Powered by primary colors, The Culture Series, supported by W+K, celebrates expression

When Jeredon O’Conner was searching for a theme for the third edition of The Culture Series, it took awhile for him to land on an idea, due to the dramatic changes that had happened in the world since the second show in early November 2016.

The Culture Series, which O’Conner started to let talent of color speak out through art, hadn’t been active since before the election of Donald Trump, and O’Conner’s search for something that would help artists speak their minds was altered by all the changes that had happened in the meantime.

O'Conner, videographer and editor at Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, and curator of The Culture Series, supported in part by the agency, felt like so much had changed, and he couldn’t find a direction. “My awareness and how I respond to [the world] has changed as well,” he said.

Noting that he, along with many others, was confused about the state of the world, especially after the presidential election, it wasn’t prudent to have a knee-jerk reaction to the state of affairs.

“I was observing everything that was going on, yet I didn’t want to feel like I was 'mis-creating' something,” he noted. “I have my voice and want to say something powerful, but I don’t just want to say anything.”

Churning through ideas, O'Conner landed on a theme and concept that stuck: Primary. The idea of the show was to use primary colors as a simple vehicle of expression. Most importantly, though, this wasn’t meant to be subversive of the chaos in the world but instead how people and artists can express themselves.

“Around the election and post-election, I noticed that I was talking about my race a lot,” said O'Conner. “Others were validating their races as well — instead of being people — human beings who have life experiences like everybody else. In this show, instead of negativity, it’s all about being positive.”

A beautiful canvas

Broken into three areas representing the main primary colors (red, yellow and blue), 40 artists contributed to the show, and there is a strong sense of intersectionality with artists spanning the spectrums of race, gender and sexuality. It was held at the Iron Fireman Collective, a Portland space for makers, artisans, fabricators, designers, creatives, manufacturers and entrepreneurs. Around half of the artists work in the marketing, agency and brand communities.

In some cases, the artists did end up exploring race while others focused on how individual primary colors affect their perspectives and lives.

Amiri Rose, an account director at Industry in Portland created a striking montage of photos called Black & Blue which featured five Black men ranging in ages and cast in a blue hue. Rose noted that “on the color wheel, blue is associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is the color a Black man needs to bleed in order to survive and thrive in the USA.”

Brandon Bidleman, a designer at Adidas, tackled racism with acrylic on canvas entitled Taught. In his artist statement, he noted that “Hate is something that is taught. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and biases of all kinds do not exist in a vacuum but are learned from society. It is crucial that we work together to create a culture that respects and celebrates the things that make us unique, rather than let them form foundations of misunderstanding, fear, and hatred.”

Annie Yuen, a media planner at Wieden+Kennedy, chose yellow and explored how the energy affects the human body in a series of paintings. Bryan Ortega, a high school mentor at Caldera, the Dan Wieden-founded arts charity created an eclectic collage that focused on capitalism and evoked The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and Where’s Waldo?

The power of Flow

One piece that caught a great deal of attention was an interactive piece entitled Flow, created by three colleagues at Wieden+Kennedy: Farin Nikdel, associate content producer; Jesica Marquez, creative technologist; and Claire Wilson, strategist and experience designer.

The primary color for the paint-pouring piece was red. The paint was poured down the wood structure and included a wide range from bright red to almost brown, which represents both healthy/normal and unhealthy period blood. As an example, the lighter pink colors and grey colors could indicate a health risk.

The main idea behind the piece was to destigmatize menstruation — and it was also a fundraiser for Period, an organization that provides menstrual supplies for homeless women in need. Additionally, the artists looked to this micro-action to raise awareness and create more significant changes like ending the luxury tax on menstrual supplies, getting tampons FDA approved and ensuring that every bathroom is equipped with free tampons and pads.

“My hope is that people don’t think periods should be singled out,” said Wilson. “It helps bring life into this world, and it should be something you can be proud of.”

“It was rewarding to see people look at the colors and the three of us putting this together,” added Nikdel. “We saw people talking to each other and asking questions — and we’re happy that there was a dialogue started and that was one of our goals for this show.”

The importance of support from all corners

Walking around the show, it’s easy to be impressed with the work — but also what the work stands for. As the curator, O'Conner opened up the opportunity to bridge the gap between the commercial and community art worlds in Portland. Digging even deeper, it’s clear that the agency sees the benefit of bringing the two together.

“In advertising, you’re creating culture — or at least impacting it,” said O'Conner. “But the roots are in creativity, and this is an example of the people who make our industry what it is and what it will be. Wieden+Kennedy, in particular, is globally renowned and either inside or outside of the agency walls, is part of the conversation.”

For its part, the agency sees great value in supporting O'Conner’s efforts with The Culture Series and believes it is an important vehicle, not just for artistic passion, but for continuing to fly the banner of creativity.

"W+K was founded to be a place where people can do the best work of their lives. To do that, we need to be a part of the community we live in and more importantly be influenced by it," said Eric Baldwin, Wieden+ Kennedy executive creative director. "The Culture Series is an example of us putting our values to work. We’re focused on inclusion and creating a culture of belonging for all, where many voices can be heard, amplified and ultimately impact the work we do. While we still have much work to do as an agency and an industry, we are proud to support Jeredon's vision.”

With the third edition of The Culture Series continuing at Wieden+Kennedy Portland’s space until March 30th, O'Conner sees positive outcomes from the show.

“It gives me a lot of hope for the future,” he said. “It motivates me to keep going, and there is a bigger purpose and reason why I’m doing this — and that’s elevating people of color and giving them a platform to be creative on a wider scale.”

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