Travel Sketchbook: India by Josh Gates

Quick impression of the flooded waterfront in Varanasi.

Quick impression of the flooded waterfront in Varanasi.

We just spent two colorful and exhausting weeks exploring India—specifically Delhi, Agra, Udaipur and Varanasi. This is a culture very, very different from ours. There were moments when I was further from my comfort zone than ever before, and those are some of my favorite memories.

One of the countless bovine friends that freely roam India’s cities.

One of the countless bovine friends that freely roam India’s cities.

The common thread everywhere we went was overstimulation. Streets are choked with constantly honking vehicles, cows, feral dogs, and aggressive solicitations from shopkeepers and touts. My wife was openly stared at by men at all times. Factor in that you need to be watching your step for missing chunks of pavement while also trying to take in all the beautiful crumbling architecture and vivid colors, and it gets exhausting fast.

A view of the 16th-century City Palace towering over Udaipur.

A view of the 16th-century City Palace towering over Udaipur.

Udaipur reflected in Lake Pichola.

Udaipur reflected in Lake Pichola.

Udaipur in particular is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It’s positioned around two large lakes, and the architecture seems conjured from a blend of European and Middle Eastern fairytales.

Boats on the flooded Ganges in Varanasi.

Boats on the flooded Ganges in Varanasi.

Varanasi, an ancient city where religious pilgrims visit the holy waters of the Ganges River and public cremations are performed, was flooded when we visited, lending an already very foreign place an especially strange, haunting aesthetic.

One of the ubiquitous tuktuks (auto-rickshaws) that are a fast and cheap form of transport around India’s cities.

One of the ubiquitous tuktuks (auto-rickshaws) that are a fast and cheap form of transport around India’s cities.

These watercolors, like these words, could never fully convey my experiences of such a vast place and culture. India is big, and we'll be going back some day for another glimpse. Meanwhile, I’ve got plenty of inspiration for some possible new oil paintings!

"Tell Me What to Draw" residency by Josh Gates

A site-specific project I undertook over multiple days at Portland State University. The initial idea was to sit next to tables used for distributing flyers, producing small original drawings and placing them in a stack for people to take. Below are some examples from this early phase, which I left in a study lounge in the Science Research and Teaching Center. These are the kind of doodles that spring from my imagination when left unattended:

(All drawing images are clickable for full-size viewing.)

This idea soon evolved into actively engaging the physical and social space of PSU by sitting in a specific spot in a highly trafficked Smith Memorial Student Union hallway next to a sign reading “TELL ME WHAT TO DRAW” and some notebook pages for people to write on. As I produced drawings, I put them next to another, smaller sign reading “TAKE ONE.”

Photo credit: Jake Johnson

Over the next week I returned to this spot for four different “shifts,” always listening to music on earbuds while I worked. Immediately there were more responses than expected, and I wonder if the earbuds helped by signaling that people could stop and write down a suggestion without having to actually talk to me. I did frequently make eye contact with a passerby, point to the sign, and then point to the “sign-up sheet.” This was pretty effective at getting people to stop, and meanwhile several people also stopped unsolicited.

The very first person to contribute a prompt inexplicably wrote down “Piggy bank society.” I don’t know what, if anything, this phrase means. I tried Googling it really quick, but learned nothing. Over the next hour I came back to this oddly compelling prompt two more times. Though these were quick doodles, I ended up accumulating more prompts than I even had time for. Other drawings from this hour included “a wolf,” “a cat,” “silence - a monk maybe,” “female samurai  (onna-bugeisha),” “portal to another world,” and “the Grand Canyon.”


Below are the drawings resulting from my second “shift” of prompts: “a goat holding a beer,” “a PSU Student Union member holding a sign that says ‘DISARM PSU’ and a sign that says ‘JUSTICE FOR JASON WASHINGTON’,” “a star,” “a person dancing on stage,” “the consequences of speaking truth to power,” “revolution,” “Honey Boo-Boo holding Kermit the Frog,” “Scorpion being ridden by Deadpool,” and “ivy.” As expected, only a small percentage of these turned out to be drawings I was proud of, but they were all fun to make. Some of the prompts (and some of my own interpretations) reflected current events, like the Jason Washington shooting and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

Here are the drawings from the third shift: “Pikachu shitty hybrid trying to jump but can’t cuz of its small legs,” “Giorno Giovana” [which I had to look up], “a hand (opened),” “a wolf and a moon,” “superhero playtapus (I think I spelled it wrong),” “a squirrel smoking a cigar,” “the planets in our system,” “Vegata from DBZ” [again, had to look this up], and “a turtle saying hi.”

…And below, the final shift. Some of the prompts were becoming outlandish, but I earnestly tried to meet each challenge. To the bitter end, I continued to accrue new prompts faster than I could draw. It was exhausting, and great exercise. The last batch: “A narwhal playing the ukulele,” “a fist for resistance #BLM,” “Michael Jackson riding an exploding unicorn being chased by rabid ponies,” “utopia,” “elephant wearing a Halloween mask,” “a duck and a dog drinking tea,” “Salvador Dali cutting his eyeball,” “a sheep listening to a cassette in Germany,” “a snake wielding a sword,” “I can’t think of anything,” “a real poop show,” “Yoda riding a swordfish wielding a baguette fighting Jesus on a swordfish with a lightsaber,” and finally “draw yourself as an artist expressing something about you.”


Travel Sketchbook: Japan by Josh Gates

The Nakano ward of Tokyo.

The Nakano ward of Tokyo.

It's hard to pick a favorite travel experience, but Japan is my favorite culture so far. I love how small and economical everything is. I love how quiet and polite everyone is, even amid the crowded bustle of a megalopolis. The traffic is orderly, nothing is ever filthy (not even subway restrooms), the toilets have the best built-in warm-water bidets, the public safety signs have absurd cartoons of people getting badly injured* and inari is sold at every convenience store.

One of the billions of tiny winding streets in the neighborhood in Tokyo where we stayed. Watercolor, ink and gouache.

One of the billions of tiny winding streets in the neighborhood in Tokyo where we stayed. Watercolor, ink and gouache.

Shopgirl at a candy store in Harajuku, Tokyo's crazy fashion district.

Shopgirl at a candy store in Harajuku, Tokyo's crazy fashion district.

I decided that adding pen to these watercolors seemed too harsh, and switched to adding details with graphite for a softer look.

I decided that adding pen to these watercolors seemed too harsh, and switched to adding details with graphite for a softer look.


We also spent time in Kyoto—just two days after it was hit by Typhoon Jebi, Japan's worst storm in 25 years. It was a privilege to be able to experience a place of such history and beauty even in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and other than the occasional downed tree, you'd hardly even notice anything had happened.


The city of Nara is home to a huge population of deer that have been accustomed to co-existing with humans for over 1000 years, and they'll bow at visitors to ask for special "deer crackers" sold at the park. Being surrounded by deer and petting them was one of the highlights of my entire life. The park is also the site of some of the oldest Japanese temples, and a huge Buddha that is one of the largest statues in the world.

Rainy night in Tokyo. Watercolor, graphite and gouache.

Rainy night in Tokyo. Watercolor, graphite and gouache.

Sayonara, Japan! We'll be back. Permanently, if possible!


*The following isn't my own artwork, but this is one of my favorite things about Japan: I love how all the characters on the public safety signs are actually getting hurt. Here's just a sample:

Ghosts of Albina by Josh Gates

I've spent the summer working on a series of paintings about Portland's history of racial displacement, and the mass destruction of homes and community through urban renewal over the last century. This may be the whitest big city in the country, but the popular refrain that "there are no Black people in Portland" dismisses both a community that very much exists, and the stories behind a neighborhood perennially in danger of disappearing from the map.

Ghosts of Albina is a series I was compelled to make after doing a lot of research on this subject over the years, while living in and around these places. I wanted to create images that can't be unseen, to highlight elements of local history that more people should know about. When these paintings are eventually hung in a show, 100% of sales (after venue commission) will be donated to the Urban League of Portland, an African-American civil rights and advocacy non-profit.

The full series of finished images and accompanying written statements can be seen in the gallery section, but here I thought I'd share a look into the process and some of the source materials that inspired this project. 

I think the above then-and-now comparison tells a more compelling story than any painting I could create. The 1950 census map shows the dense postwar African-American population of the Albina neighborhood. Take a close look at how much of that map simply isn't there today: in the intervening years, huge portions of the community have been bulldozed by the city via eminent domain and replaced with the I-5 freeway and its ramps and interchanges, Emanuel Hospital, the Convention Center, the Moda Center, Memorial Coliseum, and the Rose Quarter Transit Center—not to mention numerous office buildings and parking lots that are less obvious on the map. 

I actually did try to paint a sort of overlaid comparison of these two maps, and it took a ton of work, but I ended up aborting it when it became clear it wouldn't fit the visual tone of the rest of the series. 

First I projected the 1950 map onto a toned canvas, and applied many, many carefully trimmed bits of tape to mask off all the city blocks. Then, when I painted over this and subsequently removed the tape, the result was that it was now several hours later. 

To juxtapose the old map with present-day Portland, I thought I'd overlay cartoonish imagery representing all the destinations and landmarks that have taken over the area. I was going for a satirical take on the sort of kitschy prints tourists might buy in one of our thousands of trendy boutiques, but I don't think it works as well as I'd hoped. I also tried to add a banner saying something like "Explore Portland," but I'm terrible at that kind of lettering. I decided I had to kill my darling by abandoning this one—but it's still sitting around, so if you want to buy it, I guess shoot me an email.


The more successful "then and now" paintings in the series were created by first doing a full acrylic rendering of the "past" version of the scene, and then almost totally obscuring this with another layer in oils showing what's replaced it. While I'm pleased with the final results and the stories they tell, it was hard to part with the original versions, especially the painting of LV's Twelve22.

Of course, this series represents only one (white) perspective on select bits of a much larger, living story. There is plenty of further reading and information out there on the history of Albina and Portland's African-American community. Check out the documentary Priced Out, read Robert Dietsche's book Jumptown: Portland Jazz, 1942-1957, and get involved by supporting groups like the Urban League of Portland.  

Walls and Windows by Josh Gates


I'm excited to announce my first First Thursday opening reception, happening at Gallery 101 in Portland on June 7th! Walls and Windows is a split exhibition featuring new paintings by myself and Linneah Hanson. I'd love to see you there! Come enjoy wine and snacks, meet the artists, and check out the other Everett Station Loft galleries next door as well! Gallery 101 is located on NW 6th Ave between Everett St and Flanders; look for the red sign.

Click here for more info!

Words for rain by Josh Gates

I keep coming back to this recent fascination with cityscapes and weather, and with the interactions between different kinds of paint and handling. In the past it's always been hard for me to imagine picking one subject and sticking with it, but I could happily expand on this series for a while. It taps into a sense of home and a sense of mindful wonder that overtakes me when the light and water of nature do any of countless things together. Yesterday morning was the wettest kind of rainy day, so wet that water was literally streaming down from the trees.

One of the things I want to convey is the sense that we live in what's called a temperate rainforest. Portland is literally a city built in a rainforest—just not a tropical one. I think we should have as many words for rain here as the Inuit languages are said to have for snow.


Meanwhile in Portland by Josh Gates


I'm very pleased to announce that 12 of my Portland cityscapes are now showing at Hopworks BikeBar in Portland! These paintings from late last year marked the beginning of a new obsession in my work with fleeting conditions of weather and light, and their interaction with the local urban geography.

As an Oregon-raised longtime Portlander, I find the pervasively rainy climate here beautiful and inspiring. The vibrant colors of trees, moss and bohemian houses pop against the greys of drizzle and fog, and the moisture keeps this valley magically fertile and alive. Sunshowers, reflections on wet streets, the glow of golden hour sunlight—these are moments I always want to stop and savor. These works follow the ever-shifting interplay of water and light through the various neighborhoods and seasons of Portland.

In creating this series, my mind kept returning to a favorite bit of poetry from Mary Oliver:

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes.


The show will be up through the month of February. 


Hopworks BikeBar  

3947 N Williams Ave

Portland OR 97227


Travel Sketchbook: Bali, Indonesia by Josh Gates

Watercolor studies from my honeymoon in Bali.


Far be it from me in my jet-lagged state to try and sum up all that we saw and learned during this trip, so I'll let these sketches do most of the talking. Suffice to say that for such a tiny speck on the world map, the island of Bali is larger than life. It takes hours upon hours to get around, is bursting at the seams with distinctive artistic and musical traditions, and is densely populated with the kindest people I've ever met.


Rice harvesting on the west coast. 


Sunrise over the sea. 


A quick sketch of my wife featuring a plumeria (AKA frangipani) flower, which grow all over Bali. 


A few of these were done sitting at a sunken poolside bar, so I got bonus points for painting with watercolors while in actual water.


Ubud. Motorbikes and scooters are at least as common as cars in Bali, if not more so.


A stylized vision of the ubiquitous, impossibly green rice terraces all over the island, inspired by many of the fanciful interpretations we saw at the Agung Rai Museum of Art.


Wish I'd had time to make even more art during this trip, but we were pretty busy having weird adventures and unforgettable experiences.  


Next year............ Japan?? Stay tuned! 🛫