Sometimes an artist needs to step back before moving forward. This is the mode Brenden Clenaghen is in with his new show We Became. For many years, Clenaghen has been one of the Northwest's most inventive visual thinkers, creating highly textural semi-abstract reveries fashioned out of joint compound (a kind of liquid plastic) and acrylic paint. With their design-inspired composition, chromatic simplicity and gorgeous, matte surfaces, these vistas splashed forth with stylized fountain forms, chandeliers, clouds, thought bubbles and Pac-Man ghosts. They were irreplicable, unmistakable and unforgettable. They were also, to hear Clenaghen talk about them, increasingly unfulfilling to churn out year after year. And so he recently stuck a fork in the style and declared it done.
This is lamentable but understandable, and leads us to the current show, a series of drawings on Japanese paper. The works depict curvy blobs made up of myriad cubes of color, in turn composed of colored lines. In pieces like Curing Astral Woe and Visions, the blobs seem to communicate with leafless trees via rectilinear projections calling out, megaphonelike, in some sort of low-frequency nature language. Exactly what the blobs are, and what they're dishing about with the trees, is left to our imagination. Clenaghen is one of a handful of Northwest nature mystics—Bruce Conkle and Brian Borrello are two others—with a transcendentalist bent and an unabashedly pagan reverence for forest, rock, earth and stream. He seems to be moving further into that territory in this foray.
But while the drawings are thought-provoking, intricate and mysterious, they feel transitional: like the step before the next step in the artist's evolution. Certainly, there are plenty of artists from Bergamot Station to Williamsburg drawing intricate works on paper that look vaguely like this. But there are precious few with Clenaghen's proven ability to engage the eye and mind with innovative materials used to develop a unique inner vision. Here's hoping the artist's next show takes the raw material presented in We Became and shifts it into higher gear.
Brenden Clenaghen at Pulliam Deffenbaugh, 929 NW Flanders St., 228-6665. Closes Nov. 1.