2012 Artist Paul X. Rutz Explains how PDXOS Fosters Community and Creativity

Have You Heard This One? A Painter and a Sculptor Walk into a Bar|

By Paul X. Rutz

We advertise Portland Open Studios mainly as an opportunity for the public to see visual arts professionals in their element: to visit studios, talk about the work process, and maybe buy a collage, sculpture, painting, or scarfbut theres much more happening at this nonprofit to help local work thrive.

For months prior to the actual tours on the second and third weekends of October, the juried group of 100 or so has been meeting and volunteering in groups large and small, sharing tips on best practices, running errands for each other and preparing to mentor high school students who seek careers in the visual arts. As a first-year participant who moved to Portland just fourteen months ago, Im impressed with the professional development and routine social care between the participants, two things I take very seriously.

At our first meeting this past May, we new folk arrived an hour before those who had done this before. We took turns proofing the directions to our studios and picked up our packets. Then we sat for a series of quick speeches from enthusiastic staff who spoke from the stage at Multnomah Arts Center. They briefed us on the logistics: how theyd like us to handle foot traffic, where to tell people to buy maps of the tour, and how to answer questions (such as why the public should buy tickets for the tour instead of just showing up because the money is a major source of support for this little 501c3).

The veterans of the tour trickled in soon, and the mood of the room grew from one of polite tension between people who dont know each other to a warmer hum of how are you? and you look great!? It made me think of the way people talk at family reunions. Now as new speakers were introduced the intermittent, polite clapping we first-year participants were generating turned heartier, and it became clear these returning craftspeople liked being here. It didnt take long for me to find out why.

Walking out of that meeting, across the street to the Lucky Lab for free post-meeting pizza, I bumped into sculptor Christopher Wagner [http://www.christopherbwagner.net/]. I introduced myself and told him quickly how I make my living (oil paintings of live people), where I came from (grad school in the Midwest), and how new I am to Portland. I was you last year,? he said, describing how he finished his MFA in sculpture, moved to Portland and found himself juried into Open Studios for the 2011 tour. We should visit each others studios.?

Chris and I bought a couple beers and spent the rest of the evening talking through a hundred topics. Participating in Open Studios last year had been valuable in all kinds of ways, he told me, leading to several kinds of success for his burgeoning career. We talked about the value of visiting other peoples studiosthe exchange of ideas that comes in just seeing how other painters and sculptors work. Those visits, to studios like Chriss, have become number one on my list of PDXOS benefits so far.

My studio is in an attic in northwest Portland, and ten other Open Studios participants work nearby. Before that May meeting I had no idea I had been working on the same block as one of them, the pastel landscapist Michael Fisher [http://mfisherart.com/]. He came by to visit my workspace the week after and invited me to visit his space and critique his work.

An informal tour of northwest oil, acrylic, watercolor and more began there as painter Tracie Broughton [http://cannonballart.com/], a PDXOS veteran, organized an email correspondence between the eleven of us. Already our little group has put on its own summer show, thanks to our multifaceted member Jimmy Krozel, who offered his gallery (817 SW 2nd Ave). After that we started a tour of helpful critique throughout our area. Ive already had a lesson in the chemistry of encaustics from Shannon Passon [http://www.shannonpasson.com/]. I expect soon to view Darren Oranges [http://www.darrenorange.com/] mixed-media land and seascapes, some enigmatic figurative pictures by Alexandra Becker-Black [http://alexandrabeckerblack.com], and mixed-media paintings by the prolific Chris Haberman [http://www.opb.org/programs/artbeat/segments/view/830] at his downtown gallery. Our list of stops also includes Carlie [http://carlieleagjeld.com/home.html] and Tracie Leagjelds [http://tracyleagjeld.blogspot.com/] studios, where well view mixed-media and print work, as well as the work space of abstract painter Selene Robinowitz [http://www.selenerobinowitz.com/].

October will no doubt bring its share of excellent experiences, and I look forward to meeting lots of fun people during the tour. But long before Ive hung my best work, put cookies on plates and made sure my studio is free of unintentional boobie traps, Im thinking differently about what painting as a practice should involve and where I should look next for new ideas.

PDXOS participants have repeatedly told me they believe a rising tide lifts all boats,? and its true. They do believe that. How refreshing.