or images directly from life.

“I’d been interested in the non-objective work being created in town,” Kochs said. “I was less interested in narrative figural work than the more abstract things.”

Siestreem also noted the influence of poetry in her work, from which she derived the show title Sonnets. The narrative form and inherent structure of the sonnet informed her current work, she explained.

“The sonnet is 14 lines,” Siestreem said. “In the beginning, it poses a problem, and by the end, it’s solved. I’m really into the visual poetry out there. It’s all around, the world is filled with it.”

Printed works

Also showing will be a suite of collages produced by mixed media artist Eva Lake. Lake explained that this would be the first showing of her Anonymous Women series in Portland. Lake’s recent work is the product of an ongoing exploration of female beauty and obscurity of personal narrative. It has been shown in galleries in New York City and abroad

Kochs explained that Lake’s current work marks a departure from previous collections of minimalist paintings. He pointed to the influence of Dadaism and surrealism, alternative artistic movements from early 20th century Europe.

“Her current work is a totally different focus than what she’s produced previously,” Kochs said. “She’s really excited about the collages and has been focusing on these for the last three or four years. She bridges the gap between the Dadaists and the surrealists.”

As part of Portland’s early punk scene, Lake explained that she felt a kinship between the contemporary underground rock scene and the earlier Dada movement. A longtime fan of the American pop art movement, Lake was first exposed to Dadaism and surrealism at an art retrospective in London.

“I went to that show, and it totally blew my mind,” Lake said. “For me, it had been a really important discovery. I kinda thought that Dada and punk were really the same thing. I got a lot of inspiration.”

Lake’s Anonymous Women touches on a range of subjects, each a different take on universal and female beauty. After a previous run collaging famous women, the artist has moved on to exploring non-celebrity models.

In each piece, she extracts and arranges various parts from a woman’s photograph, to combine it with a mash-up of imagery to construct a new narrative.

The works range from the energetic to the serene, from the introspective to the humorous. Each collage features a model unknown to Lake, and this is the part of the work that most compels her.

“What helped me make the anonymous woman was that I could cut her the way I wanted, I didn’t have to keep a face attached,” Lake said. “I never got to approach the art in that way. I think that…is why that work is currently the strongest. Also, it’s telling a story that no one else can tell.”

More than art

Making artwork is hardly the extent of Lake’s art practice. In addition to her visual art career, she also hosts the weekly KBOO talk program Art Focus. An outgrowth of her earlier work at PSU’s own KPSU, Art Focus features Lake’s ongoing dialogue with artists and other arts professionals. She pointed out that she considers her radio show to be a part of her overall art practice.

“I do radio to learn what people are doing, to talk to others and keep up with what’s going on,” Lake said. “Art is a conversation, it’s not just an object. It’s not even just working in the studio. I would say that’s the least of it.”

Siestreem also maintains a professional practice that goes beyond creating art. In addition to art classes taught at PSU and other schools, she also focuses on education about the contribution of Native Americans, both in contemporary art and cultural heritage.

Siestreem has also lectured for the Portland Art Museum about indigenous artists, and will also begin teaching a class about the topic at PSU. The Native American studies course, titled Contemporary Indigenous Art and Critical Theory, will be comprised of both academic study and craft from a cultural perspective.

“It’s an academic class, but everyone is going to be required to work on handcraft [that is] native to their own culture,” Siestreem said. “It will be an opportunity to foster mutual respect and ownership of one’s own culture. I want to teach students what’s appropriate from a native perspective.”

Both artists came to be represented by Augen at around the same time, and though their work is different, each communicates their dedication to their practice in both their makings and their professional lives beyond the studio.

“Art is with everybody, and at all times it is all things,” Lake said. “We are here to move mountains, and you can do that in many ways.”