In a bid to be hip with the social media, the Portland Art Museum announced the six artists selected for the 2013 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards today via Facebook—in the process misspelling not one, but two of the recipient’s names. Oops.

The mission of the awards is to honor “artistic merit and potential while providing an in-depth and scholarly presentation of work by several promising and/or nationally under-recognized professional contemporary artists living and working in the Northwest.” The winners were first culled from over 235 nominations down to 28 finalists by Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson, the museum’s Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art, and guest curatorial advisor Apsara DiQinzio, the Berkeley Art Museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art. Laing-Malcolmson then made studio visits to the 28 finalists in order to arrive at the six awardees.

Looking for themes, it pops out that four of the artists are predominantly abstract and five work at least partially in sculpture/installation, but moreso it's clear that—with the exception of Anne Appleby, the only one who seems to qualify as a more traditional easel artist—all of them work across media and genre. Half hail from the Seattle metropolitan area, while Portland contributes a lone recipient, Karl Burkheimer, as does Montana and Wyoming. (Does it strike anyone else as odd that, for the sake of the awards, Montana and Wyoming are considered part of the Northwest, but British Columbia isn't. Perhaps we ought to also consider Saskatchewan and Alberta, eh?)

Here’s a brief preview of the six artists, moving from Portland outward, who will be featured in the 2013 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards exhibition opening September 21, 2013. We look forward to getting to learn more about their work.

Dancers Sally Garrido-Spencer, Tahni Holt, and Richard Decker atop Karl Burkheimer's "In Site" installation at Disjecta. Photo by Megan Radocha.

Karl Burkheimer is the head of the wood program at Oregon College of Art and Craft and a leading conspirator in OCAC's and the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s partner MFA program in Applied Craft and Design. Working often in unfinished wood construction that reveals the structural innards behind the surface, his work bridges installation and sculpture, utilitarian structure and art, and has been featured in exhibitions across the country, including a solo show at Disjecta last year that involved a number of local dancers improvising on his rawly built large wooden ramp. You can watch an OPB Art Beat segment about him here.

Isaac Layman during his studio visit with the award judges in front of a photo of his toolbox.

Isaac Layman photographs items in his house—the most banal items, like tread fallen loose from a stair or dirty dishes—and then, using a technique he developed himself, creates composites from many different photos from the same vantage point but with varying focal depths. Next, he enlarges what are in effect collages of space into enormous works that he prints, also in his house. Seattle’s The Stranger writes that “he once referred to himself as an anti–National Geographic photographer.” Represented by Elizabeth Leach Gallery, the 35 year old has become a Northwest wunderkind; the Frye Art Museum gave him a highly lauded solo exhibition earlier this year and the Seattle Art Museum awarded him its Betty Bowen Award in 2008.

Trimpin in his studio of wondrous things.

Trimpin has made an international name for himself (albeit, legally just a surname) creating kinetic sculptures that incorporate sound, computers, and robotics. His works are mind-boggling and magnificent, but it seems a bit of a stretch to lump him in the same “promising and/or nationally under-recognized” category as the other awardees, given he won a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 1997; Washington’s most prestigious museums co-exhibited a year-long, state-wide survey of his work in 2005; and a documentary about him screened internationally in 2009.



"Moth" in Nicholas Nyland's studio.

Nicholas Nyland has found that, although describing his work as “abstract” is a great way to stop a conversation dead in its tracks, he’s nonetheless drawn to the “dumbness” of abstraction. “It is generous and capacious, able to absorb and then release a multitude of references,” he writes in his artist’s statement. “In my case, references as disparate as Chinese scholar’s stones, Japanese gardens, early American decorative traditions, or seventies design.” His paintings and sculptures are whimsical and even psychedelic and have been exhibited at the 8th Northwest Biennial at the Tacoma Art Museum; the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, Illinois; Pulliam Gallery in Portland; Soil Gallery in Seattle; and at the Seattle Art Museum 35th anniversary exhibition.

"Squeezed Arch," by Abbie Miller. Vinyl, steel, 375ft zipper, thread.

Hailing from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Abbie Miller is not only the youngest of the bunch, but also the most unknown—a bit of a promising wild card. She creates works that mix fashion, sculpture, and performance. Little of her art has been shown outside of Wyoming, and we were hard pressed to find any media coverage beyond Jackson Hole’s free weekly paper, but we have to say that our curiosity is piqued by her “Zipped” series, which uses vinyl, wood, steel, and zippers—in one case 375 feet of zipper. The results are glossy, twisted things that look like a cross between a Lady Gaga outfit, salt water taffy, and some sort of alien intestinal tract.

"Oaks" by Anne Appleby.

Using oil and wax, Anne Appleby of Jefferson City, Montana, has spent the last two decades focused on the interplay of light and color, making softly shifting color panels that caress the eye. “My interest as a painter is in the fragile and ever changing phenomena of the temporal world in which we live,” she writes. Her work has been exhibited internationally.

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