Portland artist May Wallace’s portrait exhibit at the Seaside Library focuses on the faces of climate change and features large scale images of the people who inspire her.
The portraits, on display until Aug. 27, are oversized and feature full-body portraits of people in their daily life, underwater and on fire.
Wallace, 69, has “always been an activist,” and is outspoken about the importance of immigration and housing reform in addition to the climate crisis which became one of her focus issues almost seven years ago. While the portraits are meant to highlight the urgency of the current climate meltdown, it’s clear from speaking with her and through her art that she cares deeply about the people around her.
“I’m continuing to make portraits of houseless people,” Wallace said. “A lot of people continue to ignore them, it’s great to have them as friends, to know a little bit about their struggles.”
Wallace studied abstract expressionism at Portland State University and she was a professional graphic design for much of her career. After Wallace, “got sick of that” she studied teaching at Lewis and Clark College, and taught high school for seven years.
Her goal for the exhibit isn’t “necessarily to sell art” but rather to raise awareness about the importance of the climate crisis. One image depicts a man in a burning chair.
Wallace’s interest in portraits after watching an OPB special about Andrew Wyeth and uses portraiture to talk about the things that are important to her. But she thinks it was her experience teaching art to high school students that woke her to the beauty of portraiture.
As an instructor Wallace would demonstrate technique on large on craft paper and construct a composite portrait with one student’s eye, another’s lips, resulting in an intriguing face unique to the world.
“I really wanted to do stuff with portraiture, then I started thinking it’s so narrow, but in a way it’s not, it’s so human, the face is the first thing babies recognize,” said Wallace.