Wright, Carlos Estrada-Vega,
Jeffry Mitchell, Manifest Artistry
by Jeff Jahn
was the month of art imports. Everywhere I looked it seemed
as though someone from elsewhere was exhibiting in Portland
and claims of a new cosmopolitanism are apparently well
Besides, I've felt like Portland's best have needed
to take a breather and reflect on what has to be different in
2004. Despite all that, I don't think the grass is always greener
elsewhere and I hate the whole dynamic of "an expert is anyone
who lives more than 500 miles away."
It's a bit like those people who don't realize that
the current Whitney Biennial is mostly full of artists who have
been on the New York "in-list" for the last four years and is
therefore pandering to that crowd's perception of yesterdays
news. For instance, everybody knew four years ago that Elizabeth
Peyton is easily the best painter on the planet; forget about
Problem is, New York's in-list has been pretty much
static for four years, which implies something is rotten in
Denmark. Don't assume that the OK stamp on the Whitney Biennial
is a guarantee of freshness; it isn't. In fact, the last one
had more excellent discoveries that simply weren't featured
|EllenGeorge at PDX.
So, despite the influx of some serious imported
talent to Portland, I'm glad the best show was by a local, sort
"Meadow" at PDX Gallery takes top prize and the
artist, Ellen George, resides in Vancouver, Wash. For readers
outside the area "The 'Couv" is to Portland what East St. Louis
is to St. Louis.
To be brief, George grew by a factor of 10 from
her previous and considerably more contained show at PDX Gallery.
What I like about "Meadow" is variety.
There is cultural anthropology, botany and a lot of late Matisse
in this new work.
There is also a real Pacific-island vibe but, true
to being art, its indeterminate nature gives it stand-alone
Overall, George's work doesn't sneer, it glows.
Add George to the list of other artists in the Portland scene,
like Sean Healy and Brenden Clenaghen, who have gotten immensely
better in the last year.
For the record, the big months are usually May,
June, September and October and it's those months when
the galleries strut out their next hot thing or their long-standing
big guns. It makes those months a bit like March Madness for
college basketball: inspired and competitive. Still, there is
rarely a dud month in Portland for art viewing anymore. Miss
a month and you will miss something. But usually you have to
know where to look.
Savage Art Resources
1430 SE 3rd Ave.
Meeting," by Tricia Wright, at Savage Art Resources.
Tricia Wright is a Londoner living in New York,
and hers is a wonderful gem of a show. In most pieces, there's
an intense sense of anthropomorphic empathy implied by the various
constructivist abstract forms. Although Wright's work is invariably
going to be compared to British legends Victor Pasmore and Patrick
Heron, her overall tone is less ambivalent and more personable.
In works like "The Meeting," the central light-blue form does
seem to be meeting the other more stoic Neolithic forms.
The white form on the top left even has a less distinct
border on the left side. There is also more than a passing comparison
to Monique Prieto's paintings and grand master Alexander Calder's
gouaches. Once again, those artists seem more formal tableau-oriented
than the narrative anthropomorphism in Wright's work.
Objects, Palisades" series.
Other multi-part works like the "Desirable Objects,
Palisades" series are more impassive toward one another,
yet their almost-shiny-but-still-matte finish seems to invite
touching, or at least looking. Surface acknowledges the viewer's
role in the viewing equation.
The largest painting in the show, "Scattered," is
like a jungle gym for the eyes.
It has Bridget Riley-like optical effects, Gene
Davis-like stripes, weird mod lily pads and some lichen forms.
It is not easy to balance this many directions but the whole
thing still comes off well.
It's still a successful piece, but with so many
directions one loses a sense of focus in relationship to the
other works. I think the empathy thing is a fresher and more
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
207 SW Pine
by Carlos Estrada-Vegas.
Elizabeth Leach Gallery showed noted Los Angelino
Carlos Estrada-Vega, whose amalgamated combinations of tiny
independent square paintings on magnets are quite wonderful.
A bit like boxes of chocolates or a bunch of tiny
cakes, they add a slightly different spin on paintings with
lots of squares and a new literalness to constructivism.
In the past, I found Estrada-Vega a bit stiff. But
now, with various heights and color tones, his work takes on
a nuanced mathematical vocabulary like music. A single note
can be played a thousand ways.
The work calls to mind Paul Klee's "An Ancient
Sound On Black." The smaller monochromatics were my favorites
in one of the best shows I have seen in the last year. My picks
were the monochrome blue "Calixto" and the red "Cletus," which
incorporated rectangles and squares. The incorporation of uneven
sizes made them look less like pixels and more like a visual
language where the rectangles were punctuation.
Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery
NW 12th Ave.
Pulliam Deffenbaugh showed one of Seattle's best
artists, Jeffry Mitchell, in March. He is an inventive, if capricious,
practitioner of a kind of modern Rococo. Like any good devotee
of the Rococo, pattern and ornamentation are very important
to his work. Problem was, there weren't any truly amazing moments
of overload patterning as I've seen in previous shows by this
Instead, this exhibition had lots of salable tchotchkes
along with two large Styrofoam signs with the word hello above
them. This was OK, but a disappointment considering his other
work, which nearly always makes sophisticated use of negative
space. Overall, I try to get past the initial greeting of a
specific artwork quickly and want deeper stuff. I didn't see
much beyond the greeting. If this show were a circus act, it
seemed to shuffle us to "see the egress" too quickly.
This was a thin and unremarkable show for a pretty
good artist who really needs to get beyond being pleased with
116 NE Russell
"Moments of Clarity"
The premise was simple; East Coasters show on the
West Coast. Simple is good: it allows for complicated interaction
without needless curatorial oversimplification.
Yet this was an interesting show of East Coasters
most notable for how gimmicky and derivative much of it was.
For example, Amy Lincoln's "Moments of Clarity" is
eye-poppingly painted and pimple faced, but it seems more like
a caricature than denouement.
Call it John Currin lite.
Kristin Dierup's "Vogue Rogue" is decoupage
used for guileless anti-Saddam propaganda and Mary Mattingly's
"Final Fantasy" has that Matthew Barney "hot-last-year"
look, combining sports and fantasy costumes.
I liked Denise Schatz's drawing, "Trills Cellularis,"
which was well done if a little unexciting with its bird and
cell balloon. Better work by Ramsey Barnes, like "Misfire,"
also questioned the action and war with its Boy Scout merit
badge sashes and soldiers following orders. Besides Barnes and
Schatz, the show was filled with very clear but brittle or even
tinny statements. Some nuance is necessary.
Dorosz's "Road," at Elizabeth Leach.
In addition to Estrada-Vega, Elizabeth Leach Gallery
had the Bay Area duo Amanda Fin and Inga Dorosz. Their photos
of falsified arctic adventures are something I liked a lot.
Custom frames, no mattes and milky glass all serve to heighten
their sculptural effect.
Photography as sculpture is sufficiently perilous
and has become a favorite theme of mine.
The custom frames and milky glass are nice touches
and not unlike the Joseph Kalusas shown in the gallery years
ago or Mariana Tres's Annabella Gaposhk photograms.
In fact, Tres's MFA thesis show at PSU's Littman
Gallery opens April 15.
With Tres's ridiculous expansion of the pseudo-historical
theme (it has its own docent), I suspect it will be the smartest
thing seen around here in a long time. That girl has the potential
to be a future McArthur candidate.
Vergara at Gallery 500.
Back to the auslander theme, Zeitgeist Gallery in
the Everett Station Lofts had a mail-in show for people all
over the globe. Folks, you can either travel to New York and
London to check out a Scope art fair, or go to Zeitgeist. I've
seen some of the same artists at both venues. The show will
be up in April as well.
With Los Angelino Robert Vergara, Gallery 500 turned
a corner of Portland into L.A. It was the hilarious sort of
thing I've come to expect from L.A. art: slowed down Jane Fonda
workout videos, wall drawings right out of Olivia Newton John's
"Get Physical" video and giant Nagel figures backlit with neon.
It was entertaining but not exactly challenging.
Mimetic irony in itself isn't content that reveals much more
than fetish and parody both of which are more modes of
fashion than strong art. John Currin and, to a lesser degree
Laura Owens, have this same problem. Still, Vergara's show was
the strongest thing I've seen at G5 to date. Let's hope the
upward trend continues.
by Donna Avedisian.
Haze Gallery featured L.A. composer Philip Marshall,
who translated the works of Donna Avedisian and Melissa Smith
Marshall's compositions are sometimes a tad too
John Tesh for me, but the tango on the CD is right on, rough
The CD was recorded in the new Frank Gehry-designed
concert hall in L.A.
As for the art that inspired the music ... the nice,
slickly executed but a bit too redundantly formulaic paintings
of Avedisian (a recent MFA of RIISD, who just settled in Portland),
and the decadent, sometimes uber-charming work of Smith (of
Eugene), were definitely extremes. Sometimes imports like Avedisian
end up staying.
by Melissa Smith.
If a little of Avedisian's stylistic coherency rubs
off on Smith and some of Smith's sheer inventiveness and zing
rubs off on Avedisian, then I'd say they both have careers that
could go places beyond what we saw in this show.
It's great that an import like Avedisian is staying
here and I'm certain her colors and spatial arrangements will
become more varied and pronounced Portland, with its
flowers, Douglas firs, volcanoes and Rothko skies, does that
To underscore another reason to watch Haze, both
artists sold very well and brought in a very respectable amount
(over $10,000) when many galleries are struggling.
Also, the presentation was rather formal, so Haze
definitely isn't some hamstrung DIY effort.
In fact, any comparisons of Haze to the Modern Zoo
show last year (or DIY) are a bit of nonsense, as doing so ghettoizes
an effort needlessly.
I can't tell you how funny it is to hear people
compare Haze to other DIY efforts as a pejorative when they
clearly haven't been to the shows they are describing.
Whether discussing imports or local artists, it's
important that context and parallels be borne out by the details
seen in the work. Simply put, a scene gets judged by its level
of discourse as well as the work.
And since there is good work most everywhere,
the discourse becomes a major indicator of something more.