From June Yong Lee's "Torso Series"
From June Yong Lee's "Torso Series"
As we head into what is often the best month of the year, now is the time to soak up the sun and art while strolling downtown’s gallery district for the monthly arts walk, First Thursday. Not that art ceases to exist after tonight; any day this month makes for fine gallery grazing. Here’s some of the work that will feast your eyes:

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.

"8-year-old boy in zipper sweater" by Sage Sohier
Image: Sage Sohier
"8-year-old boy in zipper sweater" by Sage Sohier

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.

"West 5th & Washington" by Lli Wilburn
Image: Lli Wilburn
"West 5th & Washington" by Lli Wilburn

Lli Wilburn: 84, 30, 4, 14
Froelick Gallery

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.

"Sink" by Isaac Layman
Image: Isaac Layman
"Sink" by Isaac Layman

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.

"Pacific Wonderland: Gorge" by Michael Brophy
"Pacific Wonderland: Gorge" by Michael Brophy

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
Butters Gallery

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
Augen Gallery

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.

For more on Portland arts and culture, sign up for our weekly On The Town newsletter, subscribe to our RSS feed, and follow us on Twitter @aarondavidscott. Visit our Arts & Entertainment Calendar  for our editors’ event picks.