Big art in a little city

Jimmy Hall
Posted 10/23/18

If asked, most artists will say the two stumbling blocks that keep them from dedicating themselves full time to their craft is time and money. Centrum helps Pacific Northwest creators with those two …

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Big art in a little city


If asked, most artists will say the two stumbling blocks that keep them from dedicating themselves full time to their craft is time and money. Centrum helps Pacific Northwest creators with those two necessities through its Emerging Artist Residency program.

Now in its fifth year, EAR seeks out artists who are in the beginnings of their careers, either those just graduating from school or those who haven't yet found a wide audience for their art. This year, six artists were nominated by cultural producers and educators from Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Those chosen often come from Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, and go on to make Fort Worden their home for the month of October. Given a $1,000 stipend, housing and studio space, they are then free to explore what they want to express and how they want to say it with the help of a dedicated atmosphere.

Their residency culminates with an open tour of the artists’ studio space, where they will talk with the public about the pieces they worked on for the last month. The event will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 at Fort Worden’s Building 205 and Schoolhouse Building, rooms J and O.

'Ruptured bodies'

In one of the most spacious studios at Fort Worden, artist in residence Jaleesa Johnston is using the space to its fullest.

Beginning her work on a small scale, Johnston expands her pieces to a larger canvas sheet. It all starts with several sketches depicting nude female figures, their faces and heads obscure in black. Once she finds a sample she is proud of, Johnston will transfer her etchings to a larger sheet that she will later “sculpt” into her paintings three-dimensionally to give a tangible depth. This was inspired from a large crack in the wall of her Fort Worden apartment.

“I thought it was beautiful, so I drew it, and then I wanted to somehow incorporate this in my work to talk about ruptured space and ruptured bodies,” said Johnston.

All of her bodies disappear into an abstract “gestural” painting, colliding into another, where “a body isn't a solid mass, but begins to open up to all the interior subjects that make up its parts.”

Johnston uses her own hair that she collects, after falling out, to create these effects.

For the open studio, Johnston will have at least four final large drawings to show her visitors.

“My work has to do with black female subjectivity,” Johnston said. “And the experience of the body as both object and subject. Lately, I've been interested in body and body movement. I've had a tendency to either fragment the body or experiment with disembodiment and what that looks like.”

Johnston hails from Portland, Oregon, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College and a Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Candy concoctions

Walking up the stairs to Francesca Lohmann’s studio space, one may recall passing by a concession stand at a carnival, as whiffs of cotton candy fill the air. The gentle hum of a home cotton candy machine was exactly what Lohmann was working on, as one of several projects she has in store throughout the month.

Speaking about her work, Lohmann calls what she makes “sculptures,” employing both a variety of junk food and natural edibles. She will use “castforms” by taking plaster and importing them to fabric to make a form. Lohmann does this to illustrate the history of how each piece is made, and giving it its own presence.

“I'm looking for a certain type of feeling toward it. I'm interested in things that can be beings, bodies or entities … that we can relate to in some sense,” she said.

This past summer, she photographed water droplets on leaves as well as potatoes. Lohmann called the latter “little bodies,” like rocks that are worn down, shaped by pressure. She brings them to her Fort Worden studio to experiment what can come out of those.

Lohmann, of Seattle, has also worked with sugary treats such as candy and cotton candy. She would fill a cube-shaped mold with taffy, as large as 120 pounds. Once the mold is taken off, it settles into a puddle. Lohmann is intrigued by how it can lose form and mass in the process, along with its sticky nature.

“It seemed like a nice thing to be close enough to home and take time off work,” Lohmann said about her time at Fort Worden so far. “It's been a while since I've had times to (create) and not be interrupted. I wanted to bring stuff I've been thinking of for a while, to focus on it.”

'Pay You with Love'

After working the graveyard shift for two years in a call center for developers located in China, Hongzhe Liang had the desire to get away from it all and use the time provided to him through Centrum’s EAR program.

“I wanted to get time off, and also to know what real life was like,” he said.

The inspiration for his project, which he calls “Pay You with Love,” came when he went to Fuji Bakery in Seattle, which gives their customers one single punch for every purchase. Liang pointed out that these cards, which act as an act of goodwill for returning customers, boil down to 10 percent off, as most businesses give a free drink after 10 purchases.

“I liked the idea of the punch card,” he said, relating it to his family relationships. “If I buy them stuff, they buy me stuff, it's a record of a punch card. I'm interested in the idea of that.”

He will explore questions such as “Is love free,” “Can you buy love with money” and “Can you love someone and take care of someone without money?”

Using the month, Liang doesn’t confine himself to just one project. Using styrofoam bowls, water and Play-Doh, he will create small sculptures to tell a folktale. One of these is about a monkey who looks to the moon in a reflection on the water.

“When he grabs the moon, he scratches the surface and the moon disappears and the monkey gets nothing,” he said.

Liang lives in Seattle, but was born in Yueyang, China. He received a Bachelor in Fine Arts in photomedia from University of Washington, and has shown his work at Veronica, Specialist and Glass Box, all of which are in Seattle, among many others.

Life in vertical

“I feel like I’ve already got three months' work done,” Leon Finley said about his week or so at Fort Worden. “The other reason is my work is about trees and experiences with the natural environment.”

Living in Seattle, Finley isn’t able to get the breadth of nature as he is from land such as the Olympic National Forest and even Fort Worden State Park.

“I wish I had that at home,” Finley said.

He pointed to one magnolia tree in particular in Fort Worden State Park that he said he's been drawn toward, describing its folds as similar to armpits, while an oak tree has a “massive bulbous body.”

Finley has been working on a 40-foot “long drawing,” that spans the length of the studio space and will wrap around on the ceiling. Finley uses crayons, using a mixture of colors on a black background. There are other drawings that are just as intricate, with, as he describes, “mysticism and internal body experience.”

These shapes are inspired by trees and bodies, which goes along with Finley’s overall theme of the human body and how the energy between the two can interact with each other.

“I’ve been interested in making work that is a response to trees, so it’s been super valuable the last days to be able to be with the trees more and spend time out there,” Finley said.

Finley received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cooper Union in 2009, as well as one in sculpture from Yale in 2012. He has shown his work in New York and Seattle, performing in venues such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and Movement Research. He has taught at Cooper Union, Virginia Commonwealth University and Montclair State University.

Stitched reviews

“Home is who” is the phrase that runs throughout Cicelia Ross-Gotta’s project.

As a mother of a 10-month-old, Ross-Gotta hasn’t had too much time to dedicate toward her craft but said her ideas had been brewing for a while. Throughout this month, she will spend time meticulously embroidering a textile-based sculpture, installation and performance about her father, who resides at a motel in Kansas.

Ross-Gotta will explore her relationship with her father, with whom she shares the same struggles with alcoholism, although she is 10 years sober. With this series, Ross-Gotta was led to the idea of answering the question of “What makes objects home?” through her textile artwork. Initially, Ross-Gotta was going to incorporate sheets and towels to reflect what can be found inside a hotel room. She was then turned to online reviews of the specific inn where her father resides.

Ross-Gotta starts by printing off reviews that range from one star, calling it “terrible,” and “never having any towels,” to five stars by those who call the motel a home, writing, “front desk and housekeeping are amazing.” Looking through reviews and sorting them out from when her father started to live there, she is hand embroidering square sheets of fabric to look like these reviews, with the reviewer's words verbatim.

From her time at the fort, Ross-Gotta reflected that her setup in a temporary living space is similar to one her father lives in, which makes her notice those small things that make a space like a home. For her cabin, she has her bathrobe and quilt, as well as her 10-month-old, fulfilling what she thinks of as home.

“It's been the perfect place to do this,” she said. “The stars aligned for this project.”

During the open studio, Ross-Gotta will have embroidery samples and talk about her inspiration.


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