1. Joan Woo + Harold Washington Open at Walden Three
    March 4, 2013 by Walden3

    Woo_OpeningMy apologies for those of you who could not get into the opening exhibitions this Friday night. We had an overwhelming turn out and the Mercer and Dearborn galleries are only so big. Both shows run through April 14th, and we hope you can return to view these two new incredible shows.

    For those of you out-of-town art enthusiasts, we do want to recap and give in some greater detail, the artists and exhibits on display at Walden Three. My much abbreviated, thumbnail sketches of their work is certainly two dimensional and lacking in the richness only your presence can afford, but I do encourage you to check out their websites www.joanwooart.com and www.haroldwashingtongoestothemoon.com to learn more about these fascinating Pacific Northwest artists.

    Joan Woo is a Portland-based artist classically trained in oil portraiture at Yale University’s School of Art and The Florence Academy of Art in Italy. She pairs her impressive classical training with a conceptual mind deeply engaged with the ideas of identity, connectively and community. Her work in the Mercer Gallery, an exhibit named My Tribe, shows her process and attempt in finding, what she calls ‘the connection between her real and imaginary worlds.’

    When I visited Joan’s Portland studio last May, it was as stark and immaculate as a newly constructed hospital room – white walls, bright clean light and a white canvas floor without so much as a footprint on it. There was one chair, one easel and a small side table. By intent, there wasn’t a window to gaze out or a magazine to thumb through – it was stark as a psychiatric ward (she was quick to explain that she didn’t always work like this and that the environment was very much part of the process she employed for the series). On the easel rested one nearly finished work, a photorealist portrait of a black man with a wide, genuine smile and short, cropped hair. When I asked who he was, things got very interesting. “I don’t know,” she said, “that is what I am going to try and discover.” Joan Woo sits in her studio and meticulously paints portraits from the deep well of her imagination. Before she starts a portrait, she intentionally avoids all visual media, flushing her mind of any influences that might crop up on television, or shopping or dining in a restaurant. To further cleanse her mind, she meditates on the floor of her studio for hours, ‘cleaning up’ as she calls it, and creating an ‘empty landscape in her mind.’ And then she paints. And her incredibly detailed portraits emerge.


    When Joan has completed a portrait, the real work begins. She creates wanted posters for these imaginary people and tacks them up throughout Portland. She posts them on her blog and tweats and tumbles the image as far and wide as she can – asking one simple question – WHO IS THIS PERSON? And eventually, these imaginary people crop up. That looks like my boyfriend! That looks like my mother! It’s weird to say, but that looks like me! From all over the world, people respond to Ms. Woo’s ‘missing posters’, and her subjects, drawn from her imagination, raise their hand and identify themselves.

    As much as she possibly can, Joan sets off to meet them. Her goal is not just to find them, but to interview them, ask very specific personal questions, examine their lives, hoping some pattern will emerge, some singular thread that will connect her to them, and them to each other. And then she meticulously photographs them, in the exact same pose, manufacturing the clothing and backgrounds to match her original painting.

    The culmination of her work shows the canvas and the photograph side by side, with video interviews and detailed notes about her subjects life and ideology. It is amazing and beautiful and not without yield – two years ago Joan Woo met one of her ‘imaginary people’ in Lofoten, Norway, a man named Bjorn Fredriksen, to whom she married last August.

    On display in the Mercer Gallery are 16 oil portraits with matching photographic re-enactments, and 4 oil portraits still searching for their real world counterparts. Maybe it is you? Maybe it is someone you know? It’s a fascinating exhibit exploring our relationship and connections to each other and we hope you can come back and view the work at a less chaotic time. It will forever change the way you view strangers.


    Walden Three would also like to give a very special thank you to our exhibition sponsors –  Bing, who’s support and sponsorship helped bring Ms. Woo’s exhibit to Seattle (now traveling to 6 other cities in 2014) and Ebay, who’s generous support brought Mr. Washington’s work to new heights (literally and figuratively). Mr. Washington is currently working on three new commissions for Ebay’s San Jose headquarters, reflecting their long term commitment and support of the arts. Stay tuned for new video and a recap of Harold’s work – we are just trying to parse the exhibitions out in digestible pieces!