Art walk Northwest

A tour of First Thursday galleries and a look at new works

Dreary weather didn’t put a damper on last week’s First Thursday gallery walk in downtown Portland. Patrons crowded their way across the Pearl District and Old Town, filling out the breadth of galleries dotting the city’s heart.

A tour of First Thursday galleries and a look at new works

Dreary weather didn’t put a damper on last week’s First Thursday gallery walk in downtown Portland. Patrons crowded their way across the Pearl District and Old Town, filling out the breadth of galleries dotting the city’s heart.

Photo by: Corinna Scott /VANGUARD STAFf

Shapes and sizes: Two First Thursday attendees stand back and appreciate the view at Blackfish Gallery in Portland’s Pearl District.

The Vanguard made its own trip across town in an effort to give the student body a glimpse at what’s currently on display.

Unfamiliar with First Thursday? The art event is a collaborative effort by the art galleries around downtown to give Portlanders a chance to spend a night looking at a variety of artwork, both regional and international.

Galleries in the area keep their doors open late, typically offering food or refreshments to visiting patrons. Many of these galleries arrange their new displays specifically around this night, hosting busy opening receptions often visited by the artists themselves as well as other longstanding members of the art community.

There are too many exhibitions on any given First Thursday to possibly touch on them all, but we stopped by several galleries to get a peek at the variety of work offered in the city this month.

Photo by: Corinna Scott /VANGUARD STAFf

It’s a schooner: A bespectacled man smartly removes his glasses in order to decipher a particularly perplexing Magic Eye piece at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery.

Our tour began with the Blackfish Gallery in the Pearl. This artist- and member-operated gallery features a large central room coupled with a second, smaller gallery in the back of the building. The main exhibition features a selection of mostly painted works by a pair of area artists, Michael Knutson and Carol Benson.

Knutson’s work centered on various imaginings of a spiral pattern repeated in multiple layers, the color palettes interacting to create a unified web of tone and form across the canvas.

Several iterations of this theme in various colors filled the main gallery in a series titled “Symmetrical Four-Layered Ovoid Lattices.” The works create a dialogue of visual contrast with Benson’s art, which feature large, angular forms cast in a variety of bright colors.

“It’s like I’m painting for weeks on one painting, when a whole new world of color jumps out,” Knutson said.

In the back of the gallery, artist Mandy Stigant displayed a collection of ceramic works. She mounted on one wall a spiraling circle of eight ceramic shards, titled Turbine. On the adjacent wall, she set a series of jigsaw pieces in a line extending across the wall at eye level. Several ceramic baskets stood on pedestals.

“I had a whole series,” Stigant said. “They started as jigsaw puzzle pieces, but I decided to take them out of context.”

Stigant reflected on the meaning of her work and of artwork in general.

“The meaning examines the joy of living in a puzzle,” Stigant said. “Making a leap from how things work to what they mean is where we get stuck sometimes. That we get stuck, I think, is kind of fabulous.”

Photo by: Corinna Scott /VANGUARD STAFf

Rapunzel, Rapunzel: M.K. Gath’s braided, hanging installation provides the foreground for First Thursday patrons at the
Elizabeth Leach Gallery.

Just across the street from Blackfish, the Elizabeth Leach Gallery is among the most successful galleries in Portland. Its First Thursday exhibitions included a multimedia exhibition by Portland State master of fine art graduate Mark R. Smith, featuring works incorporating fabric, wood and photographic imagery.

M.K. Guth presented in the second gallery, showing a giant hanging rope of braided hair evoking the Rapunzel fairytale. Hidden in the braids were small messages written by visitors to a previous performance work. A collection of framed photographs surrounded the installation, each showing the artist wearing the braids in a different setting in the Las Vegas desert.

Roger Mangrum, a Pearl District resident and published poet, shared his reaction to Guth’s work.

“It’s definitely the largest braid I’ve seen in my entire life, and I wonder what it’s made of. I kind of want to touch it. Really, it makes me want to swing on it,” Mangrum said, laughing.

“There’s very creative visualization here,” Mangrum added. “Going from the braid to the pictures, it’s a very complex and intricate display overall.”

Further east along Everett Street, an entire block of art spaces dominates the storefronts between Sixth Avenue and Broadway.

The Everett Station Lofts feature a variety of often-changing galleries, many run by fledgling artists. In addition to showing fine arts projects, many galleries also offer art merchandise for sale.

At Fleeting States, a gallery recently opened in Everett Station, owner Sienna Morris explained her efforts to open the space last month with her husband, Tabulanis Morris.

“We moved in and had four days to get a show up,” Sienna Morris said. “It was wonderful. It all went by in a blur.”

This month they brought in print artist Marcus Adams, who showed an exhibition featuring a collection of artistic prints centered on a screen printer. Adams, who also displayed shirts and other prints designed from photographic sources, explained his recent excursion into making photographic art prints.

“When I started printing from my new camera, I thought, ‘Hey, these look pretty good!’” Adams said. “So I’ve stepped up my game to bring my prints into something I could possibly sell.”

Adam’s move into showing in a gallery setting is also recent and is just one example of the gallery’s interest in helping starting artists get a foot in the door.

“Our gallery’s vision is to help out new and startup artists by giving them a space to show,” Sienna Morris said. “It can be hard starting up as an artist. Most galleries will only show artists that have already shown in a gallery setting.”

Above is only a small sampling of the First Thursday experience: The monthly gallery walk offers a great variety of work, from the startups and the emerging artists to the most prominent and renowned creators in contemporary art.

First Thursday provides a great opportunity to view art as part of a community and to open a dialogue about the work displayed.

“I feel really lucky,” Adams said. “The artist community is really awesome and supportive here.”