September 1st, 2010 RICHARD SPEER | Special Section Stories
 

Rusting Away

Visual Arts

     
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STAIN ART: Rio Wrenn works with rust and fabric in her Portland workshop. IMAGE: mikelarremore.com

Only in Portland would pre-soiled panties be considered a good idea. But that’s what artist and fashion designer Rio Wrenn hath wrought: a line of lingerie, a couture collection and an upcoming art show at Disjecta, all built around the idea of the stain. Wrenn, a strawberry blond 39-year-old who looks as if she stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, is familiar to Portland gallery-goers from her exhibitions at Gallery 500 and Rake. In those shows and others she has showcased her fascination with oxidation and rust. She regularly scours scrap yards, railroad tracks, empty fields, deserted buildings and estate sales for iron and steel objects that are rusting, or copper coins or tools that are acquiring a patina. She takes old pennies, nuts, bolts, fireplace screens, bicycle wheels, fan covers and pitchforks and lays them atop bolts of silk and velvet, “watering” them every day in her studio until their rusted contours form permanent stains on the fabric. In her fashion line, showcased at her Northeast Portland shop, R.A.W. (529 NE Couch St.), she uses stains as design motifs on T-shirts, negligées, corsets and, yes, women’s undies. In her upcoming fine-art exhibition at Disjecta, Collections, she will install a 70-foot bolt of stained fabric in a wave pattern that crests and troughs through the cavernous gallery space. The show will also feature a grid of wall pieces and a walk-in shrine to all things rusted.

Wherefore rust? Wrenn is a Portland native, and it follows that a town that rains a lot, rusts a lot. Beyond that, her inspirations are harder to discern. She often rhapsodizes about the organicism of plants and the sexiness of bridges and underpasses—as if, somewhere between the natural world and the structures built by people, rust hides and grows and spreads. There is also something noble, she suggests, in rescuing something from a scrap heap and using it to create an objet d’art. Or maybe it just comes down to obsession. “It’s true that I’m obsessed,” she says. “If I’m at an estate sale and I see a rusted grill, I get so excited—it’s like I’m shopping for shoes! I think to myself, ‘I could make that into a corset!’”


SEE IT: Collections: Art by Rio Wrenn. Sept. 11-26. And Pre-Soiled Couture: A Recycled Fashion Event. 8 pm, Saturday, Sept. 18. Both at Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave.

Visual Arts Events

Sept. 2-Oct. 2: Justine Kurland
In This Train Is Bound for Glory, renowned photographer Justine Kurland exhibits photographs she took on a recent trek across the United States with her family. The series focuses on the West and includes imagery of hobos and train-hoppers who seem part of a forgotten world out of Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac. Elizabeth Leach Gallery, 417 NW 9th Ave., 224-0521, elizabethleach.com.

Oct. 6-30: Terence La Noue
Working primarily with rough-hewn, unstretched canvases, La Noue goes for broke with gonzo color combinations and surface effects. There is nothing subtle or immaculate about his harrowing adventures in materiality. Essentially a neo-Expressionist, the artist has a predilection for conveying psychological states ranging from the agitated to the ecstatic in a brutal visual vocabulary that spurns beauty for beauty’s sake while somehow managing to achieve it. Butters Gallery, 520 NW Davis St., 2nd floor, 248-9378, buttersgallery.com.

Oct. 7-30: Rae Mahaffey
Pattern, composition and color are putty in the hands of well-reputed painter and printmaker Rae Mahaffey. She often juxtaposes rectilinear elements against biomorphic ones, woodsy hues beside Miami neon tones and wholly abstract designs against imagery that could exist in an only slightly more fanciful version of reality. The combined result is an invigorating melange that is almost always entertaining for the eye. Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st Ave., 226-2754, laurarusso.com.

Oct. 8-30: Bruce Conkle
With his dryly whimsical sensibility and predilection for ecological themes, Conkle leads viewers into satirical worlds full of rainbows, geodes, snowmen and mushroom clouds. Although he is not represented by a Portland gallery, he is one of the most widely exhibited of Portland artists—and with good reason. His work manages both seriousness, rigor and humor. Worksound, 820 SW Alder St., worksoundpdx.com.

 
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