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Visiting my own city
My work-life balance has been tilted to one side lately. There is lots of meta-work, work about the work, and a lot of actual work as well. It’s good to be busy, but not too busy.
This weekend I have plenty to do, including some work, but my wife is off visiting with friends. I treated myself to being a tourist in Portland. Sunday is a better work-day anyway (sorry Jesus).
I took care of some household things first. I filled the sagging tires on my car. I watered our garden and let the poodle challenge the sprinkler to a duel. I did some weeding and some research. The pernicious vine trying to strangle everything in my yard is, apparently, called Field Bindweed. I stopped by Ace Hardware to buy some deadly weed-killing poison which I should be ashamed of, but I’m not.
I went to find lunch in the neighborhood (vegan banh mi and a beer). While waiting for my food, my brother texts “are you at Ace?” I was just there. Also what? A friend of my brother was behind me in line, mistaking me for him, and texted. Small world? Clearly my brother, my father, and I should star in a time-travel action comedy. We can all portray the same man from different times. I will have to relearn my Southern accent.
After lunch I headed over to Alberta Street to cruise some galleries.
His work looks sort of lusciously decorative from a distance, but upon closer inspection reveals these sinister characters undulating about, likely up to no good.
The smaller gallery hosted tiny mixed media works by Betty Jiang and they are all gorgeous. Every single piece was sold. This is probably a good thing, I might have walked out poorer.
The Antler half of the space hosted paintings by Chris Austin. This series of paintings features sharks and sometimes whales drifting weightless through the air in cities, through forests and tunnels creating a dreamy, impossible world. In the painting below, are the sharks hunting people? Or just going to work?
The paintings are gauche on panel. Gauche is an opaque watercolor paint which used to be used a lot by illustrators. Austin’s technique makes the gauche glow like oil paint. This seems like it should be impossible, but I’m staring right at it.
After seeing some good art which I like, I decided to give some art that I hate a second chance. I drove to the Kenton neighborhood of North Portland to revisit Oregon Contemporary.
On view in the main gallery is a curated collection of video art titled “Palabra”. When I last stopped by, the videos I happened to catch were just awful. Poor quality and amateurish. Kids on TikTok make better art with, literally, one hand. (They have to hold the phone). To make matters worse, Oregon Contemporary chose to project the video on the worst wall.
The whole gallery is darkened, but they chose to project on the long wall perpendicular to the front door. The door is glass, set into a wall of windows. Light streams through the glass and creates a long, bright gradient all the way down the wall, drowning out the projection.
To the immediate left is a huge wall, parallel to the front door, in complete shadow. Guys, turn your projector 90º to the left. On my first visit I huffed away feeling very smug and superior. That’s no way to live, so I decided to give it another chance.
I took a bench and watched the washed out videos for a while, determined to give them a real chance. I was in a better mood and maybe more receptive. Also the videos that happened to cycle through were just better made. The first video was a well-shot intimate dance performance between a man trying to draw while his nude lover tried to distract him. It felt real and metaphorical at the same time. The next video was a silly and short little piece where a person in a freight elevator - the kind with a big steel gate instead of walls - sticks a pencil between the bars of the gate to draw a line on the inside of the elevator shaft as the elevator descends. Next he takes the elevator back up, dragging an eraser over the line he drew. Silly and dumb? Yes. And also very real. I’ve done stupid shit like this. You’ve done stupid shit like this. It is incredibly human to do something absolutely stupid and slightly destructive.
Oregon Contemporary is in an old large industrial building with barrel vaulted roof supported by big wood timbers. The space is large and lovely. The past two exhibits I’ve seen have been…weak. I hope the programming improves. Since the building is so large, Oregon Contemporary rents space to other artists and groups with their own programming. The secondary spaces are connected via a small hallway, but have their own storefronts outside.
One of these is Carnation Contemporary - an arts collective which rents space from Oregon Contemporary and hosts its own shows. It’s basically a group of like minded artists who all contribute to have a place to show their work and maybe sell a thing. They are making the kind of art that isn’t really collectible. It’s “idea” art. If I were feeling uncharitable, I’d call it “art school art”. Maybe “museum art” is a better term. It’s not meant to be owned, but to be thought about and discussed. If I’m honest, I prefer artwork that is meant to be owned.
Own-able artwork must succeed on multiple levels, while idea art succeeds if it generates a good discussion. Brother, I can wax philosophic about anything I don’t need your art. I need beauty and awe and inspiration.
Anyway, the show at Carnation was pretty good, with a nice mix of media and ideas. One piece stuck out in particular.
Ouch. Too real. Too soon. (This is great).
I remember hopping in my wife’s car during the hard lockdown period of the pandemic. She had collected a stack of one-used masks in the console of her car. She’s a doctor, she needs masks. But I found them revolting, gathered them up, and threw them away. This artwork reminded me of a memory I didn’t want to remember.