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Weekend Wrap: Art Exercise

“Ampersand,” Blaine Fontana

Courtesy of Hellion Gallery

On Saturday, I decided to take advantage of a surprisingly warm and dry day by doing a little gallery hopping. I know. More industrious people all over the city spent the day tramping over hill and dale in the Gorge or something. Except for a few souls, they certainly weren’t hitting up the galleries, that’s for sure. But I find a fine weather stroll to various galleries and then the slow stop-and-start of addressing the art inside to be a form of exercise, too!

My itinerary was partly determined by Matt Stangel’s picks in the Portland Mercury. Stangel wrote a delicious and deeply reported story on Anonymous Art for Oregon ArtsWatch recently, and I figured he’d take me to galleries off my usual beaten trail. And yes, he did. Then I bushwhacked on my own to see a couple of particular shows not on his list.

At the Fifty 24PDX Gallery, which shares an entrance with Upper Playground, a store that features styles for the younger urban set, I saw Matt Reynolds’ show, Benign, But Still Yucky. I read his glossy wall sculptures as shiny sea creatures like anemones, sea worms and squids, except with faces arranged like humans and human hair sprinkled on the surface occasionally. And then I saw the largest of them, “Safe Passage,” as a nest for younger critters of some sort in a protective bed inside a larger critter.

Uh, no. I was wrong. Here’s what Reynolds says about the show: “The world that these works inhabit is filled with bulging growths, weeping sores, and unsightly hair — essentially augmentations of the most unattractive elements of our anatomies. My aim is to soften the frightening, foreign aspects or our own bodily anxieties by rendering microscopic forms with the hand of a classic cartoonist. It seems easier to confront a tumor if it has a pair of big, glossy eyeballs.” I like the sound of that, though I’m not sure it’s true, and I like the imaginative possibilities it opens up. Yucky, indeed!

The helpful clerk at Upper Playground told me that Reynolds was young, 24 or so, and had come here from Maine, where he’d studied art and experimental animation. And on one wall, there’s a projection of one of his animations, and on another some drawings. But those cartoon-y protuberances and orifices are the big thing.

At Hellion Gallery, Blaine Fontana is showing a collection of furniture, drawings and sculpture, carefully designed and considered, a quirky artist’s eye and imagination combined with strong, clean design ideas. The salvaged Western cedar in the coffee table cut to look like the state of Oregon positively glistened, though my eye was immediately drawn to “Ampersand” sitting on the floor, like a little rocking chair though I didn’t dare plop myself down, even though it didn’t look quite so precious as the furniture. His drawings are forcefully rendered, too. At Hellion they feature a strong central subject, a bird or giraffe or camera, that he surrounds with design “elements,” text and various curlicues. Fontana runs a design studio on Northeast Alberta, and so his concern for this side of the process is obvious. In one of his “Design Explorations” in the show, he features the following quote: “The greatest designers think like fine artists, and the greatest fine artists think like designers.”

Fontana’s show was a good run-up to James Florschutz’s show at the Breeze Block Gallery. Florschutz moved to Portland fairly recently from Vermont, according to the Breeze Block attendant, and when I did a little research, I discovered that he’s had a very successful career as a sculptor back East.

Here’s what he says about his work: “In using discarded materials (by-products) of our society and culture I investigate the ubiquity of sites, excavations and mapping. These discarded materials have their own language and tell their own stories. I attempt to unite these diverse materials to reveal insight into our culture’s sense of the environment.”

So, yes, Florschutz will fit right into art as it’s practiced in Portland, with our keen interest in the use of recycled materials. What he adds is design rigor — on his site he says he often uses a grid to develop his work — and the sure touch of an experienced hand and eye. In the big wall sculpture, “Sedimental,” for example, he carefully layers wood scraps, wires, a belt buckle, calculator, phones, rope and various other things. This creates a sense of the cross-section as we look at each layer, and the sense of the timeline, as layers are added one at a time, but it never looks “junky.” It’s going to be fun to have Florschtz working here.

Untitled #5, Melinda Thorsnes

Courtesy of Blackfish Gallery

Let’s see. I went to several more galleries, which I’ll run through swiftly. I found myself appropriately disturbed by Melinda Thorsnes’s portraits in She at Blackfish Gallery. As the title indicates, they are all of women, and the combination of their animated faces — angry or worried or even a little demonic — and her vigorous painting approach using lots of colors can be unsettling. Which I read as “real,” because no, our world is not a place in which we easily fall into calm repose. I’m not sure any human world is, for that matter.

I liked the delicate silk on linen embroideries of Elizabeth Knight at PDX Contemporary Art, the stitches almost like little brushstrokes as they combined to make sheep and dogs, mostly, sometimes in combination as in “The Moor,” a tiny exercise in green and lavender, the white of four sheep on one side and the dog at the other. And I also enjoyed Tina Beebe’s “Of Gardens” in the same space, with its brushy vegetation, somehow both careful and casual.

“Under the Burnside Bridge,” Jonnel Covault

Courtesy of Augen Gallery

At Augen Gallery, Jonnel Covault is showing her delightful, intricate linocuts, mostly of Portland river scenes. They are in the same universe as the prints of Manuel Izquierdo and George Johanson and especially Dennis Cunningham, with whom she studied at Marylhurst, according to gallery owner Bob Kochs. Technically, they are rich and detailed, and the linocuts somehow project the scenes backward in time. I wandered in the back gallery at Augen for a moment just to peek at the wonderful Helen Frankenthaler prints also on display. The comparison to the Rothko show at the Portland Art Museum is unavoidable, even though Frankenthaler is an entirely different sort of abstract painter.

Next door at Froelick Gallery, the Benny Fountain kitchen interiors took me back in time, too, gauze-y blue and grays and yellows, the sink, cabinets, refrigerator, stove. I could have looked at them for much longer, and I’ll probably go back. And then Froelick was also showing Sarah Horowitz’s sumi botanicals on dyed papers that reveal more complexity the more you look.

And by then, the afternoon was almost over, and I was almost as tired as I would have been after a hike, but I was happy for the Pearl Bakery nearby.

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