East Portland artists’ skills shine during ‘Open Studios’

You’ll be amazed by the skills we saw being demonstrated by talented artists, here in outer East Portland! Come along and meet some of the artists …

Portland Open Studios spokesperson Careen Stoll demonstrates her skills at the pottery wheel.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Among the 100 artists participating this year in Portland Open Studios’ self-guided tour in October, many who opened their craft spaces to visitors were again in Southeast Portland.

Portland Open Studios’ volunteer board members work year-’round to create a unique educational opportunity for the public – to see, and often experiment with, the process of art in the making; to learn about media and materials; and to discover the business side of being a creative entrepreneur.

Careen Stoll, a potter introduced to you in our coverage last year, served as the spokesperson for the 2010 Portland Open Studios tour.

About it, she commented, “It provides a way for artists like me to connect, person-to-person with those who enjoy my work and want to experience my process. This is impossible in the gallery setting, yet it is the essence of the good life that I share through my functional work, that references the generosity of breaking bread together.”

Now, we’ll introduce you to seven more fascinating people who create works of art – many at home studios – located, perhaps, just blocks from where you may live.

Oil painter Joseph Besch says he’s always been attracted to artistic efforts.

Joseph Besch
S.E. Long Street

This artist told us that he’s had a love of creating art as long as he can remember.

“Even when I was a little kid, I was interested in comic books – drawing stuff,” Besch reminisced, while painting in his garage, now converted to a studio. “It evolved in the painting; primarily oil painting from still life, but also some figurative stuff.”

Besch has considered himself to be a fine artist for about 15 years. As an employee at the downtown Art Media store, he’s been able to learn more about materials, and to be involved with artists while at work.

About painting in oils, Besch observed, “I like the time that I can devote to painting using oils. Acrylics dry in a half-hour; but I can mix of oil paints and pigments, and they last for several days.”

The oil paintings Diane Russell creates – like this one, “At Jimmy Mak’s” of musicians and show business folks are astoundingly colorful, lifelike and evocative.

Diane Russell
S.E. 88th Avenue

Fulltime outer East Portland fine artist Diane Russell had, on display at her home studio, oil paintings we found enthralling. “I also work in pencil,” Russell told us. Most of the subject matter of her work revolved around dance and music – specifically jazz and blues artists.

“The first musician I painted was Linda Hornbuckle – and that started it. I knew that that was my theme. I love music. To me, it is like everybody needs music; it speaks to the soul. Music is universal, in the way it unites everyone.”

About her style, Russell added, “I try to bring the subject to life; I want them to hear the music when they see my paintings. I start by taking my own photos of the subjects, and work from those. I love music, dance, theater and opera – even though I can’t perform them.”

She originally started out in painting in oils. “But I gave it up because the fumes were so toxic. Then, about seven years ago, I found out about a new kind of oils called “M. Graham” paints in West Linn; they make a painting medium that is completely non-toxic.”

What allows her to be a full-time artist, Russell pointed out, is that about two-thirds of her work is commissioned portraits. “I really enjoy capturing people and families at their best, and the portraiture work allows me to be professional artist.”

Carolyn Hazel Drake shows visitors a novel form of art she’s created – it combines ceramics and sewing – it’s so new it hasn’t yet been named.

Carolyn Hazel Drake
S.E. 81st Avenue

This artist has created a new category of art. “I do ceramics, specifically porcelain. I also use a lot of materials from the world of fibers, especially quilting techniques and materials.”

About how she came to this, Drake said, “I’ve always been really drawn to tactile materials that can be manipulated with the hands. When I was growing up my mom owned a quilt store. And so, fibers and sewing is really my ‘native art vocabulary’. When I was in college, I did a lot of work with architecture, and really loved model making, and working with spaces and voids, and how to construct something with as few cuts as possible.”

When she became a high school art teacher, Drake said she started working with clay. “It was a ‘rough and fast introduction’; because we had a ceramics class Molalla High School, and I was to teach it.”

But, this experience helped her develop an art form combining quilting and ceramics.  “What’s it called? That’s a really good question. I need to coin a term for it; no one else is doing it. There’s nothing else really like it that I have seen. It really is ‘stitched ceramics’.”

Drake calls these “Cruel Shoes Tea cups” – after comedian Steve Martin’s story. “They’re very fragile and delicate, and tip over easily. But, for the ‘right person’, they are the ultimate tea cup.”

About Portland Open Studios, Drake said, “I’m very comfortable working in front of people, and working and talking, because you do that all day as a teacher. It’s really been in the last year that I have started to call myself an artist, and really take my work seriously. I thought that this would be a great place to see how people are responding to work that I am making. And also, a comfortable venue for me to start showing work rather than pursuing the traditional gallery route.”

Marcus Gannusico says he likes painting almost life-size portraits on very large canvases.

Marcus Gannusico
S.E .79th Avenue

Oil paint artist Marcus Gannuscio is a tall man with a quick smile. And, his love of painting large-as-life images is clear, the moment one walks into his home studio.

“I consider myself a realist, doing mostly figurative pieces,” Gannusico told us. “I still dabble in some still life and landscape, here and there. But, I like painting people who I know, or people in a commissioned piece.”

Gannusico said he started out wanting to be an illustrator. “I hated painting, starting out. I was more interested in doing storyboard work, and being an animator with a focus on drawing. The school I was attending dropped their illustration program, and I had to be a painting major, and taking painting classes. I started hated it.”

He left Portland for an art school in Pasadena, California, to attend their illustration program. “Guess what? They made me take more painting classes! Somehow down there, it ‘clicked’. I realized, more and more, that I was going to be a painter.”

Asked about the huge paintings squeezed into his house, Gannusico said, “I’ve tried to scale down, but I’ve continued to keep ‘painting large’; I like this scale. If the figure gets smaller than half  life-size, I feel that it takes away from the ability to sort of step into the situation. With a larger scale, I think it’s easier to recognize the people you’re looking at as real people – rather than just a part of a composition.”

Although he can’t yet support himself as a fulltime artist, Gannusico said his “day job” at Muse Art & Design in the Hawthorne District actually helps support his professional development. “Working there helps me be able to use better materials. And, because you talk with other artists all day – I actually feel encouraged to come home and get to work.”

To learn more about Portland Open Studios, even perhaps to join the event next fall, or just to be updated on their activities, see their website: www.portlandopenstudios.com.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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