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Guernica Again by Nicholas Kengo Olsen

  • Title: Guernica Again
  • Artist: Nicholas Kengo Olsen
  • Medium: Hand-formed tile, Raku fired
  • Size: 52"h x 104.5"w
  • Creation date: 2013
  • Added to collection: 2013
  • Donor: Purchased by Portland Community College, Rock Creek Campus
  • Campus: Rock Creek
  • Location: B9/1 Hallway gallery
Art allows for conversations with the dead.  For the 2012 student art show at Rock Creek, Nicholas Kengo Olson entered  his "Guernica Again," a 52" x 105" work of ceramic tiles, and a pointed response to the American invasion of Iraq, drawing attention to its countless civilian casualties.   The imagery for this work came from the greatest anti-war work of the 20th Century: Pablo Picasso's  "Guernica" painted in response to the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by Nazi planes at the request of the fascist Spanish government of General Francisco Franco.  The bombing of this small town (with no strategic value and whose victims were mostly women and children) was a gesture to intimidate the anti-fascist movement in Spain.  Picasso's dramatic 11.5 x 25.5'  painting in stark black and white, was unveiled the Spanish Pavilion of the Paris Exposition in which both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia had large Pavilions.  Picasso's painting drew international attention to the bombing and soon became the most effective anti-war painting of the 20th Century.  Picasso's monumental work in black and white oil paint is graphic and dramatic, combining elements of reportage and myth.  Kengo Olson also chose a limited palette for his work, but rather than oil paint he used 128 individually formed Raku- fired ceramic tiles with a fragile irregularity, incised with the trace elements of ash and limited rubbed pigmentation creating a charred, matte surface, suggestive of a ruin.  Whereas the tone of the Picasso is a call to action, the tone of Kengo Olson's work is an elegy.
"Guernica Again" was awarded best in show by juror and gallerist Alicia Duckler for the annual Rock Creek Student Art Exhibit in 2012. Given its ambition and its connections to the art of the past and to recent political history, then gallery director and collection curator Prudence Roberts supported the idea this work would be a strong addition to the campus art collection.  With the help of fund-raisers such as the $25 show and the support of then division dean Cheryl Scott, the work was purchased for the campus, where it has served as an inspiration and an invitation to our students to initiate further conversations with the dead.