There is a strain of Northwest artist who finesses the line between biological symbolism and painterly abstraction. The preeminent exemplars, Jaq Chartier and John Dempcy, live not in Portland but in Seattle. While Portland artists gravitate toward conceptual work—dry, heady, and distanced from the body—Seattleites seem more connected to the churning tides of the Pacific, with its arcane monsters of the deep, its steeping cauldron of plankton, seaweeds and slimes. Dempcy's knockout show this month posits variations on the motif of concentric circles, which float in tie-dyed slicks of seepy, weepy primordial ooze. In the rapturously aquatic Inner Fictions, the artist layers boldly colored circles within one another in configurations that are eye-popping in two senses: in their psychedelic-flavored colors and in their imagery, which evokes bugged-out eyeballs. The rows of burnt sienna in Witch's Cap resemble rows of skillet-sautéed chloroplasts, while Defenders, with its snowflake and daisy forms, is an unapologetic riot of lemon yellow. This is a style about the transfiguration of rupture into rapture: cells into cancers and menses and fetuses. Dempcy's take-no-prisoners approach is drop-dead gorgeous, body-horror creepy and gloriously maximalist.
By contrast, Reed College graduate and San Franciscan Laurie Reid is a minimalist in the lineage of the late, great Agnes Martin. Reid easily eclipses the other two artists in the current watercolor show at Pulliam Gallery. While she has long favored a sparsity of droplets and dollops of color, here she eschews it almost completely. These watercolors are about water, not color. Her process relies on the judicious application of water to paper in poetic rivulets, turning tabulae rasae into topographies of sags, strata, checkerboards, woven textures and bricklike patterns that mark themselves upon the papers' surface in paeans to pristine white.
John Dempcy's phantasmagorias and Laurie Reid's glacial contours encapsulate Samuel Taylor Coleridge's cryptic aphorism, "extremes meet." In their visions we see the polarities of chaos and control: the bookends of human experience.
John Dempcy at Augen DeSoto, 716 NW Davis St., 546-5056. Closes July 31. Laurie Reed at Pulliam Gallery, 929 NW Flanders St., 228-6665. Closes July 31.