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Local art mixes with coffee at a coffee shop in :Westemoreland; we meet the artist and discuss his work

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Lynn and Mark McDonnell, sitting in Fairlane Coffee in front of the oil paintings Mark made of scenic locations in Sellwood. Portland is widely known as a top coffee city, so it's no surprise that there are several successful coffee shops within a very short distance of the world's largest coffee chain's shop in Westmoreland.

One of them is "Fairlane Coffee", at 6647 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue — which prides itself on serving Onxy fair trade coffee, plus pastries and bread from Grand Central Bakery, as well as in-house sandwiches (such as avocado and goat cheese) — and something else which is not to be eaten or sipped: Artworks, created by local artists.

The coffee shop has an interesting history. Jake Layman, Manager, and the curator of the local artists' works, told THE BEE. "The original iteration of the coffee shop was to feature car parts and a full engine on display, as a tribute to motor city Detroit."

After that, in 2016, the current Fairlane Coffee management arrived, and since then the focus has always been simply to provide quality coffee through environmentally sustainable means, Layman says — and to that, the shop now also features the work of artists from the surrounding neighborhoods.

The current artist with paintings on the wall for the months of October, November, and possibly into December, is Mark McDonnell, who lives in Sellwood. He favors, for his oil paintings, locations in Sellwood, as well as in the countries that he and his wife Lynn have visited — including Mexico, Italy, and southern France.

McDonnell retired from a 33-year career as a prosecutor — including 25 years with the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office — and he only started painting 3½ years ago. However, in our visit at the coffee shop, he confided to THE BEE that he drew all the time as a child; worked as a draftsman before he went to college; took a "life drawing" class in college; and attended three sessions of a painting class at Portland Community College prior to the pandemic shutdown.

Considering himself essentially self-taught, McDonnell has read several instructional books and watched videos made by contemporary artists. His passion for painting is illustrated by his remark, "I attempt to talk to established artists whenever I get the chance. I've also studied the work of my favorite impressionist and expressionist artists: Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, and Cezanne."

Looking at his paintings in Fairlane Coffee of four different locations in Sellwood, we wondered if he paints from photographs, or paints in the "plein air" style — sitting in the setting he depicts. He responded in an email that many of his recent paintings, including one of the Sellwood Bridge that took him two weeks to complete, were made from photos he has taken; but he aspires to do more "plein air" painting in the future, and hopes to become more of an expressionist painter.

"I'm still struggling to develop my style. The more I paint, the less I feel restrained to copy, and the more comfortable I am in expressing my emotional response to the subject."

COURTESY OF JAKE LAYMAN - Mark McDonnell painted this oil on canvas portrait of his mailman, Kevin, in the same pose that Vincent Van Gogh used to paint his own mailman in Arles, France. Given that his paintings are all in bright colors, it is surprising to learn that he doesn't see all colors easily. "I suffer 'red/green color blindness'. I struggle to distinguish and match red and green.

"But I love painting. It's very satisfying. I constantly amaze myself. Starting with a blank canvas, I'm able to make a three-dimensional image that is more colorful, if not more interesting, than it was in the photograph from which I painted. My only regret is that I didn't start painting sooner."

If you'd like to see his paintings, come in to Fairlane Coffee in Westmoreland, have a cup of coffee, and see what you think. If the autumn ever starts cooling down to its normal temperatures, you'll be warmed to know that when it's cold out, heaters make the coffee shop cozy, according to shop manager Layman — who is also an artist himself, it turns out; but for the time being, he just enjoys working at Fairlane.

"Being able to connect with the neighborhood and provide a boost to everyone's day is always a treat," Layman remarked. And, he enjoys finding local artists and putting their works on display.

To see all of artist Mark McDonnell's paintings, go online to — markgmcdonnell.com — there's an email link at the top of the webpage if you'd like more information, or are interested in buying a painting.

And, for the shop's hours, menu, and more about Fairlane Coffee — go online: www.fairlanecoffee.com


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