Built to last

Nadal and Buckwalter fly the flags at Mayo
By NICK SCHROEDER  |  August 7, 2014

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'untitled' gouache painting by Anne Buckwalter

It’s a competitive, hyperindividualistic world, so what use is making art if it doesn’t offer some reprieve? While it may strike a few as lighthearted (and therefore unserious), the new collection of paintings and prints titled Contemporary Fort, by local artists Anne Buckwalter and Pilar Nadal, traces the inspirations of artmaking to some of its crucial formative bonds: friendship, collaboration, and play.

Collaboration between these two women isn’t new—in fact, it’s hard to think of another pair of Portland visual artists whose labors are so closely linked, particularly while working in different mediums. (Their live variety show npilar, a hodgepodge of audience-interactive games, trivia, and interviews, is as guileless as it is brilliant.) Over twenty-odd works on paper, the duo’s complementary aesthetics line the walls of the East Bayside church-theater, bearing whimsical, intuitive images that seem perfectly consistent with Mayo’s adventurous, neighborhood- and family-styled calendar of events.

And just like kids’ forts, the room is a forum for the constant bending of logic, aesthetic guidelines, and narrative structure. Nadal’s ink letterpress prints are clean, boxy, and radiantly colored; their pictures more like semiotics of actions or emotional states than firm representations. In “dreaming of swimming,” two renderings of curtain-like strips float above a yellow half-orb nuzzled in soft, inviting blue. In “walking towards you,” some outdoorsy shapes are scattered in half-formations and promised volumes, evoking a familiar and fairly complex feeling-state despite its unnatural coloration. And the series “i forgot what i was going to say,” an arrangement of primary hues in overlapping ovals and spheres, can’t escape the trappings of its retro-‘70s color scheme.

One of the best characteristics of Anne Buckwalter’s work is use of whitespace. It makes up at least 80 percent of her paintings, giving them an airy, open ground that helps transport the viewer far from the systems of the conventional world. In small, precisely detailed renderings in gouache (all of them untitled), Buckwalter very carefully engages with the visual language of outsiderdom. Buildings often factor in—tents, cave-like rock formations, opaque institutions. Most of them bear flags of a single color, while an assorted mess of odd, utilitarian objects cluster around them, like the markings of some deterritorialized tribe. Buckwalter’s art could be seen as whimsical or cartoonish—they’d make lovely storybooks or kids’ plays, and that’s fine—but she’s very effective in reconfiguring the notions of territorial space, geographical conflict, and re-appropriated utility of things. That she does this while keeping her work “light,” approachable, and fun—while rarely deploying the tropes of war—is fantastic.

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‘dreaming of swimming’ ink on paper letterpress print by Pilar Nadal, 14 1/2 inches by 22 inches

In the building’s backyard is the duo’s greatest triumph, at least in practical terms. The “Contemporary Fort” of wood and screenprinted fabric, held together by tinfoil tape and matted with a cotton batting in its interior, remains an inarguably good spot for off-the-grid meditations regardless of one’s age. They fittingly prop a flagpole through its center (this one’s blue and white stripes). Resting there awhile—a summer afternoon in the middle of East Bayside—the invitation to think about the demands, conflicts, and competitiveness of daily life, both here and everywhere, is unavoidable. From their earliest years, children think of forts as sanctuaries for the imagination; in adulthood, we know them more as hatching-sites for war plots and military offensives. The good friends Nadal and Buckwalter made radically simple art in a non-denominational, inclusive, and accessible building at a crossroads of several class and race demographics in the city they live in. Lighthearted, perhaps—but that’s about as serious as art gets.

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