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March 14th, 2007 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

Mel Katz At Laura Russo

Hoo-ah! Mel Pacino-or is it Al Katz?-pushes the envelope.

     
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The most interesting bit of trivia about sculptor Mel Katz is not that he was once married to former Portland Mayor Vera Katz, but that his accent is a dead ringer for that of Al Pacino. Katz was born in Brooklyn, Pacino in the Bronx, but the two are one "Hoo-ah!" away from verbal doppelgängerdom. Katz's spatial accents and visual language, however, are what turn his 12th outing at Laura Russo into a blockbuster.

The artist's works have always been fresh, jaunty and iconic, resembling Matisse's gouache cutouts with elemental forms and happy colors. Katz has long claimed Arshile Gorky as his main influence, but in pieces such as Triad he seems to be channeling Wassily Kandinsky via Theo van Doesburg. On its left side, the 7 1/2-foot-tall sculpture is what Katz likes to call "biomorphic"—suggestive of curvy hips and breasts and a pregnant belly—but it's also jauntily geometric on its right side, with four blue squares ascending and black rectangular jots jutting akimbo. One cannot help but think of these accents as rhythm: syncopated, staccato, quintuple-time herkyjerky worthy of Dave Brubeck.

Other highlights include the vaguely jesterlike Daddy Long Legs; December, which looks like a cactus in bloom, and Hieroglyph, with its bracketed forms evoking Hebrew or Sanskrit characters. Now in his mid-70s, Katz is a bona fide Portland institution. With shows like this, he reassures us he is something more: a master who is still pushing the envelope. 805 NW 21st Ave., 226-2754. Closes March 31.

By Katzian standards, Brooklyn photographer Jason Fulford, 33, is a whippersnapper. But the artist makes a strong showing at Quality Pictures with offbeat tone poems that elucidate the poetry in everyday moments. His Las Vegas seems at first no more than a detail of a tacky curtain in a cheap motel, yet through Fulford's lens it becomes an etude on light play and sumptuous folds of fabric. Dorito, a sadly whimsical close-up of the eponymous tortilla chip being devoured by ants, strikes us as a memento mori, the chip a stand-in for human flesh, the ants for worms and maggots. Bon appétit. 916 NW Hoyt St., 227-5060. Closes April 14. RICHARD SPEER.

 
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