Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Unique Take on the Portrait
By Christopher B. Wagner


A portrait is such a common place thing that it is easy to overlook what can be contained within one. In the modern world where individuals can literally have thousands of images of them floating around the internet it is easy for one more representation to be lost in the noise.

The extremely traditional practice of a model setting down with an artist, both being physically present and interacting for hours on end, is very different from the instantaneous portrait everyone is now familiar with. The endeavor Paul and I have found ourselves collaborating on is an elaboration on this model with artist scenario.

With the project “Between Here and There” we have two artists working with one model, both of us need different things and we both must be willing to negotiate in our artistic vision.  It is a scenario that neither of us is used to dealing with and it is forcing us to work outside our comfort zones.  I hope that our finished work will be as challenging and beneficial to our viewers as this process has been for me so far.

Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, recently put together an art acquisition task force and did a major purchase of work from around the region. They bought Hamstring Stretch, a painting from my athletes series last year. That flexible/muscular image will hang with a fantastic group of work by Northwest sculptors, photographers and painters. If you have a chance, look up a few of these people—especially the Alaskan fisherman/photographer and the data-driven abstractionist.

UCC’s news release explains more details, including the opening of an exhibition (Feb. 13) to show all the work together before it’s distributed across campus.

Among the fictions and poetries and essays of the latest issue of drafthorse, the editors have found space for eleven photos of my paintings, along with a little essay. You can see all the goodness in the latest issue here, or click here for the fast route to my part in it. Thanks to Denton Loving, Darnell Arnoult and Zach Corder for their editorial help.

From left, painter Paul X. Rutz and sculptor Christopher B. Wagner begin work on a portrait of Army veteran Jonathan Sanford of Portland, Ore. This is the first in a series of portraits portraying Portland-area combat vets to be shown in Nov. 2014.

“Between Here and There” is a two-media portrait project focused on Portland-area military veterans from various backgrounds. Each portrait comes in two parts: an oil painting and a sculpture, done live and simultaneously with a combat vet as the subject. This collaboration between painter Paul X. Rutz and sculptor Christopher B. Wagner invites audiences to replace war’s statistics and politics with a focus on human connections. Setting aside the image of vets just off a plane from Iraq, the series portrays individuals in the community with their own tastes and biases.

“Betweenness” drives this project. Each portrait exists in the space between the painting and the sculpture, reflecting the gaps between different viewers’ perceptions of vets. The project’s title also echoes vets’ sense of living somewhere between home and the combat events still resonant in their bodies. To make these portraits, veteran, painter and sculptor must work together, negotiating lighting, pose, schedule and tempo; enacting the kind of social compromises that citizens in a republic must practice; sharing opinions and stories while respecting the space between our experiences as we work together toward a common goal.

This portrait series is made possible thanks to a project grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.