Paul Jacoulet’s 1941 woodblock print “Les Joueurs Chinois"

Faces and Places

Downtown galleries celebrate Oregon’s unmasking with portraits and landscapes

Two early spring shows at Eugene galleries in March are worth a trip downtown.

It’s just plain serendipity that the exhibit about to open at Eugene’s White Lotus gallery focuses on people’s faces — just as Oregon is allowing people to unmask in public.

At least that’s what gallery owner Hue Ping Lin says of Countenance: An Appreciation, which opens Friday, March 11, and runs through April 23. The show concentrates on images of human faces. “Well, we just wanted to see facial expressions after so long,” she says. “So, faces!”

Oregon’s mask mandate expires March 12, as if perfectly coordinated with the gallery show. “​​You guys must have amazing pull with the governor’s office,” a reporter quips. “You need any favors done?” replies gallery manager Jennifer Huang.

The exhibit, which includes 35 works, is largely drawn from the gallery’s permanent collection of Asian prints, drawings and paintings, but also includes work by such Oregon artists as Mike Van and Yuji Hiratsuka, who both show regularly at White Lotus.

In Paul Jacoulet’s 1941 woodblock print  Les Joueurs Chinois. (The Chinese Gamblers),” the line work is as delicate and graceful as if it had been drawn by hand with a fine-tipped pen. I can’t imagine carving wood with such care and precision — one slip, and the line disappears.

A Frenchman who lived most of his life in Japan, Jacoulet was a rare Westerner who worked successfully in Japanese style, creating work heavily influenced by the classical ukiyo-e tradition of the 17th to 19th centuries, which depicted life in the slightly naughty “floating world” populated by figures such from actors and beautiful courtesans to sumo wrestlers.

Les Joueurs Chinois shows a pair of gamblers, their — unmasked! — faces focused intently on the dice on the ground between them.

Other work in the show is more contemporary and more heavily influenced by European art. The bold, expressive lines of “Chinese Milkvetch,” a small 1981 woodblock print of a woman’s face by Iwao Akiyama (1921-2014), show the indirect influence of Vincent Van Gogh, whose paintings had inspired Akiyama’s teacher Shikō Munakata to become an artist.

Meanwhile, across the street at Karin Clarke Gallery, a show opened earlier this month of works by two living Northwest artists, Humberto Gonzalez and Hart James.

Gonzalez, who lives in Portland, is a regular at the gallery with lush plein air watercolors of the Northwest landscape. Gonzalez uses intense colors that draw your eye from across the room, making the work feel borderline psychedelic when you walk in the front door, even though the images are firmly grounded in observation.

James, who lives in Anacortes, Washington, is new to the gallery. Her big oil and charcoal paintings on canvas have a bold abstract quality that reminds me of work by the late Nelson Sandgren, whose landscape work has been a mainstay of the gallery for years.

The two artists’ interpretations of the Northwest landscape complement each other seamlessly, with Gonzalez adding color and energy to James’ restrained reflection.

Countenance: An Appreciation Opens Friday, March 11, and runs through April 23 at White Lotus, 767 Willamette Street. Hours are 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday through Saturday. Hart James: The Wild in the Flow and Humberto Gonzalez: Oregon Landscape, Glimpse and Wonder run through April 9 at Karin Clarke Gallery, 760 Willamette Street. Hours are noon to 5:30 pm Wednesday to Friday and 10 am to 4 pm Saturday. Both shows are FREE.