Masters in making: part 1

Spring term is in full swing, and Portland State’s art galleries are buzzing with activity. The graduating Masters of Fine Arts students are making their presence known in a two-part series of exhibitions, each featuring solo shows by three artists.

The first series, scheduled to run from April 7–18, features solo exhibitions by graduate students Mark Martinez, Perry Doane and Isaac Weiss. The shows will occur in PSU’s AB Lobby, Autzen and MK galleries respectively, with opening receptions scheduled on April 10 from 4–6 p.m. In addition to showing, the artists will provide artist lectures about their work. Doane and Weiss will talk on  April 9 at 6 p.m. Martinez will lecture at 6 p.m. on April 15. All lectures will take place in the Shattuck Hall annex.

Martinez’s show, titled Cream, is an exploration of racial identity through color definitions. His installation will feature a repainted gallery, with references to the various cream and white flesh tones available in many paint stores.

“I’m situating the color cream as the sight of desire,” Martinez said. “I’m going to highlight the beige-rage color with light. It’s an installation-based project. Some of the key themes I’m tackling is identity, also ideas of desire. Also, the racialization of the color beige.”

Martinez, who has often worked in more direct forms, noted that he is approaching his thesis installation from a more abstract and conceptual level. He will employ color as a conceptual driver for ideas of racial identification, with an emphasis on the cultural impact of cream tones.

“I’m investigating the corporeal traits that are attributed to flat, untextured colors,” Martinez said. “The color cream is hierarchical. It’s also very topical. I think the hierarchical nature ties to identity and hegemony.”

Doane, showing in the nearby Autzen Gallery, will also explore the personal in art. His own exhibition, titled Carbonaut, will touch on the institutional experience. Through process-driven print mediums, Doane illustrates the interaction of artists and the spaces they inhabit.

“The work’s about working through feelings of isolation, and strange reactions to buildings that have been used for other purposes over time, and have been reallocated to things such as art,” Doane said. “And sort of noticing myself within these spaces, and how when time comes into play, there’s sort of a sense of identity that develops within the space.”

Doane’s works on panel include screen prints of various sizes, each the result of a self-derived process. His black and white works have a slate-gray tonality, while color works feature overlays of multiple hues, resulting in a deliberately hazy mix of murky tones and punchy highlights. Most of the works are abstractions of imagery degraded through a laborious series of print processes, bringing the pieces to a finality that speaks to the entropy of layered techniques.

“I really enjoy primitive and chemical processes,” Doane said. “Going to screen printing for me was like going back to traditional dark room photography, which I really love. I also really get to think about what I’m doing. I get to meditate on a process for a long period of time.”

Weiss will also show this week in the Art Building’s MK Gallery. As a carpenter and a master at drawing, Weiss is bringing these previous skill sets together in a newer, more sculptural direction for his exhibition Musings in the Face of Certain Death.

“Part of the show is about situating myself in Portland, and also within the global context,” Weiss said. “The thing about global context is that we’re dying. Unless we can pull our shit together at the very end, and I don’t see that. The big pull is the question of whether we’re going to treat the earth like the mother that we’re going to take care of, or like the placenta that we’re going to throw away as we move out into space.”

Weiss’ work will feature a collection of sculptural pieces, all constructed with found material. From planets and mountain-scapes, to such man-made objects as a wood stove and pyramids, his pieces become analyses of the relationship between the natural and the human-engineered. Much of his current work is developed from throwaway objects, such as an intensely detailed elephant head constructed from corrugated cardboard.

“I’m kind of creating my own universe, basically,” Weiss said. “I also want to be sustainable. Everything here is stuff that I found from the trash. If I need a wood shop to make my art when I’m done with school, do I then just not make art? Also, it’s about creating something from nothing, that’s part of
the concept.”

Despite keeping busy with their graduate work, all three artists have maintained focus on activities outside of the classroom. Martinez, who has spent the last several years working with Pioneer Place’s recently closed Place Gallery, is currently working on an upcoming art news project. The project, titled Some Lady in New York, will focus on art activity in the Portland area through an artist’s lens.

“Some Lady is another opportunity to get press out about local arts in Portland,” Martinez said. “There’s just so few out there. It’s another opportunity to know what’s going on in town. It’s about everything from access to opportunity.”

Doane has spent the last year working for PSU’s Littman and White Galleries. He is also preparing for a group show in Southwest Portland’s Fourteen30 Contemporary gallery, curated by Director Jeanine Jablonsky.

“It’s an amazing opportunity that Jeanine is putting out there for me,” Doane said. “It’s great to be around people that I feel are part of my canon. People that I look up to and respect. I really enjoy what she’s doing and has done with that space as well.”

Weiss, who also has a background in carpentry, has spent his free time doing set building for children’s theater at Trillium Charter School. He described a particular appreciation for the engagement of children in acting, as well as the temporary nature of set building itself.

“I think about kids and the effect of dress rehearsal on their acting skills,” Weiss said. “If you get them into a costume, they become the lumberjack or whatever. The other thing with theater is that it’s designed to last as long as the play lasts.”

For all their effort in developing their thesis exhibitions, the artists each acknowledged the help of faculty and others within the PSU community. Martinez pointed to PSU gallerist Patrick Rock, as well as video professor Julie Perini, as pivotal in helping develop his practice. Doane noted printmaking professor Eleanor Erskine, for her dedication to students in the print lab.

Each of the artists has separate plans for life outside of graduation, and not all of them will remain in the Portland area. But each expressed an appreciation for the art community in the area.

Doane noted the positive outlook of artists in Portland, and advised aspiring artists to keep up the activity.

“If you love art, continue to do it,” Doane said. “Artists, get together and buy land together. Get some space to make work. Take care of each other, and help one another out.”