Open door policy
- Ellen Spitaleri
- Clackamas Review - Features
The public is invited for a close-up view of the artistic process
When you visit a studio in the heart of Oak Grove, you'll get two artists for the price of one - Robert Abbott and David Kerr share studio space, embraced by a tropical jungle of foliage.
Abbott specializes in mixed media and the monoprint, while Kerr works with fused glass, and both are fans of Portland Open Studios.
'There's an incredible diversity of art [in Clackamas County] - we had a potluck so that we'd know each other's work. It's amazing what we do.
'It all comes back to Open Studios - it reignited my passion and it becomes a collective for marketing the work of independent artists,' Abbott noted.
A plus for Kerr, is 'meeting other artists and getting ideas. It's much bigger than just getting people to see and buy my work; it is influencing what I do.'
Both men have jobs: Abbott is the commercial sales representative for Corian, a countertop surface from DuPont, and Kerr owns David Kerr Violin Shop, but both are dedicated to art and the evolution of their own creativity.
Robert Abbott: monotypes, painting and mixed media
'Once you're taken by art, it becomes part of the fabric of your life,' Abbott explained, adding, 'The most interesting thing is doing work people connect with.'
Abbott paints and does monotypes, and pointed out that his Ray Trayle etching press is the 'Rolls Royce of printmaking.'
To produce a monotype, Abbott explained, he paints with heavy ink on a [metal or Plexiglas] plate, and then pulls the paper up, using the press. The result is only one print - thus the name 'monotype.'
'The challenge is in how the inks adhere to the plate - that is part of the process,' Abbott said.
'Another fun thing to do is layering, where I put it back through the press again. Or I draw images into the monotype after it has dried,' he added.
Abbott also does what he calls 'image collages,' that he said are often inspired by his travels.
'That's what I love about travel - the sense of place. My goal is to create a place that viewers can look at and create their own personal story, that becomes a part of their life,' he noted.
In working with image collages, Abbott said he 'pulls all of my creative disciplines together,' using his interior design background, his expertise with architectural rendering and his painting and Photoshop skills.
His collages might look like they are set in Rome or Venice, but, he noted, 'None of these places exists - you take one home and it exists in your home.'
The artistic process, Abbott said, is 'like pleasure and pain at the same time.'
He added, 'It's intense work. It all hangs on you - you have to prove to yourself you can do it again. It's very risky - failure is right there.'
This is Abbott's first experience with Open Studios, and although he's excited about the exposure, he said, 'It's a double risk of failure - the risk of not being received, of people not connecting with it - that's the scariest part.'
But, he added, 'When people look at it and connect and are bowled over by it - you get support from perfect strangers.'
David Kerr: Fused glass
'I've always looked for something to do that is creative,' Kerr said, adding that he experimented with ceramics and woodblock prints.
'I took a class for a week in blowing glass - it was very intense. It's hard to have the time to practice so much to keep the rod moving. I have a real respect for glass blowers,' he noted.
But it was when he took a class in fused glass at Bullseye Glass Company in SE Portland, that he found that 'perfect fit.'
'I took two classes, one in plate-making basics and one in glass cutting. Once I learned the use of these skills, I could push myself in different directions,' Kerr said.
Part of the joy of working with fused glass, he said, is that he can come home from a busy day at his violin shop, and then relax with his glass work.
'I can come out and work on a piece for one hour or three hours and it's pretty much done. You can see the end result,' he said.
Kerr said he likes to use geometric forms in designing his fused glass plates and bowls, and is inspired by the 'juxtaposition of colors from looking at organic matter like tree bark, moss and lichen on rocks.'
To begin his pieces, Kerr said he thinks about what shape it's going to be. In the first part of the process, the piece is flat, and then glass rods are fused onto the piece, which is placed in a mold and finally fired. Some pieces, Kerr 'paints' with a glass powder.
While the piece is in the kiln, 'it 'slumps' down into the form you've chosen for it,' Kerr explained.
To begin with, Kerr used commercial molds for his plates and bowls, but now his work has evolved so that he is making his own forms.
'I made my own form of a violin, but it is an almost impossible shape to fuse. [The glass] doesn't want to fuse around curves,' he said.
He noted that a local company has invented a mold mixture similar to concrete that allows the artist to create a variety of shapes, but there is risk associated with such experimentation.
'I've lost four molds and four glass pieces,' he said.
But, four pieces ultimately survived - two sold at an auction for $500 each and one sold for $1,000. There is one piece left that will be on display at his studio.
Kerr added, in taking on the challenge of firing custom-made shapes, sometimes 'you lose the mold or the piece of glass in the cooling process - [but without such risk] the piece wouldn't be so interesting.'