Michael Endo's haunting show at False Front this month, Pain Scale, is compelling for how uncomfortably it stretched the meticulous painter's working methods. Endo, 32, normally lavishes time on his paintings, which generally never include human figures and are almost always in a subtle grayscale palette. This time, he forced himself to paint seven canvases—incorporating figures—in only three days, working not in the familiarity of his studio, but in the middle of the gallery itself, with a palette of bright, saturated colors. WW asked Endo why he made things so hard on himself.
WW: Pain Scale is based on the hospital pain-management scale, right?
Michael Endo: Yes. About eight years ago, I had my appendix removed. I had never felt pain like that before. There's this flash moment when that doctor asks you, "On a scale from 1 to 10, how much pain are you in?" It was difficult to assign it a number. I had to find a union between my memory of pain in the past and my perception of what was happening to me physically in the moment. It seemed arbitrary, in a way similar to choosing which colors you use in a painting. It fit in with my ideas about my work, because I'm always interested in the difference between perceived reality and the world that exists—that weird, liminal space between the psychological and the physical.
Was it frustrating to make all seven paintings in such a short amount of time?
To me, it was liberating. The last two years, I've been working with such strict parameters, so in this series, bringing color back into it, I didn't have to think too much about it. If I had been sitting there meditating on which colors to use, I would have tortured myself, overthinking it. So it was great to just get it out there.
The big, 4-by-7-foot piece you did is really eerie. Who are those people, and why are we just seeing their outlines?
I wanted to create a kind of apocalyptic landscape, where the figures are seeking shelter, but in the act of seeking shelter, their anxieties and feelings, which I assign colors, invade the space. They're so wrapped up in their inner worlds, they can't even see that the shelter is filling up with this black oil, which is erasing everything. Some of the figures are more realized, and others remain silhouettes. I wanted them to be in this flux of being there and not being there. Some of them are hanging onto some semblance of reality, and others are devolving into pure anxiety and fear.
GO: Pain Scale at False Front, 4518 NE 32nd Ave., 781-4609. Closes July 24. Endo's installation Et in Arcadia Ego shows Aug. 1-26 in the Portland Building, 1221 SW 4th Ave.