Saturday afternoon was a wet, chilly, blustery splash in the face, meaning just perfect for a little gallery hopping. Once I hit the streets and adjusted the hood of my coat, everything was great. I even ran into some actual artists! George Johanson and I intersected after I’d left the Froelick Gallery, and we exchanged some recent news on the cave painting front, one of Johanson’s favorite subjects, and he said he was working on a big new government office commission in Salem and had a painting show coming up in May at Augen Gallery. A little later, I found Paul Missal tending the front desk at the Blackfish Gallery, but more about that later.
So yes, rain, wind, art, conversation, coffee — honestly, why don’t I do this every Saturday?
Laurie Danial and Miles Cleveland Goodwin, Froelick Gallery: I like the uncertainty of the space in Laurie Danial’s monographs and paintings. At first it seems so flat and unexceptional, and then it suggests depth and even layers, and I start to figure out the lay of her land, and then I’m derailed by tangled little “events” of color and line, get lost in tracing ideas that she’s overpainted and generally feel a little discombobulated, though not unpleasantly so.
Sometimes her lines and color are so delicate and exact, and at other times, they are thick and crude. Sometimes I think I’m in the middle of a very elaborate doodle, and then I shift to thinking that everything is very deliberate, purposeful.
In “Between a Rock and a Hunk,” she creates a sort of topographic grid describing something that looks like a mountain, which she overpaints. The outline of that geographical feature repeats in a line drawing that floats close to the top of the picture, where it intertwines with lines from other non-geographical elements. I try to correlate the overpainted grid and the drawn mountain, and they don’t quite match up. My eye drifts to a stack of boxes and a bowl — I’m using these particular nouns very loosely — and then a tangle of lines that somehow suggest flowers or something. Pretty soon the highway of thick yellow lines leads me back to the mountain.
After those strange figures and spaces, it’s a bit of a relief to head into Goodwin’s more familiar painted world, thought “relief” isn’t a word we’d usually associate with those bleak, wintry scenes, in which the state bird is the raven waiting its chance to peck at our innards. Well, he doesn’t get THAT graphic, but you get the idea.
In “Train Jumping” a young man and woman, teens perhaps, are dashing toward a train over some snowy barren fields, marked by broken fences and trees. They look determined or maybe frightened, as the train barrels toward them along a long curve of track, its smoke swirling with the thick clouds and general gloom.
“Chasing Deer” is more sedate at first glance, as two men, hunters presumably, climb down into a little valley dotted with frozen ponds and snow-covered fields. But those pesky ravens, the harsh conditions, the storm gathering in the hills on the other end of the valley — it’s not idyllic. They are both painted expressionistically, not carefully illustrated, perfect for the subject matter: You don’t need finely detailed fences when a series of fast strokes will do. And the general effect of cold is profound enough to make you zip up your jacket.
Andrej Krementschouk, Blue Sky Gallery: Blue Sky is always a good bet on a rainy day, because it generally has three exhibitions. This month the front gallery houses a show by the Russian-born Krementschouk, who now lives in Germany. Here he dives back into his homeland for a show called “No Direction Home,” exploring village life in Russia. One of the photographs, “Landscape With Coachman,” looks as though it might have been taken a hundred years ago (if you overlook the whole color photography part), peaceful and nostalgic. In other images, there are apples and pigeons and landscapes, but mostly there are people, often older, embedded in their bedrooms or sitting rooms, sometimes so embedded they are asleep. My favorite is an image of four men, who look as though they are preparing for a religious ritual of some sort. One carries a Russian Orthodox cross, and if you look carefully, you can see that it also bears a skull and crossbones.
Fritz Liedtke is showing a collection of photogravures, small, golden and glowing. Called “Astra Velum (Veil of Stars),” the images are of women, mostly younger, who have freckles or scars on their faces, sometimes a sprinkle, sometimes many more. Usually, they face us head on, their eyes impossibly bright, which makes them seem like mythical creatures. Takeshi Shikama’s exhibition is just as delicately printed — platinum Palladium prints on Japanese handmade Gampi paper — though much darker images of woods, clearings, streams, individual trees. I didn’t find them gloomy at all, even on a rainy day — more calming, though occasionally a little mysterious.
Ellen George, PDX Contemporary Art: George’s exhibition is called “Sensing Place” and it recalls the wildflowers of Texas, where she grew up, but I thought of it in a different way. The assemblages made of polymer clay of different colors hang like beads or are attached in simple patterns on wall, and to me, they seemed like devices for detecting the vibrations of the places they were attached or hung, acute to sudden drops of emotional pressure or changes in thought directions. It’s hard to explain, actually, because yes, the individual elements look like petals (though sometimes more like pebbles) and they don’t move or change. As objects, they represent perfect little moments maybe, but somehow that impression of them as detectors caught in my mind and I couldn’t shake it.
Paul Missal, Blackfish Gallery: Actually, before I ducked into Blackfish, I stopped to look at the Elizabeth Leach show of work by Lee Kelly and Bonnie Bronson, about whom I’ve written recently. Kelly is mostly represented by models for larger sculpture, and in that state, they seem more like little interlocking puzzle pieces than they do on the scale at which he usually works. And the late Bronson’s early paintings and wall sculpture in an abstract expressionist vein have a rough, delectable beauty — well worth seeing.
Missal talked to me a bit about his show at Blackfish, which includes two big paintings from years ago that were important to his development as a painter. In both, objects were suspended in the “air” of the canvas. In the older one, Missal explained that the Bic pen he’d painted with had taught him how to paint fine edges, and when I looked closely, I understood exactly what he meant, the difficulty of holding that clean, sharp line in paint. And then he had carried that knowledge over to the canvas full of cups on the opposite wall, an amazing array which he had imagined suspended in a spiral. Now, looking at it, he sees little flaws, but for me, it looks perfect.
Missal’s deft touch is also on display in some whimsical drawings of pixies, leaves, birds and fruit (“I like the illogic of it,” he said), and the fruit carries over to a set of still life paintings of pears and potatoes, captured in twos, leaning against each other, again perfect expressions with pink ribbon and drapery. There’s also a portrait of a friend and a sketch of his sister, a couple of weeks before her death, each line so caring it almost hurts to look at it.
By the time I’d finished, the rain had mostly stopped, the Ducks game against Stanford had almost begun, the Pearl District’s Saturday night crowd had started to form, the coffee shop where I chose to wait for my wife to meet me was half full of young men hard at it on their laptops. Human life was percolating along as usual. Of course, I was seeing that train curving toward me in night and resolved to climb aboard.