There is a delicious solipsism in art whose only purpose is to boggle the eye, and nowhere is this self-pleasuring more flagrant than in op art. The movement came of age in the 1960s and remains associated with that era's Carnaby Street patterns and psychedelic imagery. Its defining moment was the 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art. One of the artists who exhibited at that landmark show was Seattle-based painter Francis Celentano, whose new body of work, The Gemini Series, is showing at Laura Russo Gallery.
Now in his mid-80s, Celentano is going strong, with a gorgeous suite of paintings on geometric canvases. This work is so confident, so virtuosic, so defiantly superficial, it shows that Op is more relevant than ever in this time of bold colors and visual illusionism in video games, advertising and design.
On the gallery's south wall, a trio of Celentano's diamond-shaped canvases holds court: Gemini 17, 18 and 19. Wisely, the gallery's installers have given these pieces plenty of breathing room, and they resplend in hues of blue, lilac and black, their lines suggesting sheets of undulating mesh wire. Each piece has the same pattern, rendered with a machinelike perfectionism that is all the more impressive given the paintings' scale, each of them a whopping 5½ feet wide.
Another stunner is Gemini 10, an etude on kelly green, lilac and tomato red. Any way you look at it, it's a stunner. With its bold colors and intricately repeating shapes, it bears more than a passing resemblance to traditional Navajo fabrics.
Celentano's paint application is extremely flat. If he were to build up layers of surface a la bas-relief, the result might heighten visual interest even more, but this is speculative quibbling. This is one of the most satisfying painting shows to hang in Portland in years. With exuberance and sophistication, it demonstrates the enduring value of fastidiously executed eye candy.
SEE IT: Francis Celentano: The Gemini Series at Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st Ave., 226-2754. Ends Oct. 27.