Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Loneliness of John Kitzhaber - and no Beer

I don't really know if former Governor John Kitzhaber is lonely, but when I got up close to the painting today and stared into its eyes, I saw a profound loneliness. I don't know if I've ever seen a painted portrait of someone with such desolate loneliness.

This evening's reception for the unveiling of Governor Kitzhaber's official portrait was not beer. It was wine and hors d'oerves. Even though the politicians were all in suits, and many of the guests were in casual cocktail attire, the former Governor was in jeans and boots. Wild Pear catered the reception and served Griffin Creek Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines were from the Rogue Valley, a nice nod to the Governor and to the river in the painting.

But don't jeans and boots call for beer?

The painting shows the physician Governor, his blood pressure cuff, stethescope, and black doctor bag at his feet. He sits casually in a chair, half in a studio, and half looking out over the river and land. There's another stump. I looked for a spotted owl. He was a Democrat with a Republican legislature, and the painting suggests someone trying to heal rifts, bring things together - perhaps the urban indoors and rural outdoors. But there's no bridge in the painting, and he did not bridge the divide.

I think it's an honest, truth-telling painting, one like the McCall portrait. It may not be popular today, but in a hundred years, it will tell a story to historians.

Pander talked about the ways it had to be different from the McCall portrait. McCall was mythic already, and Kitzhaber was not. So McCall is standing and seen from below. Here we look on Kitzhaber from above, and our view out over the land is from a precipice. He didn't add that the paint is thicker, the brushstrokes coarser. The impasto perhaps underscores the way Kitzhaber looks still - and perhaps is at heart - like a rancher or outdoorsman.

Kitzhaber did say that when he left office he felt "radioactive," and was gratified to read the names of donors and to see the people at the reception. I think he was genuinely touched.

The reception also had its political side. People of course were schmoozing, but Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian focused on whether Kitzhaber were thinking of running for Governor again.

In AP article, former Secretary of State Republican Norma Paulus said that she was ready to assist if he should run.

Next to Kitzhaber's portrait are those of Governors Atiyah and Geer. Neither portrait is very interesting, though Geer's bears signs of patching and overpainting, like it had been ripped or pierced. Geers hands, too, look more like mittens, and since the rest of him is realisticly rendered, I don't suppose the mittens represent interpretive fancy. He's holding a paper and seal. The portrait is from 1899, the beginning of his term, so perhaps it points to Geer's own time as Speaker of the House. It can't refer to any of his gubernatorial achievements.

Here's additional thoughts by Jeff Mapes' on the painting and the reception.

(Photo: Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Dave Hunt prepare to accept the portrait at the Capitol. Lori Cain, Statesman Journal.)

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