Perambulating the Bounds

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tom Wills at Portland Brew

It was good to see Tom Wills’ work up at Portland Brew/Murphy Road. In addition to a series of his pastels (I think most of these are older pieces, but I could be wrong about that), he is doing one of his projections of clips from his huge collection of old home movies. These aren’t from his family, but footage he purchases like the family photos you find in antique stores and flea markets (I think Tom’s flea market is more of an on-line thing). He puts clips from them into compilations from time to time, sometimes for art shows at Downtown Pres, sometimes for services, Belcourt events, etc. This was the first time I’d seen one of his films in conjunction with his pastels, and this will give me something to think about. He maintains a blog where you can see the raw material.

Tom’s pastels are mostly of the marginal, overlooked spaces on highway borders, places occupied by a few forlorn cedar trees. A lot of the scenes are in winter, not with snow on the ground, but the grasses dried out and the light overbright in the dry winter air. Sometimes his own shadow is visible, which echoes the shape of the trees. It’s been a while since I’ve read his statements about these pieces, but as I recall he talks about these spaces as representing a transitional point between the self and the divine. I think it was something like that. At any rate, over the years his images have caused me to be much more alert to the landscapes on the side of the road as I’m blasting down I40 into town.

And it’s going to be interesting to think about how those images relate to the home movies, with their images of families, but lost families, families who have forgotten about these documents of themselves or who have fragmented and splintered in the ways families can over time. Tom doesn’t do much to these films—there are probably a lot of choices about sequence that would be apparent if I took a bit more time to watch them, but to a great extent he collects and then puts them out there. I always feel like Tom is trying to let these films speak for themselves. It might suffer in certain regards from the lack of a stronger authorial hand in the composition and presentation, but there is something humble and humane in the act.

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