Sqlit-Liqs from Kiasmus
In a gallery free of explanatory texts, price tags and an official name, we find four paintings by local artist Jonah Porter. We see vellum, mesh fabric and fiberglass in support of black ink, latex and spray paint. Everything is on the wall. Everything is black, dark blue, grey or white. Everything is bleak and magical, lush and sparse.
Porter's materials, like mesh and acetate, create a pleasant tension between the porous and the impermeable. We partially see through the layers of the work and around its edges, creating the physical sensation of beholding an object while allowing focus on the spaces between and behind. Porter's material abstraction is further tempered by his restrained use of text and letter form. The newsprint in "untitled" is untethered to linguistic meaning because a veil of grey mesh obscures the newspaper's words beyond legibility.
Yet we do find some discernable letters in the strongest work in the show "Sqlit-Liqs" which drapes 3D printed letterform over a solidly black and white abstraction surrounded by a loose line of black spray paint. The artist's choice to directly feature two semi-words deplete of concise implication yet visually referencing an alphabetic reversal is explained through the title the exhibition "Kiasmus," a variation on the literary term chiasmus which indicates letters, words or phrases repeated in reverse order.
Thusly, the work creates a sense of delicate fence-sitting and bifurcation. Letters are reversed and so are colors. Black and white constitutes a palette of pure inversion. Materials are inverted as well. Mesh flip-flops between there and gone. Vellum is both opaque and transparent. Letterform is an exercise in positive and negative space. Porter's invented words can be read and yet they can't be understood. This tension between the presence and absence of meaning defines the exhibition. It makes total sense that we experience a minimalist draining of form simultaneous to a filling-in of convoluted connotation.
July 22 (detail)
However firm his local status (Porter was raised in Portland and is currently a fourth-year at PNCA) the work addresses global trends and upon graduation I feel certain he'll move on and try his hand in some metropolis. He spent last summer in New York working construction for an art gallery. His art certainly has the grit of 80's New York, reminiscent of Christopher Wool's hardcore abstraction and wordplay. Then I think of Brice Marden's mostly monochromes, full of restrained indulgence and indulgent restraint. And yes, that was chiasmus and yes, Porter does get me thinking. Notorious art-world dualities quickly come to mind but I can't find this artist's tipping point. Porter somehow splits the stylistic difference between Rauschenberg and Johns, between Richter and Polke. In older words, "Kiasmus" is both Dionysian and Apollonian.
Kiasmus area view (In the historic career launching space that Nil, Field and Tractor once occupied in the Everett Station Lofts)
Porter's work also makes me think of visual cues outside of fine art. I think of optical illusions, black and white yet so unclear, giving us one image that turns into two with implications about perception and cognition that creep toward the infinite. He makes me think of fashion. Metallic greys and a tactile black recollect a weathered leather jacket and tarnished zipper. His use of mesh feels soft-goth, like a quiet scream in a "Twilight" film. The paintings certainly reflect the darkness of the contemporary urban landscape reminding me of a Kanye video. Musically speaking, Porter is more in tune with house music, you know, the incessant beating of a heart long drained of blood. So again I am bolstered knowing that art will never die but fear the dreaded rise of "zombie formalism", a term of derision passed around by Jerry Saltz. If the undying arts are all we have left, would that really be such a bad thing? And for now, let's just call it painting.
Jonah Porter @ 328 NW Broadway
Open Friday & Saturday 12:00-4:00
Exhibition Closes on March 25th