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Chroma at Gallery 500: No discernable clique among clumps of Portland gallery goers.
Guest Writer

A Seattle artist visits Portland's monthly ritual
First First Thursday
by Carolyn Zick

s a Seattle artist accustomed to going to our own First Thursday gallery walk (a concept I believe we ripped off from Portland), I wasn't sure what I was in for when I headed south for February's event.

Portland is legendary for its all-out support of the arts. I didn't know if that meant parades in the Pearl District or riots at the openings over who served the best wine.

I was only anticipating something unique.

Every out-of-towner entertains a standard-issue compare-and-contrast mechanism when entering foreign territory. So I couldn't help myself and, at first nod, Portland's First Thursday experience lines up nicely with Seattle's.

Just like us, you have the horrible non-existent parking, crowds spilling out from brightly lit gallery spaces and clumps of inevitable gallery goers traveling en masse from one space to the next. Equally apparent was the sighting of a slightly higher hipster quotient than you'd probably notice on the streets at dinner hour.

A closer glance, though, and time well spent at one opening in particular (Gallery 500), led to some interesting observations that might quickly define what makes the Portland experience special.

A closer glance: enthusiasm for the art experience.

It was immediately obvious there was no discernable clique in attendance at this show. I witnessed a broad range of age, attitude and savvy milling around and interacting. Artists who had obviously been at it for years were debating with each other and also with the younger set.

Conversations floated in and out of earshot and the one thing everyone appeared to have in common was enthusiasm for the art experience.

I spoke with some interesting folks, including one woman who had some right-on ideas about the big difference between Seattle and Portland.

Seattle, she explained, is all about power and probably always has been. Her theory is that an area bespeckled with islands and places for people to moor yachts is going to draw those types (it's true). Portland, meanwhile, is a river city that has always pulled in the less conventional types.

I had an exchange with another person who, mid-conversation, whipped out his blue-collar-workers-should-be-collecting-art manifesto. He stated that there's a lot of cheap art in Portland and people should be buying and appreciating it.

The notion of explaining: Mona Superhero at Gallery 500's side room.

I was struck by how even folks that don't make art entertain the notion of explaining it.

The work on the walls at Gallery 500, with the Chroma group show in the main space and Mona Superhero in the side room all seemed to reflect this sentiment as well.

The best work in the Chroma show was by established painter Michael Knutson. His jewel-like painting hung side by side with other works that expressed the boisterousness of youth.

But one thing seemed inevitable that night: all this inherent passion over art is addicting.

My final thought on all of this First Thursday deliberation? If anyplace is pregnant with possibilities, it's Portland – because people want it to happen.

E-mail Carolyn at carolynzick@gmail.com, visit her Dangerous Chunky Web site and check out more of her writing in our archives.

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