Launch Pad Gallery, which opened in December 2005 and closes with its current show, has always staked out unique terrain within Portland's visual-arts ecosphere. Its physical location is in Southeast Portland, but its soul is on the powdery playa of Black Rock City, site of the annual Burning Man festival in northern Nevada.
It's fitting for Launch Pad to say adieu with Metal Mythos, an exhibition in which Richard Cawley and the artist known as Gustav Sculptor have transformed scrap metal into Burning Man-ready phantasmagoria. Several sets of Sculptor's interactive, human-sized dragonfly wings share the gallery walls with Cawley's Wings of Desire, a stylized heart welded from car parts, hooks, tubes, a knife and a buzz saw, and Jackalope, which looks more like a techno-dancing Star Wars battle droid.
Elsewhere, the performance-art duo Hellfire Weenie Roast used a blowtorch-appointed sculpture to cook hot dogs for opening-night crowds, while Ca-leb Lambides offered an altar with a poem summing up the gallery's mission: "Team Love at Launch Pad/ worked amazing/ humble undertaking/ we are all the gallery/ cusp of something."
The humility alluded to in that poem is apt. Earnestness and inclusivity were always central to Launch Pad's ethos, which was more about community-building than commerce or credentials. Founder Ben Pink says he opened the gallery because of "a disconnect I noticed in Portland.... All these artists who had incredible visions didn't have a venue to show their work." Pink pointedly made several of his shows open-call. He featured DJs or live musicians at openings and placed equal emphasis on social cross-pollination and aesthetic rigor. Jeremy Okai Davis' invigoratingly composed paintings, Rochelle Koivunen's drawings of environmental apocalypse and renaissance, and Jascha Owens' thought-provoking, if jaw-droppingly ugly, collages were all pleasures.
The diverse cross section of artists gave Launch Pad a compelling egalitarianism. It will be missed.
SEE IT: Metal Mythos is at Launch Pad Gallery, 534 SE Oak St., 427-8704. Through Sept. 1.