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Eugene Weekly : Culture : 12.09.04

Visual Arts:

A Small Pocket of Dances

Photography by Brett Matthews


Spirited Away

Cottage Grove Theatre puts lively twist on classic tale.


More Music, Less Talk

Always…Patsy Cline shines.


Cooking Cuban

Cook up a zesty black bean soup.


A Whiff of the South

Sweet olive and its hardy relatives can thrive here.


A Small Pocket of Dances

Photography by Brett Matthews


Brett Matthews' subjects are nature's abstract patterns and reflected light. The label "landscape photography" acquires a new specificity when applied to his work, a fine, large sample of which is currently on show on the second floor of the UO Law School through Dec. 31.

Yachats Surf, photograph by Brett Matthews.

Matthews' landscapes within landscapes, often abstract, evolve into autonomous worlds and ultimately into self-standing works of art. The viewer is free to look at the image referentially or as an end in itself. The very possibility of alternating between these two views adds further richness to the work.

Matthews does not crop his pictures, and since he uses a 2x2-inch format camera, all are square. An unerring compositional sense marks his work. Composition alone keeps interesting his most conventional shot in the show, Last Run, with its dark, silhouetted boat and figures gliding over golden reflections under a black sky. But composition also provides the crucial backbone to his more unusual images.

Matthews' photographs range from figurative to abstract, with Last Run at the figurative end. Images of tree and rock-configurations occupy a middle ground. In Late Autumn, aspens' white trunks and naked branches form a vertical pattern against a tangerine background. Pattern dominates the image, conferring an abstract quality and dynamic, aesthetic interest. Composition takes precedence over representation. Similarly in Rime Ice Trees, a few brown trunks and white curlicues of frosty twigs set against a deep blue background acquire an independent aesthetic dimension.

Three orb images, displayed as a triptych, also straddle the boundary between figurative and abstract. Texture dominates these abstracted geologic representations, yet figurative interpretations also are possible. The black orb of Summer Sphere, speckled with gray and encrusted with barnacles, may evoke the interrogating eye of an ancient creature, a fossilized egg, a mineral birth.

Geometry organizes Matthews' somewhat abstract compositions of rocks and water interacting. Yachats Surf remains figurative but is structured as a series of triangles. Both McKenzie Water and Fall Creek Fall are concerned with land reflected in water distorted by ripples in the current. A slow shutter-speed in Blue Water Fog makes the water appear as a cloudy mass, out of which crest dark rocks that could be Alpine mountain ranges. The diagonals converge toward the horizon, emphasizing depth and perspective and contributing to the explosion of scale.

Matthews' Crashing Waves, with its unusual viewpoint, flattening of space and reversal of perspective shows the influence of abstract expressionist Mark Rothko's division of his canvas into luminous rectangles of colors. The vertical drop of a surf-sculpted cliff down to the waves below appears to rise under a greenish sky with trailing clouds. Spring Snow Melt is similarly divided into two horizontal fields of different texture and width, while Copper Sea is divided into three shimmering rectangles of foam, water and sky interrupted by the black accent of jutting rocks.

The Rothko-like structure is brilliantly used in Matthews' purely abstract White Granite / Black Sand, a particular favorite of mine. A layer of white granite mottled with blacks rolls down over black sand dotted with color. Rothko's influence becomes an explicit reference in Rothko Light, which is divided into two shimmering color fields, with deep ocean-blue at the bottom and at the top warm sunset tints reflected on the water surface. Each field receives and contains pigments from the other. Broken lines from wavelets provide horizontal texture.

"I love the way Rothko's bands of colors were undoing the background-foreground distinction as a visual metaphor for non-duality," Matthews said. Some of Matthews' pieces do just that.

"Looking at nature's own abstract expressionism is almost like trying to validate what the abstract expressionists were painting," Matthews said. "Their stuff was not really abstract; they'd just blurred the details of it." These artists valued spontaneity and improvisation, but Matthews' photographs require watchful observation and an understanding of the natural world.

Many of the most painterly of Matthews' abstract pieces capture patterns found in nature, such as Seaweed Waves and Sand Diamonds, which could be interpreted as a stylized forest of firs. Painted Hills is an earth-tone study in which the diagonals of hillsides intersect with the scallops of contour lines. In Driftwood Lines, the wood's curving grooves, bark scars and worm-holes create a topographic map in purplish-grey and green.

Blue Twigonometry abolishes depth: The seamless black lace of twigs and their reflections is etched flat over the blue mirror of the water. The lovely Blue Water Alders captures in nature the very effects that others obtain by manipulating Polaroid images. In Dune Grass & Clouds, the calligraphy of sparse grass curls over a reflected pink and blue sky.

Finally, a large number of abstract pieces capture the patterns of light on the ocean or on puddles left by the receding tide over the wrinkled sand. "I've always been fascinated by light," Matthews said. "Photography is all about light. The word itself means 'writing with light.'" In these pictures, the photographer allows us to see what our eyes can't really perceive. "Most of the stuff on the ocean your eye can't even see because it's going so fast," Matthews said. "It's a very small pocket of dances that I focus on," he explained.

I highly recommend Matthews' exhibition, so catch it soon.



Spirited Away

Cottage Grove Theatre puts lively twist on classic tale.


Got a case of post-election blues? Having trouble getting into the holiday spirit? If so, Cottage Theatre's production of Marley and Scrooge might make you a little merrier. With a new twist on an old tale and a cast of dozens, director/writer/lyricist and Cottage Grove High School guidance counselor K.K. Mills (aka Keith Kessler) breaths new life into the classic Yuletide favorite with a soupçon of humor and an awesome array of spirited music.

Marley and Scrooge follows the original story closely, but unfolds through the eyes of Scrooge's former, and quite dead, business partner Marley. He follows Scrooge around making observations, rattling his chains, and tossing out clever witticisms. Through dance, song and narration, the memorable story is retold — of miserly Scrooge; his steadfast employee Bob Cratchit; his kith and kin, among them damaged, but saintly, diminutive Tiny Tim; the spirit of his old partner Marley; spirits of Christmases past and present who lead him on a late-night journey to relive long forgotten memories, and to see how his behavior affects those around him; and of the ominous ghost of Christmas future, who shows him one possible outcome that awaits him if he doesn't change his contemptible ways.

In the spirit of community theatre, it appears as though director Keith Kessler has assembled the entire citizenry of Cottage Grove for this production. With so many adorable children and singing, dancing, entertaining folk, it's virtually impossible to list them all. As Ebenezer, rotund and even sporting chops, Jim Curtiss is quite scrooge-like — a delightful curmudgeon. But his finest scenes really come at the end with his effervescent outburst of gleeful giggles after being given a second chance at life. As the ghost of Jacob Marley and narrator, Mike Tripp puckishly plays for laughs, and actually looks pretty good for a dead guy. Dylan Ferguson is great as Bob Cratchit and does a splendid job in his soulful rendition of "My Little Child."

Boldly bedecked in dapper duds, Davis N. Smith shows off his exceptional oratory skills as Scrooge's Pollyanna-ish nephew Fred Holowell. Likewise, with his deep voice and robust laugh, Denny Guehler is a joy as the jolly Spirit Present. Accompanied by the small orchestra with a big sound, exceptional vocal solos from two "Hollys" include Holly Laycock (Spirit Past) in "As the Twig is Bent" and Holly Edwards (Belle) with "I Release You."

Enough cannot be said about the exquisite and authentic period costumes created for this production. From the upper class feathers and finery to the tattered and dirty rags worn by the street urchins and pickpockets, the attention to detail is extraordinary. The production crew, too, deserves a nod for creative lighting, sound, props, and choreography on and offstage as players mingle, enter, and exist from all sides making the audience feel a part of the action. The only impediment was the revolving sets. With 27-odd scene changes, their unruliness at times detracted from the play. Nonetheless, Marley and Scrooge is a rare treat sure to get you in the holiday mood. The production runs through Dec. 19.   



More Music, Less Talk

Always…Patsy Cline shines.


Willamette Repertory Theatre's Always … Patsy Cline is more concert than theater, a musical tribute and tale of the world and life of a woman who altered the course of country music and whose influence reaches all the way from Linda Ronstadt to Lucinda Williams.

Shandra Sinnamon (Patsy Cline) and Emily Gilbert (her friend Louise) do an incredible job as the show's main actors, singing all the songs and providing every line of dialogue except for a few side jokes from the band.

Sinnamon proves time and again that she can belt out a classic as easily as she can croon a ballad and does a wonderful job of imbuing Cline's character with glamour and grace, especially impressive considering she's wearing a cast on her right arm.

Director Norm Johnson, Jr. has created a wonderful contrast between the two characters, giving Cline effortless glamour and poise in contrast to the personable, real character of Louise, the enamoured fan turned friend. Louise is someone the audience can relate to. She isn't telling us her story as a fan and friend of Patsy Cline, she's telling us our story.

If you know Cline's music, Always is a celebration of her best stuff. If you don't, it's an amazing introduction and you'll want to rush out to the first record store and buy her "Best Of" CD.

The music is both the show's greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The paucity of dialogue puts an onerous burden on the two main characters who must tell a tale of a complex and wonderful friendship between two women with few words. Just a minute or two of dialogue between them would have helped lend depth. At one point, as they sit down at a table together, you think you just might get it but the show launches into yet another gorgeous song.

Without that dialogue, the cast has to work extra hard to get the story across to the audience. Because the actors are so wonderful and the music so thrilling, you barely notice that one minor flaw.

A truly feel-good production perfect for the holiday season. The show continues Dec. 9-12. Call 682-5000 or visit www.willrep.org



Cooking Cuban

Cook up a zesty black bean soup.


The last potluck I wrote about was held for a group of University of Montana students I took to Cuba. For my contribution to the meal, I used a recipe for a bread-based garlic soup from a website called icuban.com. This Cuban cooking site is run by three brothers-in-law who call themselves The Three Guys from Miami. The soup was spectacular, and I must have waxed pretty eloquent in my story, because last week I got a shiny hardcover cookbook in the mail titled Cooking Cuban by The Three Guys, and on the back of the jacket was a quote by Chef Boy Ari. Cuban Cooking is a really nice book. Its funny, thorough, beautifully illustrated and highly educational. Food is a doorway into culture, and the Three Guys mambo through that door with grace.

The exploration of the link between food and culture is behind all the trips that I lead. I'm currently gearing up for a trip this January to Brazil, where my group will look at sustainable agriculture and the communities that are fed by these systems. As our little group approaches critical mass, we held a potluck to celebrate our upcoming adventure.

The pressure was on for me to whip out something extraordinary. After all, I've been to Brazil three times, I'm the trip leader, and I am Chef Boy Ari. No Internet surfing was necessary as I flipped through my mental catalog of Brazilian dishes, Alho muchado, carne do sol, muqueque do peixe, all of these and more I have on file. But I realized that, for this occasion, one dish stood out as the obvious choice: a black bean stew called feijoada.

Feijoada is one of the most popular dishes in Brazil and is considered symbolic of the national character. Like the Brazilian population, feijoada is a melting pot of many different types of meat. It's especially emblematic of Bahia, our destination, because Bahia is the most African-influenced part of Brazil. Like the black bean base of feijoada, Bahia is black, in terms of its people, music, culture and food. And as in feijoada, this black ethnic baseline mixes with the other elements, producing astounding mixtures like brown-skinned people with green eyes and red hair.

Fabia came over with the makings for caipiringas, a cocktail of lime, sugar and a Brazilian cane alcohol called cachasa. We call them Brazilian mojitos. For those of you out of touch with the cutting edge of pop culture, the caipiringa recently replaced the margarita, according to E Magazine, as the hippest south-of-the-border drink. They go down smooth and sweet, and make you want to sing and dance. If you cant find cachasa, you can substitute vodka and make a caipirosca, which is almost as hip.

Rosie, a baker, took a stab at Pao de Queixo, Brazilian cheese bread, and Jen brought over these Brazilian chocolate truffle-like things called Garotas that she got from Costco. Gerard came over with duck a la orange. Not exactly, or in any way, Brazilian. But as they say in Bahia, toda mistura sera permitida, every mixture is allowed.

The same is true with feijoada: Every mixture is permitted, provided certain ingredients are in place. Step one, if youre using fresh beans, is to soak the beans overnight. Ideally, change the water at least once. If using canned beans, proceed to step two, which is to brown the meat, any mix of meat you want, especially pork. I started with some chopped bacon and oil in a cast-iron pot. I added some frozen deer chunks, pork ribs, chorizo sausage and hamburger meat. I kept stirring it on medium heat until it was nicely browned. Then I mixed in some carrot rounds, chopped hot peppers, chopped onion, chopped garlic and chopped carrot tops. I cooked this for a few minutes, stirring often. Finally, I added the beans in a quantity roughly equivalent to the amount of meat and veggies already in the pan. Im sorry, but to give exact measurements for feijoada would go against the spirit of it. Originally developed by the slaves to make use of cheap random meat scraps, the original feijoada was made of things like pig ears, ox tails and neck meat.

Once you add the beans, it needs to cook together slowly for at least two hours. Season with salt, pepper, a few bay leaves and (very important) vinegar, and add water if it gets too thick. Serve it on rice with fresh cilantro and sour cream or mayo.

The caipiringas were flowing, and Gerard was playing guitar and leading the group through a rousing rendition of Eu e voce sempre (You and me, forever) when I finally brought the feijoada to the table. As we ate, J.T. proposed a toast, asking the gods that the food in Brazil would be this good. I smiled smugly, secure in the knowledge that it would be. Luckily, we cleaned up and went home before the farting began.



A Whiff of the South

Sweet olive and its hardy relatives can thrive here.


A long fall weekend in New Orleans! Aside from the odd shower, the weather was friendly, and it was pleasant to be warm again. Our hosts at Tulane University put us up in a hotel on St. Charles Avenue, where the streetcar runs to this day and takes you most places you'd want to go. Half a minute's walk away were the mansions of the affluent Garden District, which deserves its name, more or less. The impoverished Lower Garden District nearby was more interesting by almost every measure, not least because its gardens, though relatively few, were more relaxed, less predictable and contained a greater variety of plants.

It was in the Garden District proper, though, with its carefully manicured and formal evergreen front yards, that we detected a sweet, fruity, pervasive scent. I soon tracked it down to the sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), an upright, evergreen shrub that ages to a small tree and produces little tubular white flowers from September through spring. In the Garden District it occupied a significant fraction of the airspace between the ubiquitous camellia and podocarpus hedges and the majestic live oaks soaring and dipping overhead.

The sweet olive fragrance might be overwhelming on a really warm afternoon. On a mild day it's perfect, and slightly elusive: one of those odors that you catch in waves, sometimes quite a distance from the source. Out of curiosity, I looked the species up when I got home. Sunset Western Garden Book lists sweet olive as hardy in the Willamette Valley, but most writers consider it the least hardy of the genus, which would make it too tender for the valley. It might grow in mild areas along the coast.

Sweet olive has several hardier relatives. None, as far as I know, will bloom all winter, but several bloom either late or very early in the year, joining a host of other shrubs — witch hazel, daphne and viburnum, to name a few — that flower sweetly during the colder months. One of the most useful species for West Coast gardens is fall-blooming Osmanthus heterophyllus, called holly-leafed osmanthus because the leaves on young plants closely resemble those of English holly, prickles and all, but I have never found them quite as stickery. It grows to 10 feet and beyond, and the leaves on mature stems are less spiny.

My favorite variety of this plant is Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Purpureus,' which has slim leaves that are actually purple only on new growth but always remain a bit darker than those of the species. A five-foot specimen in my garden bloomed for the first time this fall and the white flowers positively sparkled against the leaves. There are also several variegated forms, of which I have grown only one, O. heterophyllus 'Variegatus.' This is an excellent plant for filling pots in winter. Even small plants have impact because of the bright, irregular cream margins on the glossy leaves. The foliage of another nice form, 'Goshiki,' is pinkish when new, then green, speckled cream and gold.

Variegated forms of holly-leafed osmanthus are slower growing than the solid green varieties. This makes them easy to maintain in containers and also makes them useful as manageable, medium-low hedge plants. Another species with small green leaves makes a good broad hedge or screen, and is relatively easy to maintain at 5-6 feet: this spring-flowering hybrid, Osmanthus x burkwoodii, is vigorous and tends to grow wider than it is tall. Like most osmanthus species it grows in sun or light shade, but is not hardy enough for very exposed locations.

Lastly, there's Osmanthus delavayi, probably the least hardy of the osmanthus species worth growing in the Eugene area but one of the most decorative. The leaves are dark green, a bit holly-like and tiny, scarcely one half inch long, providing an unusually fine texture for a non-coniferous evergreen. The usual white flowers appear very early in spring, with the usual osmanthus fragrance. But they appear in every leaf axil along the many slender stems, giving the shrub a distinctive, star-spangled look that is particularly striking from a distance.

I think everyone should try this plant, just bearing in mind that it may die in a really cold winter, should we ever see such a thing again. Mine was planted near a path, where I am forced to prune it every year. After at least five years of this treatment it is still a very small shrub. On the basis of this experience alone, I'd say it is a plant that is easy to keep small. I have never grown one as a potplant, but the large, nice-looking container grown specimens I often find in nurseries suggest

it would be happy to continue living in a pot.   

Rachel Foster of Eugene is a garden consultant and author of All About Gardens: Tips and Commentary from the Southern Willamette Valley, a selection of past columns from the Eugene Weekly.