Upon seeing artist Ellen Goldschmidt's series of graphite portraits on paper, Surrounded by Feeling, my First Thursday companion, a writer, whispered, "They're like haiku." I let out the groan of appreciation you make when someone puts words to a thought you didn't know you had. That was it: Goldschmidt captures moments like a poet—simply, but always alluding to something greater and further beyond.

In Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner (Me), a finely rendered figure of a small girl is cropped almost entirely out of the composition, except for in the bottom right corner. She extends her chubby arm diagonally across the paper into a vast plain of negative space, the expression on her face also reaching for something.

The same subject appears in Tweak, similarly cropped, but she is slightly older and more roughly drawn. Her arm is pulled back, like the string of a bow, in a mischievous gesture that suggests she is about to flick someone in the face. In another portrait, the little girl sits alone in the middle of the composition trying to buckle her shoe, its mate nowhere in sight.

Goldschmidt conveys so much to the viewer—isolation, longing, otherness, playful antagonism—not by what she includes in her drawings, but by what she leaves out. It is the elliptical nature of her work that makes it so powerful because the viewer is left to fill in everything we can't see.

Much of the series revolves around Goldschmidt's relationship with her older sister. The artist chose to de-emphasize the technical aspects of portraiture, allowing her hand to be guided by something less cerebral. "Feeling is too often subordinated in life and in art," she says. "I'm interested in reasserting balance by privileging emotion in my work."

One particularly affecting piece, Bad Seed, is a frenetic sketch in which an older sister in the foreground looks directly at the viewer, without expression, while a younger sister gazes up adoringly at her elder. In the background, the outline of a third, enormous face looms, the way it feels as a kid to have a parent constantly looking over your shoulder.

Goldschmidt says that the portraits "are created by inhabiting, rather than depicting, emotion," and as such, the process of making them was sometimes fraught, thinking back on old hurts and traumas. But in doing so, Goldschmidt gives us a visceral window into the pains and rivalries of siblinghood.

SEE IT: Ellen Goldschmidt's Surrounded by Feeling is at Blackfish Gallery, 420 NW 9th Ave., 503-224-2634. Through May 28.

“Bad Seed” by Ellen Goldschmidt
“Bad Seed” by Ellen Goldschmidt