This month, Charles A. Hartman Fine Art celebrates its seventh anniversary in its current location on the North Park Blocks. To mark the milestone, the gallery opens "Seven" on July 3, a seven-week-long exhibition in which seven different works will be presented each week. This spitfire procession will give viewers a crash course in what has made Hartman's gallery such an essential part of the city's art scene. The gallery has long been a go-to for photography enthusiasts, who have found wonderful examples of 19th- and 20th-century photographers, from Daido Moriyama's snapshots of post-war Japan to Mark Steinmetz's sumptuous black-and-white paeans to Americana, alongside local luminaries like Holly Andres and Corey Arnold. Hartman has also championed a number of the city's best contemporary painters, from the abstract canvases of Hayley Barker and Eva Speer to the figurative, if fantastical, images of Anna Fidler and Blakely Dadson.
While the backstory of these paintings is fascinating, the conceptual heft of Barker’s new paintings lies in the visual vocabulary she uses to represent the imagined visions. She appropriates specific marks and amalgamates techniques from a range of early 20th-century modernist and 1980s Neo-Expressionist painters, from de Kooning to Schnabel. This choice draws a parallel between the religious devotee and the visionary artist, both of whom, convicted by a faith in something beyond the material, aspire to give shape to the ineffable. In this way, Barker’s paintings scan like religious icons rendered in a secular vocabulary, dovetailing seemingly disparate legacies until they blur.
Among the new paintings, the show includes a selection of the pastel studies Barker made on Apparition Hill. They are reductive sketches, showcasing her flair for a kind of classical draftsmanship. Looking at them, I thought of Cezanne, who while painting the French countryside began to see its hills, groves, and barns not as themselves, but as arrangements of spheres, cones and cylinders. The artist, like the pilgrim, tirelessly seeks the confirmation of order and meaning. Sometimes, it’s right in front of his eyes, waiting to be acknowledged in all its mystery.
Small in scale but powerful in visual impact, the paintings are layered with oil paint and spray paint on wooden panels. They capture the pulsing, multicolored light Barker says enveloped her on Apparition Hill. In It is not our kind of beauty, she deploys short, staccato brushstrokes in a palette of brilliant yellows, reds and blues, while in She is gone. Look! The light!, she juxtaposes vivid teal against a panoply of greens. Very hard to return to this world depicts the sun eclipsed in black and gold, luscious gestures piling up underneath like pick-up sticks.
Small in scale but powerful in visual impact, the paintings are layered with oil paint and spray paint on wooden panels. They capture the pulsing, multicolored light Barker says enveloped her on Apparition Hill. In It is not our kind of beauty, she deploys short, staccato brushstrokes in a palette of brilliant yellows, reds and blues, while in She is gone. Look! The light!, she juxtaposes vivid teal against a panoply of greens. Very hard to return to this worlddepicts the sun eclipsed in black and gold, luscious gestures piling up underneath like pick-up sticks.
Rounding out the exhibition, a suite of pastel drawings lacks the chromatic panache of the paintings but shows off Barker’s gift for conjuring invigorating rhythms through line. Finally, she has lightly painted on, and framed, a selection of pamphlets and trinkets from the village. These tacky objects are incongruous with the elegant drawings and paintings, but somehow Barker turns the incongruity to her advantage. Improbably, the cheap mementos wind up effectively counterbalancing the other pieces’ reverential mood.
Together, the artworks turn the gallery into a shrinelike re-creation of the pilgrimage site. The paintings are de facto reliquaries, encasing the memory of Barker’s mystical experience. Looking at them, we get a kind of woo-woo contact high, as if we’ve shared in the essence of an ecstatic vision.
In September of 2013, Hayley Barker visited the village of Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a site of recent war and trauma, and traveled to Apparition Hill, from which her newest show at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art takes its name. Since 1981, people have reported seeing the Virgin Mary on Apparition Hill, and thousands of pilgrims flock to the hill to try to see her, too, their cameras pointed everywhere, at rock, at sun, at each other. The land is animate, made vibrant by their footsteps, by a longing that carries them up and down the hill. Barker went to Apparition Hill as a pilgrim of pilgrims, looking not for Mary necessarily, but for the people who were looking for her, for the place where they were seeing her.
His gallery space is modest and boxy, his personality defined by a bone-dry wit. But anyone with any doubt as to the outsize impact of Charles Hartman on the Portland art scene need only take in Shine, his winter group show, to realize just how good this gallery is. Not only does Shine feature historically important photographers (see Cornell Capa’s photo of Pablo Picasso holding an umbrella over his muse Françoise Gilot), he has also cultivated an impressive stable of living photographers, including Portland-based Corey Arnold. Arnold’s haunting print,Conversation, turns two buildings into ominous blocks of color that recall the elemental paintings of Ellsworth Kelly. Add in artists who work in media other than photography, such as painter Hayley Barker and mixed-media guru Anna Fidler, and you have a stunning cross section of geography, time and artistic practice.
"Suda’s framing is precise. He reins in subjects and makes them stand out, lit up not only by serendipitous lighting but also by an expression, a movement or an odd angle. More importantly, unlike snapshot photography, whose purpose is to familiarize the viewer with an experience, emotion or personality, Suda’s images do the exact opposite. They de-familiarize the subject by means of unusual viewpoints, uncomfortably cropped compositions, fractionally mistimed shots, strong textural contrasts and little or no explanation. While other photographers attempted to expose the extraordinary traits of familiar sights, objects and people, Suda took away the context to reveal innate extraordinariness."
There is at least superficially an unavoidable contradiction in thinking of a body of photographs as being both gentle and intense, and yet the characteristic tension that colours the unique, seductive attractions of Mark Steinmetz’s work has so much to with ostensibly opposing forces or contradictory qualities — forces which are reconciled within the images without dogma, remaining both lucid and essentially enigmatic.
Eva Speer's works at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art in Portland, Oregon, demonstrate the artist mixing the expressive qualities of abstraction and minimalism with a rich materiality. The fourteen works in Alone Together (all 2013) combine the cool sensibility of synthetic materials with candy colors and natural forms, and the effect is often impressive.