This month’s visual art offerings dynamic as always

This First Thursday offers the usual litany of contemporary work at area galleries. Viewers can expect to find themselves shoulder to shoulder with wealthy Portlanders who are interested in buying up the most derivative work available in the country. That’s not to say there isn’t anything good out there.

Outside of the Pearl District fold is a special show here on campus, at the historic Simon Benson House. A retrospective featuring works by emeriti art faculty, “PSU and Portland: Currents in Northwest Art” opens Thursday with an artist’s reception from 5-7 p.m. The show exhibits work of 15 past faculty members, and attempts to impart the connection PSU has with the city through the endeavors of its artists.

The show traces the history of PSU’s visual arts program, from the implementation of the art department in 1955 to its current status as community celebrator. The exhibit will be on display through Nov. 30. Gallery hours are Wednesdays and Fridays, 3-5 p.m.

Through Jan. 12, PICA features a photo- and text-based exhibit focusing on sense of place. “Northwest Narrative: Portland” looks to examine what it is to live in a city known best for its gray skies and clean, often quiet streets. Expect to see a lot of dreary, rain-filled images that may or may not put one’s seasonal depression into perspective. It is recommended that PICA, 219 N.W. 12th #100, be visited on First Thursday, as on all other days the gallery charges $3 for admission.

Mark Woolley Gallery, 120 N.W. Ninth suite 210, features the mosaic works of Portland artist and photojournalist Mary Topogna. Her mosaics utilize found objects such as tile, metal, glass and plastics in their construction.

In this exhibit, Topanga pays homage to her aging parents. Working from photographs found in their Ohio home, the artist reconstructs the images documenting their lives. The end result is mosaic work that finds strength in its graphic capacity: the images are as plain as photographs themselves, yet rich in meaning and impeccably crafted.

Also at the Woolley are works by Seattle artist Ethan Harrington. “Cityscapes of Portland” showcases Harrington’s plein-air style – loose and playful brushstrokes turn familiar Portland sites into places straight from a storybook-like wonderland. There is something oddly rustic about the young painter’s work – it must be the Hopper-esque colors – Harrington, although given the plein-air tag, most definitely paints under an American sky.

Over at Margo Jacobsen Gallery, Richard Notkin will present sculpture and teapots in “An Artist’s Response to Ongoing Threats in the 21st Century.” Notkin’s ingenious little stoneware teapots are constructed to resemble commonplace objects that are given new meaning and life simply by virtue of there inclusion in the work. A Coca-Cola bottle is rendered without its trademark red, and the symbol becomes an object no more important than the crates it rests on or the cinder blocks that serve as the teapot’s handle. The Margo Jacobsen Gallery is located at 1039 N.W. Glisan.

That’s the short list for this month’s art shows.