Northern Light

Striking symbolism and gentle lighting will be on display at the Newport Visual Arts Center starting this Friday, Nov. 1, in “Drawing in the Northern Light,” an exhibit of photographs and poems by Joseph Ohmann-Krause.

The exhibit is inspired by the works of Vilhelm Hammershoi, a Danish symbolist painter who lived from 1864 to 1916. Partly a reaction to Realism, Symbolism saw painters reduce objects to their simple geometrics so as not to overburden the viewer with fine details.

“Drawing in the Northern Light” is traveling from The Little Gallery at Oregon State University where it was on show from May through September in an exhibit curated by Helen Wilhelm.

“Northern light,” Wilhelm said. “A softer, perhaps lower-angle light, as one finds in the far north. A gentler lighting in which images are not pressed on the viewer, with their sharp edges, too-strong contrasts, and too firm insistence. The viewer is invited into the scene of relaxed calm, to wander about, wondering at this never before seen space.”

Ohmann-Krause first came upon the work of Vilhelm Hammershoi in 2015 through a catalog of the artist’s paintings. That very same afternoon, he wrote the poems that appear in the exhibit, as “a personal wording of Hammershoi’s quiet interior scenes.” The photographs came later, but with the same reference point to Hammershoi’s work.

“The term northern light is used here less in geographic or cartographic terms, and more as an aesthetic or visual compass needle,” Ohmann-Krause said. “The north is less a reference to the polar star than it is to a protection against the direct sun, ‘le plein sud’ in French, a warm attractive light much favored by Matisse or D.H. Lawrence, or several generations of painters and writers who, in the early 20th Century, were drawn southward to the Mediterranean, to colonial Africa or to Mexico in search of more radiance. The northern mists of romantic nationalism had long hidden the industrial squalor that it contained.”

The exhibit includes 10 photographs, poems and related text, with images including landscapes in Newport, Pistol River, Brookings, Florence, the Finley National Wildlife Refuge and South Corvallis as well as Carmel, California.

Ohmann-Krause served for 12 years as chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Oregon State University. He is the co-editor of the journal Pacific: Poetry International. He was a fellow for the Fondation Saint-John Perse in Aix-en-Providence in southern France and is the author of nine collections of poetry in French. He is currently co-editing a collection of essays on post-colonial North African women artists.

“Drawing in the Northern Light” will be on display through Dec. 28, available to view from noon to 4 pm Tuesday through Sunday in the Upstairs Gallery of the Newport Visual Arts Center, 777 NW Beach Drive. There will be an opening reception for the exhibit on Saturday, Dec. 7, from 2 to 5 pm, with an artist talk at 3:30 pm.

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