Originally published in The Oregonian – January 1, 2011
In Jay Cunningham’s paintings, the things that don’t fit matter the most.
It’s the shiny gold key in the hand of the monkey who smiles cryptically as he unlocks a wooden door. It’s the golden crown on the table next to the man watching his toddler play with a toy dinosaur.
And it’s the detached expression of the young man peering away from the mother bird feeding her two babies in a vine-tangled tree.
That’s the picture that gets to Jay Cunningham’s mother, Sharon Vanderzanden, since she knows that the young man in the foreground is her son. The birds represent her family back when her two boys were navigating what Jay calls “the crucible” of their childhood.
Crucibles can do the darndest things. When he was young, the Milwaukie-reared Cunningham retreated into his room, where he projected himself into the wide-open world of crayons and paper. Brushes, canvas and pigment came later, then art school. Then a shockingly fast rise to the upper ranks of Portland’s most prominent artists.
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