TJ Norris is one of those people you don't appreciate until they go away. The erstwhile director of Soundvision gallery (Everett Station Lofts, 2002-2003), Norris was easy to take for granted. During that era, the Lofts brimmed with the diverse talents of Gavin Shettler and Michael Oman-Reagan, and Norris' own aesthetic—arid, insular, disconnected—tended to be overshadowed by Shettler's penchant for splashy abstraction and Reagan's for radical reductivism. When Norris closed the gallery and began freelance curating nationally and internationally, Everett Station entered a period of relative languor from which it has only recently recovered, and the Portland arts community began to realize what an asset Norris had been. Now, like a spectral Obi-Wan Kenobi, Norris has returned stronger, more powerful than before, with his exemplary group show, gray_area, at Guestroom.
Highlights of the show include David Eckard's Postscript, an ingenius contraption that uses smoke from a paraffin lamp to create enigmatic abstractions on panel. Abi Spring's marbleized layers of paint appear monolithic from a distance but betray rich striations up close. It's nice to see fresh work from Laura Fritz, who has forsaken her inscrutable creepy-crawlies for crystalline planes that evoke Arctic ice fields. Scott Wayne Indiana deconstructs a coffee-table book about Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry collection and also contributes one of his virtuosic paintings, which increasingly finesse the line between controlled process and gestural abandon. After a detour into cityscapes in his last outing at now-defunct Gallery 500, Troy Briggs returns to his fascination with android figures, with newfound sophistication. Washington artist Daniel Barron composites photographs to create surrealist tableaux, as in his stunning, disturbing NEST, with its dribbling fluids and eyelash/conjunctiva imagery.
Norris' own architectural photographs, also on display, are at their strongest when they're most abstract. The works are matted and framed in multiple, a more bourgeois presentation than his arresting circular statements last fall at Chambers. One of the best group shows in recent memory, gray_area demonstrates that as Norris' curatorial confidence has grown, he has evolved his aesthetic beyond the arid and into realms of the austere. After this outing, his talents are no longer likely to be taken for granted.
Guestroom, 128 NE Russell St., 284-8378. Closes July 28.