I live in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood of North Portland, and many mornings you can find me sitting at the local coffee shop and community space at the intersection of N Interstate Ave and N Rosa Parks Way. In addition to some of the purest sources of caffeine round these parts, The Arbor Lodge hosts many public community events including a bi-weekly writing group, a monthly club, and superbly hung art shows. Recently I’ve been drawn in even more often due to the current exhibition, Wild and Woolly: A Sasquatch-Themed Art Show. I enjoy sitting before the artistic interpretations of the Pacific Northwest’s favorite furry friend with my coffee, black, and a savory croissant. In such a state my mind wanders over to wonder, “Why do we search for Sasquatch”?
If we understand artistic representation as a means of searching equal to hiking through primeval forest, then the time and materials spent in pursuit of this mythological creature is significant; so the question I have is what does this interest in the representation of Sasquatch signify? Put another way, what is being sought by those who search? The most direct way to go about answering this question is to examine what has been found and put on display in this exhibition. There is a wide range of styles referencing traditions as diverse as graffiti, landscape painting, comics, and dioramas, cabinets of curiosity, needlepoint, portraiture, and prehistoric cave art.
Personal favorites include “Theolonius” by Mike Wellins and Shelton Niemela who spotted Sasquatch strolling along a landscape straight from a Bob Ross lesson complete with happy trees. Brian Doblie portrays the ferocious “Wildman” in wildstyle, evoking the graffiti tag look though his use of spray painting dripping letters to complement his frothing Sasquatch. With strong diagonal lines to emphasize Sasquatch speeding “Downhill” on a unicycle, Joseph Boquieren’s digital print looks like a panel from an underdog-hero comic book.
What all these examples have in common is that they position Sasquatch within fringe artistic practices, which to varying degrees oppose traditional definitions of art making and meaning. This artistic confluence of peripheral practices and mythological portraiture positions the Pacific Northwest, where reported Sasquatch sightings are highest, as a site of resistance and rebellion against status quos. Utilizing sub-cultural styles of representation, these artists collectively present Sasquatch as representative of the qualities which define an attitude prevalent in the Pacific Northwest. There are many words I could use to describe this temperament – off-the-beaten-path, DIY, anti-big, underground, rugged-yet-creative – but I’d likely get shot down for choosing the wrong ones and missing the right. For me the quality that infuses this sensibility with life is its sense of hope.
I call it that because it is a sense of hope that drew me to Portland nearly a year ago. More recently, the Arbor Lodge book club read Wendell Berry’s anthology entitled What are People For? Out of many brilliant and poignant essays, A Poem of Difficult Hope stood out. In it Berry writes, “the distinguishing characteristic of absolute despair is silence”. Thinking on that I realize that Portland lured me here with her richly timbered voice, reverberating with the music of rivers rushing spring melt to the sea; she sang to me of venturing towards the imagined unknown. Success in such a search, whatever success means, must mean at times simply keeping hope alive, and with it “the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.” Therefore I applaud these artists for their searching, and for their success in imagining Sasquatch beyond myth and into allegory, as a personification of hope.
Wild & Woolly: A Sasquatch Themed Art Show runs through March 15th at The Arbor Lodge Coffee and Community Space. Customers may vote for their favorite piece throughout the duration of the show, and cash prizes for the top three artists will be awarded at the closing reception on Saturday, March 15th from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. The event will include live music, adult beverages and dessert.