“New Zealand”

from Michael Southern

I have lived, worked as an artist, and taught in Portland since 1995 but have never participated in Portland Open Studios before this year.  Why now?  There are many ways to respond to that question but a succinct answer is simply, “New Zealand.”  From 2009-2012 our family lived in Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand.  It was an experience that brought us to the far reaches of the South Pacific and shaped our view of almost everything we thought we were familiar with.  I would dare to say that I learned more about the United States in those three years away than I did in the forty plus years that I lived here.

New Zealand is a country that is always looking outwards.  Being one of the more isolated land masses in the world tends to do that to a society.  It is always weighing the opinions and attitudes of Australians, Britons and Americans with equal measure.  It values and appreciates what the outside world has to say.  That is a refreshing perspective that I can only hope will take hold with a little more frequency here at home.  It also has the downside of making New Zealand feel a bit insecure and unsure of themselves.  The small population and the isolation have their advantages but it doesn’t exactly have the country brimming with confidence.

During my time in New Zealand I became reintroduced to my fascination with the modern idea of the frontier.  What does it mean to be so isolated in a world that is so prodigiously mapped and documented?  I was at the ends of the earth as much as I could ever hope but where do you go from there?  Is there ever a place that we reach that is truly home?  I have continually moved West in my life.  New York to the midwest to the Pacific Northwest and then onwards to the western edge of the Pacific Rim in New Zealand.

So with these physical and psychic changes came a natural shift in my work.  I am painting almost exclusively now (as opposed to etching, where I received my formal art training).  I am working with the human figure whereas before I dealt almost exclusively with landscape imagery.  And last year when we returned I realized that nobody really knew what my work was about anymore.  So here I am, opening up my studio so anybody that wants to find out can do just that.  I look forward to reintroducing myself to Portland.