The collages and assemblages in Jascha Owens' Paper Trails look like something the cat dragged in. With their jumbled cardboard panels, tattered paper and clumps of hair, glue, charcoal and coffee grounds, they are defiantly amateurish and downright ugly. In his first Portland show, Owens, 24, borrows a page from the late German artist Kurt Schwitters, who used collage to depict complex psychological states. He also owes a thing or two to the "bad painting" movement of the late 1970s and '80s, in which artists gleefully discarded traditional notions of beauty and technique. Incorporating found materials and detritus rather than media purchased from an art store, Owens imparts ramshackle grittiness into works that turn trash into symbolic abstractions of autobiographical and psychological experiences.
The triptych, father-mother, with its stylized male and female genitalia, is based on how Owens, as a child, processed his parents' divorce and subsequent remarriages. In FatherUnit_01 a double-helix made of packing tape stands erect above two Crayon-scrawled would-be testicles. MotherUnit_02 abounds with feminine curves and folds. Sandwiched between the two hangs I__Unit00, its contours a melding of the other works' compositions. There is something poignant in these ersatz parents and the stupefied Mini-Me in their middle.
In the large wall piece titled no chaos could break the cycle, Owens creates a circuit out of cardboard and paper. Toward the top, an unknown substance bearing a striking resemblance to a cupcake appears to pass through a series of bowel-like tubes, changing form, then rising up in two fragile arms. As the arms reach up toward an unknown goal, they are met by a crushing tidal wave that is poised to douse them. Looking at this materially lowbrow but thematically audacious work, you ask yourself: "Huh? Did he really just do that? Did a cupcake's journey down the digestive tract really morph into an existential statement about the folly of ambition?" That an assemblage could pose an absurdist riddle of this magnitude using Dumpster materials is an achievement for which Owens deserves no small credit.
shows at Launch Pad, 534 SE Oak St., 971-227-0072. Closes June 24.