Native Portland artist Bill Rutherford, is one of those artists who can, and does, work in various media. However his next show, scheduled as part of the Portland Jazz Festival, will open Feb. 1. This First Thursday show features his paintings of jazz icons at the Broderick Gallery at Southwest First Avenue and Yamhill streets.
Rutherford's exhibition will feature 21 likenesses of famous jazz players and singers, with 13 on paper, the rest on canvas or hard panel. Easily recognizable, those attending will have no problem identifying artists such as Lionel Hampton, in brown tones, dressed in a dark tuxedo with the requisite bow tie and vibraphone mallets in striking position.
Pianist Bill Evans is painted as to suggest a black and white photograph — eyes closed, hands on the piano keys. Because Evans is known as a melodic, sensitive musician, Rutherford has included two inserts inside the main portrait. They both are contained in a globe-like circumference with one showing Evans seated and bent over the keyboard, hands on keys, his body posture resembling a question mark, and the other is a smaller circle with Evans' face partially obscured by white and grey tones. To me, it indicates Evans was in a zone of creativity.
One of my favorites is a horizontal portrait of the late Portland tenor saxophonist, Jim Pepper. It is rich in a tan background with Pepper's gold saxophone in playing position. Pepper, a Creek Native American, is shown with his bushy mustache and beard, hat on head with a feather extending from the left side of his head.
My absolute favorite is Rutherford's rendition of Fats Waller. Rutherford captures the vitality and spirit of the heavy-set pianist, even catching the twinkle in Waller's eye.
Vocalist Billie Holiday, dressed in a long, white, form-fitting gown, stands out in bold relief from her sidemen, lined up in silhouette behind her. Those images evoke alto-saxophonist, Benny Carter; tenor, Lester Young; trumpeter, Harry "Sweets" Edison; and trombonist, Vic Dickenson.
Rutherford includes a partial image of a farmyard chicken (yardbird) with two of the great Charlie Parker; a profile of Parker blowing and a glamour head shot. His other images include those of Duke Ellington, Charlie Christian, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Frank Sinatra, Thelonious Monk, Leroy Vinnegar, Dizzy Gillespie, Django Reinhardt, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Miles Davis and Red Mitchell.
Rutherford, who graduated from Benson High School where he excelled in drawing, began painting while in the U.S. Air Force. He was assigned to the Strategic Air Command where he was an illustrator. In 1965, he moved to Los Angeles and held his first solo show there in 1968. It was at that show when Claude Brown, author of Manchild In The Promised Land bought a Rutherford piece.
The son of the late Otto and Verdell Rutherford, known for their relentless efforts to pass Oregon civil rights measures, also works in metal sculpture, wood sculpture, carving and watercolors.
When discussing the work described here, he said, "I wanted to pay my respects to the jazz icons of the 20th century, so if they were to come back, they would say, 'This is good.' I was extremely focused because portraiture is difficult. I change one line and suddenly you're Don Rickles."
Rutherford's immense undertaking can be viewed at the Broderick Gallery 814 S. W. First Ave. in downtown Portland, beginning Feb. 1, and will continue during the Portland Jazz Festival.