Rainy autumn skies have arrived in Portland, but inside the Laura Russo Gallery, spring is still in full bloom. In Tom Cramer's Continuum and Sherrie Wolf's Stills, flowers take center stage. Cramer abstracts the time-honored motif of the floral still life to practically psychedelic levels of intensity, while Wolf renders her subtly suggestive bouquets with photorealistic crispness. Both shows are so sexy, they could make a botanist blush.
In a wide-ranging array of media—gilded wood-relief paintings, wood burnings and pen-and-ink drawings—Cramer pounds the idea of flora as sexual synesthesia. In the not-so-demurely titled Aromatic Garden, stylized flowers with spokelike petals spill across a mahogany panel, enmeshed in vines and curlicued fiddlehead ferns. He flecks the panel with purple and teal paint and gleaming slivers of gold leaf. In the hyperkinetic drawing Abundance, a goddesslike figure—her forehead flower-wreathed, breasts bared on either side of a toga—hoists a horn of plenty, which floweth over with blooms, apples, grapes and leaves. The artist's obsessive lines and curves are pregnant with the symbolism of fecundity.
For her part, Wolf has destabilized the neoclassical balance of her well-known floral tableaux, upending the axis of perspective in works such as Still Life With American Landscape and Still Life With White Satin. As we look precipitously down, not across, into these tilted, off-kilter compositions, we practically feel the earth move under our feet. In the summery beach idyll Blue Mirror, a flower vase sits conspicuously empty among seashells and rumpled, satiny fabric. Whatever flower the vase once contained has been plucked away by someone offstage, leaving the vessel's mouth agape, hungering for a fresh stem. With art like this, who needs pornography?
The voluptuary quality of Wolf's and Cramer's paintings is tempered by their mutual seriousness of purpose. As divergent as their styles are, both are perfectionists who labor hours over small passages. In Wolf's fine-bristled brushwork and Cramer's intricate carving and drawing, a sense of illusionism prevails; Wolf makes us feel we're looking at flowers realistic enough to smell, while Cramer hands us a tab of LSD and leaves us alone in an English garden.
SEE IT: Tom Cramer's and Sherrie Wolf's shows are at Laura Russo Gallery, 805 NW 21st Ave., 226-2754, through Nov. 2. The artists will speak at the gallery at 11 am Saturday, Oct. 19. Free.