Erik Sandgren is a Seventh Generation - Community of Coastal Watchers Artist who has been selected by the Elisabeth Jones Art Center to showcase other work during this exhibition.
East by Northwest - Artist's Statement
East by Northwest is at once the title of the large woodblock and a working title for a series of images in various media that evoke a feeling for an embracing concept of Pacific Rim. I hope to effect this by developing my experience of the Northwest landscape (and the Columbia Gorge in particular) with forms that evoke both classical Chinese landscapes and reference to the First Peoples of North America.
So many things converge HERE at this nexus…and conversely, our spot on the earth here OPENS UP so widely. Our situation invites a BIG synthesis….
What thrills me about OUR landscape is to see and feel in intimate detail how the grand water cycle works out of the Pacific Ocean to water the land. The Columbia watershed is but one great example and how and where that water returns to the ocean. Salmonoid fish hatch far inland and work their way to the ocean. Returning to the sea they disperse. To this day, no one knows where they go! But go they do, and for three, four or five years they gather the riches of the vast ocean. Only then do they return to the meltwaters of OUR mountains to spawn and repeat the cycle. It is AMAZING that they enrich the very land of their conception with the nutritious molecules of their bodies sustained by the sea and everything pouring into it from all around.
Timeless as these cycles may seem, the delicate set of interrelationships between the land, the plant and animal communities and the peoples of the Columbia basin have been severely tested by the arrival of European/ American settlers and new economic interests just over two hundred years ago. We are at a point in history when we must learn all over how to take care of these and why.
The Gorge is largely constituted by layers of Grand Ronde Basalt flows from 17 million years ago through which the channel has been reshaped by the improbable grandeur of the more recent Missoula Floods. Wow! And THIS is the matrix of our cultural mixing which, from its terrible beginnings at the end of the 18th century, had to do with Spanish claims to the Northwest and trade with China. You cannot make this stuff up! Thus willy-nilly we are at a cultural, historical, and geographical crossroads from which we can look anew at the effects and prospects of globalism.
Resonance with Northwest subject matter has been furthered by the imagery and philosophy of classical Chinese painting where the changeability of water interacts with the relative fixity of rock. The Chinese references of this series are primarily the spatially layered rock forms, juxtapositions of rock and water and the compression of space into a vertical format and aqueous media.
Native American references include the dip-net fishermen and, if you will, the landscape itself: basalt, volcanic mountain peaks and salmon. To intensify this, some of my titles are Chinook Jargon, a pidgin language once spoken widely throughout the west. It was developed out of elements of many Northwest Native Language families (including Salishan, Athabascan, Chinookan, Sahaptin and Wakashan) and which another 15% was derived from the French of the fur trading voyageurs and another 20% or so from the English of the late 18th century Boston men. Le Doo Chuck is thus an attempt at “fingers of water” and Wagh Chuck is “to spill water”. Klickitat is the proper name of a tribe, a language and a tributary of the Columbia River.
My large woodblock print represents an intersection of my skill sets and subject-matter interests with the nationwide Big Ink project. There are not many presses that can print a block of this scale nor printmakers that have the expertise to do it. With the encouragement of Big Ink, I carved my image into oak panels using gouges, knives and chisels. I brought it to Whiteaker Printmakers in Eugene last July to be inked and printed in a small edition by Big Ink along with a dozen other large blocks by different artists. It was an inspirational endeavor and it helped focus and codify my intentions for East by Northwest as a series.
In various media I bring to the landscape a set of modernist traditions and material practice. The natural milieu of the Pacific Northwest returns to me its mystery, history, power and nuance. Skill sets I acquired by early acquaintance with Northwest artists were further honed at Yale College, constant practice and deep familiarity with work of artists throughout history.
Here on the Pacific Rim I have been a painter of the Rain Coast from California to Southeast Alaska, British Columbia and out to Haida Gwaii. Elements of the observed landscape co-evolve towards something both imagined and remembered. The master trope of my work comprises human references subordinated to the encompassing rhythms of nature.
In each piece I try to arrive at something that happens uniquely with an image. For me that is the magic. Let me know how you see it.
- Erik Sandgren, 2019