In southern Herzegovina, there's a village called Medjugorje where religious pilgrims flock. Since 1981, people have claimed to see the Virgin Mary there, on top of Mount Podbrdo ("Apparition Hill"). Mary is said to appear in late evening, manifesting as brilliantly hued pulses of light encircling the setting sun.
Former Catholic Hayley Barker was intrigued by these stories, so she traveled to Medjugorje last September. Although she wasn't expecting to have any mystical experiences, she says she had them on three separate occasions. "The sun pulsed for seven or eight minutes," she tells WW. "It filled my vision completely with color and was utterly bizarre and beautiful. My forehead felt like it was burning." As the experiences unfurled, she sketched what she was seeing. Back in Portland, those sketches became the jumping-off point for the paintings in the current show, her strongest to date.
Small in scale but powerful in visual impact, the paintings are layered with oil paint and spray paint on wooden panels. They capture the pulsing, multicolored light Barker says enveloped her on Apparition Hill. In It is not our kind of beauty, she deploys short, staccato brushstrokes in a palette of brilliant yellows, reds and blues, while in She is gone. Look! The light!, she juxtaposes vivid teal against a panoply of greens. Very hard to return to this world depicts the sun eclipsed in black and gold, luscious gestures piling up underneath like pick-up sticks.
Rounding out the exhibition, a suite of pastel drawings lacks the chromatic panache of the paintings but shows off Barker's gift for conjuring invigorating rhythms through line. Finally, she has lightly painted on, and framed, a selection of pamphlets and trinkets from the village. These tacky objects are incongruous with the elegant drawings and paintings, but somehow Barker turns the incongruity to her advantage. Improbably, the cheap mementos wind up effectively counterbalancing the other pieces' reverential mood.
Together, the artworks turn the gallery into a shrinelike re-creation of the pilgrimage site. The paintings are de facto reliquaries, encasing the memory of Barker's mystical experience. Looking at them, we get a kind of woo-woo contact high, as if we've shared in the essence of an ecstatic vision.
SEE IT: Apparition Hill is at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, 134 NW 8th Ave., 287-3886. Through May 31.