Picton: original and decisive.
Bocci, Sawa, Knutson & 'Maritime'
the Portland art scene decisive?
quit drinking coffee?" one of my best friends recently stammered
at me. "You suck!"
I savored his decisive indictment but, then again,
he's a trial lawyer. I basically don't do addictions, so I guess
that's decisive, too.
Women and dark chocolate are the only things worth
not giving up, and long-term decisive loyalty makes them more rewarding
as well. It's what I like about this town: There is continuity and
the visual arts community is very old for a West Coast city
this month the Portland Art Museum turns 110 years old!
My discussion, therefore, centers around one word: Decisive.
Those who don't consider themselves "taste-makers" yet
write reviews, curate shows and/or exhibit work, just come off as
art-scene den mothers. Portland has a window of opportunity
take it decisively and work hard, or join the whiners' club and
drink more Pabst ...
In November, three shows (Matthew Picton's at Mark Woolley, Michael
Knutson's at Blackfish and "Maritime/Nautical" at the
Art Labs) had examples of what I consider decisive statements that
in one way or another will stick. None were paradigm-redefining
statements, but they were all on the right road.
Another show, "Lost and Found" at Savage,
also had some good examples of decisive art among the unwieldiness
of the "Blind Date"-style group show where each Savage
artist chose an unrepresented artist to show with.
Dealer Tracy Savage therefore had no control, which she admits
was harrowing but ultimately worthwhile. The effect was the equivalent
of a singles' mixer.
clique: how many to screw in a light bulb?
Overall, one new truth about Portland has emerged: today the city's
art scene is a great deal more factional than it was last summer
top to bottom.
I take this as a sign that things are growing up and there is something
here worth having. Suddenly, each young clique has developed at
least one or more instigators. This is true both for represented
and unrepresented artists.
I count about two dozen noteworthy cliques with varying levels
of development, originality, snottiness and snootiness.
Some are just paper leaders and cocktail mixers; others are sincere
about developing real curatorial/critical chops.
a focus on multimedia.
And there are still others, like new guy TJ Norris, whose sound
vision gallery at the Everett Station Lofts is the work of a seasoned
Norris is willing to put his money where his existentialism is.
He has a program. The fact is, if you are going to make it as an
artist you have to become a decisive aesthetic editor and you have
got to outmaneuver others who seek to do similar things.
Take a position and take the time to do it right.
"Lost and Found"
grotesque: Bocci's "Another one bites the dust."
Chandra Bocci's "Another one bites the
dust" at Savage's "Lost and Found" show is pretty
decisive. The insidious pink from deodorant, tampon and yogurt boxes
is assembled into fairy castles, plastic bags become puffy clouds
and a bunch of dead or unconscious unicorns tumble out of a lil'
girl marketing heaven.
It's damn funny and grotesque. The diorama piece resembles "The
Last Judgment" by Michelangelo but without the wrath of God,
and there is no way Bocci is as peeved as big Mike was.
Instead, all the unicorns look as if they were hit by insecticide
or a neutron bomb. The buildings remain but the magical inhabitants
have been smote. It's an indictment and a celebration of advertising.
The lil' girl unicorns die, but the girlishly gendered packaging
for tampons and yogurt never fade. This is no coming-of-age piece;
it is about the agelessness of advertising. Youth sells, nobody
This marks the fourth time in the last year I've mentioned Bocci.
Have I mentioned that she has grown exponentially in her work? This
would be even better if it were a full-room installation.
surroundings: Sawa's "Dwelling."
Another "Lost and Found" favorite is "Dwelling."
Hiraki Sawa's video of planes slows time and makes us reconsider
domestic surroundings in terms of their relationship to us as daily
The '50s interiors evoked memories of my dad eating his breakfast
and then taking off to work often involving an airliner for
Why not digress? Home isn't always a place one lingers; it is a
starting point for a journey. It is something Portlanders need to
learn about serious artists ... don't worry if artists come or go.
went where he could best serve his vision.
It only matters that they ever called Portland home particularly
if it is during an important developmental period. Then that artist
becomes a part of the city's history and an ambassador as well.
Otherwise the city feels like a clingy, overly sheltering parent.
For example, Mark Rothko grew up and learned about color, form,
line and volumes here. Just because he went to New York doesn't
mean he erased Portland ... it means he went where he could best
serve his vision at the time.
Portland should grow up and forgive the animosity that grew out
of the situation. Mark Rothko is part of Portland just as Jackson
Pollock is associated with Cody, Wyo., and much of the vastness
of the West; it can't be severed, only overlooked.
Mark Woolley Gallery
Picton takes man and nature's fingerprint.
Matthew Picton is one of the better artists on the West Coast;
his original work is fully formed, thoughtful and ingenious.
A growing list of galleries from L.A. to Seattle attests to his
Picton actively pursues the complex fractal patterns of the outdoor
world via the synthetic cast. By making casts like an archeologist
of parking-lot cracks he takes a kind of fingerprint.
He achieves this lofty husbandry of man and nature by using these
natural gullies and parking-lot cracks as forms in which to cast
his resin, acrylic beads and candy sprinkles.
In "Cracked Parking Lot Sculpture #7" he embeds Spanish
moss in resin and then mimics the moss's ability to fill in space
upon a wall.
His previous work also avoided the style of his own hand by using
double-sided tape to gather up loose paint flakes, dirt, etc. Thus,
many of Picton's works are partial ready-mades.
Dada and natural awareness of the sublime is becoming one of the
Pacific Northwest's best contributions to contemporary art these
days and Picton is one of the very best.
When this subject matter eventually gains notice, Picton will be
one of its chief voices.
Although he wrongfully considers Leon Golub more of an '80s artist,
Michael Knutson is one of the keenest intellects in Portland's art
community a lot smarter than the entire stable of some galleries.
(Golub created somewhat fringe protest art during the '60s, but
really honed his thing in the mid-late social realist '70s with
paintings like "Guerillas." He merely started selling
well during the '80s like most artists of the '70s. Knutson,
like any good artist, is considering the practical aspects of earning
a living rather than Golub's affinity for social messages that gained
serious clout after Vietnam and Nixon.)
rigorous: Knutson is smart and decisive.
Knutson has pulled off a rarity in Portland: a truly rigorous,
sustained, intellectually petulant cipher of a solo show.
His growing mastery and I mean mastery of his geometric,
optical effects have the sort of dry, experimental origins
that lead to the computer chip and the Post-it Note.
But by being art, it stands in closer proximity to Barnett Newman
a microcosm/macrocosm that references itself through process.
It is an accretion of complexity that becomes decisive effect. I
could put that in simpler terms but won't do Knutson such disservice.
of Knutson's "Red and White Twisted Ribbons": formulaic
from afar, eccentric up close.
Some of the standouts in the show are "Orange and Yellow twisted
ribbons," "Red and White twisted ribbons" and "Blue
and White star coil." Everything is pretty relentless.
By focusing on the theoretically formulaic, but in fact consistently
irregular, Knutson unifies the whole surface in a fussy way that
lesser painters would stop at.
By repeating the formula with a kind of baroque autistic automatism
he's saying one thing: be decisive.
Pick something and don't dither. Nothing is perfect, but who wants
perfection when variety produces such regularity? It is a mantra
for art lovers: maturity is a risk many don't take. Knutson is a
great example of a decisive artist who knows what he wants and takes
it to interesting extremes.
to shine: James Boulton (left) and Carson Ellis.
This group show was coherent, occasionally surprising, and let
each individual have the space to shine.
The overall effect was excellent and left me wanting some sort
of written statement about port cities, uncomfortable iconoclasm
and change. The visual statement was decisive and kinda lonely.
It makes me chuckle to think of someone trying to explain existentialism
to a sailor. Talk about preaching to the choir!
Works like Carson Ellis' "Ghost Ship" were direct and
subdued. I single that work out because the formal flatness of field
and illustrative feel have a coastal meagerness to it an
asceticism that says tough, instead of effete; knowing in its silence.
James Boulton's sea chart abstraction was strong enough to read
from 50 feet away in the cavernous space. Adam Sorenson's baby blue
enamel-dominated ghost ship (painted like Wonder Woman's invisible
jet) was another winner and sold quickly.
Zeferry Throwell's gestural works captured the visceral rust and
decadent ennui of a barnacle-crusted manmade object being reclaimed
on the sea floor. It shows just how good this young painter is becoming.
All he needs to do is develop his program and he could make a strong
case for a serious revival of decadent abstraction.
Hell, pop is already in its neo-neo-pop revival stage why not an
ab-ex meta-revival? Oh yeah, the art world isn't for legit intellectuals
any more, it's for those who are tied into the vernacular cues of
design ... hopefully, I'm wrong. Zeferry, maybe you could give the
world a 1,000-plus-word essay?
enticement to linger.
Samara Golden's video piece, "Gang of Ones," was evocative,
if not a bit heavy handed, in presentation.
The opening pans of magazine coastlines were particularly evocative
but the words interrupting the scenes just seemed intrusive; even
the fonts felt forced. The two mod chairs and the rug completed
the mood nicely, enticing me to linger.
My favorites were two painters.
Tracy Timmins' uncomfortable portraits, probably painted from amateurish
snapshots, bespoke the isolation of the vacationing summertime bathing
beauty and the seasoned old salt of a local. Wry and ultimately
a study on existential happiness and isolation, they worked together
to show two sides of the seaside resort inhabitants.
My other favorite was Tim Dalbow's excellent painting of an oil
taker hit by terrorists. The billowing menace of black smoke around
a ship broadcast T-R-O-U-B-L-E. His handling of paint and lonely
ocean has a strong Andrew Wyeth feel: accomplished, ascetic and
spooky. The element of threat and the isolation are deadly.
Dalbow at Art Labs "Nautical/Maritime."
Soon after, I found out this image was of the French oil tanker
targeted by terrorists. Bravo, Tim ... a much nicer history painting
than Henk Pender's often hyperbolic variety. This painting is ambiguous,
crystal clear ... and decisive.
Question of the month ...
Which brings us back to the bigger question: Can Portland be considered
decisive? I can give a qualified "yes" in terms of movement
toward something decisive with the coming biennial
as a chance for a concrete statement (we shall see).
Till then, well, galleries like Savage, Liz Leach, Mark Woolley,
Froehlich and PDX all had excellent shows in November ... Also,
at least four DIY shows either had interesting work or provocative
presentation. I thought "Maritime" was the best, while
"Hug Me" at Pacific Switchboard had the hip, happening
aspect down, with lots of self-help ennui. This all promotes a sense
of expectations for shows and is critical, but I want to see something
To date, only a few 2002 shows really sought for escape velocity
outside Portland. I want to see more of that, both from the galleries
and the DIY productions. It requires catalogs and international
art-press presence; innovative thinking should permeate the entire
And the real question is whether enough of a ruckus can be raised
to get the rest of the planet's attention. The galleries need to
advertise conspicuously and promote themselves and First
Thursday nationally. I mean, Condé Nast did a tour
of Portland and didn't even mention First Thursday, or the Pearl
District as an art zone.
While the work is here, the perception of it being here needs to
be better. Portland has truly ambitious artists, now it needs truly
ambitious productions to make the decisive push.