Tag: Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art

Nudes and Nudities in Greek Art | A Lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Hurwit


© The Trustees of the British Museum 2012. All rights reserved

On October 28, 2012, Dr. Jeffrey Hurwit delivered his lecture, “Nudes and Nudities in Greek Art” to a public audience at the University of Oregon in Portland at the White Stag Block. Following his lecture, Dr. Hurwit led a tour of the newly opened exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece.  The lecture and tour were in collaboration with the Portland Art Museum and The Body Beautiful.


A world renowned expert in the field of ancient Greek art, Professor Hurwit had been asked by the University of Oregon in Portland School of Architecture and Allied Arts to lecture to a general audience and to focus on works of art on display in The Body Beautiful.

The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece at the Portland Art Museum is an exhibit made possible by a collaboration with London’s British Museum. The exhibit, curated by Ian Jenkins and Victoria Turner, brings to Portland, Oregon what will be the only West Coast showing of the 120 objects usually on display as part of the British Museum’s collection of Greek and Roman art.

In what Professor Hurwit called “an extraordinary collection”, The Body Beautiful is an exhibit that has even managed to awe its curators with the striking majesty of its display at the Portland Art Museum.  Hurwit related hearing from the curator, Ian Jenkins that “‘Nowhere has this [exhibit] been displayed better than here in Portland.’ “  And, indeed, as Hurwit illustrated, taken together these works powerfully illuminate a breadth and depth of the Greek and Roman obsession with the human body.

Professor Hurwit’s lecture addressed specific works included in the exhibit and  introduced the topic of nudity in ancient Greek art as representational and containing differing meanings dependent upon context and the individual. Nudity, explained the professor is a costume used by Greek artists to depict a range of roles and connotation.   “In ancient Greek art,” commented Professor Hurwit, “there are many different kinds of nudity that can mean many different things….Sometimes they are contradictory.”

The content of the exhibit “speaks to us today” said Hurwit, and “reveals and celebrates our nature and physical being and bodies.”  Dr. Hurwit began by explaining how the pieces on exhibit in The Body Beautiful exemplify the ideals of the ancient Greek body.

In 440 BC the Greek philosopher, Protagoras wrote “man is the measure of all things.”  While much debate and discussion has surrounded this fascinating statement the general consensus is that judgments about qualities are subjective, truth is a relative thing, and the individual is the judge of all things.  To the ancient Greek mind, however, beauty was not relative.

Polykleitos Doryphoros. Image Courtesy of Professor Hurwit.

So comes the work of Polykleitos of Argos and his Doryphoros (made between 450-440 BC).  Polykleitos wrote a treatise on art called the Kanon and created the Doryphoros to demonstrate his theories.  The Kanon was based on the Pythagorean idea of symmetria, the notion that the parts of a form must have a proportional relationship to the whole, a mathematical formula that determines the perfect proportions of the ideal male body.

The Doryphoros is a study in contracts, in bent versus straight, right versus left, and in opposites.  Yet upon close study, all of these components are beautifully balanced in perfect equilibrium, right contradicts a flowing left, straight compliments bent, relaxed balances flexed, and stillness counters movement. This vision of highly charged repose collaborates to give the viewer a visual image of harmony.

The Doryphoros stands as a visual manifestation of the Greeks’ relentless obsession with structure and musculature, of the youthful male physique, and the male form defined by sharp lines and deep grooves counter-balanced with the exaggerated ridgey , almost-lovehandle-like quality of the hips (an interesting contradiction to the developed musculature of the rest of the form).  This is an idealized perception of what a man ought to look like.  It is the “perfect and the ideal,” a balance of curves and thick musculature.

But before the Doryphoros, Greek artists were producing Kouroi, those upright youthful males, perfectly idealized who blankly (except for that puzzling Archaic smile) and mindlessly stared past their observers and seemed to be all surface and restrained frozen movement.  The Kouroi and their neutral expression seemed to try to resist distracting the viewer by any indication of internal life of the mind.  Into this environment of  these Archaic era nudes, with their hands on their sides, left foot striding forward, arrived the Doryphoros and the impact was instanteous.

Even the marble sculptors working on the Athenian Acropolis began to alter their work—the youthful horsemen on the Panatheniac frieze of the Parthenon became more infused with movement, with the idealized and almost “Kanon”-like interpretation of the male body that we see in the Doryphoros. And, as Hurwit points out, it is an influence and a way of depicting the nude male figure that never really ends.  Just look at the Doryphoros-like stance in Durer’s the Fall of Man….

About a century after the Doryphoros was cast in bronze, a very different statue was made by Praxiteles of Athens.  Praxiteles was known for his depictions of the human body and for his figures’ elegant curved poses, relaxed appearance and a unique softness.  His Aphrodite of Knidos (330 BC) work stands as an innovative approach to the depiction of the female nude and set a precedent for the “ideal woman.”

For the most part, female nudity in ancient Greek art was unacceptable, shocking and somewhat revolutionary. As Professor Hurwit related, Praxiteles made two of these Aphrodite statues, one clothed, one nude.  One island, Kos purchased the dressed figure; the nude statue was bought by the island of Knidos.  The impact of this nude female figure, as Hurwit states, was “immeasurable.”

In the history of Greek art, the female form had previously been depicted with sparse detail or was clothed, in such pieces as the Folded Arm Figurines or the full-skirt wearing, bosom-bearing snake-goddess or abstractly on the surfaces of vases [Hirschfeld Krater, Athens, 990 BC].  And so begins what Dr. Hurwit refers to as a “double standard.”  The male body could be revealed but the female body would remain relatively hidden, clothed, abstract or only vaguely referenced.

And, of course, Greek artists were well versed in creating Kore or Korai, the definitive female representation.  Korai were always clothed, youthful, standing with one leg forward females.  When a female was depicted in the nude it was usually to denote slave girl, courtesan, or “call girl” status.  There existed a general banning or unacceptance of the female nude in most works, however, a notable exception existed in the depiction of the female nude in sculpture, for example with a work showing Apollo flanked by a nude Leto and Artemis [Relief from a temple at Gortyna, Crete, circa 640 BC].

With the study of the development of the nude in ancient Greek art, it is important to realize that Ancient Greece was not culturally homogeneous.  What was happening and acceptable in Athens, might not have been in Sparta, nor Crete.  However, it is Athens as a cultural center that helps us define the period from 600-340 BC.  From this era and a study of the works of art produced during this time, we can deduce that it was pretty much taboo to depict the female form naked.  Women, in art, are generally covered head to toe.

But in order to break through this taboo and this resistance to showing the female form au naturel, the artist, Praxiteles was very clever and thoughtful—he realized the necessity to create a narrative in order to justify the depiction of nudity.

Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos is shown bathing, modestly covering her pubis and blithely unaware of our presence.  We are in the position of approaching her, she knows not that we are there, watching her.  We are put in the position of voyeur, or voyeurese; we become the ones to blame for violating her privacy, seeing her in a compromising position, watching her while in the nude.

Voyeurs paid a heavy price in ancient Greek times.  Seeing a god or goddess without permission or consent or their knowledge was considered an anathema:  the violation would not go unnoticed nor unpunished.  The irresistible erotic power and sexuality of this statue was what lured viewers and made them its voyeurs.  A person approached this piece at his, or her, own risk (stories have been told of young men unable to resist the powerful sexual allure of this Aphrodite succumbing to and physically acting on their lust, and subsequently going mad, later throwing themselves from cliffs. )

The Aphrodite of Knidos was a liberating work as it essentially paved the way to release a torrent of female nudes and precipitated the onset of an acceptance of female form in Greek art as never before.  We see works like the Venus de Milo that explore how the addition of fabric can add a sensual layer to our view, enhancing the form within.

Suddenly the female form, post-Aphrodite of Knidos begins to experiment with a sense of allowable depictions that seem to encourage a sensual and sexual appreciation of the female form.  A winged Nike approaching Athena on the Temple of Athena Nike is in a full length clingy, dress-like garment, her body beautifully revealed by every thin fold of what must be a soft, flowing diaphanous fabric.  Curves of breasts and thighs seem almost celebrated beneath waves of revealing fabrics that cascade in anatomy clinging sensuality.  Dresses fall off bodies, and while these females are not completely naked, they might as well be—the sensuality and hedonistic visual we are given is nothing but entirely effective.  And, so the progression takes us from a cold, column-like hard, shaft clothed Kore to a new female nude defined as something almost always sensual, draped in folds and poses that accentuate her curves and softness. She bends to adjust her sandal.

The male nude remains another story and a much more complex one, at that.

Greek men strode about in the nude in private bedrooms, and at parties called symposia, sort of aristocratic drinking parties, if you will.  In the public sphere, male nudity was limited to the bathhouses, and the athletic games or gymnasia.  There was also the erotic nudity element in artistic depictions of homosexual and hetereosexual, both youth and adult liaisons—art limitating life, and vice versa.

In some cases, partial nudity of woman and girls was acceptable in the athletic games. In the Games of Hera, where virgins competed, females competed with one breast exposed but otherwise wearing a tunic. Hence, for the most part, full nudity was the privilege of men.

The Townley Discobolus. © The Trustees of the British Museum 2012. All rights reserved.

One of the centerpieces of The Body Beautiful exhibit, the Myron Diskobolos illustrates the aspect of nudity in athletics in ancient Greek art.   This nude body certainly asserts the beauty of the body and shows us an example of what is beautiful also being equated with what is good.  And, brings us further into our discussion of nudity in Greek art as having many different forms and meanings.

We have seen nudity with the male form as a way to define and show perfection and the ideal human form.  Nudity is also a custom of the gods, and therefore, a costume worn by god-like men.

The greatest of all civic heroes, we can say, is Pericles.  And our model of a hero par excellence, Theseus.  When we see these men depicted in the nude in war or battle, we can acknowledge that their physical prowess is being shown-off; but going into battle naked was not realistic, highly dangerous, and not the best way to fight.  Yet depictions of nudity in these battle-scenarios symbolizes an elevated and exhalted status, showing a sense of impending victory and courage, and of physical power.  This is “heroic nudity.”

We also see examples of “political nudity”—where political heroes are shown in the costume of democracy.  The removal of their clothes effectively distinguished them as “great leaders” and physically fit leaders in the political realm.

“Civic nudity” with the heroes as citizens (such as two brothers, The Tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who plotted to murder and over throw the Peisistratid tyrant Hipparchus) are depicted in statuary nudes as heroes of the state, in a willingness to shed all, to trust all and to exemplify “democratic nudity.”

Common laborers can be depicted nude, as well.  Shown naked, their sweat and muscles revealing how hard they work.  Even nudity is used to show age from youth to the elderly: one nude illustrating the fresh, strength and slenderness of youth to the other revealing the sickness and weakness possible with the dead, dying and aged.  But both show us a vulnerablility, a fragility, if you will,—one of the young, one  of the old.

Nudity can give us a glimpse of suffering, defeat, and impending death as we see in Ajax as he prepares to throw himself on his own sword and take his own life: he is the fallen, isolated, tortured hero as nude.  [Black Figure Amphora, The Suicide of Ajax, Greek, 540 BC.]  Perhaps “pathetic nudity.”

We see a full frontal of a nude Cassandra in a Red Figure Hydria, [Naples, Kleophrades Painter];  or a naked Hector bound to Achilles’ chariot…both strong and emotional depictions of nudity.  [Attic Hydria, Achilles Dragging Hector, 520-510 BC.]

And, this brings us to the concept of the difference between sexual nudity, soft nudity, nudity for nudity’s sake and actual nakedness, as well as the comparison between male and female nudity.  Nudes and nudity in Greek art do not always divulge the same connotation or meaning.  We have the presentation of nude versus clothed and the revelation:  there is much more to a Greek nude than just perfect flesh and “heroic nudity.”

Following his lecture, Dr. Hurwit led a public tour of The Body Beautiful at the Portland Art Museum.  His tour continuing and illustrating points made in his lecture, provided insightful scholarly commentary on numerous works in the exhibit including the many iconic marble and bronze sculptures, vessels, and funerary objects most coming from the second and third millennium BC. For more information on the exhibit at the Portland Art Museum please refer to, The Body Beautiful.

[This article is a brief summary of the lecture Professor Hurwit gave on October 28.  A full recording of the lecture will be available shortly and will be linked to this article.

We extend a sincere thank you to Professor Hurwit for his lecture, Nudes and Nudities in Greek Art and his tour of The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art.   Also, many thanks to the Portland Art Museum for their cooperation and assistance with this event.]

About Dr. Jeffrey Hurwit: Dr. Hurwit has degrees in Classical Languages and Literatures from Brown University and a Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from Yale.  He has taught at Yale, subsequently joining the UO faculty in the History of Art and Architecture.  He holds a co-appointment in the Classics Department and holds a Philip H. Knight Professorship.

A leading scholar of the archaic and classical periods in Greek art, Professor Hurwit has appeared in major documentary films and lectures at the world’s top universities, museums, and archaeological institutes.  The recipient of many prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the University of Oregon’s Faculty Excellence Award,  Professor Hurwit is the author of many works on the art  and civilization of Archaic and Classical Greece. Among his many influential publications that are regarded as standards in the field, his recent book, The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles is considered the definitive work on the subject.

Professor Hurwit regularly conducts research in Greece and Italy, and has been selected four times to teach in the Northwest Council for Study Abroad programs in Siena and Athens.  He has spoken widely across the United States and Canada and has also served three times as a study leader for Smithsonian Institution tours of Greece and the Mediterranean. In 2000, he was appointed to the prestigious Martha S. Joukowsky Lectureship for the Archaeological Institute of America, and in 2003 became the inaugural Dorothy Burr Thompson Memorial Lecturer at University of British Columbia. He has also served on the editorial board of the College Art Association’s Art Bulletin and on the Publications Committee of the Getty Research Institute.

Professor Hurwit is also currently working on Palaeolithic cave-painting in addition to his studies in ancient art.

Read one of Dr. Hurwit’s articles on this subject, The Problem with Dexileos: Heroic and Other Nudities in Greek Art.



Interview with an art faculty member: Surabhi Ghosh

From January 21 to April 8th, the UO art faculty members will be showing their work in The Long Now, an exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art from January 20 to April 8 in Eugene. Selected works by six art faculty members will be shown at the White Box in Portland from January 24 to March 24. To highlight the artists behind the art, I’m having conversations with several of the faculty in the show to hear more about their practice.

This conversation is with Surabhi Ghosh. Whether she is drawing, painting, printing, stitching, or bookmaking, Ghosh is always invested in the idiosyncrasies of visual language. Her current research centers on the meaning of pattern and decoration within spiritual, political, and domestic narratives. Focusing on ubiquitous motifs like the circle and the dot, she creates abstract compositions that blur the lines between painting, sculpture, and textile design.

Ghosh is also co-director of an international artists’ collective and annual publication project known as ‘Bailliwik,’ which she cofounded in 2004. Her work and collaborative projects have been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including Western Gallery at Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA), NEXT Art Fair, MDW Art Fair, and Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago, IL). Her books are included in several collections worldwide. She has an upcoming exhibition at SideCar Gallery in Hammond, Indiana.

Dave Amos, A&AA writer: You’re the fibers professor, but a lot of your work is not in fibers. Why?

Surabhi Ghosh: My background is in fibers; I have a BFA and an MFA in fibers. I’ve been teaching in that field for the last six years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. About three years ago I switched my focus from working with fabric and textiles.

I’m particularly interested in repeat pattern design. I started doing small-scale drawings and paintings, approaching them as sketches or experiments about color and pattern. I realized I liked doing those and that I wanted to get bigger, focus, and improve on my technique. Since about 2008, I’ve mainly worked in painting, so now I’m as much a painter as a fiber artist. I don’t mean to imply that I’m never going to go back to fibers. It’s in my bones at this point.

Pierced Orb, 2011 -- In "The Long Now" faculty art show

And I paint using a somewhat non-traditional process: I use paint as liquid color. All of my recent work is made up of accumulations of dots, and each dot is made by putting a little drop of paint down. I use a really small brush, load it up with paint, and make a little drop instead of a stroke.

DA: Why use this technique? Is it fibers related?

SG: Yes, the very small, repetitive mark that I’m drawing on is related to various fiber techniques. I connect it to embroidered stitches as well as quilt-making, where patterns are pieced together by combining many different pieces of fabric. I also think about crochet structures and woven structures when I make my work. I create these swirling micro patterns within the larger form, and I relate that process formally to crochet, which is really important to my experience with fibers.

DA: That makes sense. Are the designs themselves inspired by fibers?

SG: They grew out of my interest in decorative border patterns. In Indian textiles decorative borders are very common. Saris always have borders around the edge, and they are often very abstract, very geometric, very decorative. The edges are embellished, and that edge is embellished, and then that edge is embellished–a motif is always edged with another decorative motif.

In my work, I reflect on the way patterns build incrementally. I never have a plan, but I use a roughly geometric system, which, when applied dozens or hundreds of times, creates unpredictable patterns. These patterns emerge out of the simple system of dot placement I use. I’m interested in that process of handmade geometry.

DA: How do you choose the colors in your piece?

SG: My color decisions are intuitive. Because of how the dots are built, each line is building on what came before each. With each subsequent line I make a decision about color. Sometimes I decide I want it to be a gradation, and sometimes I decide I want a contrast.

DA: So you don’t decide exactly what the finished piece will look like ahead of time?

SG: I draw out the basic contours and make that shape into a stencil. I often work in series, so I like to have them as stencils so I can use that exact same shape again but in a different way. If you look at my work chronologically, you can see that I have been simplifying and simplifying, and what I’m doing right now is purely focusing on the circle and the oval.

Orb 1, 2010

This piece was a huge change (Orb 1, above). This happened at the beginning of last year. It’s essentially a circle I’m filling in with dots. I’m interested in evoking the similarity between macro and micro views. This piece can suggest a map of continents and bodies of water or an orbital view of a planet of some sort, while it also resembles a view through a microscope of a sample.

DA: You have also used formats and techniques beyond fibers and paint in the past. Do you still?

SG: I’m interested in the book form and I always make books; it’s a regular part of my practice. I tend to use them to conduct experiments, create samples, or research ideas. For example, when I started using the circle primarily in my work, I wanted to know more about the circle as a decorative motif. I did this project with my husband, partner, and collaborator called See Ouroboros Run (below), where we researched circular motifs and how they recur in obscure or ancient belief systems, what various meanings circles hold, and if is there a universal meaning behind the circle. Those ideas were housed in a book made to look like a teaching tool, maybe for kids, which established a fictitious belief system from a conglomeration of sources. I’m interested in visual storytelling and comic books are a big influence on my work. I tend to make two or three books a year like this, in small editions.

See Ouroboros Run

I’m also coeditor of Bailliwik. It’s an annual anthology that works as an artist cooperative — everyone in it submits work and chips in some money. My partner and I do the layout and have it printed. We encourage special projects and limited edition works to include along with the printed book and once everything is assembled we send copies to the contributors, who then distribute them however they like. All of the work is also published online on our website. It’s a total DIY artist project. We’ve been publishing since 2005 with eight issues so far. At first we put out two a year, but it almost killed us, so now it’s annual.

I love books as a venue for the arts – as an alternative to a gallery or museum. It’s something that people can take home and sit on their couch and look at. Maybe we can reach a different audience than people who go to galleries or museums. It’s more personal, more intimate.

Interview with an art faculty member: Dan Powell

From January 21 to April 8th, the UO art faculty members will be showing their work in The Long Now, an exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Artfrom January 20 to April 8 in Eugene. Selected works by six art faculty members will be shown at the White Box in Portland from January 24 to March 24. To highlight the artists behind the art, I’m having conversations with several of the faculty in the show to hear more about their practice.

This interview is with Dan Powell, a photographer who received his BA degree in 1972, an MA degree in 1976 from Central Washington University, and his MFA degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1980. Powell taught photography in the Art Department at the University of Northern Iowa from 1980-1987 before beginning his current position teaching photography at the University of Oregon in 1988.

Powell has received numerous grants and fellowships including University of Oregon research awards, Polaroid Corporation purchase awards, a Maine Photographic Workshops grant, and in 1981 he received an Emerging Artists Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work appears in collections at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; Lightwork, Syracuse, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; and Art Institute of Chicago. Powell’s work has been reviewed in prestigious publications including Art Week, New Art Examiner, Art News, Afterimage, and the New York Times. A comprehensive archive of Powell’s work is being collected by Special Collections, Knight Library at The University of Oregon.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Dave Amos, A&AA writer: What drew you to the medium of photography?

Dan Powell: That was a long time ago. In 1972 I took a basic photography course and really enjoyed it for the same reason it’s so seductive for so many people. You feel your creativity oozing out of your pores and that’s a wonderful thing. And it led to a study in photography.

DA: I looked through your portfolio and there seems to be a division between your landscape work and your constructed work. Why both?

DP: The manipulated work I did as a product of where I went to undergraduate school, which really encouraged a conceptual or constructed approach. Rather than taking straightforward pictures out there in the world, images were constructed and highly manipulated, treated as much as a surface for marking as an image. That work was continuous from when I went to school to get a masters degree in the mid 70s all the way through the early 90s. It evolved over a period of years and was in keeping with how photography was critically recognized during that time. That was the kind of work that constituted my practice as an artist; that was what I exhibited. The work in the landscape and images shot on European travels were really more side ventures at the time. I never really showed that work much at all. In my later years as an artist that work has become more interesting to me than all the constructed work because it is tied to place and time and personal history.

Virginia City, Nevada, 1990

DA: Did you go to Europe to take those photos, or were you traveling and decide to take photos?

DP: What came first was the western landscape work. I am from the west and after living in the Midwest for 9 years I acted upon my affection for the land here photographically. Then came photographing during travels overseas, in the 90s mostly. I loved to travel and my wife and I traveled a great deal in the Mediterranean region. I would always take a camera and then I applied for a few grants to travel. Within a very short time photography and travel became a part of the same activity, impossible to separate. It was a wonderful union to make and I miss that a great deal.

I didn’t have any preconceptions about what I was going to shoot. We used to drift a lot when traveling. We had a general route, of course, but specifics were left open and we came and went according to our desires at the time. Photographing was much the same way, just what presented itself to me.

Plakias, Crete, 1996

DA: What catches your eye? Is it light, or composition, or what?

DP: The whole idea of drifting pertains to the camera too. It is making visual sense out of what you see, or better put, seeing something that makes visual sense to you. The idea of seeing and finding something that lies outside the ordinary. Sometimes that’s very formal. Photographing itself is to create some kind of formal construct around what you see, to organize a space. It was the idiosyncratic in many cases, but not all. In my portfolio, many images may be very painterly in form; others might be more idiosyncratic, as in ‘how could that be?’ Images depend on different sets of considerations, and I always like that eclecticism in my work.

DA: There is a section of your portfolio where you juxtaposed two images. I kept thinking about what the pairs were trying to say. Is that what you were aiming for?

DP: Definitely. That work came from the early trips traveling in Europe in Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Croatia and going to these fine museums where you could photograph. There was natural light and it was beautiful to photograph these antiquities. So I took it upon myself to create my own collection from that collection. To collect the collected, in a sense; to photograph books in a library or something like that. That’s why I often combine those images of antiquities with book images. They are both a text, an evolution of human consciousness through time, in statuesque form and written form. What this work was about, “The Keeping of Record” (below) was photographing an archive; this vast archive of western consciousness, a western origin myth. So I’d photograph these objects and there they were but you can’t see through them into the time itself. We can’t go there from the constraints of the time we live in. We can’t escape our present cultural skin. I took it upon myself as an artist, instead, to put another image up against it, to correlate something with it. To provide my response to the image with another image. To play with it, in a sense, in contemporary terms. To make sense out of this past archive according to the present time that I live in. This work was a culmination of the European travel photographs that I made.

The Keeping of Record Series, 2000

DA: How has your work evolved through your career?

DP: Both activities [constructed images and travel/western land images] went on simultaneously, and one played off of the other. For instance, “The Keeping of Record” series, those dualities that were created there, are from individual images from which I had no plans to make that work. They were just other images that I shot in Europe and then later when I came home the idea occurred to me to juxtapose those images. That spawned the creation of that constructed work. One really rose out of the other, and that is true all the way through my work. Even the other constructed images, they all came from actual images, either made in the studio or out in the world. One sort of derived from the other. And many times the images from out there in the world just remained distinct. They were born whole.

DA: Besides travel, do you have other influences?

DP: In the last 15 years or so, I’ve been interested in language and cultural theory. Certainly language theory has played very heavily into my work. Word as a sign, language as a sign. It’s not just what it says but what it represents in the form of connotation. All the way through my work, even in the constructed work, a clashing of signs and symbols, words and images were important. I used to do a lot of dumpster diving when I was in graduate school. It was the beginning of the sprocket driven computer age, so you’d find these reams of computer read-outs that said phrases that made no sense. It’s language gone astray, gone awry, but you can still read it and create meaning, as in “The Flow Chart” series.

One of my foremost interests in photography is its use as a language. Of all the art media it’s probably most akin to the spoken word because of its relationship between representation and reality. A word is a replacement for the actual thing. The thing is not here to show you so I used the word to describe that thing. A photograph is the same thing. They both stand in; they’re surrogates. I’ve always enjoyed mixing those signs and symbols in my constructed work and that certainly carries over into my travel photographs and even the landscapes. Even the single images, oftentimes are complex in terms of a mix of things.

Study from Gray to Black, in "The Long Now" faculty art show

DA: Do you feel like a Northwest artist, whatever that may mean?

DP: Not at all. But I was born in the Northwest, and other than a nine-year stint in the Midwest and a year in New York, I’ve lived here. I love the West. It’s a fine place to live and a person is fortunate to live here for many, many reasons. When I came back here, I was delighted to come back from the Midwest largely because I was interested in photographing the land here. At that particular time in my career I was really involved in that, really interested in that. That was ‘86 through ‘90; they were really big years for me for photographing in the land and photographing the Northwest. Then I started traveling overseas more.

As far as being a quintessential Northwest artist, no, I don’t feel that affinity anymore since my days photographing in the land here.

DA: The Knight Library at the UO is collecting your work and creating an archive. Could you tell me more about that? It must be an honor.

DP: The Knight Library, starting four or five years ago, started collecting my work, my archive, in a sense. Over that course of time, I have donated work and they purchased others that are representative of all the series I’ve done and all the phases of work I’ve done. They’ve collected probably 1600 pieces at this point and more to come. I feel fortunate and honored. I think it fits my work more than others because of the quality of document that much of it holds; particularly there is a lot of work in Oregon and of the west. That’s mostly what they’re interested in, but in collecting me they’ve also collected all of my other work. I feel fortunate to be able to leave my work with them.

DA: Should work stand for itself, or is something gained hearing from the artist?

DP: Both things are true. I think the work should be able to operate on its own merit. That doesn’t mean it might not be combined with language, with words, as a part of imagery or in the process art making. A lot of conceptual art uses words. The work that I have in this show is heavily dependent on the title. In fact, you wouldn’t understand it completely without the titles. The titles explain the work, and I want the titles to explain the work. They’re a part of the piece.

On another token, reading about someone’s involvement in their art and why they make it and how they view it, can really inform you a lot and help you understand the work in different ways than you might otherwise. If you go into a museum and you see work and it hits you and you like it, you think certain things about it. If you go read the words, the work expands, and you probably will think different things about it and have a richer sense of the experience.

So, yes and no. I think different kinds of art work in different ways that way too, and that’s very important. One piece may need to stand on its own, and another piece must absolutely need words with it. If you see a great film and then read all about the director and the process of making it, their intention in making it, it maybe doesn’t make it a better or worse film, but it informs you and gives you more information to feed into the work.