Seems lately that the best artists showing in Portland are from Oakland, Calif. Omar Chacon, whose vibrant, incendiary paintings this June at Motel practically set the Old Town gallery on fire, is a former Bay Area boy now living in New York, and the gallery's featured artist this month, installation-meister Chris Duncan, also hails from Oakland. Duncan and Chacon signal a gradual shift in Motel's aesthetic as gallery director Jennifer Armbrust grows more comfortable with work that fully engages the senses and becomes less reliant on the amateur-chic Gen-Y scrawls that used to fill the space without relent. Duncan spent three days installing Dark Times, a linear explosion of black, navy, pink and green threads emanating from a central vanishing point. The piece shares formal commonalities with Chandra Bocci's Gummi Bear Big Bang #2, currently up at the Biennial, but holds its own—and owns the space. 19 NW 5th Ave., Suite C, 222-6699. Closes Sept. 30.
Oaklander Scott Reilly lights up Portland Art Center, literally, with his backlit panels, the highlight of the encaustic group show upstairs. In Sequence Variation, the artist arranges nine encaustic squares in a jaunty composition on the wall, each square on backlit Plexiglas; the organic, waxy surfaces glowing preternaturally in orange, lime green and electric blue. I wish I could eat it. 32 NW 5th Ave., 236-3322. Closes Oct. 1.
Skyler McCaughey isn't an Oaklander, but the Portland artist's show at Rake features light boxes equally organic in visual feel to Reilly's, although darker and more sinister. They're part of a well-conceived, well-executed series dealing with the idea of work and exhaustion, as seen through the conceit of worker bees and ants. Several of the pieces juxtapose imagery of the insects with minimalist surfaces of polished steel and brass. Perhaps the show's most intriguing work is Self-Determination, an immaculately etched "book" with a metal cover and glass pages expounding on the worker-bee theme. McCaughey knows how to flesh out a conceptual kernel, and her finesse in disparate media recalls golden ages when art and artisanship stood closer together. 325 NW 6th Ave., 750-0754. Closes Sept. 30.