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Interview : Cara Tomlinson @ Hoffman Gallery

February 26, 2020
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Interview : Cara Tomlinson

Feb / 18 / 2020 3:30

 @ Hoffman Gallery

This is Ben Bovich, I’m interviewing for the Lewis and Clark Art Department Blog. I am speaking today with Cara Tomlinson, she is an art professor here at LC as well as the curator of the current show in the Hoffman Gallery.

Could you tell me a little bit about the show? The basics?

Making a Better Painting is curated by 4 different artist teams. We are working with the idea of distributive curating. The exhibiting artists are all from the pacific northwest and the paintings are representing different curatorial themes. For instance, I’m working with Tia Factor and both of us are interested in the Anthropocene, the conditions we are living in, and how artists can think about climate change and the environment through a traditional form such as landscape painting. Each curating team chose 4 or 5 artists that fit their specific theme. The reason we organized the show this way is because we knew we were going to have a symposium and the different themes in the show would become the different panels in the symposium.

I am not sure I would have immediately understood the organization without you telling me all of that.

You might not, but if you look in the left corridor as you come in through the front door you will see these file holders, each with a different statement of the curating vision for a specific group. Each of the groups corresponds with a particular color which you can find on the labels in the show. What we’ve found that is really lovely is that all of the work visually connects across categories and themes so the show presents as a pretty cohesive cross-section of contemporary painting practices regardless of themes.

What are some questions that you think will come up in the symposium?

We have framed some of those already through the curatorial statements. Each curating group starts out with a question. Such as : “ How does the immediacy of painting interface with technology’s mediated modes of communication and representation?”. The question for my theme, Landscape painting in the Anthropocene is : “what are the ways that contemporary painting is reckoning with the material, historical, psychological, and environmental costs of artistic production.” For the Hybrids panel their question is “what the heck is painting anyway?” haha. In this front room near the entrance, the artists are all thinking primarily about politics in painting. Even in this piece by V. Maldonado, where it looks almost like a traditional abstract expressionist painting, it is directly related to thinking about recent border politics. It is called “Enclosure.”

So what is the significance that you see in a show like this? This could be for the Northwest? for Lewis and Clark?

Well, what is so interesting is that painting (as a discipline) does not have a conference, other medium specific disciplines have conferences. Ceramics does, sculpture does, printmaking, photography, you could go on and on. This may be partly because painting moves so fluidly into different mediums, and painting was one of the first art forms that everybody wanted to challenge because it was so prevalent. So while there might have been reasons against having a conference in the 1970s; now, I think, there is a reason to think about painting as a unique discipline with a very specific material practice that deserves to be talked about on its own terms. There is a lot to talk about in terms of the material language, the history and theory of painting from a practitioner point of view. Our hope is that we can create a momentum for a bi-annual conference.

At Lewis and Clark again or at different schools?

At different schools. It was at the University of Puget Sound two years ago, then it came here, and next time hopefully someone else will be motivated to take it up. So it just morphs, and the conversation is ongoing because there has been a core group that moves it forward.

A core group of curators?

Of organizers, yeah. So it’s about creating a community around talking about painting as a practice. This is so rich. When you are an art student, you have that community built in, but if you are not a student you actually have to work hard to have that type of community.

I am on the SAAB grants board and I have learned that conferences can be inaccessible to many people, because there are often large entrance fees and travel costs.

Well, this is free.

No, I know that’s what I am saying.

Haha, well that’s actually one of our problems, because we are already at max registration and we haven’t even advertised yet. So now we are trying to figure out how we can support everybody.

That’s weird. It almost becomes the same problem but for the opposite reason, inaccessible because it is free and everyone quickly filled the spots, or inaccessible because of privilege and lack of resources for some people.

Before it was just small because we were in a smaller space. Here we have 18 artists in this beautiful large space and there is way more word of mouth because they are each publicizing it.

Maybe next time there would be a larger conference or a larger space. How would you do that?

If we continue to do it with this many artists then yeah we would need a larger space.

Or maybe we would have to do a fee, you know I hate to do that but…. And then students could get in free or something like that…?

Yeah, even just a small fee holds people accountable, you paid for it so you should go, whereas if it’s free then anybody can sign up and not show up and then it limits those who really want to be there.

A big part of the symposium is to have a student show as part of it. A really important element for the community piece is the inter-generational discussion. In the first symposium at University of Puget Sound, we all invited our teachers and our mentors and students. So there were three generations of painters in the space. We felt like that was really important. In this show we did something different, we don’t have our mentors here but we still want to have that inter-generational discussion, because that is so rich. So there will be a juried student show in Arnold and Miller.

What direction do you see for the Hoffman gallery moving forward?

I don’t know how it is going to work moving forward because we don’t have a curator anymore and if faculty were to be responsible it really is too much work in addition to teaching full time. That being said, I am so grateful that we have received this space and the support from the Dean to actually do this, because at first I didn’t think it was going to happen once I heard that Linda wasn’t going to be here anymore. The Dean’s office believed in the collaborative and community nature of the project. This event will be good for the Portland art scene, which has lost some of its art venues with the closing of Marylhurst and OCAC, and for Lewis and Clark too since it will bring lots of people to campus.

Good publicity


One common thing I have heard from many people who haven’t been to LC in a while is “what is happening with the Hoffman Gallery”, it’s on people’s minds, people really care about this gallery

It is still one of the bigger gallery spaces in town, especially now with The Art Gym closed. This is one of the few.

I’m wondering what are some ways we can keep the gallery afloat.

I think it is very helpful that we still maintain visibility. It helps people to notice that it is still a vital and active space, like when Roz Crews was here last semester, that was really great. Come to all the exhibits like the upcoming Senior Show! Check out the gallery’s Instagram account and follow it! Students have been helping make that more active. The Dean knows that we need a gallery curator so I don’t think that petitioning would help at this point. A lot of college galleries are small, but this place is really quite large, to run a place like this you need a curator, particularly with experience, that is getting paid.

Do you have any tips for art students? Students in general? People in general?

That is so broad, wow. Well, who is your audience?

Anybody who reads the blog.

So they are all art students?

Could be anyone.

Well….. Think about waste. I am thinking about it all the time. It is hard to think about. If its always on your mind you will think about this trail of waste that you are leaving behind, and it is painful. How do you get out of that? It is so hard because we are so implicated in the commodity nature of capitalism and oil and chemical manufacturing. We are immersed, and it seems like there is no way out. That’s a real bummer, I’m sorry.

No, it is important, I think a bummer is alright

It is hard to be an artist and be super conscious about waste, and actually have a career, because everything is global now. If you are trying to make it in the art world, you are most likely traveling around, and you need to do a huge amount of carbon offset to go anywhere. You are going to New York, to Europe, and you are making things that go back into the waste stream. I don’t even know how to think about it anymore.

To really make an impact on a large scale, for a long time before you are most likely going to have to do a lot of things you don’t want to do.

But the ends do not justify the means.

That’s actually one of the reasons why I am not an art major anymore


No joke, that’s why I am an Econ major.

Yeah, I think you are right in some ways, but I do think, at least art is a field that is open enough to take all of these questions. That is one of the special things about making art, you can ask all of these questions and it can hold it. You can ask questions that are economic through art.

Definitely, I’ve noticed so many crossovers between art and economics. I think also a big problem is the ego. In my art seminar course we have read these articles, where some people are really egotistical about their art, more and more art is about fame and notoriety, as opposed to some of the really powerful things that can come with art that people aren’t as focused on. People who do art just for fame, it is like taking one person out of the potential benefit equation, for fixing problems, for healing, but then also creating all of these extra costs and waste. It can be hard to reckon with the life of the modern artist.

Yes, because in order to succeed as an artist, you create, whether it is through performance, or actual material forms, it has to get sold somehow usually. Social practices can be a sort of answer to that but even that gets commodified. Painters are especially implicated because painters are still almost always making commodity forms. The art market started with easel painting.

Some of these pieces are less implicated than others, some that are hard or impossible to sell due to their form. Then again it is complicated because these artists are challenging, but then also sort of intrinsically implicated in the same system they challenge.

Well, we will talk about many of these ideas in the symposium! Thank you for the good questions.

Thank you for speaking with me and sharing your ideas. See you at the symposium.


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