A retrospective in three parts, A Brief History is a chronicle of successful youth, imbued with the hope that creative fervor will keep up with the artists’ chosen genres. Portland painters Becca Bernstein and Gwenn Seemel teamed up with the mixed-media artist Elise Mravunac for the group retrospective; the Littman’s first new show since fall term started. The artists worked together to install their pieces, helping out by critiquing each other’s work and offering advice on how to arrange them.
A retrospective in three parts, A Brief History is a chronicle of successful youth, imbued with the hope that creative fervor will keep up with the artists’ chosen genres.
Portland painters Becca Bernstein and Gwenn Seemel teamed up with the mixed-media artist Elise Mravunac for the group retrospective; the Littman’s first new show since fall term started. The artists worked together to install their pieces, helping out by critiquing each other’s work and offering advice on how to arrange them.
Portraiture dominates the gallery, filling it with an array of faces in color as well as black-and-white drawings, along with bits and pieces of personal property to accompany the human images.
Arrayed along the far right wall, Mravunac’s pen drawings and an occasional oil painting are crowded close together in a straight line, creating a dialogue among the characters and eclectic frames that seem to confine them.
In the left corner, after walking into the gallery, is an array of Bernstein’s series Keyhole Miniatures. A series of plaques with decorative edges that contain a single image rendered in acrylic: a doll, a bolt, a flag, often named for the person associated to it. Not exclusively portraits themselves, the Miniatures serve as a reminder of the small, familiar objects that make up as much of a person’s personality as the lines in a smile or the expression in a pair of eyes.
Bernstein has painted portraits of elderly residents in long-term care facilities since she began working in one 10 years ago, when she was still an art student at Lewis and Clark. While her portraits often include extra swatches of fabric and decorative borders, Miniatures represents a much more dramatic departure from the traditional painting techniques her body of work favors.
Seemel primarily identifies herself as a portrait artist, with the stated goal of painting everyone’s portrait, “one face at a time.”
She does commissions and solicits subjects for series centered around a particular theme, usually photographing her subjects and conducting a casual but extensive interview, then constructing the painting from one of her photographs, building it from outlines with expressive marks and geometric additions of bright, almost florescent color.
The resulting faces have an effervescent, pop quality, while remaining serious studies of human thought and emotion.
The work Seemel installed for History is representative of this whole; it includes several bright portraits and two large canvas pieces originally made to wrap around trees in an outdoor exhibition, now spread out along the wall.
Gallery director Laura White said several of Seemel’s subjects showed up at the gallery to see their faces on the wall with the other pictures, which created a stir, and that there was a buzz around Berstein’s work as well, but the highlight was Mravunac’s pen and ink drawings.
All three artists used their unique viewpoints to try and redefine portraiture as something that reveals more than just someone’s visage. In this quest they have largely succeeded, and the results are fascinating.
A Brief History is up until Oct. 30 in the Littman Gallery, SMSU Room 250. Gallery open from noon to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Also this week: Many amazing shows are opening in the first two weeks of October, so now is a great time to see some new galleries! PiP Gallery, in the Everett Station Lofts, always has great work, and this month it’s a fascinating selection of work by Northwest artists. PiP is open daily at 625 N.W. Everett, #110.
Also don’t miss the opening party for the Kenton Studio, a drawing and painting center run by the artist Eduardo Fernandez in his studio at Disjecta, the arts organization that recently reopened in North Portland. He’s having a party Saturday, October 11, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., where you can see his work and find out about his concept for the studio, including bi-weekly “Bike and Sketch” tours!
Check out www.kentonstudio.com or www.disjecta.org for details, or just show up at 8371 N. Interstate Ave. (right off the Kenton MAX station) on Saturday.