Tag Archives: Portland

Clip on Xu Beihong Plus Thoughts on Calligraphy, the Beats, and the Abstract Expressionists

19 Feb

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Burnside published my art post “A Time to Plant and a Time to Uproot” today.

It only occurred to me as I was posting this clip how interesting it is that Xu Beihong’s painting is from 1951. Doesn’t the seemingly traditional shuimohua painting seem much older? Xu is actually known for his Western sensibilities and is considered a forerunner in modern Chinese art.

Xu studied calligraphy with his father before attending the famous École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts — you know, that Parisian school where Degas, Matisse, Monet, and Renoir studied at. In 1917, Xu Beihong went to Japan to study art. During World War II, he sold his paintings in exhibitions throughout Asia, giving the proceeds to the Chinese whose lives had been upturned because of the war. As a teacher and artist, Xu’s policies greatly influenced the way both colleges and the government respond to art in Communist China. He died in 1953.

Meanwhile, over in Oregon at Reed College in the early 1950s, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen (who served Stateside during World War II), and Lew Welch–who are associated with the Beat Generation–were studying with calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds. Snyder and Whalen later spent time in Japan, where they studied zen. The US State Department initially denied Snyder a passport, alleging he was a Communist.

Asian influences can also be seen in the art of the time period, most notably the abstract expressionist art of Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb, and Theodoros Stamos. Note this opening paragraph from the Guggenheim’s article “Abstract Art, Calligraphy, and Metaphysics“:

Following World War II New York City became the center of the avant-garde art world. Artists were working in new ways, and some were exploring the energy of the gesture with loose brushwork that reflected the impact of the artist’s bold movements. The calligraphic brushstroke was an approach to abstract painting that focused on the spontaneous gesture of the artist’s hand and was informed by the East Asian art of calligraphy and popular writings on Zen and its principles of direct action.

The article goes on to say:

In Chinese and Japanese calligraphy the brush becomes an extension of the writer’s arm, indeed, his or her entire body. The artist’s stroke not only suggests the movement of the body, but also inner qualities. Abstract as it appears, calligraphy also conveys something about the essence of the individual artist. It is therefore not surprising that 20th-century American Abstract Expressionists who sought to convey emotion through paint were drawn to it.

Because so many soldiers were stationed in the East during World War II, both the West and the East were influenced by each other.

What I personally find fascinating with calligraphy is the collision of art and literature, the visual and the literal, words becoming art, and art becoming words.

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Road Trip with Kevin Russ

23 Aug

I stumbled down the rabbit hole of the Internet into some incredible road-trip photography by Kevin Russ, via Miss Moss. Looking at his photographs of grazing buffalo and wild horses that can’t be broken is like looking into the great American West of the past—and yet his photographs were taken with an iphone.

Kevin Russ’ photographs, wild and natural, rustic and warm, capture a moment that could be any moment in time. Massive mountains and deep gorges speak to the untamed beauty of the American landscape—the type of view that makes you pull over on the side of the road, speechless. You feel small. Not insignificant, but no longer the center of the universe. Your perch in the corner office becomes a little less important. Your eyes readjust. You begin to see.

The photographs have such a timeless quality to them even though there are signs of modern-day life in some of them. There are no people in the photographs that Miss Moss featured, and yet the contemporary traveler is present. There’s the lone yellow school bus traveling in the distance. Mundane-looking cars parked by a corral. The camper on the side of the road. A pastoral home, with what appears to be a kerosene lamp. Teepees. Yellow stripes dashing down grey pavement.

What’s interesting about the absence of people in the photographs is that Russ is actually an amazing portrait photographer. I liked his road-trip work so much that I did a bit of digging around on the Internet and found more of his photos on CameraLuv. He shoots hipsters with envy-inducing haircuts in front of abandoned tires, layers of newspapers, beat-up vans, and industrial fences. Is it any surprise he’s based in Portland?

So then I found his Flickr page and discovered he’s done photography for Radiant, a publication that has published my writing.

I want to languish all day on his Tumblr.

Seeing Kevin Russ’ photography makes me kind of wonder what it would’ve been like if iphones were around when the poets and writers of the Beat Generation were crisscrossing the United States. Allen Ginsberg was the itinerant photographer of the group, capturing hipster friends Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Peter Orlovsky, and the like on their travels.

Gripster: Can Greeks and Hipsters Coexist?

28 Jan

All that talk about Portlandia made me wonder what the Greek population in Portland is like.

According to census data from, oh, about a decade ago, .5% of the population in Portland is Greek.  The Pacific Northwest city has its fair share of Greek restaurants and holds one of the biggest Greek festivals in the country.  Still, Zest reports that the hipster movement is pushing out at least one Greek diner.

Can Greeks and hipsters coexist in Portland?

Well, he predates the aughts’ hipster culture, but Art Alexakis is at least one example of a Greek-American—and a Christian—who came out of the alternative arts culture of Portland.  Although he’s originally from Los Angeles, it wasn’t until Alexakis moved to Portland that he formed the 90s band Everclear.

Gripster: Portlandia, Hipsters, and Greek Myth

21 Jan

The new IFC series Portlandia has been getting major press.  My eyes have been rattling around in my head, they rolled back so far.  Are hipsters still in?

But, after seeing this clip about how in Portland the dream of the nineties is still alive, I’m amused.  Plus, I love Fred Armisen.

Portlandia is also the name of a sculpture located at the entrance of the Portland Building (1120 SW 5th Avenue, in Portland, Oregon).  Sculpted by Raymond Kaskey, it’s based on Portland’s city seal, which features a woman, the Queen of Commerce, in Classical garb, brandishing a trident.  Wikipedia quotes The Morning Oregonian as stating on March 22, 1878, that the lower portion of the seal contains a wreath of myrtle.

Sound familiar?

The Greek muse Erato was often portrayed wearing a wreath of myrtle and roses.  Interesting, since Portland is none other than the City of Roses.  Erato, the muse of lyric poetry, is often depicted carrying a lyre; however, Portlandia carries a trident, which is the traditional symbol of the Greek god Poseidon.  The irony here is that with its sheaf of grain, the city seal was supposed to recognize Portland’s agrarian, which a pitchfork would have symbolized.  The similar-looking trident symbolizes fishing, and Poseidon used it to wreck havoc on the land by creating earthquakes.  Of course, the Queen of Commerce is standing by a body of water so perhaps she is also Queen of the lower Columbia River.

Another possibility is that Portlandia is based on the Greek goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite.  Aphrodite is often depicted with myrtle and roses.  She is often positioned by the sea, but she holds a scepter instead of a trident.  Aphrodite is the Greek incarnation of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, whose symbol is the star.  In the seal of Portland, a star hovers above the Queen of Commerce.

It’s interesting the way Greek mythology resurges, insinuating itself in pop culture.  Does this mean we might be seeing Greek hipsters—Gripsters—in Portlandia?

Portlandia airs tonight at 10:30 on IFC.

Christian Resolutions

20 Jan

Part 2 of my look at New Year’s resolutions was published on Burnside Writers Collective yesterday.  In part 1, I asked “Does God Laugh at Our Resolutions?”  Now in part 2, I look at “Christian Resolutions.”  It starts:

I’m tempted to write a satire called Christian New Year’s Resolutions.  It would go something like this:

  1. Pray without ceasing.  Ever.
  2. Don’t watch secular television.
  3. Become a physically fit Proverbs 31 woman.
  4. Read the bible every day and nothing besides it.
  5. Go to church every Sunday.

Is there such a thing as Christian New Year’s Resolutions?

You can read the rest on Burnside.

I started to have some self-doubt about my writing–this piece included but writing in general–and I’m so encouraged by the comments I received on this article.

Larry Shallenberger, author of the books Divine Intention: How God’s Work in the Early Church Empowers Us Today and Lead the Way God Made You, said, “If there were a “like” button, I’d have pushed it.”

Diane Nienhuis, a Burnside writer and food blogger whom I met at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College (she picked me up at the airport, she’s so sweet!), wrote, “Well said, Stephanie! Beautiful!”  She also shared some of her own resolutions.

Michael D. Bobo, who tackles a highly controversial work of art in his thought-provoking piece “Ants on a Crucifix,” currently featured on Burnside, and as it turns out writes the Claremont Christianity Examiner, which is in the California town where I went to undergrad (small world!), said, “Thanks Steph for getting us back to the basics in 2011.”

And, my editor, Jordan Green, said, “This is tremendous, as if that would be a surprise coming from Stephanie.”  Wow.  Jordan recently cowrote the book Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture and just wrote what is probably the most thorough review of the new IFC show Portlandia there is.  Incidentally, I once met Jordan in Portland.  (We did not Kombucha tea.) (PS. Check back here tomorrow for a bit of trivia on the Greek influence on Portlandia.)

Anyway, the reason I mention all this is two-fold:::

1.  To show my appreciate for the comments I received, I wanted to promote what all these other talented writers are doing.  Check out their links.  Buy their books.  Leave nice comments for them.  They deserve it.

2.  To encourage writers who struggle with self-doubt.  As I mentioned, I was plagued by insecurity and almost deleted the article.  Sometimes my writing is bad.  That’s the way it goes some days.  But sometimes, and I suspect this is true for other writers as well, my writing isn’t as horrible as I imagine it to be.  Sometimes, it might even resonate with someone.  And that’s why I write.