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Fall Arts Guide 2011: Bring On the Rain

Dayglo landscapes, feral children, killer choruses and more art to keep you sane this fall.

lede_tabernacle_3745ADAM SORENSEN’S TABERNACLE
The day is coming, not long from now, when you will have to go inside. This idyllic September warmth will end and the clouds will return, and we will all begin to fortify ourselves against the long, dark November of the soul. And what will we do with ourselves through the short, grim days that await us? Why, patronize the arts, my friend. Here are four artists whose work we think will light a fire in your heart to keep you warm right through winter.

Visual Arts – Adam Sorenson's fantastical landscape paintings

Classical and World Music – Ethan Sperry's choral renaissance

Theater – Seth Nehil's musical horror flick

Dance – Chunky Move gets graceful

At the Apex

With his fantastical landscape paintings, Adam Sorensen is on the cusp of breakout success.

IMAGE: Christine Taylor

For artists who have made it in Oregon—and by almost any criteria Adam Sorensen has—the next question is: Can success here lead to success outside the Portland bubble? For Sorensen, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. The 35-year-old painter is an overnight success more than a decade in the making, with artistic irons in the fire both locally and nationally. 

Sorensen’s new show at the Portland Art Museum, APEX: Adam Sorensen, showcases six new oil paintings, among them the largest painting of his career. That work, a behemoth called Tabernacle, is nearly 7 feet high and 10 feet wide: a fantastical mountain landscape with no human beings in sight, the peaks and rolling hills dotted with glowing rocks, the valleys limpid with waterfalls, rivers and lakes. It’s an Edenic paradise in danger of being discovered and despoiled. You can easily picture a real-estate developer sizing up the scene: “Ah, put a strip mall over here, a condo tower there, a Macaroni Grill in the valley, and parking lots everywhere!” The looming threat of exploitation lends the vistas a sense of the sinister. (A small portion of the painting appears on the cover of this issue.)

“The colors I use have all these bright and joyful connotations,” Sorensen says, “but overall, the paintings don’t give off a sunny feeling. There’s a sort of eeriness that comes through.”

Sorensen’s gallerist, Jane Beebe of PDX Contemporary Art, sums up Tabernacle more dramatically: “It’s operatic! When you see it, you’ll faint!”

Born in Chicago, the artist grew up in Gettysburg, Pa., eventually moving to upstate New York to study art at Alfred University. In 1999 he followed two fellow Alfred alums to Portland, attracted to the accessibility of the art scene and the proximity to the majestic Cascades, which fuel his work. After being represented by Elizabeth Leach for several years, he moved to PDX Contemporary, where he works a day job as gallery assistant. This past year, his work has become noticeably more visible outside Oregon, with an exhibition in San Antonio, representation in Seattle at the Jim Harris Gallery, and a major piece sold last September to the Boise Art Museum. He is also a finalist for a $25,000 grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, named after the late abstract expressionist.

“I’ve definitely had the opportunity to concentrate more lately,” he says. “It’s gotten more serious. I feel like I’m finally an established regional artist, and now, the next opportunity exists outside the Northwest.” He pauses with a modesty that belies his upward trajectory, then adds, “We’ll see how that works.” RICHARD SPEER.

SEE IT: APEX: Adam Sorensen at Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., 226-2811, portlandartmuseum.org. Closes Jan. 1, 2012.

More Visual Arts

Ellen George at PDX Contemporary Art

Polymer clay, glass, watercolors, stickpins, silk ribbons—these are just a few of the media that sculptor Ellen George uses in her fanciful, endlessly inventive works. George has a gift for creating visually poetic allegories that toy with the lines between abstraction, representation and symbolism. You can’t always put your finger on what individual pieces “mean,” but they always speak in a language that somehow the soul understands. 925 NW Flanders St., pdxcontemporaryart.com. Nov. 1-26.

Body Gesture at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

It has been four decades and counting since the feminist movement barrelled into the American mainstream and empowered women to perform acts of political theater (bra-burning, anyone?) and more meaningful achievements such as breaking through the glass ceiling. Body Gesture spotlights art across a variety of media by an array of feminist artists. Hannah Wilke, Andrea Bowers, Alice Neel and Martha Rosler show us how far women have come since the 1970s and how much work toward equality remains. 417 NW 9th Ave., elizabethleach.com. Nov. 3-Dec. 31.

Jim Riswold at Augen Gallery

Photographer Jim Riswold combines impeccable technique with a wryly mischievous irreverence. Who else could use Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ as subject matter with equal aplomb and still stay on the discreet side of good taste? For his next outing at Augen, Riswold tackles World War I. Appropriately for an artist whose titles are at least half the fun, this show is entitled The War to End All Wars that Didn’t End All Wars. 716 NW Davis St., augengallery.com. Nov. 3-26.

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