Branch with Frame, Valerie Hegarty

Branch with Frame, Valerie Hegarty. image via halfdozengallery.com

One knew going in, with a title like Antler Necklace, that this show at Half/Dozen Gallery was either going to be a hipster gift shop or critique of same. Fortunately, it’s a subtle exploration by NY-based curator Amber Vilas of the processing or commodification of nature. So Valerie Hegarty’s “Branch with Frame” provides the perfect entry to the work here. It’s either a carved gold gilt frame that is melting away into the branch it came from or growing up from same. I love that it implies that precious tree is perhaps not recognized as precious until it is cut and carved up and tricked out in gold gilt. It’s also ironic, given painting’s history of attempting to imitate nature, that the imitation (canvas) is traditionally boxed by an actual piece of nature denatured by the hand of the craftsman, the frame marking the border between the imitation and natural or real world.

This context of our processing and commodification of the natural world is perfect for Antoine Catala’s work, attempting to re-connect the human (nature) with the television (a commodity that processes the human for consumption by the human). His work at PICA’s TBA Festival was an attempt to give television a form that could create a friendlier feeling between human and the television that many spend so many hours with. His “Couple in Garden,” like the works he showed recently at Reed College, is a video portrait of a more or less immobile couple that is distorted in ways that resemble early Photoshop filters (i.e. a glassy relief) as well as decayed video giving it a living, painterly quality, its subtle, temporal variations riveting.

“Couple” connects well with Erika Somogyi’s “Primitive Vision” installed behind it, the luminous qualities of Somogyi’s gouache painting conversing with the light of the television screen. Too, it is a combination of landscape and portrait in a contemporary, day-glo-y palette. (Two eyes=watcher or watched? One isn’t sure.). I’m pretty wild about the textures in this piece and the way they speak to those in Catala’s.

Nichole van Beek’s “Utils” nod to our human toolmaking impulses and the inutility of art. Pieces of driftwood have decorative interventions with colorful if mundane non-precious materials like topographical texture created with yarn, bright blue and green griptape handles, a hot pink handprint, and masses of colorful baubles. Meant to be held, carried, brandished, like many modern products one might question just how useful these “utils” are (with a little wink).

The show is rounded out by Christine Gray’s lovely drawings on polypropylene on which her oil grounds are richly liquid, and Jessica Labatte’s “Untitled (Pomegranate Photogram)” which feels like the odd man out in this context with its Dutch still life meets surrealism mood.

See further images and Vilas’ statement on the show at the website or better yet, make some time tomorrow to go see.

It’s noteworthy that Half/Dozen brought in Vilas who in turn brought work by artists from New York, Chicago, and Richmond, VA. Thus Half/Dozen joins a handful of other galleries in Portland showing work by artists from beyond the bridges…all to the good.