New exhibit explores memory, origins through oil paintings

John Oberdorf looks at a selfie David Wilson took with Oberdorf’s painting on his phone. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

When John Oberdorf talks about his oil paintings, he says he’s asking questions through his work.

Questions about memory, archeology and the human species.

His latest exhibit titled: “ArcheoSpaces,” is on display at the Bush Barn Annex on 600 Mission St. S.E. until Sunday, Feb. 23. On Friday, there will be a reception from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. where artists will be on hand to answer questions.

Throughout the gallery featuring the exhibit, visitors might notice “the traveler,” an outline of a small figure in some of the paintings. The exhibit follows the journey of the traveler as they explore Oberdorf’s different landscapes from beach volcanoes to surrealist deserts.

To explain some of the ethos behind his work, Oberdorf referenced a song by singer/songwriter Al Stewart that ends with the lines, “A photograph of yesterday and far off in a deserted part of town the shadows like a silent army flooded out the rooms in pools of blue and brown and stuck to all the walls like ivy.”

“And I thought man that’s profoundly poetic,” Oberdorf said.

He started to think about the concept of memory and found himself with questions: “Where do memories go when we forget things? Or when we die, do they end up attached to some abandoned building on the far side of town or can we retrieve them.”

Oberdorf grew up an Air Force brat and said his early years in Panama influenced his work decades later. He recalled an instance when a cast of crabs crawled across the sand. He and his father took refuge on top of a rock as the beach turned orange.

“Everything was in a monumental scale in Panama, huge volcanic blocks of stone,” he said.

Those early memories have transformed into images across Oberdorf’s canvases. Rock formations feature in many of the works, and he said some were inspired by time he spent in the Southwest.

“After 50 years I’m pretty much getting to the conclusion that we’ve been around for a lot longer than anyone had suspected,” Oberdorf said.

Two other artists will also be on display Friday.

Cynthia Herron’s work uses found objects to explore the narrative about a space. Gallery Director David Wilson said its moments on your walk that “trigger a moment of quaint beauty.”

“The shape and the texture of that concrete on the beach or the wing of a butterfly in the location in which it’s found,” Wilson explained.

Katie Gilmour’s work explores the impact of loss through figure drawings. Wilson said the art is about “the recovery of a loss of a parent and maintenance of who you are as an individual and recovery of the individual.”

Katie Gilmour’s exhibit is titled: “Something Missing | Missing Something.” (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

John Oberdorf’s painting will be on display at the Bush Barn Annex until Feb. 23. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250 or [email protected].