The light and dark of First Thursday

The blond girls on the streetcar with the shivering Chihuahuas are interested in where we’re going. Fact is, we have no idea. I’ve lost my gallery list and my companion is just along for the ride. As we disembark from the streetcar at the edge of northwest Portland, one of the Chihuahua girls requests, "Take a shot for me, boys." I am not sure if she means a bullet, a whiskey or a syringe of methamphetamine.

The Pearl District is First Thursday’s focal point, its frenetically beating heart, with galleries glowing and doors thrown open for all who might come and marvel. Thing is, to tour the galleries correctly, one must have a plan. Having none, my companion and I stop at the Lowbrow Lounge. One whiskey and a pint of IPA later, we are back on the street, grinning like fools but with no better idea of where to start.

I take a chance by moving rapidly toward the first static throng of hipsters I see. My friend follows quickly. "Plastic cups," he says as we approach. "That’s a good sign. Real class."

We are at the Blue Sky Gallery, examining the photographs of Charles Traub. It only takes two photographs to fall in love completely with Traub’s work. His images are candid glimpses into the lives of people around the world. His subjects are juxtaposed against environments and objects both ridiculous and sublime. Charles Traub seems to catch the moment at which his subjects become most human in their interactions with their surrounding world. A Brazilian woman adopts a new face behind the cover of her book, priests are confronted with a human torso straddling a bicycle, a young man in New York stares down the silky navel of an enormous woman on an underwear billboard. Like all good documentary photographers, Traub gives the viewer the sense of being a shadow, a ghost who happens to be at the right place at just the right time to see something magical happen. The last frame of the roll, according to Traub, must be blessed.

Across the street at the Alysa Duckler gallery we find the high contrast, silver gelatin prints of Robert Miller and none of the laughter that Charles Traub’s work had elicited. Miller’s somber and striking photographs have a meditative sense that seems to drag the entire gallery into a negative energy well. The distance and high contemplation of his work, primarily focused on objects and spaces, have a heaviness about them that seems almost oppressive. At the entrance my companion notices a pill, in its protective covering, sitting on a sculpture’s pedestal. Picking it up discreetly, he reads the word Klonopin and slips it in his pocket. Klonopin is a heavy sedative used to control seizures, a medication undoubtedly not needed when viewing Robert Miller’s work.

We are thirsty again and stop at Yur’s for more whiskey and beer. It is almost 9 p.m. when we have emptied our cups and are now completely without direction. We begin to wander aimlessly, looking for more galleries. Then, on Lovejoy, a sandwich board proclaims "OPEN." We open a gallery door and are enveloped by the incredible world of the 3D Center of Art and Photography. Immediately my friend and I regress 15 years. David Allen, the current president of the Cascade Stereoscopic Club, is only too happy to give us a complete tour. I, for one, love art that requires the use of specific hardware for proper viewing. With a large viewing box that creates an image of incredible depth and texture, I walk along a line of photographs taken by club members. I can’t help but murmur "wow" and "awesome" and "coooool." We are treated to a series of "phantagrams" that seem to rise vertically above a flat table, and a series of computer-generated images that seem to jump from the computer screen. David explains the process to my friend and me with a giddiness that matches our own. We leave, grinning ear to ear. "Did you see the porn?" my friend asks. Sadly, I had not. He explains the wonder of three-dimensional pornography as we walk towards Northwest 21st Avenue.

Once there, we find the Laura Russo gallery empty and locked. A slow, contemplative look through the window gives a nice sense of Michael Brophy’s obsession with large trees. His oil paintings seem to seek out the perfect expression of perspective, trying to convey the largeness of his subject within the confines of his canvas and pallet. From the sidewalk, it is difficult to say if he succeeds.

As the night wears on, it becomes less and less likely that we will see any more art. The galleries seem to be closing earlier than I had expected. Heading east, we find one exception.

If you ever feel the need to be insulted both socially and financially, the newly opened Zen Gallery is the place for you. It isn’t just the terrible $1,500 coffee tables or the wicker furniture. While rubbing a very greasy, patchouli-scented complimentary Body Shop hand lotion between my palms, I am asked by a filthy rich middle-aged woman, who fancies herself a globetrotting consultant, if I sell real estate. I tell her I do not and ask how she got the idea that I did. "It’s the jacket," she says, indicating my red cashmere. "It’s just so ‘bad taste’ chic."

"No," her husband interjects disdainfully. "Real estate agents wear more gold."

I point to my press ID and mention that I am a writer. "Oh," says the woman. "I’ve done that before." I turn away and walk to the tapped mini keg. Draining a few cups, I realize what a horrid place the Zen Gallery is. After we leave, we pass a group of young art walkers. I point them towards the tapped keg at the Zen Gallery, hoping they might get drunk enough to tear the place apart by the end of the night, which has abruptly reached my friend and me.