Apr 5 2012

Note: Local artist and beloved McMenamins contributor Joe Cotter passed away on Saturday, March 31, 2012. This is the second post in honor of his lovely, magical artwork that can be found throughout McMenamins' establishments. We have lost a friend and one of the color masters of the company. Cheers, Joe.
From McMenamins Artist Jenny Joyce:
Losing Joe is still something I am still having trouble believing. He is the reason I started working for McMenamins, and he was also a founding member of Artback, our artists' co-op in Estacada, Ore. 

Did you know that he led the fight to reinstate community murals in Portland? That battle lasted almost 10 years, I believe, and Joe, being Joe, would not let it rest until the issue was resolved fairly. He put in untold hours hammering away at the legalities. He was tenacious in that battle. He was also such a hardworking artist. He never took a short cut, always did what needed to be done without compromise. He was also one of the smartest people I have ever met.
From McMenamins Artists Myrna Yoder:
Joe Cotter was a man of excellence. He held himself to a very high standard of quality, from his artwork to how he walked with the people around him. He valued justice and was quick to champion a cause if he felt it worthy, without a thought of what it would cost him. He was a man of wisdom and insight. He had the ability to honor and be attentive to the smallest details. He was creative beyond belief, and he brought that creativity to everything he did. He was also gentle and loving and I believe he held his wife Kolieha and his sons Noah and Leon, to be his biggest treasures.

When I think of Joe, I will always carry a picture of him in my mind painting a mural at the Crystal Ballroom. There was no heat. The only lights were halogens that were connected to outlets by hundreds of feet of extension cords. These lights would be pointed at where we were working, having the effect of a spotlight on a stage. Joe would be balanced on a rickety old six-foot wooden stepladder that was perched on top of a 12-foot scaffolding that would bounce slightly anytime anyone walked across the floating ballroom floor. In Joe's hand would be a tiny brush and sitting on the rungs of the ladder were multitudes of little cups of paint threatening to tumble down at any moment. In this picture, he is reaching out, too far to be wise. Any person in their right mind would hold their breath when witnessing this scene. Surely any moment all would collapse in disaster and mayhem. It never did, and the results of this tortuous painting method would be beautiful.

photoJoe was not someone to do things the easy way. He was also not someone to take short cuts. The Crystal murals were perfect examples of who he was as an artist and a man. These were big murals, high off the ground. No one would ever be able to get up truly close to them. But that didn't matter to Joe. Everything was detailed. Both murals are filled with a crowd of characters, as well as many of his other paintings. Often times the people were pulled from historical reference and many times he included his family and friends in the paintings. That is also why he painted with a small brush. He could have worked larger and painted with bigger brushes, but then he couldn't get the detail and the results that he wanted to get. He understood that these paintings could be on those walls for a very long time. He couldn't get himself to do simple compositions or dumb down a design just because he wasn't going to get paid much for it. His paintings had a tendency to have a jewel-like tapestry feel to them. The faces and the figures seem to pulse and dance and come to life as you are drawn into Joe's world, Joe's painting.

It is what made him such a great artist. He couldn't, even when he wanted to, give less than his best.  I could give you many examples of how that reflected through all the threads of his life. But, for now, it is enough to say that he was a special person who brought something special to everything and everyone, and he left us far too soon.

From McMenamins Artist Olivia Behm:
I remember one of the first times I worked with Joe was at the Ram's Head pub in NW Portland, when we were painting murals around the inside. I arrived onsite early one morning to work on my wall section and found Joe, the only other artist working that day. I didn't really know him that well yet, so I jumped to conclusions when I saw him with an empty wine bottle next to him. I thought to myself, "Wow, that's a radical, artisty thing to do! -- polish off a whole bottle of wine before 8 a.m.!"
Later that morning, as I was studying his mural, I noticed the row of Edgefield wine bottles he had painted and realized he was using the bottle not as a replacement for morning coffee, but as a model for his painting! I've used many an empty bottle since then for my own paintings.

* All photos were taken during a McMenamins artist retreat at Cascade Head, OR, in October, 2011.

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