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Portland's art galleries: A safe, socially distant visual experience

Froelick Gallery in Northwest Portland is back open, with two new shows on display. It's free to walk in and enjoy the art, while supporting local artists.

PORTLAND, Ore — The arts are important here in Portland. Whether it's a concert, a play, a dance performance, a poetry reading or a visual art show, there is always something new to entertain us and show us a new perspective. Art is part of what makes Portland, Portland.

And that really hasn't changed during the coronavirus pandemic. Though artists and arts organizations are seriously struggling to survive, each week brings new examples of innovation. 

Yes, live-streamed Zoom versions of Shakespeare plays and concerts look a lot different than viewing a show in a theater, but the creativity and talent are still there.

Thankfully, some places are starting to open back up to share their art, safely.

Froelick Gallery in Northwest Portland has reopened, in time to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The gallery has two new shows on display, open for socially distant viewing, in-person and online: The Parsed Thread by Matthew Dennison, and Navigating in Place by Laurie Danial.

"People come in to just have a moment with art," said gallery owner Charles Froelick. "I believe it's essential, and throughout the social uprising and the health crisis, people have been contacting us for a whole range of art experiences, so it's really boosted and buoyed our belief that art is essential. It's been going on for eons, since the dawn of humanity."

For Portland-based artist Matthew Dennison, art is part of his daily life.

"My artwork is a daily ritual," said Dennison. "I draw and paint every day and it's part of the process, but it's kind of like you drink your water or you drink your coffee every day, and part of that is drawing, and it's really important to me. I think it just keeps us moving forward."

His new show, The Parsed Thread, features over 40 portraits of wildlife.

"It's kind of a natural process for me. I do a lot of people and narrative pieces and animals," said Dennison. "This particular body of work, you know, going on with the COVID-19 and all the stuff that's come down, it's kind of forced you to go inside yourself and explore more, which kind of draws me more to the natural world."

Froelick and Dennison agree that viewing all types of art can open people up to new perspectives.

"When we see animals or nature, it kind of gives us a perspective, and these paintings can at least [help us] realize how special this planet is," Dennison said. "There's a lot of goodness out there."

"I think that in a time of cultural strife, art can bring us solace and inspiration," said Froelick. "I think it's essential as humans to not only discuss things verbally, but to interpret non-verbally."

Froelick wants people to know that visiting an art gallery doesn't have to be an intimidating experience. It's free to walk in and view the work; people don't have to buy anything or know anything about art history or anything else.

"I want my gallery to be a welcoming space that people can come in and just look, they don't have to ask questions, answer questions from me, they can just come in and look," said Froelick.

Of course if visitors want, they can buy a piece of artwork. But there's no pressure to do so. It's more about appreciating the visual experience.

"I kind of see galleries as visual libraries," Dennison said. "When you look at a piece of artwork, you're looking at information. And we're all people, we're all human, so in that sense, it's a layer of one person's information. But it's all things that we can apply ... you might look at something and borrow that idea. And I think it's important, I think looking at art moves us forward."

Froelick encourages people to visit local galleries as often as they can, to figure out what type of art they enjoy most. Look on local galleries' websites to see when they have new shows featuring different artists.

"Because all of the artists, they want to make unique work that expresses their own voice, and you'll get your own vocabulary about what you enjoy and don't enjoy," Froelick explained. "And when you have a question, I would encourage people to ask."

And while visitors get to appreciate artwork in person, the artists also appreciate the outside perspectives of each viewer.

"When you go in a gallery you bring something new to that space, you bring a new way of looking at it," said Dennison. "I think that's why the arts are kind of the visual scientist, in that it's about exploring, it's about finding, it's about sharing things that you're already seeking to find another way, outside the box."

Dennison's show, The Parsed Thread, is on display at Froelick Gallery through the end of July. The gallery is only letting in four visitors at a time, so Froelick suggests calling to make an appointment ahead of time.

The gallery's current shows are also available online - view the art here.

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