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Time and Place
The 30 watercolor paintings by Nelson Sandgren exhibited now through March 29 at Karin Clarke Gallery represent a thoughtful yet bold sampling of half a century of the artist's work. Thoughtful because they represent a consistent body of work and bold because hanging specific paintings in juxtaposition creates unexpected delights. Curated by Roger Saydack, the show authenticates Sandgren as a peerless watercolorist of the Oregon Coast. From Sea Squall (1956), with its spare, elegant lines and shapes and its clear light to the nearby scraped, pushed paint overlays of the tumultuous Turbulent Cove (2001), Sandgren's work reflects a continuum of dedication to his custom of on-site painting.
"I do all my mixing on the paper, not on a palette," Sandgren said, standing in front of Bandon Storm, an agitated ocean of seafoam and rain-scrubbed rocks near a beach littered with logs. And he insists on the words "on-site," not "en plein air" to describe how he works. "The difference is that my paintings are all done on-site, not finished in the studio," he said. Pointing to an area of creamy sky surrounded by dark clouds in Bandon Storm, he said, "That benign sky in the background there fortifies the rest of the painting."
The artist said that you have to remember a few things with watercolors: gravity for one, and hard and soft edges. Cleaner work means more attractive colors, Sandgren said, "but I may paint two or three colors over each other to get it to come out with the values and colors I want. Instead of technique, I go for serendipity."
This in-the-moment quality above all expresses the artist's mastery of watercolor painting. Saydack calls Giant Breakers (watercolor) "extraordinary. Its newness and beauty are without pretense — so Oregon." Saydack selected this painting, which had not been shown previously, and the other works in the show from some 400-500 paintings he looked through.
Sandgren said he didn't think much of Giant Breakers before. "I like it more now that it's framed and on the wall," he said, looking at the huge waves breaking on rocks at the end of a spit of land, observed by two small figures from a calm shoreline. Noting that it might be his favorite in the show, he called it "an understatement." Sandgren's paintings look simple, but a great deal of skill and awareness goes into creating that look. "I asked Nelson once how long it takes to make one of his watercolors," Saydack said with a smile, "and he replied, 'About 45 minutes and 60 years.'"
Saydack said, "He's not trying to duplicated what's out there or record his emotions to recreate them for viewers. It's about painting choices and decisions. He's always trying to break through the form that's out there. His work has meaning and integrity. He's a very literate painter, but he is his own guy. His paintings have authenticity because he's so true to himself. And sometimes he's completely radical, but he has a solid sense of structure."
With its blown-back winter trees and colorful grasses, Near Huckleberry Hill shows the effect of constant wind on coastal flora. Saydack called it "a bright, beautiful piece so carefully done it's like a Cezanne. See here," he said, pointing to the thin branches of a leafless tree in the left foreground. "Nelson will pick up sticks where he's painting and paint with them." And if you look closely at many of the pieces in the show, spots where rain drops fell are evidence of Sandgren's active painting amid the damp and windy elements that rule the Oregon Coast.
The most visual wind painting in the exhibit is Pacific Blow, where an ecstatic wind whirls around large red rocks in the foreground. "It's a very gestural painting," Saydack said. In a different mood, choppy seas indicate wind in Elephant Rock #2, where the redness of the rock pulls in the viewer. In Yaquina Rock, turbulence surrounds the central, large rock, which expresses a comforting and serene solidity. "Nelson deals with all its complexity in a simple, but serious way," Saydack said. "He captures the color of the air at the coast. He nailed it perfectly in Bandon Green," he said.
As a bonus for gallery goers, Saydack also framed a select number of poems from Oregon Book Award-winning poet John Haislip's 1986 collection, Seal Rock, to hang near Sandgren's paintings. "John captures the Oregon Coast in words, as Nelson does in paint, and I wanted to see their work together," Saydack said. In "A Winter Storm," Haislip writes:
At first you notice only the light
"I knew Haislip at OSU in the 1960s when we were both teaching there," Sandgren said. "I know his poetry. I plan to come back to the gallery again to spend some time with the poems." Saydack showed the painter Haislip's "Late Afternoon, Seal Rock" in conjunction with Sandgren's painting, On the Beach, Alone. "He was so moved he took it up to read to his wife," Saydack said. "He told me the figure in the foreground of this painting is his father." The poem begins: "My father's spirit in the form of a black crow / Comes into the half-dead pine, flies on the wind flat outright at 60 per ..."
Near the gallery door are two monochrome ink washes, Little Man and Massive Light and Sun at Huckleberry Hill. "I used India ink and washes," Sandgren said. "I painted it just like my watercolors. I'm not much on technique. I just let it happen. I do things that aren't in the books, too," he said.
"Nelson reaches so completely into things," Saydack said. "He articulates ideas in a very truthful way." Of Thrusting Sea and Shore, Saydack said, "There's so much motion, so much emotion. You can't plan this kind of painting. It just happens. It's so vivid, there's such imagination to it. He sees something that calls to something in him. "
The exhibit will remain at the gallery through March 29.
What is the love that dare not speak its name? According to Irish-born author/playwright Oscar Wilde during his legendary 1895 trials for Gross Indecency with Male Persons, it is a pure and innocent intellectual friendship and bonding between an older, more experienced mentor and a younger man. Was he courageous? Yes, in a sense. Was he vindicated? No. Was he lying? Of course!
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple," and the answers may surprise you in the ACE Annex production of Gross Indecency — The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.
Drama, social commentary, tragedy, and comedy are played out on the set of a stark and dreary Victorian courtroom. While the trial takes center stage, flanking each side are two tables in which a number of actors in multiple roles provide commentary, citing contemporary court documents, newspaper accounts, letters, and books written by and about Wilde.
With two hit plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Ernest, along with published works of poetry and a controversial novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde was the toast of late 19th-century London. With his witty repartee and irresistible charm, Wilde swam in the most elite social circles, enjoyed fame and fortune and held sway over an abundance of admirers. In both his writing and his life, Wilde viewed the world through artistic lenses, dismissing Victorian conventionality and seeking beauty and aestheticism through the expression of ideas.
He was also a homosexual carrying out affairs with younger men, although he was entirely smitten with one in particular, an aristocrat named Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. Douglas's father, however, the Marquis of Queensbury (of the Queensbury Rules of amateur boxing fame), was a tyrannical, mean-spirited buffoon determined to break off the intimate association between Wilde and his son.
When Queensbury leaves a note at Wilde's club accusing him of being a "posing sodomite," Wilde, at Bosie's urging, puts himself in peril by filing a libel suit against his accuser. When, during this first trial, the prosecutor calls a group of "Rent" boys — young male prostitutes — to give testimony regarding Wilde's corruption, it becomes evident that Queensbury intends to publicize all of Wilde's improprieties; and Oscar decides to drop the suit.
However, a stringent new law imposed by Queen Victoria results in his arrest for "gross indecency." Wilde escapes judgment in his first trial by a hung jury, but in his third and final trial, is convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labor. He died penniless soon after his release.
Director Joe Zingo has assembled a dynamic cast for this challenging play. Michael P. Watkins, renowned for the panache he brings to his roles, is superb and ideally cast as the impeccably dressed and charismatic Wilde. Benjamin Newman plays prosecutor Edward Carson with relish, serving up a good measure of sarcasm behind raised puritanical eyebrows. The courtroom exchange between these two fine actors is compelling and unquestionably the high point of the production. Jesse D. Lally is persuasive as Wilde's sympathetic young lover, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas.
Likewise, Don Kelley is a formidable Marquis of Queensbury, although at times his attempts at indignation lacked passion. Always dynamic on stage, Harold Baker puts in a fine performance as Wilde's defense attorney Sir Edward Clark. Rounding out the cast is John Elliott as George Bernard Shaw and the Judge and Steve Mandell as Harris, Marvin Taylor, and others.
The only glitch in the production was the pacing — the lines seemed rushed, resulting in the players stumbling over them a few times. To the actors' credit, however, recovery was swift, and, considering the combination of several foreign accents along with the play's complex courtroom dialogue, a few missteps can easily be overlooked.
Courage, weakness, politics, scandal, hypocrisy, art, immorality, corruption, passion, genius, loss — Gross Indecency is thought-provoking and engrossing theater at its best.