by Renee Patrick, Cascade A&E Editor
Bringing truly original fine art and craft to Central Oregon is Art in the High Desert’s (AHD) vision, and for the sixth year, the banks of the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District will be transformed into an art collector’s dream.
Ranking in at an impressive 14th best fine arts show in the nation by Greg Lawler’s Fine Art Fair Sourcebook, the locally-produced non-profit festival experienced the impact of its success in a record number of artist applications for the 2013 show.
“We knew right away that, even though our standards are very high, this pool of artists was going to make the jury process extremely difficult,” said Show Director Carla Fox. “The overall quality of the work is simply astounding.”
Applications poured in from 28 states and British Columbia, and in a two-day marathon session, this year’s four jurors had the daunting task of selecting just over 100 visual artists from the talented pool.
Each spring the AHD jurors review applications, looking specifically for artwork that goes beyond the expected, the usual, showing excellence in craftsmanship. The process is completely anonymous as each artist is assigned an ID number which is shown along with six images the artists submit, and a brief artist statement.
2013’s jury consisted of Yoshi Aoki, a mixed media sculptor from Seaside, Oregon; Dawn Emerson, a local artist and instructor in pastels and mixed media; Delene Montoya, a Bend furniture maker and designer; and Brian O’Neill, a graphic designer, ceramicist and instructor from Bellingham, Washington.
Scoring 14 different media categories, (2-D mixed media, metal work, painting, 3-D mixed media, photography, sculpture, ceramics, print making, digital art, drawing, wearables, fiber non-wearables, glass, wood and jewelry) the highest scoring applications are then invited to the festival. “We curate the show and create what we feel is a well-balanced collection of media,” said AHD Organizer Dave Fox.
Painter and photographer Brenda Reid Irwin may be a newer name in the Bend art world, but her use of color and diverse style can be found all around town. Showing in as many as five locations at a time, the multi-talented artist has always loved art and the inspiration it can foster.
Irwin has an eclectic background full of adventures including teaching water skiing on a Club Med cruise ship in the Lesser Antilles, ski bumming and living in Canada as well as selling real estate, renovating houses and 13 years assisting top-level executives at AT&T.
Her diverse interests and a curiosity about the world can be seen when glimpsing Irwin’s body of work as a whole: from forgotten old cars in a junkyard to abstract studies of lines and cityscapes, bursts of color to exploring the female form…it's surprising this artist’s output is only a recent development as she has been developing an artistic eye for many years.
Irwin began painting 10 years ago when she started expanding upon sketches on small canvases, but she soon discovered the joy of painting big. “I like to paint on big canvases with lots of color,” she explained. “I like to keep my mind open with ideas, and lately have been tending towards abstract art, there is a lot of freedom to it.
“I’m still trying to find my style, I think it evolves as you go,” she said. “I don’t have any formal training…and I think about it all the time, sometimes I’m afraid to do that and find out I’m doing it wrong!” she laughed.
Irwin didn’t start taking her art seriously until she and her husband moved to Bend in the fall of 2011. “I was working at AT&T, and when we left Seattle, I just wasn’t able to find a job of that caliber here, so thought while I was looking that I would start to paint more.”
A few months later, she went downtown for ArtWalk and started cold calling. “Friends have always encouraged me to sell my work…and thought I could probably take some of my paintings down there.
“I got a lot of rejection,” she said. “I started out trying to sell picture note cards, and thought I would get in small…It wasn’t until I knocked on the door of Hot Box Betty and talked to Shelly that things turned around. She looked at the wall, and asked if I would hang there the next month. I was in shock, that was my first real lucky break,” Irwin said.
“It's a really a good feeling to put up my work and get started that way, and then it was easier to go door to door.” Irwin started showing her work at Bend d’Vine last summer and now has artwork there indefinitely. She also had shows in Barrio and The Wine Shop.
“Ideally you want to be in a gallery, a place where you don’t have to take it down, it’s hard on the paintings and it’s hard work,” she said. “In March I had work in five different places!”
While Irwin has dabbled in painting landscapes, she has found herself leaning more towards the abstract. “I can’t get too realistic,” she said. “It’s art forms that inspire me, patterns, and most recently my paintings are almost urban looking. I like to go through art books, and am inspired by Picasso and Frida Kahlo, and I love Klee. I draw a lot of inspiration from the great artists.”
In addition to painting, Irwin has taken to looking through the lens to capture her images. “I guess I have an eye, an artistic eye,” she commented. “Maybe I’ve always had it, and earlier in my life I was more focused on other things and now I have more of an appreciation of it.”
Recently she produced a series called Junkyard Eco-Art. Visiting Terrebonne’s Swift & Mccormick metal yards, she maneuvered through heaps and piles of rust and junk to find her inspiration. “It’s a gigantic place, it’s overwhelming and I had my camera with me and thought I would look for color. I came up with a series of photographs, found a place that printed on recycled canvas and used soy and vegetable inks, so called it eco art. The images are small, 11x17, and are gallery wrapped.”
June’s cover image, Poor Soul, is a cornerstone in the series and a print is currently for sale at Nancy P’s Bakery and Café in Bend. “Poor Soul is a favorite by many people,” she said. “There are five or six pieces of Eco-Art at Nancy P’s in addition to newer acrylic works on display through June.”
Junkyard Eco-Art was on display during 2012’s Rubbish Renewed Fashion Show last fall, and her photographs are often published in The Source Weekly. “I was in the Source at least 40 times in a year and a half,” she said.
Irwin and her husband are currently splitting their time between Bend and Portland, but like many other people who find themselves in Central Oregon, it was the landscape and promise of big adventures that first attracted them to the area. “We had both skied Mt. Bachelor earlier in our lives and love the drier weather here. Our second vacation home turned into where we wanted to retire.”
Irwin’s ambitions don’t stop with painting and photography, she would love to open a gallery in downtown Bend at some point. “It would be great to bring other artists in and be part of the art scene,” she said. A more immediate goal takes the shape of a studio where she could paint full time.
“I’ve met really wonderful people in Bend that have helped me through my career,” Irwin attested. “Shelly at Hot Box Betty, Katie and Tim at Nancy P’s, Linda Strunk at St. Charles and other artists Kevin Schwarting and Gurney Miller. We talk and collaborate; it’s great to feel like we are part of the art scene.”