Painted plates reflect tough issues
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 14, 2013 01:01
The finished product of Julie Green’s 15-year painting endeavour titled, “The Last Supper,” now stands in the Arts Center of Corvallis. The collection of 500 dinner plates depict the last decision Oklahoman inmates made before their execution: their last meal. By using predominantly white plates with a restricted palette of china blue, Julie Green’s paintings bring to light these prisoners’ quandaries.
A reception for the show’s opening was held on Friday evening.
Green is a painting professor at Oregon State University and divides her time between instructing, painting, working in her studio and conducting art research. She has had her paintings published on several occasions, has been showcased on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Oregon Art Beat” for “The Last Supper” collection, and has attracted the attention The New York Times for this exhibit in particular.
Visitors from all over came to browse the plates and reflect on the heaviness of the subject with local community members, as well as with the artist herself. Despite the blithe atmosphere, the somberness of the artwork’s subject was unavoidable. Randall Milstein, a member of the board of directors at the Art Center, described his reaction upon walking through the gallery.
“People don’t seem to expect how frighteningly sad and interesting this is,” Milstein said. “When you see it, you feel it. It’s very interesting to think of how these inmates made their decisions and you start to compare it to how your own life influences your choices. I had the chance to see the show when no one was here and found it to be haunting.”
After guests had a chance to walk through the gallery and take in the work, Green addressed the crowd with an explanation of the project.
“In 1998, I was living in Oklahoma,” Green said. “One morning I was reading the execution report in the newspaper when I found that Oklahoma has one of the highest execution rates per capita in the United States. I was struck by the photo in the paper of a man who was executed soon after the picture was taken.”
Green described how the man’s facial expression was unforgettable. She regarded the last meal of inmates as a “strange ritual that humanized death row.” She continued her explanation and expressed that execution is “one of the problems with society.” Reading about their last meals intrigued her, and the idea came to her to create a body of work reflecting the atrocity of execution.
“This is the 23rd exhibit of the plates but the first time all 500 plates have been displayed,” Green said.
Green’s exhibit opening was not the only occasion honored last Friday. This week marks the 50-year anniversary of the Arts Center of Corvallis. Hester Coucke, the gallery curator and assistant director of the Arts Center, expressed her gratitude for the support of the community as well as the great honor it is to have Green’s plates on display.
“There is no better exhibition and any gallery would be honored to have this,” Coucke said. “It’s only been up for a couple of days and the most common description I have heard is that the show is overwhelming. The exhibit is momentous and hits what I believe it is to be art.”
According to David Huff, the executive director of the Art Center, the collection is “a lot heavier in person.”
Huff wrote a grant in order to produce a 525-page catalogue documenting each plate. The catalogues, which were produced in a limited quantity, are currently available for purchase at the Art Center.
“Proofreading the book gave me the opportunity to absorb each plate individually, but it’s impossible to take it all in in one sitting,” Huff said.
Like so many others, Huff described the catalogue as “overwhelming.”
The exhibit will be displayed until Feb. 16, and the gallery is open to the public.
Alice Marshall, arts reporter