Monday, September 28, 2009

From the past to the future: Beaverton’s new mural celebrates youth and hope.

Listen to the podcast with Hector Hernandez at Voices of Living Creatively

“My intention is not to portray a beautiful world, my intention is to portray a world that is real but we can overcome problems,” says Hector Hernandez, mural artist.

Working with 15 students from Merlo Station High School, Hector Hernandez, created a mural concept that spans the solar system, early Beaverton, the threat of global warming and technological development to a hopeful resolution for the future generation and their children. This new mural combined new technology with traditional mural methods that Hernandez learned growing up in Mexico.

As a child in Mexico, Hector remembers he was always drawing and painting, “My first memories were of painting the walls, painting the street, the images of the trains, the landscape around me of the city.” Hector says, “I knew that I cannot be detached from art.” So while he was completing his degree in social anthropology, he worked for a Mexican mural artist. This art experience led him to study drawing and painting at San Carlos in Mexico City, art history and culture in Japan. Hector has degrees from Oregon State University and University of Oregon where he completed his Masters of Fine Art in 1999.

After all his study, it’s murals that still capture his artistic passion. “We need to express something, so for me I’m following the Mexican tradition,” says Hector. “Mural painting is the most unselfish work of art expression because it is public and therefore for everybody to see. I think that is very important.”

And he feels that his study of social anthropology has added a dimension to his mural work. “Anthropology was a very good way to learn about social issues, and culture and that is also reflected in my murals.” He wants his murals to bring messages to the people in the community. “For me, an artist is more like an activist,” explains Hector, “who is involved in many areas, in research, in the artistic creation, in the exploration and also the use of new materials and new techniques.”

Hector combined teaching traditional art techniques with the latest technology, but the center of his work with Merlo Station High School students was the mural itself. According to Hernandez, “Murals are an excellent teaching tool. Not only in the message, but also because it involves the cooperation of people for the implementation and organization of the mural. I will provide those tools for them to learn how to paint and create for a new generation.”

The 13 by 80 foot mural located at the intersection of S.W. Farmington Road and S.W. Watson in Beaverton has a powerful message of the dangers of global warming in our technological society and the hopes for future generations.

Hernandez explains how the elements of color, figures of youth and flower symbols tell a story of moving from darkness into the light. “The universe and solar flare represent this threat, the elements of technology, the motherboard, the circuit board, intertwined with the butterflies, if we use technology in a wise way, we will intertwine our interests with the interests of nature. The students follow the butterflies, and encounter again our path to nature represented by the flowers.” The Lotus flower represents emerging from difficulties, the Peony symbolizes wealth and well-being and the Sunflower completes the cycle of overcoming the problems and emerging into the light with energy and strength.

This hope is not just for the future and our children but the future of public art as well. Many cities once banned murals out of a fear that it would increase graffiti and tagging. But studies in California and Philadelphia proved just the opposite. Hernandez says, “Basically the more murals you have the less graffiti you have, especially tagging.”

Hernandez hopes that these studies and the new public art regulations will mean more art for the enjoyment of everyone. ““I hope that we’ll have more pieces of artwork and community artists in the cities around the country in general. We need more public art to reflect the spirit the identity and character of the people there.”

But what means the most to Hector is being able to share his vision and work together with students, teachers, arts organizations and the citizens of Beaverton. “Even if you did not have a good idea about my vision, you had faith in me and that was really touching,” says Hernandez.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jan vonBergen: Building On Cultural Influences.

Listen to the podcast interview at

Jan’s interest in art started in her childhood at the family dinner table where ethnic dishes were served up with side discussions of the culture, textiles and art from around the world. She remembers delicious curry dishes, her mother’s beautiful sari, and a home filled with exotic smells, artifacts and furniture. These early influences are the building blocks for her kimono inspired prints and organic ceramic vessels that you can see as part of Portland Open Studios Tour.

Jan explains, “It was all based on food, their way of showing us the culture was through the food, beautiful fabrics, clothing, some of the customs. They would make these curry dinners and that’s how we celebrated these cultures. And my parents would go to auction houses and they collected a lot of their furniture, some of it was Asian table fabrics and kimonos. And my grandparents house, too, was filled with antiques.”

It was her artistic grandmother who fueled Jan’s early art training teaching her to sew, knit, paint and make wreaths. From there Jan took Saturday art classes at Marylhurst and the Portland Art Museum, moving on to college at the Museum Art School, where she majored in ceramic sculpture and minored in print making. These two diverse media are still a major focus for her today.

Whether it’s one of Jan’s Asian-inspired kimono prints or her organic, ceramic vessels, there’s always a combination of line, color, texture and form. According to Jan, “Along with my training as a sculptor, I was also a calligrapher. Calligraphy, sculpture and printmaking, those three are my favorite things.” And although these might seem like very different media, to Jan, they both involve building.

Says Jan, “To me they’re very close. Print making is more immediate, you have an idea and try it. With ceramics, you throw it, bisque it, glaze, fire it so I’ve got two weeks before I can see it. So it’s not as immediate but I do love making it.”

With the vessels, Jan starts with a formal shape adding calligraphic marks in the clay, much like printing, then makes tiny, organic, sculptural shapes to form the lids.

To build a print, Jan might start by taking a picture of a swirl image in the road. Using that as a base to make a copper plate, she adds bits of her hand-painted Sumi papers, stamps from garage sale envelopes or ethnic ceremonial papers piecing together her image. Then, she might cut the plate into smaller, more abstract shapes before she runs it through her printing press.

Jan explains, “I like that building. I can take the plate and cut it up, glue stuff down, add whatever and build this thing. Then I ink it and it has all this texture.”

While the mediums might be very different, the connections in Jan’s art and life are easy to see when you tour her home with its multi-ethnic furniture, sculpture and garden tea-house. Sitting in the tea house, Jan reflected on how her passion for art led her to teaching which in turn, taught her even more.

“Teaching those students was where my learning began, because they taught me so much. They taught me patience. How to really think about what I’m really doing because I had to verbalize it for them. And they would share an idea and I would think, gosh, I never would have thought about it that way. It’s another point of view and another vision that you get in that time and space to be part of …I can’t think of any other profession that you get to do that in, to join that young person in that part of their creativity,” Jan said.

As a Fulbright scholar, Jan went to Japan five years ago and taught lessons in Italic calligraphy, book binding and drawing. Now retired, she was a beloved art teacher for many years at Arts & Communication and Southridge High School in Beaverton.

You can visit Jan and see her at work in her studio October 10, 11 and 17, 18 as part of the Portland Open Studios Tour. Tour Guides with tickets are available at Art Media, New Seasons and other outlets listed at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Kitty Wallis: Artist, teacher, entrepreneur and founder of Portland Open Studios.

You can hear the podcast at Voices of Living Creatively website

“I’ve spent many, many years waking up in the morning saying what do I feel like doing today? As an artist, do I feel like going into the studio? Do I feel like going out meeting people? Do I feel like getting reference material? I’m very young looking for my age. And I think that’s one of the reasons,” says Kitty Wallis.

From the streets of New York to a California commune, Kitty has always lived an artist’s life. As a child growing up in a small, poor Pennsylvania town, Kitty’s mother was proud of her artistic daughter and encouraged her to draw. Later, it was a high school counselor who, saw Kitty’s talent, took her to New York City to apply for a full-tuition art scholarship at Cooper Union. Only 10% of the applicants to Cooper Union are accepted into this privately funded 150 year old college. After passing the difficult 8 hour entrance exam, Kitty was accepted into the program. Making her first move away from her small town home, in 1956, Kitty describes how it felt in the big city, “Culture shock! The first day was traumatic because I didn’t realize the importance of the fact that no one would know me. Because everybody knew me when I was growing up, there were only 2,500 people in my town. But people helped. By the end of the first day I had a place to live and a job. It’s amazing.”

Although being a student at Cooper Union is an honor and Kitty learned to work in a variety of media, she had her difficulties. The school was embracing abstract impressionism, the new wave of art in the 1950’s and Kitty wanted to do realistic work. Walking from her office job to school one day, Kitty passed by a group of sidewalk artists looking for customers when one of the artists said, “Get your portrait done.” Kitty replied back, “If I wanted a portrait of myself I would do one myself.” He challenged her to do his portrait right there and then. “So I did. And I was so excited by the whole thing because I did a good portrait of him. It was just a little charcoal sketch but it was right on.” The artist was so impressed with her skill, he suggested she set up her own street portrait business. Kitty says, “I was out there the next night with my chairs, easel and art supplies, the whole thing. That was the first move I made to be independent instead of having a job.”

Kitty’s journey began doing portraits on the streets of New York, but has taken her many places along the way. After three years at Cooper Union, Kitty got married and with her husband set up a shop in Philadelphia. He made sandals and she did portraits. Deciding to join a commune, they moved to California and a year or so later, Kitty moved to Santa Cruz. Kitty has traveled the country and the world making art and money, seeing old friends, making new ones and setting up gallery shows featuring work from her travels. Kitty says, “I first wanted to travel around the country so I could learn to be a traveler. So I got a van and some art supplies and started across the country for a year and a half.” Kitty found ways to make money along the way doing portraits, plein air painting and working with a therapy community. This led to a unique opportunity Kitty explains, “I got to a gallery in Dallas that had a few of my pieces. They were excited by what I was doing and said let’s do a show of your work when you get back.”

For a while, Kitty settled back in Santa Cruz, California enjoying the artistic lifestyle there. Then, she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where the gallery scene was thriving but after a few years, missed California and moved back to Santa Cruz. It was in Santa Fe, she overheard an art store conversation that led her down another professional road. “I had been using sandpaper and that gave me that painterly quality, rich hard edges color on color. It was sold in art supply stores as pastel paper even though it was disposable paper,” says Kitty. “I heard the art company rep tell the store owner that they weren’t going to supply the sandpaper anymore. I knew I had to have a paper with that texture and a product that wouldn’t fall apart after 50 years. And it had to have the sandpaper surface but smooth.”

It was a personal need that drove Kitty to develop her now famous Wallis Sanded Paper. At first, she made it herself on a Santa Cruz hilltop. With a spray gun in each hand, she sprayed resin on the paper first, then pumice. At the end of the sessions, covered with paint and pumice, Kitty would have enough paper to last her several months. But when her students wanted to know how she achieved her unique pastel effects, she realized she had to share her paper with them. And it was a student with manufacturing experience who helped her find a way to get the paper mass produced. Introduced at the first semi-annual International Association of Pastel Societies in Denver, Colorado in 1995, the paper was a hit and Kitty began receiving a regular salary for the first time in her life. “When I first got into this business I was very excited about finally having an income that didn’t depend on selling paintings. I wanted to see what I would paint if I didn’t have to pay the rent with the sale of my work. So the first thing I found out was, I depended on that need to sell for my painting discipline,” explains Kitty.

About that time, Kitty moved to Portland from Santa Cruz, bringing with her the studio tour idea that she’d been involved with there. “When I moved to Portland, my heart was so much involved in the open studios idea that I felt that Portland needs this,” she says. “But I didn’t want to come busting up here with, “In California this is how they do this.” So, she waited 3 years, meeting artists and collecting the names of artists whose work she liked. Kitty explains, “I got eight people to come to a meeting in August of 1998. We put up our own fees for the first year, $80 dollars a piece, enough money to print applications and send them out. And when we got applications back and juried, we had 49 people in the first tour.”

Ten years later, the Portland Open Studios Tour has grown to feature 100 artists at work in their studios all around the Portland Metro area. Kitty has watched Portland Open Studios grow with pride. Although she’s not as actively involved, she still enjoys participating in the tour every year. Kitty says, “I am so proud of how people took the ball and ran with it because you don’t want your baby to die. And to have such strong legs on your baby is a very nice thing. Because it’s growing in strength, vitality and popularity every year.”

In addition to Portland Open Studios, gallery shows, Wallis Paper company, teaching around the country and doing her own studio work, Kitty, at 71, is busier than she’s ever been. Retirement is not in her future “I have never been so busy in my whole life. I’m 71 and I’m far from retiring,” says Kitty. “I never thought of it as a goal. I would brag to people I’m so glad I belong to a profession that I don’t have to retire from.”

All those years ago as a young Cooper Union student, Kitty says she wanted to develop the chops of a master. As an internationally known, award-winning artist, teacher and entrepreneur, she’s done all that and more. Now as she works in her studio, she’s painting not just what she sees around her but what she feels within. “I finally allowed myself to understand that I was bored with realism,” she explains. She wants the colors and shapes to come from her gut, and her work continues to grow and evolve. “Now I seem to have found a new challenge. I’m doing something new and I don’t know how to do it. It’s a good thing. I want to learn how to create an expression that is mine,” Kitty says. “This is who I am.”

If you're in Portland, Oregon in October, you can visit Kitty's studio and watch her at work. Her studio is open both weekends, October 10, 1l and 17, 18 from 10 am to 5 pm. Tour Guides and information is available at Portland Open Studios Tour website.