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Fifteen-million people pass through the Portland International Airport every year; some of them are in a hurry to make connections, but many take the opportunity to savor the artwork on the walls at PDX.


SUBMITTED PHOTO, LEFT, AND PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK, RIGHT - Florence resident Lisa McCullum pauses to look at a display case for Michaels Hoeye's exhibit.Those who traverse through Concourse A can enjoy the art installation “Angels Passing,” a series of 48 large-format portraits by Oak Grove resident Michael Hoeye, coupled with poetic text by author and writing teacher Joanne Mulcahy.

“Angels Passing” will be on display through June 10, but can only be seen by passengers who have cleared security. Some of Hoeye’s images can be seen online at tinyurl.com/z5yfosz.

SUBMITTED PHOTOS - Two young women caught Michael Hoeye's attention, as he took photos for 'Angels Passing.'Hoeye is the author of a series of children’s novels featuring Hermux Tantamoq, a clever, watchmaking mouse; he is also an artist and a photographer.

Hoeye’s art installation ended up at the Portland airport due to a combination of inspiration, ingenuity and a bit of luck.

Inspired faraway from home

The project began on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey, in September 2014, when Hoeye was sitting on a bench watching the endless stream of people pass by and thought to himself, “This is my idea of heaven.”

As he watched the “street full of people bustling with life, crisscrossing the city,” he realized that each person he saw had an individual story, “coming from a unique past and traveling toward an unknown future.”

He wanted to stop the action, and shout “Freeze,” he said, in order to give himself “the opportunity to consider and savor the intimate details of what I was seeing. I took that as a cue that a creative project was taking shape.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Oak Grove resident  Michael Hoeye works at his computer, refining an image from 'Angels Passing,' his current exhibit at the Portland International Airport.When he returned to Portland, Hoeye hit the streets with his camera, following the crowds that gather at street markets, Pioneer Courthouse Square, Waterfront Park, the Moda Center, bus and train stops, and sidewalks all over the city.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - A young woman with her cell phone is part of the exhibit.“Last year when the weather was good, I was taking 200 or 300 pictures every day; often crowd scenes. Back in my studio I edited, studying every picture and every person in it, looking for people who captured my imagination. I was looking for people whose grace and dignity was revealed in their stances, gestures and expressions; their particular way of occupying a specific moment in time,” he said.

One day he was trying to describe to a friend the feeling he had about the portraits he was working on, and he remarked, “It’s like I’m sitting on the street watching angels pass by.” From then on, he knew what to call the collection, and the title, “Angels Passing,” has not only been an inspiration, but has helped him keep his focus.

“And it reminded me of connections I feel to works like Wim Wenders’ film ‘Wings of Desire’ and the poetry of William Carlos Williams,” Hoeye said.

Process, ingenuity

Once back in the studio, Hoeye “began to grapple with the problem of translating the information in the photographs into a graphic image that captured [and] distilled something of what I felt about the subject,” he said.

His first realization was that he was only interested in the people in the photos, not the settings, so he had to figure out how to remove the background, while retaining the figure.

“There are a lot of ways to do this. Back in the day before digital imagery, I used to physically cut up my prints with an X-acto knife. Now I have more options; I use Photoshop and a fairly primitive technique of redrawing the figure rather than ‘knocking it out,’” Hoeye said.

PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - Deanne Horner, a Bend resident passing through Concourse A, reads Joanne Mulcahy's text in one of the display cases set up for 'Angels Passing.'“I like to get my hand into the image right away. It’s easy to be overpowered by all the information in a photograph and surrender control of the image to all the visual conventions of photography,” he added.

As the process continues, he redraws the figure again and again, drawing each element in the image several times for a variety of reasons, including line, tone and texture.

“And as I work, I try to stay open to a variety of possibilities for visual style. As I progressed through making the 48 portraits in the installation, a palette of styles emerged on their own,” Hoeye said.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - An image from 'Angels Passing.'The style often was directed by the original limitations of the photo, he said, describing his photography style as “fast and loose.”

“I make a lot of mistakes. And the street action itself can be fast and loose, so I’m dealing with a lot of chaos. Photos can be blurry, out of focus, underlit and overlit. Whatever it is, I have to deal with it, [since it] becomes the foundation for the visual style of the image, the depth or flatness, the detail or simplicity,” he said.

Working with words

As Hoeye began putting the finishing touches on the series of portraits, he realized that he needed to add text to the installation, to tell the story of the work.

The first person he thought of was Joanne Mulcahy, a writer who lives in Sellwood. She’s also a writing teacher, who taught at Lewis & Clark College with Kim Stafford for many years.

“She is a very sensitive and well-trained observer of people, [and] I thought she would speak beautifully to the nature of what happens when we see other people — deeply or superficially,” Hoeye said.

“She was a joy to work with. Joanne is best known for her essays, so the poster format is not her usual fare, but the writing had to be simple and short. People are moving by so quickly and are so distracted with luggage, tickets, coffee and cell phones. We wanted to create a text that was easy to move into and out of, and still make sense no matter where you started or finished,” he said.

He added, “She handled it beautifully. I have gotten so many comments on her writing; it really touches people.”

Passengers who start at the beginning of the installation, will read the following: “Angels are messengers, winging their way through the paths of our daily lives. Do we hear their voices as we pass on the street? As we travel from home to some faraway place?

“Messages rest in a furrowed brow or sudden smile, in the way our bodies hurry or saunter. Each promises a story.”

There are six such passages that accompany the exhibit, concluding with: “Perceive the luminous trace of each passing angel. Stay alert to messengers local and distant. Glimpse the beauty in a fluid leap for the bus, wings outstretched. Attend to the gleam in a stranger’s eye, the joy saturating two linked arms.

“Once we embark on the path toward seeing, we, too, can be seen.”

Bit of luck

“The show at the airport came about in an entirely fantastical way,” Hoeye said.

He had taken four of the early portraits to a frame shop to see what they would look like framed. Greta Blalock, who directs the art program at the airport, saw them there by chance, called Hoeye and asked if he wanted to have a show at the airport.

Blalock “runs a wonderful and very innovative art program for the Port of Portland, which includes PDX. She features regional artists who are making work she finds relevant for the busy transitional space of an international airport,” Hoeye said.

She pays attention to “what’s happening here and she does her own field work, visiting galleries and less conventional venues, finding artists that interest her. She’s a brilliant art detective. So I feel particularly honored to have had her find my work,” he said.

In spite of the fact that the program does not pay the artists, Hoeye said he would definitely recommend the program to other artists, noting that the number of people passing through PDX is “probably more than visit all the galleries and museums in the whole country (in a year).”

He also noted that Deb Stoner, another Oak Grove artist, is scheduled for an upcoming show at the airport, featuring her “stunning and gigantic botanical still-lifes.”

His next project, Hoeye said is another portfolio of portraits called “Intrepid Wonder,” and he will be working in color, “so that’s a whole new world of problems and possibilities.”

DICK TRTEK - One of the display cases for 'Angels Passing' is set up in Concourse A at the Portland airport.He said that the images in “Angels Passing” are not for sale.

“It is intended as a floating community bulletin board that attempts a group portrait of our community at this moment in time. It isn’t a gallery art project [and] it’s entirely nonprofit; nobody is getting paid.”

Hoeye also wants people to know that there is an easy opt-out option for those who discover their portrait in the show and object to being part of it. People can send Hoeye a message via Facebook or his website, and he’ll remove it. He also is offering anyone who’s in the show a free print of their portrait. See sidebar on page A5 for contact options.

He added, “I would like to see the show travel to other locations once it leaves the airport in June. And I would love for it to find a permanent home somewhere in a public setting. But only time will tell.”

Feedback

Blalock, the art program administrator for the Port of Portland, said she was drawn to Hoeye’s portraits because the “characters seem to be floating on a stark, flat background. They’ve been removed from the context of their lives and have, quite literally, only the clothes on their backs.”

She further noted, “This is similar to how we meet other travelers at PDX or at any airport. Although these characters stand before us as complete individuals, we have no information about their background or their destination. We make assumptions based on what we see.”

It is those assumptions that intrigue her, Blalock said, adding, “It’s my hope that travelers will find commonalities with these characters, and maybe even with each other, as they pass through this shared space.”

When she is installing exhibits in the terminal, she often gets to hear feedback from passengers.

“We have a lot of frequent fliers who usually comment about a favorite exhibit they remember. It’s nice to hear that the exhibits are memorable and that travelers stop to look at the work,” Blalock said.

Last week on a rainy day at PDX, two passengers explained why they were taken with “Angels Passing.”

Deanne Horner, who lives in Bend, said she was interested to learn how the portraits were made, noting that they looked like photographs, but clearly had elements of drawing.

The figures initially drew her eye, but “after I read [the text], that brings you in even more,” she said.

Florence resident Lisa McCullum said she always stops to look at the art at PDX.

“I like the story behind [“Angels Passing”], but when I saw the title of the exhibit, I thought, ‘That’s interesting.’”

Airport’s rotating art

Blalock does not know exactly when the rotating art program at the airport began, but she has been with the port since 2010.

“Our program focuses on the work of regional artists exclusively. Since 2010 we have had 59 changing exhibits. Some of these exhibits have featured more than one artist. We have one international exhibit area, pre-security in the International Arrivals hallway, [that] features international artists or regional artists working on international themes,” she said.

Other airports in other cities have similar or bigger art programs. Most of those at large airports are funded through percent-for-art funds, where a percentage of capital-improvement project funds are allocated to public art, Blalock said.

But the Port of Portland has no such a mandate. The PDX Art Program is funded from the airport’s annual operating budget.

“Our program features six-month exhibits of artists’ existing work; 12- to 18-month site-specific installations from emerging artists; and permanent artwork. Acceptance of materials for review is not a guarantee to exhibit. Our selection process is competitive, based on work that is the best fit for our space, our passengers and the port’s mission,” Blalock said.

Hollywood Theatre collaboration

A new feature to the rotating art program will debut later this summer when a collaboration with the Hollywood Theatre opens.

A few years ago Blalock said she read an article about what passengers want most at airports, and two things stood out — a place to sleep and movies.

“Each time I walked the terminal, I visualized a theater in the Service Center space on Concourse C. When the Hollywood Theatre contacted us about doing an exhibit, I already had the seed of the idea ready to offer,” she said.

“They were totally receptive to the idea [of showing short films at the airport and, from there, we started collaborating. They’ve done an incredible job finding funds, grant writing, recruiting pro-bono contributors. ... They’re an amazing team to work with. Their established network in the community of filmmakers will allow us to bring some innovative programming to PDX and add a completely new facet to the art program,” Blalock said.

Films will be screened in the new theater, past security, between gates C3 and C5. The space is slated to open in late summer. Because the space is past security, only ticketed passengers will be allowed.

Like all of the art at PDX, the films will be appropriate for the traveling public, Blalock said.

Because the average passenger spends 90 minutes between security clearance and boarding a flight, films will be short-format, five to eight minutes each, and run on a looping reel that will last about an hour.

“Obviously, that’s not enough time for a full-length feature film, [but] these curated shorts allow passengers to view several complete mini-movies while they wait to catch their flight,” Blalock said.

Although airports in other cities may show movies, PDX is known for its regional flavor, and this will continue with the mini-movie theater.

Blalock added, “When you’re at PDX, you know you’re in Portland. In this same fashion, the Hollywood Theatre at PDX will bring local and regional films to our passengers, educating and entertaining them with work characteristic of our Pacific Northwest region.”

Art at the airport

See “Angels Passing,” an art installation by Michael Hoeye, with text by Joanne Mulcahy, in Concourse A at PDX, through June 10.

Contact Hoeye via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit his website at michaelhoeye.com.

Contact Joanne Mulcahy at joannemulcahy.com.

Find out more about the airport art program by visiting pdxart.portofportland.online; sign up for blog updates to stay on top of changing exhibits.

Artists interested in participating in the art program at PDX may contact Greta Blalock, art program administrator, Port of Portland, at 503-415-6657 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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