Sunday, January 03, 2010
Our sorta-ongoing tour of Portland transit mall art takes us to SW 5th between Pine and Ankeny, home to this piece known merely as "Untitled". As its Smithsonian art inventory page explains, it's by John Killmaster (a now-retired prof at Boise State University. You know, in Idaho ), and was part of the original 1977 crop of transit mall sculptures. And it's not to be confused with another piece of the same vintage also (un)titled "Untitled" just one block south of here.
So it's been in Portland about as long as I have, and over the years I've walked past it a vast untold number of times without ever once stopping to take a good look at it. One thing I enjoy about doing this blog is that it makes me pause and take notice of my surroundings, at least more than I otherwise would. And every so often, I bump into something and decide I actually like it. This is one of those times. Longtime readers may find this surprising, recalling (as you no doubt do) my irrational and negative views on the subject of rust. If you owned an MG, you'd understand. Just trust me on this. Anyway, "Untitled" is basically a trio of brightly colored decorative enamel panels, each mounted on a big chunk of rusty ol' Cor-Ten steel. So until recently my reaction to the thing as a whole was basically "eew, gross", until I finally took a look at the enamel bits and decided I like those. So my take is that the multicolored panels are the art, and the rusty parts are simply a stand for the art, which can be freely ignored. That's probably not the original intent, but I like it better this way.
We may never know why the 70's were so mad for deliberately rusty steel. The 70's had an equally inexplicable mania for the color brown, so it might just be that. Or possibly it was a sort of misguided back-to-nature impulse, the rust indicating that the modern world was ending, and we were all heading back to a post-technological Woodstock-like barefoot-in-the-mud existence. Which was desirable, apparently. Or maybe it was simply that it was the 70's, and everyone else was doing it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. This theory is called upon to explain much of the 70's, and is nearly impossible to disprove. So there's that. But personally I lean toward the Art Mafia hypothesis. Perhaps you're unfamilar with the Art Mafia. They generally like to keep it that way. But if so-and-so's Cousin Guido goes into the scrap metal business, it's best to avail yourself of his services, if you know what's good for you. Otherwise, an Art Mob enforcer cuts off his own ear and mails it to you, just to show that they mean business. That's just a warning, and after that they play rough with you. After the first time, you look like a Munch. After the second, you look like a Picasso. And after the third, a Pollock. So really it's best to just knuckle under and buy the damn rusty steel, already.
But I digress. The enamel panels themselves are quite pleasant, sporting bright primary colors and tiled in parts with various Northwest-esque nature motifs. So, ok, they do look just a little like 70's prog rock album covers, and overall there's just no mistaking Untitled for one of the new 2009 pieces they added during the MAX project. Regardless, I really do like it, and I'm not trying to be snarky or ironic or anything here.
I generally try to look up other works by the same artist, to (hopefully) get a feel for their style and (possibly) get some idea of what motivates them. And I do have a few examples to pass along, but nothing that looks very similar to this. In a 1989 article, Killmaster explains in great detail how a recent enamel piece was created, and includes photos of a couple of other contemporary pieces. More recently, here are articles about 2004 and 2009 shows of his paintings at a Boise-area gallery, and you can see a few more paintings at this online gallery. The Smithsonian inventory page I linked to earlier mentions a couple of other public art works of his, but I haven't been able to find photos of either, so I don't know if they're similar to this or not.
Posted by brx0 _ at 1:09 AM