Last fall, the Art Beat staff began production on our special commemorating the centennial of poet William Stafford’s birth. Along with our usual Art Beat taping schedule, we also began looking for poets, educators and pacifists who had been influenced by Stafford’s life and work. One voice I was having trouble finding was someone who identified as a pacifist.
I stuck a note on my bulletin board that read “pacifist,” trusting that voice would make itself heard sooner or later, and went on with a regularly scheduled profile of painter Alex Reisfar.
A native Oregonian, Reisfar learned to paint with the help of his mother and picked up his interest in surrealism from his father, a sculptor. We visited Reisfar in his cellar studio in southeast Portland where he was working on a painting of a boy walking through what appears to be a destroyed village, being serenaded by imaginary friends.
“I’ve been called a surrealist painter, and I guess that makes sense, but I don’t really see myself fitting with most of the people right now that are considered neo-surrealist painters,” says Reisfar. “My stuff’s a little more political than that.”
One of Reisfar’s series that touches on the political is Intimacy in Industry. Among other themes, the series explores the mystery of bee colony collapse and humanity’s self-destructive behavior.
“Part of comparing bees with humans was the idea that if a bee stings someone, it dies and so I think that when a human kills someone, that part of the human dies,” explains Reisfar. “So I was using the imagery of the bees to represent humanity’s collapse and the way that we are living our lives and destroying the world around us while we do it.”
On a hunch, I asked Reisfar if he’d ever read Stafford’s poetry. He immediately lit up; not only was he a Stafford fan, but he also readily identified with the former poet laureate’s pacifist stance. In this young, tattooed, “not-quite-neo-surrealist” painter, we’d found a pacifist voice of striking eloquence and depth.
“I don’t see war as a viable way of making the earth a more peaceful place,” Reisfar explains. “And I don’t have all the answers, but I think that something people can decide is that they are not going to kill other people.”
To learn more about Alex Reisfar, tune in to Oregon Art Beat on May 1 at 8 p.m. and May 4 at 6 p.m.
This article features content from interviews with Oregon Art Beat.