When a review of an artist’s work cries out to be put within the context of a story, woe to that artist, for the work is certain to get short shrift in the deal. In this case, it is a story of gallery hopping in Portland’s southeast side on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
One takes a chance visiting these sometime shoestring operations, hoping that spaces will be open the day after the First Friday beer parties. If a phone number is made available, it is wise to call ahead. Launch Pad Gallery advises such, and they return missed calls.
It may be unfortunate that this writer has not been to Launch Pad before; yet it is not always a bad thing to be surprised, even a bit overwhelmed when a gallery as a physical space is an experience in itself: Nina Simone’s satin voice is blasting onto the street; a gentleman with a little tight and trim handlebar mustache is preparing to roll a cigarette at the doorstep; a table is set up just inside the double doors in a manner that is reminiscent of a garage sale; and the interior, just as inundated with Simone as the street, has the feel of a boudoir crossed with a warehouse. There are large, unusually shaped couches — more like beds, actually — about the perimeter. Several people are folding a big brown tarp in the middle of the floor, a couple of others are roaming about with coffee in-hand, while still others are sitting on the floor examining what looks to be an old record player from the 50s. Quick greetings are exchanged with one young fellow as I make a beeline for the art on the back wall.
Just as I begin to focus on the art, an attractive young woman approaches me. After an enthusiastic greeting, with an equal amount of enthusiasm she points out some representation of crystal formations at the bottom of one of the artworks, remarks on their awesomeness, and getting a startled response that might have been interpreted as a half-hearted agreement, prances away. Or she might have had delicate little diaphanous wings that propelled her dainty frame across the floor, for this farm boy was left with the impression that he had just been visited by a wood nymph — either that or the opening night party was still going.
Well, now I can’t concentrate on the work any more than I can fully explain the increasing level of awkwardness and discomfort I feel. Context has been shifted. All that I see on the walls thereafter is imbued with adolescent memories driven by a blend of scenes from Ferngully and Fritz the Cat. The blue crystals become phallic, a number of other artworks become nothing more than vaginas, more penises, and women’s buttocks and torsos. I have been smitten, bewitched, and I can think of nothing else than to run for my sheltered, rural, monogamous life.
I know the artist’s work demands more than the psychosexual meanings I have initially ascribed. I grab a card with his name on it and think I might return another day after I have steeled myself a bit for the environment. I hastily mutter a farewell to the young man who initially greeted me and I head out the door.
Ten feet down the sidewalk I hear a voice coming up quick on my left. It is a female voice but I understand not a word. I turn to see the same young woman holding up one of the artist’s cards. I flash her the one I already have, she makes some sound that might be described as disappointed and turns back. The people in the gallery are all at the door watching, chuckling.