Since the advent of photography, when French painter Delaroche reportedly declared, “From today, painting is dead,” thinkers have been busy burying and exhuming the enduring art form. Curator Jeff Jahn endeavors to keep painting alive in his well-conceived and thought-provoking group show, Collider. He deploys a sextet of Northwest artists in the exhibition, whose title refers to the particle accelerator. Like the scientists who run such accelerators, contemporary painters want to see what happens when they smash their own forces together: suspended pigment, new media, old traditions and the nearly unfathomable complexity of 21st-century life. In this sparsely hung show, Jahn allows the artists plenty of room as they nudge viewers to question whether today’s painters are respectfully referencing, or derivatively ripping off, the painters of the past.
Jesse Hayward’s SHIFTY escapes the confines of the formalist rectangle by jutting out beyond the picture plane and onto the wall. It’s a whimsical conceit, but Roy Lichtenstein pulled it off with considerably more finesse in his Perfect/Imperfect series of the late 1970s and ’80s. Likewise, Calvin Ross Carl’s clever Watching Over or Just Watching challenges ideas about surface by draping an unstretched canvas over a stretched one—a tactic that renowned painter Sam Gilliam has been deploying since the 1960s. Amy Bernstein’s Sun Flares references Abstract Expressionism with fuchsia and orange brush strokes sometimes so thick they look like banana slugs. Meanwhile, Nathanael Thayer Moss updates Op Art in the dizzying Suspended Threshold, while Victor Maldonado recalls the history of protest art in his politically informed Strike Zones. But the piece that goes furthest in establishing a healthy pulse for contemporary painting is Eva Speer’s diptych Pages From the Book of Lasts I and II. Speer overlays sumptuous gold and silver leaf with marbled paint and pixel-like circles, suggesting an image that is degrading into static. The works evoke the fade-out of the analog era, as cinema and television yield to Internet platforms and traditional notions of community give way to social networking. Could it be that the digital age might actually succeed in killing off painting itself? It’s a high achievement for this artist to float that idea, only to immediately disprove it by ravishing the viewer’s eye within an inch of our collective lives.
SEE IT: Littman Gallery, Portland State University, Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 250, 1825 SW Broadway. Closes Sept. 26.