Let us hear from you!!

Don’t forget, to help promote the tour this year, we’d like to post blogs from artists on the tour on our website, PortlandOpenStudios.com. This will bring traffic to the site, spark discussion on our social media outlets, and help you promote your open studio. The blogs can be about many things, like your artistic process, your history as an artist, or a how-to detailing a specific technique. It is OK to resurrect previous articles you might have posted on your own blog and I will modify if necessary for PDXOS blog. Our blog posts will appear under the “News” tab on the website.

We’d like each blog to be about 300 words and include at least one high-resolution image. We will help as much as we can with editing or suggestions for adding to the blog, if you have the seeds of an idea but are unsure how to complete it. If you write a blog, it counts for one hour of volunteer time. The more chatter online about the tour, the better the turnout for all the artists involved. If you are interested in writing for the site or have any questions, email Pat Kane at mpkane@comcast.net.

An update on 'Between Here and There', Paul Rutz's ongoing portrait project with combat veterans.


From foreground, sculptor Christopher Wagner works on a portrait of an Army veteran playing guitar, along with painter Paul X. Rutz. Their series, titled Between Here and There, will go on display at Good Gallery in Portland, Oregon, in November 2014.

Between Here and There: Our Guitarist Can’t Get Rid of His Bad Tattoo

 It has to do with the bracelet one of our Iraq Veterans wears on his right wrist. You’ve probably seen one like it—a stainless steel cuff with the name, rank, and date of death—if not in person, then perhaps in a televised presidential debate [link: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2008/09/bracelet-wars/]. And it has to do with an ill-advised tattoo, the kind of thing a guy might wish he could get removed except for what that removal would do to the memory of a dead friend.

I recently finished a piece with my partner in portraiture, sculptor Christopher Wagner, portraying a senior enlisted soldier who posed for us while playing his guitar. It’s one of ten two-media portraits of combat vets we aim to finish by the end of the year. Each portrait takes dozens of hours, and inevitably we get to talking about the vets’ experiences in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, in this case.

Two months and a few beers into the process, we asked our guitar-playing Sergeant Major how his friend died. “Vehicular IED,” he replied.

I was adding the final touches to my painting of his shoulder, which sports a little tattoo, a green/black inky insect shape. “This is the kind of thing you do when you’re young, drunk, and enlisted in the Pacific,” he said. “I just picked it out. I thought it was badass.” At the time it looked like a scorpion. After the inking, when he found out his tattoo was designed as the zodiac sign for Cancer, he decided he didn’t like it. He has no connection to Cancer, doesn’t have any wish to remember that particular drunk, young night on deployment. He’s not even sure he knows anyone who was born a Cancer. (We couldn’t remember among the three of us when Cancer really is in the year.) He would remove it in a heartbeat, but the thing is, the guy whose name and date of death is on his right wrist got the same tattoo that night.

As we put the finishing touches on our portraits, and our Sergeant Major looked at my rendering of his bad tattoo, he told us the story of his friend’s death. Years after getting the tattoos in the Pacific, our Sergeant Major’s friend was driving a truck in Iraq with one other crew member, a fifty-year-old woman manning the truck’s gun who our Sergeant Major says shouldn’t have been there. She had been discharged from the service, ready to live the rest of her life as a civilian, but was recalled from the IRR, the Individual Ready Reserve, a force of ex-soldiers who are normally supposed to do nothing with the Army except keep their information current in case they need to be mobilized for World War III. Our Sergeant Major said a white car rammed their vehicle, tried and failed to set off the bomb inside, then before the IRR reservist could kill the car’s driver, the man repeated the effort and succeeded in blowing both vehicles away.

Chris has etched both the bracelet and the tattoo into his sculpture with the eye for documentary detail we have practiced throughout these studio sessions. I can’t see the bracelet from where I chose to paint my half of our Sergeant Major’s portrait. But the tattoo is prominent. I kind of prefer it that way. To me it’s a portrait of the accidental symbolism of that tattoo, a reminder that what we otherwise might regret can turn into our most precious markers.

POS artist wins First Place Rose Award

More good news from one of our own, Lynne Patton, who won the First Place Rose Award in the Oregon Society of Artists Rose Festival Show for her painting Copper and Roses. The reception and award ceremony was Sunday June 8th. OSA has been part of the Portland Rose Festival since the 1930s. It is an honor to be juried into this show and a big honor to win first place. The show is at Oregon Society of Artists through July 11th. Lynn will be at the gallery on Saturday 6/21 from 1-4 if you would like to stop by. In other news, Lynn was recently commissioned to paint 2 paintings for Edelweiss Dental in Portland. And be sure to stop by Lynn’s studio during Portland Open Studios this fall.

Between Here and There: Two Married Men Dating into Portraits of Veterans

By Paul X. Rutz

My partner and I are developing a special relationship—probably not unique as far as these things go, but important to us after the trial and error we’ve put into it.

Sculptor Christopher Wagner and I meet almost daily most weeks in my Northeast Portland studio to paint and mold images of combat veterans. Right now, we’re booked pretty solid with men and women willing to sit, stand and twist through the dynamic poses we negotiate with them, talking through whatever topics come up, singing along occasionally with the iPod songs. It wasn’t always so.

I make it a point to work with live people in my studio almost all the time, trying to work through questions on how we see and what picturing an event is, rather than relying on the ease (and distortions) of photography. I find models to help me in that inquiry all over the place—sometimes relatives and coworkers, sometimes friends of friends or a guy at a bar. But none of my usual model finding habits could fit the criteria for this project.

I moved to Portland three years ago, and when Chris and I wrote our grant to fund this project, I could think of only one combat vet I knew well in this city. He became our first model, and we portrayed him texting his friends to find someone else who might be interested in posing for us. In our off hours, Chris and I hit the internets to find more.

We would get names and phone numbers, leave messages about the importance of the project, and not hear back. Or we’d hear back, make plans to start the portrait, and watch those plans get scratched by circumstance. That happened with one guy who sounded perfect over the phone. He said he was enthusiastic about the goal of these portraits and had a day job working in the veterans community. He would’ve had some excellent stories, I think, from not only his job as a vets advocate, but also his past as a gay Air Force enlistee. As soon as we locked down a date to start posing, he took a new job in Seattle.

It was like dating. I thought if there were a dating site for connections between portraitists and vets, we were ready with our list of most desired traits. “I want someone who can meet [fill in the blank], who cares about [these things], who represents diversity [in these ways].” Type in the answers and the algorithm would find the right match. We tried Craigslist and the like, and that gave us zero leads.

In ten portraits of combat veterans, by the way, how many ways can you spell “diversity.” Age and theater of service went hand in hand: World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Desert Storm, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan—each combat theatre brought with it veterans of a certain age range. What about branch? Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, or maybe a foreign military? Gender: Male combat vets were easiest to find, but given the shifting roles of women in our military we should seek to portray females. Should we stop with the binary gender division or go deeper? (Bradley/Chelsea Manning came to mind.) Sexual identity: Good-bye “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” hello gay servicemembers finally able to talk openly about their home lives! Ethnicity: the city of Portland, I’m learning all over again, is a very white town.

We told ourselves not to chase diversity too hard since there’s no way to capture the tastes and quirks of thousands of combat vets in just ten portraits. And that was the point from the beginning: making portraits of individuals: putting aside statistics to focus on particular, human interactions, not in abstractions about a population.

These days our schedule is filling with veterans because we eventually found that bridging gaps between the military and artistic communities is easier when our models are members of both groups. Circles of shared taste simply matter. Posing for this kind of live portrait—thirty or forty hours in a studio over a month or two with two guys looking at you—requires faith that an effort like that will lead to something important. There are plenty of easier ways to spend one’s free time. So as much as we would like our project is about bridging gaps between the veteran and arts communities, perhaps we’re not building as many new bridges as we’d like, but strengthening existing ones.

The dating continues. Chris and I visited a gallery this past week that put on a show of pictures by veterans in need. Some three-person coffee dates will follow, and hopefully we’ll fill our portrait schedule through the summer.

“Between Here and There” is a two-media portrait project that I and Christopher Wagner will be brushing and carving into until we show the series in November at Good Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The series is funded through a generous grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

Between Here and There: My Own Starlight Scope Myopia

By Paul X. Rutz

Blessed with great hearing and strong night vision, Army draftee Lance Grebner was often assigned duty on night watch for his company in the Vietnamese central highlands during his tour in 1968-69. His story about how he became a go-to guy on the starlight scope brought up some Naval and academic memories for me before it took a turn way beyond my field of vision—down a path not fit for sensitive readers.

We talk about everything from cooking excellent tamales to predictions on when the first people will land on Mars during our biweekly meetings to work on Lance’s portrait. (My partner in portraiture, Christopher Wagner, mentions some of the topics here: http://paulrutz.com/from-chris-wagner-conversation-as-shortcut-to-art-based-resonation/.) We also chat through a free-association mix of politics, Oregon outdoor adventures, and details about our early adulthood, which for Chris are colored by his early plans to be a preacher. For Lance and me, those stories often have a military hue—mine the color of an aircraft carrier at sea, and his the color of long mountain marches.

Lance’s company spent much of the daylight combing the craggy mountains for signs of a massive tunnel system rumored to house an underground combat hospital for the North Vietnamese Army. At night the NVA and Viet Cong came out of the tunnels, which brought about a stealthy cat-and-mouse game of ambushes and counter-attacks. Much of the American company would spend the night roving around setting up ambushes in the brush. But with his good nighttime reputation, Lance didn’t have to do a lot of that. Instead he was able to enjoy setting aside his bulky M-60 machine gun to take his turn with a smaller rifle and a startlight scope, looking at the rustling nighttime through it: two hours on, two off, until dawn.

I’ve never seen the shadowy world through a 1960s-era startlight scope, but in my Naval aviation role a decade ago I saw through similar military equipment. As Lance spoke about lying in wait on a hill, panning back and forth while looking through that round scope, I remembered Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Starlight Scope Myopia.”

A well regarded poet of the Civil Rights era, Komunyakaa received a Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam the same year (1969) that Lance earned his. It took Komunyakaa fourteen years to write about the war, finally publishing a book on it in the 1980s called Dien Cai Dau, which is Vietnamese for “crazy.” I know this thanks to background research related to my dissertation on combat art in Iraq. (Brian Turner, a rare breed who did a Master of Fine Arts in poetry before enlisting in the Army and serving in Iraq, has published some poems that make some Komunyak-esque moves.)

I told Lance about the poem with some enthusiasm, extolling what I take to be its effective meditation on the scope’s tendency to pull the shooter-viewer into this round, monochromatic world—a unique kind of near-sightedness. Komunyakaa closes “Starlight Scope Myopia” this way, refining—I said with scholarly authority—the distance between shooter and target:

One of them is laughing.

You want to place a finger

to his lips & say “shhhh.”

You try reading ghost-talk

on their lips. They say

“up-up we go,” lifting as one.

This one, old, bowlegged,

you feel you could reach out

& take him into your arms. You

peer down the sights of your M-16

seeing the full moon

loaded on an oxcart.

The poem ends like that, with this strangely beautiful image of the moon on an ox cart. We pause on the shadowy, quiet, mystical scene available through spotting scopes and explore how the sight of moving mouths can mingle with a viewer’s imagination and other night sounds into the illusion that we can hear the far-off people speaking. And Komunyakaa’s “you” adds an important, menacing layer. With “you,” he leads readers to imagine ourselves in the role of shooter instead of him. The power inherent in a rifle with night scope becomes yours. You think you know the men represented in this monochrome, shadowy text. You feel you can embrace them, and you can kill them.

I made sure to give Lance a copy of the poem in an anthology, hoping for more opportunities to talk about the optical strangeness in those situations. I’m a painter. I think about these things all the time. What I don’t think about much—and here’s an example of my own myopic view of combat scopes and luminance—is the memories someone like Lance must have entwined with those of the full moon apparently loaded onto an oxcart. They aren’t pleasant memories.

Lance earned his reputation for good starlight scoping this way: One night, on watch with his platoon sergeant, Lance whispered that he saw a figure appear in the scope, and then he started counting… 2, 3, 4, 5. “When I got to 8,” he told me, “I said, holy sh** there’s a company of NVA down there. I saw a mortar tube. It was very scary.” He said it turned out there were 200 troops on their way to take out another American company that the North Vietnamese had located earlier.

So Lance and his sergeant immediately sent word to their company to wake everyone up. He said, within a minute they lit up those ghostly shapes with everything they had. Lance set aside the M-16 with the starlight scope and picked up his usual M-60 machine gun. The barrel got so hot he worried it might melt.

In the morning they found no bodies and no weapons among the helmets and other equipment left behind. The North Vietnamese rarely left any men or weapons behind. “And there were a lot of blood trails,” he said. But later, following those blood trails, the company found several shallow graves. The NVA often would put maps or other sensitive intelligence material under a rotting body to keep anyone from discovering it, guessing that pure revulsion would keep people away from valuable intel. “But we had orders,” Lance said. They turned over those bodies—careful to avoid any booby traps—and searched the whole scene thoroughly.

One grave appeared unusual. The man’s body was buried with some formality, in a wooden box instead of a simple hole in the ground. The Americans suspected the man must have been some kind of high ranking official. Opening the box revealed something big, yet not quite what they expected. It was obvious the man had still been alive when he was buried, Lance said. The tips of the fingers had rubbed away from scratching at the coffin’s insides, and the man’s face was still twisted in what looked like a ghastly scream.

Conversations like this one give me some glimpse at the narrow scope I’m looking through almost all the time. I hope talking about it 45 years later helps Mr. Grebner, too.

“Between Here and There” is a two-media portrait project that I and Christopher Wagner will be brushing and carving into until we show the series in November at Good Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The series is funded through a generous grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.