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September 11th, 2013 12:01 am WW Staff | Cover Story

Portland Fall Arts Guide 2013: 24-Hour Arty People

A day in the life of Portland’s working artists.


11 AM

IMAGE: Ronit Fahl
Kneeling beside a small stack of wood, Jeff Liddicoat selects five sticks and gently fits them together. What had looked like little more than kindling becomes a deer, just over a foot tall, which he christens “Bumby.”

“People like coherence and understandability,” says Liddicoat, a middle-aged Miami native who moved to Portland in 1981 and has twice run for mayor, winning less than a half percent of the vote each time. “Otherwise, it is just a pile of wood.”

Better known as “Voodoo Jeff,” Liddicoat sees lifelike images in the wood he scavenges daily and brings back to his street gallery—and makeshift home—on Southeast 12th Avenue. Sun-bleached driftwood becomes a long-beaked bird. A human-shaped twig has been outfitted with a chunk of wood resembling a crown.

Viewers stop daily to examine and take pictures of the ever-changing Watts Towers-esque installation. The gallery’s future is uncertain—Portland police have been making homeless sweeps around the city. In the meantime, Liddicoat will wander parks and streets, waiting for shapes to appear in sticks and twigs. JEN LEVINSON.


IMAGE: Matthew Korfhage

A woman who resembles a young Jodie Foster—save the shock of green-dyed hair—proudly holds up the fruits of her labor. She has used a bleach pen to stain a black T-shirt with the phrase, “GET FUCKED PUSSY.”

“I don’t care if you’re white or black or gay,” she says cheerfully. “I hate everyone equally. So get fucked, pussies!”

Today at p:ear—a local nonprofit that offers arts-based mentoring to homeless and transitional youth—volunteer Michelle McClintock works with a group of mostly young women to modify donated shirts and make them their own.

A 22-year-old named Sonja gets to work cutting up the sides of a shirt, striping in ribbings of blue fabric with an impossible number of safety pins. She came to Portland about a year ago, fleeing the city she calls “San Franpsycho” after a double-fatality shooting in front of her city-provided Tenderloin neighborhood housing. Since hooking up with p:ear, she has already sold a mixed-media piece called Macaroni Pictures of Jesus. “I only sold it for like $5,” says Sonja, who is happy to learn it has joined the collection of a dedicated patron. And an hour later, her patchwork shirt has begun to come into focus. “I need to challenge myself more often,” she says. Pausing, she adds, “I think clothing is a good thing for art. Because it’s functional, too. I’m gonna wear this.” MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

1 PM

In Portland Center Stage’s downstairs studio theater, actors Natalie Paul and Rodney Hicks play chess and murmur to one another. Each sits on the edge of a double bed—part of a set still in progress, a no-frills motel room.

Director Rose Riordan sips iced coffee out of a massive insulated travel mug. “Do they play chess in The Mountaintop?” I whisper to her. That’s the play Paul and Hicks are rehearsing today, a two-hander by Katori Hall about the night before Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination (it opened last weekend; see review here). No, Riordan says, they’re playing chess because she likes to make actors perform another task—patty-cake is another favorite—while rehearsing lines. “It creates room in their brains,” Riordan says. “The intensity of focus helps them learn how to listen to each other. It makes them partners.” REBECCA JACOBSON.

2 PM

Courtesy of IFC
An unassuming office complex in inner Southeast, the headquarters of Portlandia would probably disappoint the series’ fan base—too clean, too utilitarian, too Los Angeles. But squint hard enough, and there are a few flashes of homegrown whimsy. Janet Weiss, drummer and occasional location scout, weaves her way through fresh-faced production assistants. Subtly awful watercolors, commissioned locally, are hung throughout the office.

Today, as specialists enter preproduction, the mad whirl of activity is about all I’m allowed to observe. Once the cosmetologist starts drawing temporary tattoo designs, I’m ushered out. A producer deftly spins the art director’s monitor around. Celebrity anecdotes are universally brief and affectionate.

However daunting the cultural footprint, Portlandia remains a relatively bare-bones operation. “There’s kind of a joie de vivre here, and an unbridled enthusiasm that can sometimes trump or obfuscate quality,” says series co-star Carrie Brownstein. “People really value effort in Portland, and I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. There’s an incessant celebration of doing things.” JAY HORTON.

3 PM

IMAGE: Brett Campbell
In the living room of a Southeast Portland bungalow, Catherine Olson—one of Portland’s best sopranos—begins to sing:

Sex is part of what we’re all about

Yes, the mind’s got thought

But sweat’s got salt

And the chair’s got legs

And the farm’s got dirt

Olson sounds hesitant: It’s the first time she’s seen the lyrics and score for Viva’s Holiday. That in-progress opera, which composer/pianist Christopher Corbell hopes to finish by year’s end, is based on a memoir by Viva Las Vegas, Portland’s most celebrated stripper (and musician, actor, cancer survivor and former WW intern).

“It has a great momentum,” Olson says. “I think it’ll be a fun scene.” She adopts the tone of Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein: “It’s coming alive!” she howls, devolving into giggles. BRETT CAMPBELL.

4 PM

IMAGE: Ronit Fahl
“I think sculptures are alive, actually,” says Linda Austin, sticking her hand into what looks like a giant turkey leg made out of wire. “That’s part of my deal—my interaction with the props is almost like I’m equal to them and they’re equal to me.”

The 59-year-old choreographer and dancer moves around a few abstract sculptures in a sunlit studio off Southeast Foster Road, rehearsing for a piece called Three Trick Pony that will premiere this weekend at the Time-Based Art Festival (see additional previews here). You could call it a duet between Austin and the sculptures by David Eckard. At one sculpture, Austin messily applies red lipstick and presses her lips against a paper window. At another—three boxes made from railroad ties and covered in yellow fur—she snaps at her waist, whipping her hair and grunting. Later, she showers herself with sliced-up pool noodles.

In its mount, the wire turkey leg looks a bit like a penny-farthing bicycle. Austin pulls out the leg, and the mount rolls freely across the room. “It’s supposed to do that,” she says. AARON SPENCER.

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