Shine A Light: Art & Beer

In conjunction with Shine A Light, an event set to host a series of performances, time-based art actions, music, and more, Art & Beer returns to the Portland Art Museum. Now in its second year, thanks to the work of organizer Eric Steen, Art & Beer seeks to continue in offering a unique juxtaposition of two of Portland’s favorite commodities.

On Steen’s blog, Beer and SciFi, he describes Art & Beer as the combination of beer, one of “Portland’s most well known crafts, with experiencing art.” On the one night party, attendees will be treated to exclusive new beers from three respected Portland breweries – Coaltion Brewing, Hopworks, and Rock Bottom. The beer put forth by these brewers are not just one-offs or seasonals, but rather recipes developed and executed as a response to or inspiration of a particular work of art from the museum.

Steen says brewers received a tour of the museum’s collection before settling a work for which their beer is representative. Initially, the work of art selected by the brewers and the pairing beer style was to be kept under wraps, but since talking with Steen, we’ve uncovered more insight into this imaginative and thought provoking undertaking.

Featured beers

Rock Bottom (Van Havig) Abstract Alespression

Rock Bottom’s acclaimed brewmaster Van Havig veered toward Abstract  Expressionism for with which he states that “beer shares a strange commonality.” Havig explains that “both are easy to describe verbally on a superficial level but a true description of the creator’s intention is much more difficult to put into language.” The brewer recognizes the struggle in using language as a shared means of understanding and determining relativity. There’s an acute yet subtle ironic connection that provokes deeper cognition from the brewer’s statement. Havig’s inspiration was conjured from William Ivey’s 1959 untitled painting for which Havig paralleled “a struggle between British and new American brewing.”  The result is a sharply hopped pale ale filled with fruity esters. Well, its more than that, but we’re just using words and language here.

Hopworks (Christian Ettinger, Ben Love)

Hopworks brewmasters Christian Ettinger and Ben Love were struck by a sculpture piece by Rick Bartow titled Ursa Major in which a winged bear made of hinged wood appears to transport a perching bird along for the ride. Barrow, a native of Newport, Oregon, draws on his Native heritage as well as some distinct European stylistics. Ettinger attests that “Ursa Major held my attention longer and required more study than any other art piece” and that it brought back some nostalgia from his youth. He also likened the “rough, pegged fasteners and raw construction” to a sense of industrialism evident in the brewery. For this, Ettinger and Love questioned what food the bear and passenger would find in their journey through the sky and imagined perhaps moked salmon, wild berries and nuts. This lead to the ingredients of am alder-smoked Pilsner malt beer brewed on Hopworks’ nano brew system featuring locally sourced huckleberries and hazelnuts.

Coalition (Bruce MacPhee, Elan Walsky) Liquid Sterling

Coalition brewers Bruce MacPhee and Elan Walsky found inspiration from painter N.C. Wyeth’s The Great Train Robbery. Drawing on a connection of Americana and cultural idealism, the brewers’ statement bequeaths that beer is undeniably an entrenched facet of an America’s identity and daily life. Wyeth’s painting exhibits a snapshot into pre-Prohibition American the brewers recognize as when the West was “rugged and untamed.” The frontiersman spirit was fueled by “steam” beers often referred to as California Common. The connectivity and simplicity of MacPhee and Walsky’s Liquid Sterling reflects this artwork from 1912 which still succeeds in reaches us today. Since California was the major grower of hops during the time when The Great Train Robbery was created, one variety of fresh hops were used copiously. “Our motto at Coalition Brewing is ‘Bringing community together through beer.'”says Coalition. “Any art, be it brewing or painting, strives to bring people together with a common thread.”

Interview with Art & Beer organizer Eric Steen

How were the breweries chosen for this year’s Art & Beer event?

ES: My selection for the breweries was slightly different than it was last year. Last year I chose three breweries that seem to really develop a sense of community in the Portland beer landscape. Each of those breweries have multiple locations and a committed group of followers. Not that the three breweries for this years event don’t have that; my concerns were slightly different. I was interested in getting a new brewery, one that is a couple years along, and one that is a bit more established. I was interested in Rock Bottom because it seems that while they make great beer, they are often looked at differently because they are part of a larger chain. I thought this would add some needed differences into the selection.

The artworks were chosen by the brewers. I had a couple people guide the brewers around parts of the museum. The brewers went at their own pace, stopping when they were interested and asked questions when they were ready. Hopworks was pretty excited about the sculpture Ursa Major right from the start. Both Coalition and Rock Bottom chose three artworks and thought through each one for a few weeks before making a final decision. My friend Ally researched each of the selected artworks and delivered the research to the brewers to give them more information for inspiration and ideas.

How did you become involved in this event?

ES: The Portland Art Museum asked the Art and Social Practice masters students at PSU (Portland State University) to create an event at the museum. This is actually the second year they asked the group. I graduated from this department about a year and a half ago so, as an alumni, I was also invited to participate. Much of the artwork I make is non-traditional in the sense that I’m not making sculptures or paintings, I create events and experiences that address issues that I believe are important. In particular I’m interested in how beer is both a social lubricant and a social glue. Drinking good beer, to me, is a form of activism as it brings people together, inspires local economy, develops a sense of place or landfulness, and is known for shaping how people think about where their food comes from. Beer is an agent for social change. This fascinates me, and so that is how I came to create Art & Beer in the first place.

What can people attending the event anticipate?

ES: So, Art & Beer is actually just a small portion of a larger event called Shine A Light. There are fifteen artists working on all sorts of projects. There will be dancing, wrestling, performance, music, orienteering, costuming, and all types of things happening that night. Visitors can expect a full house, a whole lot of fun, and if they gravitate toward critical thinking in art, I believe these projects will address many issues and ideas that contemporary artists think about today, even if there is a major sense of playfulness to them.

How would you describe beer as an artform?

ES: Some of the ideas surrounding beer as an agent for social change I addressed above. I’m interested in beer because it has the power and ability to do the things I mentioned above, and these are things that I think about a lot and care about deeply, and that I attempt to address when creating an event. Besides that I am fascinated by both the science and the creativity involved in making beer. The craft. There are so many factors involved that influence color, aroma, taste, head retention, and texture that I see brewers and homebrewers as craftspeople who can wield their craft the way a painter thinks about paint on a canvas. It’s the same thing to me, and it’s beautiful. The aesthetics of beer are just as complex and expansive as they are for any visual art.

Art & Beer is happening on Friday October 15, 2010 6PM-Midnight (or until the beer runs out!) at the Portland Art Museum at 1219 SW Park Avenue in Portland, Oregon. $12 entry includes access to all the nights events, the art collections and unlimited beer samples