The current show at Columbia Center for the Arts is a bold collection of works by 20 artists from San Diego to Seattle whose perspectives are as diverse as their styles. The hero’s journey theme is based on Joseph Campbell’s analysis of multiple cultures and their universal storytelling structure. Regardless of the source, these stories include the protagonist hero, a mix of allies, mentors, tricksters and villains entwined in a quest filled with obstacles. The journey is the underlying format for countless films from The Wizard of Oz to Star Wars and many others.
Applying this theme to art is nothing new. Seeing this diversity of artistic executions however, provides an enlightening view not only of the artist’s journey, but of how we see ourselves. Working in bronze, wood, fabric or paint, each artist has created a unique expression of the theme.
One of the most provocative pieces in the show is by Troutdale sculptor, Bud Egger. “Poet’s Lament” is a powerful bronze figure – a hero in a meditative pose which seems to summon inner strength. The sculpture is mesmerizing in its shape and masterful execution. In contrast is a series of paintings by Chehalis artist, Charles Funk. He integrates multiple allies in the form of birds and fish to create dreamlike stories in which everything is alive with meaning. Funk’s work magically echoes his Native American heritage.
Another series by Cuauhtémoc Kish of San Diego combines fabrics and beads intricately quilted into elegant portraits of mythic archetypes. There is a playful, trickster quality to these that compliments local artist Rodney Stuart’s wooden figures. These whimsical characters invite you to create your own narrative.
A large acrylic painting by Portland artist Rick Wheeler titled, “Ancient Stories” is an interpretation of petroglyphs combined with animal totems. The longer you look at this haunting piece, the more you will find. The complex arrangement of characters engages you in personal reflection.
Reflection is, in fact, the goal of the show. The hero’s journey format is as old as storytelling itself. We relate to the hero and to the quest. We are challenged to imagine how we can overcome adversity. Our personal involvement in the story helps us see, learn and act from our inner power. Through the artist’s visual narrative, we discover our own hero qualities and find our path.
Students from Lyle Middle School are also displaying related works in the Gallery Nook this month. They have created self-portraits in collage based on the hero’s journey. Their storytelling enthusiasm was evident at the show opening earlier this month. The Hero’s Journey Show will be on display through January 29.
Chas Martin curated The Hero’s Journey show. A Hood River resident from 1981-1998, he is a former president of the Columbia Art Gallery, predecessor of Columbia Center for the Arts. His current work is on display in the lobby of the Center this month.