August 17 to September 22, 2019
Opening reception with the artist on Saturday, August 17, 6 to 8PM
Drinks courtesy of Breakside Brewery
Ampersand is pleased to present a selection of new paintings by Ellen McFadden, her third solo exhibition here at the gallery. As with her previous works, the titles of these new paintings reference geographic locations in the Pacific Northwest. Place names that predate the days of early exploration, when the native tribes who first populated this region still lived on the land, when different languages were spoken and the origin of rivers and mountains was rooted in mythology, in storytelling. But the titles also allude to Ellen's own long history living in the region. "Nearly my whole life has been spent in the Pacific Northwest, especially Washington State and Alaska" says Ellen, who was born in Portland in 1928 and recently turned 91. "Small communities like Queets, on the Washington coast, were places that I visited and the images themselves have stayed with me through time." A visit to her studio is filled with conversation, colorful stories about the rivers, mountains and towns for which her paintings are named, about her pioneer family whose role in the Northwest dates back five generations. But, as Ellen makes clear, she's not interested in creating with illustration or words or documentary. "I feel that I’m working for order out of chaos through the use of color and form, especially color. It seems that we are surrounded by chaos and we strive to create some kind of order to be able to function. Order through color and pure form is something that I can create out of my own environment. As I get really old I find it increasingly difficult to manage, but I can always continue through working at the easel." This sense of order—her singular use of color and geometry—translates as pure energy in the context of the gallery space. The new paintings feel kinetic. Her lines and colors radiate and pulse. The illusion of symmetry can shift into something more confusing and then shift back to a sensation that feels organized and exact. The set of colors she employs for her Shuksan series echo a grouping she has experimented with for over a decade in dozens of different configurations. "The oblique thrust says mountain to me," she notes, explaining the reference to Mt. Shuksan, a massif that rises out of the North Cascades near the United States-Canada border. "I remember trips up Chuckanut Drive near Bellingham and over to Mt. Baker, Mt.Shuksan. New roads were going into that area at the time. My first memories are of Seattle and the weekly trip to the Pike Street Public Market and the brilliant colors all jumbled up. The Public Market sign I especially recall. Neon red in the 1930s!" Red is a key component in another group of new paintings titled Queets, a series that, she says, represents her first direction with a political theme. "I didn’t plan it, it just happened. I believe in the integrity of pure color and form on its own and that’s the basic core of my paintings, but I have lived through the terms of 16 U.S. Presidents and a multitude of national and world upheavals that have all deeply affected my life. Today’s administration only wants to make a huge profit at the expense of everything else, but that’s not reality. We are always faced with contradictions and change! I made it through, but others in my life did not." Here she refers to personal loss, the suicides of her first husband and his brother who both struggled in the aftermath of what they experienced fighting in WWII. Or the struggles of returning Vietnam Veterans she mentored and educated as a cooperative education supervisor at Hanford, the now decommissioned nuclear production complex in eastern Washington that represents one of the most contaminated sites in all of the United States. "It's a contradiction to my mind," she emphasizes. "I don't like labeling red as greed, so there's always a catch. But here red is greed or non-growth, nuclear, red hot to represent our upcoming election. The green is simply growth. The yellow represents sunshine and all the energy it pours down unused on the world."
Ellen McFadden was born in 1928 in Portland, Oregon. She attended the Portland Art Museum School (now the Pacific Northwest College of Art) in the late 1940s, followed by a lifelong commitment to art and design, both as an instructor and freelance graphic designer in the Northwest and Iowa. Influenced in the early 1960s by Constructivist and New Graphic Design movements in Europe, she and her husband, Irwin McFadden, assimilated these new styles into their own design and art practices. Today she continues to work on paintings that incorporate pattern and vibrant color, their titles alluding to the Northwest geography and native tribes that are so ingrained in her personal history. In addition to multiple exhibitions here at Ampersand, McFadden’s paintings have been featured in solo presentations at Weiden+Kennedy (Portland, OR) and she was among 34 artists selected for the Portland Biennial, 2016.
© 2019 Ellen McFadden and Ampersand. All Rights Reserved.