August First Thursday Gallery Guide
Human torsos hung like animal hides, photos of sinks that swallow you whole, and tiny paintings that stall you in your tracks. Feast yourself on August’s art shows.
June Yong Lee: Torso Series
Sage Sohier: About Face
Blue Sky Gallery
It’s rare that two shows in a gallery compliment each other so exquisitely. Both Sohier’s and Lee’s photographs, though incredibly different in style, meditate on the profound stories told on the flesh and features of the human body.
In the front room, Lee’s Torso Series use digital photography mastery to capture and lay flat the entire torsos of his subjects, like black and white human hides pinned to the wall, or, more fittingly, narrative tapestries of a life told through skin. The large images map the topography of the bodies—male and female, black and white, muscular and scrawny—until the torso becomes a landscape of flesh and contour and wrinkles that tell whole biographies in their form. In the more jarring bodies, tattoos, scars, stretch marks, and even violent scratch marks speak of individual events laid like fossils in the flesh. Others are more abstract and serene: two breasts rising from a milky smooth background, or nipples disappearing into a field of moles. Anonymous without faces, the bodies nonetheless are unique and full of character.
In contrast, Sohier’s show includes color portraits of individuals suffering from partial facial paralysis caused by a number of afflictions—stroke, Bell's palsy, nerve damage—photographed over three years at a nerve clinic. Their paralysis ranges from almost unnoticeable, such as a girl whose only sign of loss of movement caused by Lyme’s disease is a tear in one eye, to individuals whose faces appear to be two sides of a coin, displaying seemingly disparate emotions. Yet, shot with eyes staring directly into the camera and often with family members to the side filling the background with love, each subject displays a poise and dignity that challenges the viewer to suspend all preconceptions about appearance and its effect on the human condition. Sohier told me that she chose not to include the condition with any of the titles in order to make the audience experience the subject and not the syndrome, and it is a powerful choice.
Lli Wilburn: 84, 30, 4, 14
Hidden behind a fine group show, Wilburn’s postcard-sized paintings and prints showcase her meticulously detailed depictions of desolate urbanscapes but with a new focus: the four highways running along the lower Columbia River. Focusing on what she calls the “landscape of waiting,” Wilburn uses layer upon layer of dye, ink, and the most minute scratchwork to immortalize the on ramps, ferry docks, and other sites where travelers might find themselves stalled or delayed indefinitely—just as this work stalled me in my tracks. “West 5th and Washington (Pink Vancouver)” is a Highway 14 onramp in a barren industrial stretch of downtown Vancouver, where I-5’s towers rise in the background. Wilburn bathes the site in a luminescent pink corral tone—a pollution-tainted beauty—that perfectly captures the essence of a route I took many times as a teen, trying to escape the then foreboding stagnancy of downtown Vancouver for the dynamic lure of Portland.
Isaac Layman: Funerals
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
Layman has staked a place on the frontlines of digital photography with his large-scale composite images of the most mundane household items: the inside of the oven, a sink full of dirty dishes, a piece of rubber stair tread he slipped on (he once referred to himself as “an anti–National Geographic photographer”). Shooting the objects from multiple focal depths and vantage points, he compiles the many photographs into single images that are simultaneously blurred and sharp, making almost abstract magnifications of crisp domesticity. Yet whereas in the past, his cabinets and sinks have been full of items, in Funeral, a meditation on mortality, he revisits them after removing their contents, depicting empty containers that are void of life or caskets to be filled. Several works manage to transport the viewer in their emptiness. Sink, in particular, possesses a depth in its unblemished porcelain fold that enwraps the eye in a certain peaceful solitude grounded by the drain—almost a circular infinity that holds everything and nothing. But some of the other works feel flatly hollow without the counter-textual knowledge of his previous works. Hopefully his works in the Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Contemporary Art Awards exhibition opening in September will add some depth to the emptiness.
Michael Brophy: Recent Works on Paper
Laura Russo Gallery
What makes Brophy’s patiently wrought artworks remarkable are their refined surfaces, oils applied in a thin, loose play of line and form, taking inspiration from Old Masters such as Tintoretto and Titian. Their sly takes on history—the way they razz the Romantic ideal of the Eternal Landscape even as they lament grimmer, present-day realities—reveal an intellect influenced by figures ranging from Goya to Woody Guthrie.
Anniversary Group Show
This group show by gallery artists pays tribute to this bedrock local art exhibitor on the occasion of its 25th birthday. Works in a variety of media by the likes of Ted Katz, Carolyn Cole, and Ming Fay are among the items on display.
George Johanson: Recent Monotypes
This new series of paintings, prints, and tiles by longtime Portland artist (and recipient of the Oregon Governor’s Award for Art) Johanson is steeped in his love of jazz, cubism, abstract expressionism, surrealism, and the people who live in his city—who in this show consist mostly of swimmers and beach goers. A group show is also on display in the back.