Blue Sky 1980

Blue Sky Gallery is almost 40, and there’s a big show at the Portland Art Museum celebrating that.

Thirty-four years ago Blue Sky had it’s first BIG birthday celebration.


Back when Blue Sky Gallery turned 5, I wrote an essay for the celebratory exhibition catalog.BSCAT 1980

Recently, prompted by a Facebook post by Alberta Mayo, I was rummaging through my Blue Sky file, and I came upon the transcription of an interview that I taped on April 30, 1980 with some of the Blue Sky board. I was writing for Willamette Week and at the time the arts and entertainment section was called Fresh Weekly. So “FW” is Fresh Weekly. I don’t seem to have a published version of this. Here is is the direct transcript from the tape, done on my manual typewriter—Blue Sky thinking from almost 35 years ago.






Minimum Wage vs. Tuition

When I began at Portland State College in fall term 1967 (Portland State became a University in 1968), I was working part-time as a stock clerk at Leed’s shoe store in downtown Portland. I was paid the federal minimum wage, $1.40 per hour. (There was no state minimum wage then.)

Tuition for my first year at Portland State was $123 per term. So I had to work 88 hours to pay my tuition.

Nowadays, federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. PSU tuition is $1740 per term.

A student working at the federal minimum wage would need to work 240 hours to pay for a term’s tuition. Luckily, if they live in Oregon the minimum wage is $9.10 per hour, so they only need to work 191 hours.

But wait! When I was a student, $123 covered tuition for 12 credits or more per term. I often took 16-18 credits per term for $123! (Or more in later years, but still, tuition was based on a fee for 12 credits or more. I think you could take up to 19 credits without special permission.)

Sixteen to eighteen credits at PSU now costs $2,320-2,610, so that would be 255-287 hours.

If Oregon minimum wage were keyed to state university tuition, then the minimum wage should be $19.77–so that 88 hours of work would pay for tuition, like in the good old days.



Lowell Darling in Portland 1977

Recently  (August 20) I published Getting my MFA, about my Master of Finds Art degree conferred by Fat City School of Finds Art founder Lowell Darling. I was thinking that I might have some more info about that time, and in my files I found these items:


The announcement for all of the events that Darling had scheduled. And this article by Jack Eyerly about Lowell Darling:

Eyerly Darling 1

Eyerly Darling 2

I also found a draft of an article I must have written for Willamette Week, but I don’t have a printed copy.


A Failure to Communicate

A couple years ago, when I was staying at Captiva, Florida, my brother-in-law came down to visit and stayed at South Seas Island Resort—which looked like a big motel, but since it was on the water, I guess it is a “resort.”

As we were sitting around one evening I looked up to see this event, and took the picture:

Captiva VENTI just recently came upon the picture again. It shows an example of a construction error that many would  not notice, and because many would not notice, they decided not to fix it.

I’m just wondering about what the finish carpenters thought and said when they were running crown molding and came upon this vent inserted just a few inches too high.

Somebody wasn’t coordinating the trades (HVAC and finish carpentry). And, when the problem presented itself, it had to be decided that fixing it correctly would just cost too much.

They figured nobody would notice or care, not anticipating a nitpicky guy like me.

A real life absurdity—maybe it’s art.

Getting my MFA

Recently I was talking with Alberta Mayo, founder of the Manitoba Museum of Finds Art, who gave me a membership card to her venerable institution.

If you had visited the waiting area of the directors’ offices at SFMOMA between 1975 and 1978, you would have encountered an exhibition not advertised on the museum’s official schedule: one of the 23 shows organized by Alberta Mayo under the auspices of the Manitoba Museum of Finds Art (MMOFA). Mayo, then assistant to Director Henry Hopkins and Deputy Director Michael McCone, directed her own museum within “the other museum,” turning her administrative space into the venue for a range of solo and group exhibitions by artists who — with a few exceptions, like Sol LeWitt — were largely under SFMOMA’s programming radar.

Manitoba photo 1

I guess I should fill in my name.

I told Alberta that I had received a Master of Finds Art (MFA) from Lowell Darling in 1977. Our conversation led me to go to my file cabinet and dig out my diploma:


Darling was handing out diplomas at the Northwest Artists Workshop (that rose was a NWAW rubber stamp). According to Wikipedia:

 Lowell Darling is an American conceptual artist most notable for a series of performances in the 1970s that included nailing cities to the earth, conducting “urban acupuncture” by placing oversize needles in the ground, and stitching up the San Andreas Fault. His art includes a run for public office in the 1978 California gubernatorial election, when his primary challenge to Governor Jerry Brown received some 62,000 votes.[1] He is the creator of the “Fat City School of Finds Art,” an unaccredited institution that grants free Masters and PhD degrees to arts students.[2]

Another reference:

Using the psuedonym “Dudly Finds”, Lowell Darling Founded the Fat City School of Fine Arts. in 1969.

According to one of the big department Heads, Dana Atchley, the school’s motto is ” We don’t makes art, we finds it!”
Legend has it that the inspiration to found this institution occured when Mr. Darling walked off the street into a hotel lobby and, before he could inquire as to the location of certain porcelain hardware of which he had an urgent need, a lady behind a card table covered with blank name tags asked, ” What college?”
Mr. Darling glanced around and saw a bar, buffet tables full of free food and a banner announcing a convention of college art departments. He said, “Fat City!”
The lady wrote it on a name tag, added his name, and pointed him in the direction of the facilities. The rest is history.
“Art in America” magazine names this conceptual, tuition-free art school as the largest in the nation.  It has over 50,000 alumni. There are no graduation requirements for the masters diploma from the Fat City School other than the graduation ceremony itself. No classes. No tests. No papers. No required exhibitions. No Nothing!
Simply step up, shake the hand of the granting Head with one hand and with your other, receive the handsome diploma suitable for framing. This certificate automatically confers on the recipient a tenured appointment to the faculty of the Fat City School of Finds Art. In fact, if the graduate so desires, they are promoted to Head of their own department, vested with full authority to graduate others and awarded a lifetime sabbatical leave.

Thus, the Fat City alumni have an advanced college degree, a job in which they are their own boss, and time to pursue what’s important. Making a living is one of the few life problems not immediately solved by this degree.  []

In the file folder I found my tuition receipt:

RCPT photo 3

Wow, college does cost a lot more nowadays!

AND that I am a member of the fatculty!

FATCULTY photo 3

I also see now that I got all this on April Fool’s Day—just a coincidence, I think.

But as I recall, the buzz that evening was, from folks with transistor radios, that the Blazers had just made the playoffs! For the first time! And of course they went on to win the NBA championship.

Shadow from Space!

Thirty years ago, just about at this time of year, I finished In the Shadow of the Elm in the South Park Blocks in Portland.

Elm 10 inches wide72

In 2012, when I was at the Rauschenberg Residency in Florida, Matt Hall said that he saw this piece online and thought I might be interested in utilizing white “pit shell,” the kind of small shells that they utilize like gravel for walkways and the like down there, to do something similar. At the end of the residency, after I’d completed the painting project that I’d envisioned, there were a couple days left and I made In the Shadow of the Palm.


Recently Chris Rauschenberg sent me this long distance view:

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 4.16.11 PM

You can see it from outer space!

Inversion: Plus Minus — Plusses and Minuses

Inversion: Plus Minus has been up for almost two years now, but I’ve just gotten around to really looking at it. Really looking at it means not just driving by on Grand Avenue, or passing it going on or off a bridge.


Here’s the basic description from RACC:

Inversion: Plus Minus  is a set of towering site-specific sculptures created by artists/architects Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo of Lead Pencil Studio. Using weathered steel angle iron, the artists are presenting “ghosts” of former buildings at two similar sites along SE Grand Avenue. One site, at Hawthorne Boulevard, will feature a matrix of metal that almost appears as a solid building. The second, at Belmont Street, will render an enclosure around the perimeter of a “building,” emphasizing the negative space of the subject. In the artists’ words, “The sculptures reference the outer shells of ordinary industrial buildings found in the Central Eastside Industrial Area like those that once existed on the project sites.” [’s-east-side]

Richard Speer went gaga for it in Willamette Week:

“With its open composition and oxidized materiality, the work evokes the gritty past of the Industrial Southeast waterfront. It also suggests an abstracted banyan tree or the ghostly outline of a barn, its perpendicular planes dancing midair in a complex visual fugue. As you walk or drive around the sculptures, their forms seem to change shape in a rapturous, ever-evolving dialogue with negative space. Although architectural in scale, the work’s conspicuous lack of any roof opens it up, leading the eye skyward. It is a cathedral with only clouds or stars for a ceiling. Sublimely elegant…” []

And after walking around the pieces the other day I found a lot to like about them, but there are fundamental problems that, for me, are lessons for public art in general.

What I liked: The scale, the downright ambitiousness of the work, the overall sculptural qualities, how it is put together just feels “right” (because nothing felt “wrong”).

The basic problem:

Speer said, “As you walk or drive around the sculptures, their forms seem to change shape in a rapturous, ever-evolving dialogue with negative space..”

The basic problem is walking or driving around the sculptures. First of all, drive-by art is a waste of art. Something as complex as Plus Minus cannot be caught in glimpses. You might be stopped at a light, but it is unlikely that you are in a mood to look at art at that point.

IMG_5264And, the work’s form, its openwork (which is important to its sculptural interest), camouflages it.

IMG_5254IMG_5247Someday there might be pedestrians who walk this uninviting stretch of Grand Avenue (a few cross the bridges), but nobody was there when I was looking.

IMG_5252If nobody is there to see the art, is the art being used? Is this working as something more than art storage in public? A very few, like Richard Speer, or me (finally after a couple years), might make a point to go check it out, but then is it functioning as “public art” should?

So, interesting sculpture placed so that it is difficult to look at. Like the Oregon Symphony playing next to a rock concert (or vice versa).  Back on October 18 I wrote about Nepenthes in the Pearl District. As sculpture those pieces are nowhere near as interesting as Plus Minus, but they also would be served better by improved placement.

Some might say that context is important for Plus Minus as they are “ghosts of former buildings,” but although there are architectural references (some clear, most obscure), there is nothing in the work that says the “former buildings” were at these sites, so the architectural reference could work anywhere — even on a green lawn in a park.

Some little nitpicky stuff:

Big strong mighty steel sculptures — what’s with the dinky rocks in holes at the base? Why isn’t a firm attachment to foundation celebrated?


And why not just have concrete paving around the works if the “planting” is allowed to become weeds and trash?

IMG_5248But, these little things are like repeating typos in an interesting novel. The novel is good enough to enjoy anyway — if you can force yourself to deal with it.

Public art doesn’t need the equivalent of a quiet library, but careful siting is crucial to making public art useful. In this case, the siting just isn’t working.