Gallery Openings

Lisa Congdon’s New Show Opens Friday at Chefas Projects

A concurrent group show, curated by Congdon, features 16 local and national artists.

By Matthew Trueherz January 12, 2023

Lisa Congdon's Ode to Sarah Bates

Lisa Congdon, the prominent Portland artist, was saddled with a conflict when speaking to a university class recently. The hosting professor asked Congdon if she ever dealt with dark or existential ideas in her work, which is brightly colored, radically positive, and, on the surface, hovers mainly around the concept of joy.  

This wasn’t the first time Congdon faced this question. Historically, wrestling with negative or painful questions, she writes in the artist statement for the show, makes artworks feel more serious, more important. Whereas joy, or a generally positive sentiment, tends to imply that the work is somehow less serious. 

Congdon writes that the thinking goes: “only work that comes from struggle or sorrow is real art.” 

Mother, 1973 by Lisa Congdon

The conflict, for Congdon, is that her art, with its electric blues and fire truck reds, and its folk art–inspired silhouettes of doves and tulips, has always served as a counterbalance to the darkness of life. “Drawing and painting were a way out of that existence,” continues the artist’s statement. 

The Opposite of Sorrow, Congdon’s show opening Friday, January 13, at the newly reopened Chefas Projects gallery in Southeast Portland, attempts to illustrate that idea. Which is to say that, instead of incorporating these more traditional themes into her work, she’s leaning further into her gleeful practice.  

Drawing from a recent trip to the East Coast, many of Congdon’s latest works were influenced by Sarah Bates (1792–1881), a prominent Shaker artist in upstate New York. The largest of the acrylic paintings in this show is titled Ode to Sarah Bates. The three-by-four-foot wood panel is reminiscent of Shaker “gift drawings,” pictures said to record spiritual journeys.    

North Stars by Jen Hewett 

Other folk art elements, like repetitive patterns and motifs often borrowed from quilting designs are recurring in in Congdon’s work, too. Explicit cataloging of her own life is also a constant; in this show, there are multiple references to cycling, as well as a scene of a recent trip to France called The Beach at Hyères 

Running concurrent to her solo show, Congdon curated a group exhibition titled Quadrivial, where she asked 16 artists to contribute work fitting a rather specific criteria: a 14-by-11-inch format, resigned to the colors red, pink, black, and white.  

Stephanie Chefas, the gallery’s owner, says Congdon wanted to include friends and artists she admires in the show, but also artists working, in one way or another, in a similar fashion as Congdon. Chefas says, “When you see the show, it feels like Lisa.”

Faded Dreams from the Side of the Road by Lindsay Victoria Lee

The name refers to the four colors, which are the base palette for much of Congdon’s own work—a decision Chefas says helped to create continuity in the show.  

Anis Mojgani, Oregon’s poet laureate (who’s also a talented visual artist), contributed a mixed media drawing incorporating a poem about rose hips. Josh Stover, a local painter who works with similarly bold imagery to Congdon’s, washed a stack of sundae glasses—a recurring image in his work—with Congdon’s color palette.  

Other artists in the group show include Lindsay Victoria Lee, the San Francisco–based painter and professor at California College of the Arts, and Jen Hewett, the Hudson Valley–based printmaker, among many others.  

The opening reception is Friday, January 13, from 5 to 8 p.m. Chefas Projects134 SE Taylor St 

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