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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.

My thanks to painter Kevin H. Adams for his invitation to show two of my paintings with a sample of his latest pieces in a show pairing members of Middle Street Gallery with guests. The show runs for nearly two months. If you’ll be in the mountain gorgeousness of northwest Virginia soon, I invite you to check it out. (They’ve chosen to use both of the paintings I sent them in the show’s promotional material, which is fun to see.)

Kevin, a former Marine Corps Combat Artist with a fantastic eye for color, has taught me plenty about painting in recent years, and I’m thrilled at the chance to show with him. His work can be found herehere and here.

A reception takes place Jan. 25, from 3-5pm.

Middle Street Gallery, Sperryville, Va.

Exciting holiday news! Making portraits in the coming year just got a little easier for me and sculptor Christopher Wagner. We received word from the Regional Arts & Culture Council (based here in Portland, Oregon) that they’ll fund our 2014 portrait project focused on the relationships between combat veterans and the rest of the community, showing at Good Gallery in November.

The project description goes like this:

As a non-combat veteran working with a civilian and with support from Sen. Wyden’s vets advocate staff, I propose Between Here and There, a two-media portrait project focused on Portland-area military veterans from various backgrounds. Each portrait will consist of a 3×3 foot oil painting and a 4x2x1 foot wood sculpture, done live and simultaneously with a combat vet as the subject. I work as a painter. This collaboration with sculptor Chris Wagner will invite its audience to replace war’s statistics and politics with a focus on human connections. Eschewing the image of vets just off a plane from Iraq, we seek to portray individuals with their own tastes and biases. “Betweenness” matters here. The title calls attention to the gaps between different viewers’ perceptions of vets, and it points out vets’ sense of being partly home and partly still in danger. In Nov. 2014, we’ll pack together a set of 10 portraits (20 pieces total) at Good Gallery, a small space in Portland. The show will be an engrossing salon-style grouping, with audiences standing just inches from the work.

Join us for a visual feast of the small at Guardino Gallery, Alberta neighborhood’s multi-roomed old gem of a showing space. The rules are very simple: everything is smaller than 7” x 7” x 7”. You carry out what you buy; no waiting til the end of the show. It’s a range of aesthetic goodness, priced to sell.

I’ll be at the opening reception 6 pm, Nov. 29th, along with many of the gallery’s best painters, sculptors, weavers and ceramicists. Food and drink, as always, for free!

Guardino Gallery: Corner of Alberta St. and 30th Ave. NE, Portland.

After a festive and costumed opening on Halloween night, sculptor Christopher Wagner and I gave a talk at Guardino Gallery this past Saturday to question and answer our show. Thanks to everyone who helped make it a great afternoon, especially those whose incisive questions got me rethinking what we’re up to.

The show remains open until Nov. 24, 2013.

We’ve just concluded Portland Open Studios, the annual tour of about 100 studios during the second and third weekends of October featuring demonstrations and other education outreach by painters, sculptors, fabric makers, pot throwers and more. I had the privilege to mentor two excellent students (one pictured here, a BFA student at Pacific Northwest College of Art). This is the first year the PDXOS education program has mentored college students.