Washington People: Tim Portlock

Artist discusses his work, process and new exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

A lone tree stands on a low rise, silhouetted by the setting sun. The scene recalls the traditions of American landscape painting — the golden glows and manifest destinies of figures like Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church and George Caleb Bingham.

But this hill is surrounded by cranes and debris, this sun a mere reflection in the glass façade of a boxy corporate high-rise. The ground here is shattered. Decaying ruins are left half-standing, contemporary structure only half-completed.

In “Nickels from Heaven,” his new exhibition for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, artist Tim Portlock explores both the iconography of the American landscape and the reality of life in the post-industrial American city.

Researching empty buildings is “an entry point into understanding some of the dynamics that are going on in that place,” said Portlock, professor of art and chair of undergraduate art at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. “Even when the economy is booming, we tend to leave out the stories of people who can’t necessarily participate in that exchange.”

In this video, Portlock discusses his work, his use of visual effects and 3D animation software, and what architecture reveals about the social order.

‘Nickels from Heaven’

“Nickels from Heaven” is one of three exhibitions organized as part of the Contemporary Art Museum’s Great Rivers Biennial 2020. Also on view are new work by Sam Fox School alumni Kahlil Robert Irving (MFA ’17) and Rachel Youn (BFA ’17).

In addition, the museum is currently hosting “…when the cuts erupt…the garden rings…and the warning is a wailing…,” a new exhibition by Ebony G. Patterson (MFA ’06).

All exhibitions are free and open to the public and remain on view through Feb. 21. The museum is located at 3750 Washington Blvd. For hours or more information, visit camstl.org.

Tim Portlock, “sundrenched”, archival pigment print, 2020. (Photo courtesy of the artist)

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