Black Artists of Oregon Soundwalk

Black Artists of Oregon Soundwalk

On February 1st I took in the exhibitions Africa Fashion & Black Artists of Oregon at the Portland Art Museum. I went on First Thursday when the museum offered free admission. It was a nice change of pace for an outing, and the place was hoppin’! At 10 am there was a line of 50 or so folks cued up, and before long, high schoolers on a field trip were streaming in. The exhibits were terrific.

I keep my binaural recording headphones in my coat pocket, and though I had no intention to make any recordings there, the chatter was so bubbly and reverberant, I thought it might make for an interesting sound portrait. It’s worth pointing out that I’m mindful to avoid eavesdropping in a situation like this; instead, aiming for the macro effect, a murmuration of voices.

As I often do, I used post production edits to accentuate moods and textural shifts. I was going to incorporate percussive rhythm in the compositions, but abandoned that as it started to feel a bit dominant and busy. The instrumentation is very much in line with my sound palette of late. The bright zither plays against the low tones of the Wurlitzer electric piano in a way I really like. Synthesizers add texture and atmosphere.

For about a decade, from 1997 to 2007 or so, I identified primarily as a visual artist; a painter, to be precise. I worked in batches. I exhibited in mixed-use spaces: coffee joints, restaurants, furniture stores and home goods boutiques. One of the series that I became know for was a simple, flat figurative style. Think Jacob Lawrence meets Alberto Giacometti. In the early years the figures were uniformly dark red in color, and were always painted without facial features. I have continued to create work in this vein for the nonprofit Friends of The Children for over 25 years now. For the last 15 years they are the only client I continue to break out the brushes for.

An example of my “people” style. Chad Crouch “Family Dance”, oil paint & oil pastel on paper c. 2000

Well, back in 1997 I had one of the mentors (“friends”) stop by my studio on NE MLK Jr. Boulevard with a couple younger girls (who were black). When one of them rounded the corner and got one look at me her eyes widened, her mouth formed an O, and she covered her mouth with her hand. She thought she was coming to see a black artist! (I am white.) I will never forget the look on her face. She could not disguise her shock that artist behind the paintings she had seen was white. I laughed, but was a little thrown off by it. I don’t really recall the details of our conversation, but the experience stuck with me. It’s not really a story I’ve told before, but it I turned it over in my mind. This exhibition, and the large photo wallpapered on the museum wall (on the album cover) reminded me of that experience.

Some years later, for a number of reasons, I began painting different skin tones rather than the default dark red. Admittedly, in retrospect I preferred the red, which harkened back to the inspiration for the style: sculpting with red clay.

Students observe “Skinned”, 2009 by Licity Collins.

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Soundwalk combines roving field recordings with an original musical score. Each episode introduces you to a sound-rich environment, and embarks on an immersive listening journey. It's a mindful, wordless, renewing retreat.
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Chad Crouch