During an Umpqua Plein Air competition in which artists searched the Douglas County landscape for inspiration, Joanne Radmilovich-Kollman recalls feeling uncomfortable when another artist tried to sit down next to her stoop.
On another occasion, Celeste Bergin lugged her equipment and set up shop while entrenched in a river. Alone, she felt vulnerable and a sense of isolation.
For both artists, neither a sense of complete solitude nor overwhelming company inspires the best art. Instead, an alchemy combining the two leads to compelling paintings.
"It's nice to have companionship but in the final analysis, you're really on your own," Bergin said.
And the two Portland-based oil painters explore the dichotomy between togetherness and isolation in their exhibit "Solitude" that runs until Feb. 23 at the Clackamas Community College campus in Wilsonville.
After a long career in graphic design and advertising, Bergin began painting full time in 2004. She has since exhibited paintings in places such as Providence St. Vincent Hospital, Northeast Community Center, the Pacific Northwest Plein Air competition, the Portland Art Museum and other areas around town.
Radmilovich-Kollman has earned three professional development grants from the Regional Arts and Culture Council and is an artist in residence at the Oregon Society of Artists.
Radmilovich-Kollman and Bergin met through the artist collective Alla Prima Portland — where local artists discuss their inspirations, pieces they're working on and the art business. Bergin is the moderator for the group.
A fellow Alla Prima Portland member suggested the two contact Clackamas Community College.
After the college greenlighted the exhibit, Radmilovich-Kollman and Bergin hauled their paintings to Wilsonville and installed the artwork on the walls themselves. The exhibit at the Wilsonville campus includes each artist's paintings lining the walls in the lounge area next to the main ent-rance.
Radmilovich-Kollman came up with the theme of solitude.
"We've had a lot of discussions of (how) artists are typically more solitary people and in the past have singularly worked in their own studios alone," she said. "With plein air painting, we've more combined as a community and will get out together and paint. You're still in your own solitary painting station but it's become more of a community."
The exhibit includes paintings of people hard at work, in deep thought or staring off in the distance as well as landscape paintings. But while Bergin's paintings are a bit more seamless, Radmilovich-Kollman uses broken colors to piece together picturesque scenes.
"I think it was a way of identifying a rhythm and trying to interpret a color harmony and sense of what I saw. It's more about the energy of what I saw versus the exact color," Radmilovich-Kollman said.
The artists view themselves as descendants of French impressionist painters such as Manet and Monet — who painted life as it happened rather than conjuring images from the confines of their studio. They've painted the Woodsman Tavern in Southeast Portland together as well as a vintage clothing shop after participating in the Women's March last year.
"I guess you could call us representational artists. Some of the painting, the subject matter may be abstracted but it's still inspiration from our surroundings, our local surroundings," Radmilovich-Kollman said.
Often with members of the Alla Prima group, the duo travels to natural areas such as Sauvie Island to set up their outdoor studio.
"It's a little bit easier to paint inside a studio. We haul our stuff year-round. We have to pack it all up, take it outside and use it. Pack it all up, drag it home. It's a lot of work," Bergin said. "But, our finding is that when you do that there's life in the painting. And people will pick up on that even if they don't quite know what they're looking at. They can feel the spontaneity of it all."
However, not all of their work comes from live painting.
Radmilovich-Kollman turned photographs she took of people in their daily lives over the course of years into a project titled "Northwest Neighbors: Who Are We?" A couple of her works from that project appears in the exhibit at the college. And some of Bergin's work comes from her own memory as well.
Though some isolation is key, the two artists say total isolation can be detrimental and that their friendships with fellow artists helps bolster their work.
"Art is really difficult completely on your own. If you have no friendships and no one shares your passion, I would think it would be very isolating," Bergin said. "I think people should try to seek each other out and find like-minded company. It really helps inspire and lift you up."