Swine before pearls: the best and worst of First Thursday

A common complaint among Portland art patrons is the social melee of First Thursday. What is meant to be an opportunity to see new exhibits of Portland’s best and brightest becomes an overcrowded gossip-fest, where people spend more time admiring haircuts than art. Post-First Thursday conversation centers around my friends’ irritation with the suburban imports and overdressed would-bes clogging up the galleries, drinking all the free wine. I couldn’t agree less.

Gossip is an indispensable aspect of contemporary art; whole books are written about the early eighties New York catfights, and there are critics who have built entire careers around dissecting people’s lifestyles more than their art. I, for one, would say we dispense with the art entirely and spend the first Thursday of every month getting dressed up, drunk and deliciously catty. The art is an unnecessary distraction.

But since those killjoys in the Pearl will probably never let that happen, I’m giving you all I can: overheard jewels from the mouths of Portland’s intellectual class, and maybe even a little art.

Overheard at the Blue Sky Gallery, 1231 N.W. Hoyt: “I really like First Thursday better than last Thursday. People here look so much better than over on Alberta Street.””I totally agree. Do they even try?”The Blue Sky is showing works by Steve Fitch and Ken Rosenthal this month. Fitch specializes in pictures of abandoned spaces, mostly Midwestern, using large-format photos and saturated colors to create powerful and lingering images of neglect and loss. Rosenthal creates a dreamy landscape of B&W images of almost-familiar spaces, but borders on melancholy abstraction. His work brings Uta Barth to mind; both seem to be searching for in-between spaces, creating images of things you probably didn’t know you missed. Overheard at the Compound Gallery, 107 N.W. 5 Ave.: “It’s just so Oriental-looking, you know, very tao-ish”

The Compound Gallery specializes in bringing the best national and international post-graffiti street artists, designers and illustrators to Portland. It’s an exciting movement that transcends the boundaries of high and low art, treating illustration, screenprinting and graffiti with the same esteem as traditional painting and sculpture. We are really lucky to have this outlet in Portland. This month’s show is Kozyndan, a couple from San Francisco that has done claustrophobic illustrations for everyone from Tokion Magazine to indie-darlings Postal Service. The show consists of large-scale digital prints on canvas side by side with pencil drawings, tee shirts and postcards with subject matter ranging from robot battles to Japanese salary men in school girl uniforms and pretty much everything in between.

And just around the corner at Motel, N.W. Couch between 5th and 6th: “I made something like this only it didn’t work, and like, it was pretty different.””Like the one Kelley did?””No. Hers are much shittier than that.”

Motel has a great shared show for Valentine’s Day this year featuring the ink and gouache drawings of Adrian Gaut and the mixed media works of Johnne Eschleman. Gaut’s pieces are technically nice, clean and interesting – cartoony, but not too simplistic – while Eschleman’s sculptures combine old library books and speakers with large-scale love letters to Portland — a bit more ambitious. My favorite by far, however, is their collaborative drawing, which combines Gaut’s clean, crisp ink with Eschleman’s sense of busy-ness and play. ����At the Angry Fairy Gallery, 625 N.W. Everett: “If this candy was drugs, I’d be so fucking high right now.””I’d be tripping so hard.””These paintings would look great high!”

This month in the Everett street work/live spaces, Angry Fairy is showing Kim Hutchins’ subversive take on “Alice in Wonderland.” The paintings are large, vibrant cartoons, well-executed, if not a little corny. The “evil Alice in Wonderland” feels a little trite; it threatens our established perspective of a classic, but it’s a theme that’s been explored before.