Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Early spring cleaning links
D.E. May 1952-2019
Save OCAC protests
February links to Love
The end of OCAC?
End of January Links
Enrique Chagoya Interview
January Review Roundup
2019 1st links
2018 Summary
End of 2018 Links
PNCA + OCAC Merger Off

recent comments



Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Openings & Events
About PORT

regular contributors


Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman



Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us


Contact us






powered by


Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a


Creative Commons License

Friday 12.22.06

« Opportunities To Keep You Warm | Main | Making the most of predictable end of year stories »

Robert Colescott at Laura Russo Gallery

Robert Colescott's Haircut 1989 (left)

Artworks are judged in many ways but one of them, the ability to remain fresh, emblematic or poignant after standing the test of time seems to trump all of the others. Happily, time has not blunted the sting of Robert Colescott's irreverent and boldly direct work.

Robert Colescott, a onetime Portlander, seems to be one of the few contemporary artists capable of achieving that feat, maybe because so many of today's young whippersnappers like Cecily Brown, Inka Essenhigh, Kara Walker, Daniel Richter or even cartoons like The Family Guy seem to be following in his iconoclastic "equal opportunity offender" footsteps.

As the 1997 Venice Biennale representative for the US he took shots at everyone, whites, blacks, construction workers, salesmen, Coca Cola, sex and the priesthood etc. Sometimes he took on all of these subects at once. Colescott creates a kind of pantheon of human failings and there are no "sacred cows" for Colescott (though I grew up amazed by the sheer ferocity of a painting with that very title at The Milwaukee Art Museum). Back in 1989, being an overeducated upper middle class gypsy+barbarian+blue-blooded mutt white boy I appreciated how he sycretically laid it out in vibrant, isn't the world weird colors while referencing old sacred friezes in Europe. Then I realized those friezes had their roots in Egyptian and Assyrian art. It all suddenly made sense; contemporary art was about the disorder of the present while often referencing forms that implied order and authority in the past.

Now Figurative painting is big again but artists like John Currin and Inka Essenhigh are still relatively pleasant conversationalists compared to Colescott.

Haircut (detail) 1989

The show on view through tomorrow is a museum level survey of his late 80's and early 90's output leading off with 1989's Haircut. It's a sumptuous painting, though nary an inch of it is flattering. The nearly full length figure, a blond woman in a helmet and armored brazier is surrounded by people's faces. Is she Justice? Some of the faces are nicely coifed office workers others are being held a gunpoint or lounging back smoking a big cigar. The words; angel, capitalist, boss, worker and slave are written on the canvas as well. All but "angel" are written on a series of steps. Sure this is a caricature, but it's a caricature of the work place power dynamics that still exist today. The message is, don't stand out fit in and America is still an essentially puritanical country which ads a sinister homogenizing tint to the great American melting pot. Instead of cosmopolitanism, a kind of puritanical, waspish suburbanism still reigns.

Other large paintings like the Judgement Of Paris and At The Bathers's Pool: Apparition of Venus both mock and pay tribute to the European old master allegories as well.

All Roads Lead to Rome (1995)

Works on paper like Sepic River Stay Away From the Door or Light Opera are even more brash than the canvases. All Roads Lead To Rome seems particularly poignant as the central black is brutally stabbed surrounded by words like "would not" and "not me". It makes me wonder about America's current political situation with a very unpopular president. I constantly hear people say, "I didn't vote for him." Ok fair, but have Americans really demanded strong leaders since Clinton? People like Gore, Kerry and Bush are hardly new blood and when it has arisen, in the form of John McCain and Howard Dean the Republican and Democratic Parties have both pulled off their own Et tu, Brute? moments. It makes Dana Schutz look tame even though I like her and her work.

Other Paintings like Oil Man, where Lady L (Liberty?) is bound and gagged in a chair seem completely current as well.

Oil Man 1990 (Left) & At The Bathers's Pool: Apparition of Venus 1984 (Right)

Though Colescott can be shrill there is evenhandedness about his satire and my favorite work in the show is A Fool There Was Europe - Africa from 1992. The swirling black red cloud of groping humans is in the shape of the continent. Is it about aids, overpopulation, the slave trade, colonialism, diamond trades, and genocide. Sure and though the painting is from 1992 it seems like nothing has changed.

Currently Colescott is taken for granted and in most major museum's collections. He is America's Jorg Immendorf, and if anything he's the painterly conscience we as a country so desperately need. He is America's greatest living societal painter.

Last day of show: Dec 23rd 2006

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 22, 2006 at 11:50 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee