Gallery owner Karin Clarke launched the Eugene Biennale in 2016, a year after the Jacobs Gallery and the Mayor of Eugene’s annual art exhibition were closed for several years. She wanted to make up for the loss in the community – and others too, rallying to lend their support. This year is the exhibition’s fourth incarnation; it will be on display until September 10.
Eight awards were presented at a ceremony held during Visual Arts Week in early August at the new Farmers’ Market Pavilion. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, City of Eugene Cultural Services, Oregon Art Supply, Whiteaker Printmakers and the UO Duck Store all contributed to the awards. Afterwards, the artists and those who wanted to meet them or ask them about their work went to the Karin Clarke Gallery on Willamette Street for a reception.
If I met Eugene’s Michael Whitenack, I’d ask the artist what was the inspiration for his whimsical “Steelhead Taxi” (2021). Made of wood, metal and glass (the metal was made by popular Eugene artist Jud Turner), the sculpture of a rainbow fish doubles as a taxi, carrying what appears to be a bear and a rabbit as passengers. The steelhead’s face is done in a more realistic yet terrifying style than its passengers. Something about their facial expressions is hilarious. I’m probably reading it, but it looks like they’re clinging to their seats for an adventure that could go well or very badly. I understand.
I often contact artists with questions. But for such a large group show — 33 artists were selected from more than 200 who submitted — it wouldn’t be possible to talk to everyone. So not asking leaves me wondering, thinking about the animals and their journey.
If you want more fantasy, Marjorie Taylor won Best in Show for “Cleo Caracal.” A former psychology professor at the University of Oregon and owner of Fifth Street Public Market, Taylor creates animals that would look lifelike if they weren’t made of tapestry. The little red dot on the wall by “Cleo” means it’s already sold. I’m not surprised. I could easily imagine someone wanting to take the big cat home with them. He wouldn’t need feeding – just love and maybe dusting him off once in a while.
If you wanted to, you could also talk about the sculpture in terms of serious problems. For example, the tapestries that characterize it signify the work of women, and you could mention that no animals were harmed while making “Cleo”, so it is an alternative to trophies obtained by hunting.
“Radical Hope 5” (2022), by Pamela Thompson de Corvallis, is done in a monotone ivory color tone. Constructed from encaustic paper and string, the work can be taken as seriously as a Greek statue (before the color was restored) but its title makes me smile. He tells me to keep hoping, even after the fourth try.
Tom Miller of Cottage Grove has one of the greatest works in the show. Miller’s acrylic on paper painting, “Breakfast with Bela” (2017), won the Jury’s Choice award. It’s colorful and eye-catching, a portrait of a man seated at a table in a restaurant, seemingly in conversation with the viewer.
People entering the gallery can’t help but wonder who this man is?
This is what happens when a visitor to the gallery enters while I am there. Then he says he likes the artwork but would never buy a painting from someone he doesn’t know. I understand his point, but I can’t help but think of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or Vincent van Gogh‘s portrait of his postman (Joseph Roulin). We appreciate these portraits despite the fact that we do not know the models personally.
If you want to have a say in who will receive an award, there’s a jar in the gallery collecting votes for the People’s Choice Award, which is sponsored by the family of the late art collector Eleanor Freeman.
By the way, the Mayor’s Art Show returned in 2018 and this year is taking place at the Eugene Public Library. The Eugene Biennial doesn’t seem to be going anywhere; it seems that a new tradition has taken root.
The Eugene Biennial continues through September 10 at the Karin Clarke Gallery, 760 Willamette Street. Hours are 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.