Art in Portland

Portland Old Town

I just got back from four days in beautiful Portland, OR.  I was there with Jerry Sacher for his Dreamspinner Press Authors’ Workshop weekend.  While he attended the various events and promoted his new book, Noble’s Savior, I explored the streets of Portland.

The city is relatively small and easy to navigate for a visitor.  This post will contain some of the art-related highlights that I saw.  You can find a full account of my journey on my Facebook page and Twitter feed!

Public Art

There are numerous public art pieces in Portland, including a series of mostly figurative bronze sculptures along 5th and 6th Avenues.  These were my two favorite pieces: Kvinneakt by Norman Taylor (upper); and Lodge Grass by John Buck (lower).

Public Art 1Public Art 2Public Art 3According to my research, both pieces have received mixed reviews.  I don’t really understand the hostility.  I like the uncomplicated depictions of the human form, the slight graphic simplification that blurs the line between high and low art.  Kvinneakt in particular reminds me of Sam Kieth illustrations from comics.

Some of the criticisms involve the relatively straightforward use of the nude figure.  And some people find the nudity itself distasteful.  But I have the opposite reaction to these images.  In my view, there is always something dishonest and about clothing.  In contrast, nudity represents our true state.  For me, there is something refreshing about seeing these unadorned forms taking up residence among the overdressed and disguised masses.

Portland Art Museum

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The Portland Art Museum is definitely worth touring.  They have fantastic collections of Impressionist, Cubist and Contemporary pieces.  My favorite section is the lower level, which contains a large collection dedicated to graphic arts.

The current special exhibit there is called Feast and Famine.  United by the theme of food, the exhibit includes a range of works commercial, political and personal.  One of my favorite pieces is Wehrt dem Hunger! Kauft Ernährungsgeld (Fight against Hunger! Buy Food Coupons).  The skinny boy in the composition makes me think of Oliver Twist….

Art Museum 1

There are two powerful sculptures outside, the Greek-esque La Riviere (above) and La Montagne (below) by Aristide Maillol.  They are strong examples of an aesthetic that slightly simplifies the human form, rendering it iconic and allegorical rather than specific and journalistic.  We’re not looking at real scenes from an individual’s life, but universal human emotions.

Art Museum 2

Skidmore Fountain

Speaking of Greco-Roman influence, Ankeny Square is a historic little courtyard with brick streets surrounded by decorative columns.  The space, which is used for Portland Saturday Market and other events, houses the oldest surviving piece of public art in the city, Skidmore Fountain (below).  Two nymphs hold up an overflowing water basin….

Skidmore Fountain 1


Portland has lots of little squares and parks like Ankeny.  It goes to show how much the city values outdoor recreation.  I visited one such oasis, Jamison Square, twice during my vacation.

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Jamison square includes four “totem poles” created by one of my favorite pop artists, Kenny Scharf.  Officially titled Tikitotmoniki, the poles present Scharf’s vision of the blurry line between classic animation and abstract art.

Black White Scharf 2

Turquoise Purple Scharf 2

Seeing these pieces in person was for me like meeting a celebrity.  I felt giddy, nervous and lucky.  Maybe it’s because I was able to see and photograph the pieces up close, outside the formal confines of a gallery or museum.  I suppose it’s a bit like running into a movie star in the grocery store.


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Jamison Fountain

Jamison Fountain 1

Another lovely feature of the Square is the Jamison Fountain (above), in which water cascades down rocky terraces about every five minutes.  A foot of water collects in the base and slowly drains out before being replaced.  The effect is rhythmic and relaxing.

I intentionally avoided photographing anyone’s face head-on, but there were always several children and adults wading and playing in the fountain — even when the temperature was 46 degrees!  I felt like I needed the true Portland experience, so I made like the locals and jumped in….

Jamison Fountain 5Jamison Fountain 3

Jamison Fountain 4