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Legendary Portland painter the focus of retrospective



COURTESY: HALLIE FORD MUSEUM OF ART - Here's a 1955 portrait of Louis Bunce, the late famous Portland painter.Sure, a traveler can observe one of late Portland artist Louis Bunce’s paintings anytime they wander through Portland International Airport. The massive abstract mural hangs above Blue Star Donuts, in the Oregon Market before you go through security.

But fans of the famed painter now have the opportunity to see the first major exhibition of his artwork in 38 years at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, located on the Willamette University campus, 700 State St., Salem.

“Louis Bunce: Dialogue with Modernism” will be on display starting Jan. 20 and continue through March 26 in the Melvin Henderson-Rubio Gallery. A smaller companion exhibition, “Louis Bunce: Works on Paper,” is on display now through Jan. 29 in the Print Study Center. For more: www.willamette.edu.

The show, a retrospective, chronicles the artist’s career over a 57-year period, featuring 49 paintings from both public and private collections.

COURTESY: HALLIE FORD MUSEUM - 'Along the Waterfront' (1940)According to Roger Hull, senior faculty curator at the art museum and Bunce expert, the last major show featuring Louis Bunce was in 1979 at the Portland Art Museum, four years before his death.

“We have been discussing the possibility of a 21st-century Bunce retrospective since shortly after the museum opened in 1998,” he says.

Hull says Bunce was “Oregon’s archetypal modern artist of the mid-20th century.” His art covered many different areas, including Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Post-Modernism and, at the end of his life, Romanticism.

He taught at the Museum Art School in Portland, now known as the Pacific Northwest College of Art, from 1946 to 1972.

Bunce first moved to Oregon from Wyoming in 1920, then moved to New York and served as what Hull says was a “key link between the Portland and New York art worlds.”

“Louis Bunce helped place Northweset modern art on the map,” says Hull, who also completed a monograph to accompany the exhibition. He says the curatorial process for this exhibition took “some three years” as he interviewed many people who knew Bunce. COURTESY: HALLIE FORD MUSEUM - 'Apple' (1968)Hull says Bunce was a “gregarious man about town in Portland” who loved to spend evenings in local taverns, drinking and talking with fellow artists, students and “folks from walks of life far beyond the art world.”

Bunce was well known in Portland for his modern artwork — especially attracting notice when he painted the airport mural in 1958.

The piece caused what Hull says was a “firestorm of opposition and ridicule.”

“The major newspapers of the day ... fanned the flames of this controversy by printing jocular comments about the apparent incomprehensibility of the mural,” Hull says, adding that there weren’t any distinct cows, mountains or airplanes.

“The painting is still in place at the airport, still abstract, still a composition of angular planes that suggest the mechanics and dynamics of flight.”

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