Matt Demers, “Reply All,” acrylic and latex on gatorboard, 24″ x 24″ Photo courtesy of the artist

Physical form and memory (also a form, if an imprecise one) are the subjects of two shows up in Portland. “Taking Shape” at Greenhut Galleries (through Nov. 25) features three artists’ approaches to creating form. At the artist-run 82Parris, “Vestige” (through Nov. 24) features work that – at least nominally – traffics in nostalgia and recollections that linger after something has passed. A second show at 82Parris, “Rolling Coal” (also through Nov. 24) – well, let’s just say it’s about something completely different.

The artists exhibiting in “Taking Shape” all approach form in different ways – through color rather than line (Matt Demers), through a kind of painted “quilting” that oscillates between two and three dimensions (Keri Kimura), and through manipulating single pieces of metal in space (Thomas Stenquist). I came away from the show with a slightly different take: form as contemporary cacophony, as a scrambled sort of order created with line, and as freestyle movement.

The artist statement for Demers mentions that he has been “an art and antiques collector, sign maker, gravedigger, embroiderer, antiques dealer and graphic artist.” Likewise, his media are varied, as are the associations he alludes to in his titles.

More than most any painter I can think of, Demers captures the cacophony of contemporary life – its overstimulation of media, our own memories and filters on reality, ephemera unearthed from basements and attics, constantly fluctuating emotions, interior decoration, our favorite playlists, and on and on. At the same time, even though they embody life’s infinite bombardments, as abstract works of nonobjective painting, they are also sans specific content.

This dichotomy – of everything at once but nothing exactly particular – creates an interesting frenetic tension, one intensified by colors that seem cheery but border on garish. It all careens close to being too much, emanating an imminent sense of everything at the brink of spinning wildly out of control. It’s an odd feeling because we are torn between chaotic energy in Demers’ jostling of shapes and colors, and an intuition that it’s all deliberate and planned.

Matt Demers, “Dear Aunt Pemdas,” acrylic and latex on gatorboard, 48″ x 32″ Photo courtesy of the artist

His titles hint at content. “Dear Aunt Pemdas,” for example, indicates the presence or memory of a relative, yet the reference is so personal as to be almost irrelevant. Except that, of course, there are two swatches of red with white polka dots, a rare instance of pattern, that hint at fabric (from said aunt’s dress or scarf or hankie?). In “Close Personal Friend,” a brown shape and a blue shape seem somehow in relation. In “Reply All,” a deep indigo blue form seems to be expanding outward from some depth to meet other forms around it.


Or is this just our imagination? We likely won’t figure it out, nor is it interesting in the long run to attempt to. It’s more intriguing just to feel how forms and colors push against each other and, through this process, define the shapes adjacent forms take. Sort of like life. We’re always emotionally and psychically expanding or contracting, fluctuating in our moods and levels of activity or stasis. In solitude we shrink into the background but expand into another dimension of stillness. Everything’s always moving and morphing, like Demers’ paintings.

Kimura’s paintings seem to be two (or more) images spliced and woven together in a kind of strip quilting achieved with paint instead of fabric. Imagine a base image partially obscured by swatches and strips of paint so that background and foreground constantly weave into and out of prominence.

It’s a different kind of tension from what Demers is doing, but it is no less confounding. Their essential dissonance is disguised by Kimura’s palette of soft pastels, which are soothing and easy, as well as fabric-like patterns of floras and stripes. Yet our vision is constantly ricocheting from front to back then back to front again.

Keri Kimura, “Safekeeping of Sky,” acrylic on board, 36″ x 36″ Photo courtesy of the artist

It can be slightly dizzying because Kimura teases us with what appears almost like an image of some “thing,” then fractures it in ways that transmute that image, making it impossible to fully grasp. Line, if hard to distinguish in Demers’ works, is unmistakable here. Line itself, mostly as stripes or arches, becomes a kind of form in itself – bands, ribbons and streamers that confuse the surface and our perception. “Safekeeping of Sky” is all bands and ribbons, as well as a few swatches of said sky, collaged together in a way that can send you reeling.

Thomas Stenquist, “Goddess,” brass and wood, 14″ x 4.5″ x 4″ Photo courtesy of the artist

Stenquist’s small sculptures are exquisite in their elegance and grace. Remarkably, they are formed from single sheets of steel, copper and brass. They range from statuesque to, more often, billowy and fluid. In the statuesque department, we have “Goddess,” which is made by partially scoring a piece of brass, bending the two ends into wavy lines, then folding each back to touch opposite sides of the central panel. The idea is so simple yet conveys so much – equipoise, femininity and a bearing that is unmistakably commanding.

In sculptures such as “Tempest,” “Sphinx” and “Blue Swan,” Stenquist’s hands manipulate his materials into fluid forms that look like they are blowing, twisting and fluttering in a wind. To feel the freedom of movement in them is to understand Stenquist’s masterful deftness of form.


Thomas Stenquist, “Cloaked in Fog,” steel and wood, 13″ x 13″ x 10″ Photo courtesy of the artist

It should also be noted that his attention to finishes enhances those forms. The oxidized steel of “Cloaked in Fog” conveys the sense of fog rolling in, and the patinated corrosions in the copper of “Leviathan” subtly alludes to encrustations of barnacles often found on whales. Finally, Stenquist’s works are so thoroughly considered that even their wood pedestals transcend the usual block, often toying with balance or carved in some interesting way that lends another element of contemplation to our enjoyment of them.


“Vestige” is a somewhat uneven show, as group shows often are. Works in many media relate to the title in ways that are sometimes tenuous and sometimes quite literal. Despite their vast differences in size and medium, two works stand out for the way they view memory in terms of a kind of architecture of the mind as seen from different points of view.

Samara Kupferberg, “Untitled,” pencil on paper Photo by Kat Miller

You could miss the tiny 8-by-10-inch pencil drawing “Untitled,” by Samara Kupferberg, which is tucked into a corner of the first gallery. In it, a more or less ovate shape holds spaces within it. Kupferberg invites us inside them while simultaneously emphasizing that we are outside looking in. Her delicate shading creates layer upon layer of overlap, some shapes appearing as gossamer forms that partly veil our view to the heart of the drawing. Memory works this way. Our recollections are layered one atop another, altered and obscured by our own filters of understanding. Some aspects bleeding into others so that we can’t accurately decipher what is real and what is imagined or idealized about what we remember. It is poignant and beautiful.

“Birdsong, Frosted Louvres, & Dusty Sunlight,” acrylic and oil on panel, by Ben Boothby, and “Track Practice in Grandma’s Pearls,” oil on linen, by Tara Lewis. Photo by Kat Miller

Across it is the extraordinary “Birdsong, Frosted Louvres, & Dusty Sunlight” by Ben Boothby, who basically reconstructs his childhood bedroom from memory, but using “conflicting viewpoints of multiple associations.” It’s impossible to describe the astonishing complexity of this painting. It employs taping, painting, spattering, dripping, veneering and what looks like marbling, all laid down on each other in a way that simulates the various aural and visual qualities of the title. It deserves long and repeated contemplation, offering limitless discoveries of technique and conundrum (mainly in the way we feel in relation to the space and where we stand within it).

Other artists draw on images from childhood photographs (Charlotte Caron, May Thu Kyaw). These are skillfully painted works, with a directness and legibility that are easy to comprehend. Similarly direct is Midori Morrow’s “2260 Portraits of my Grandmother Ruuko,” which replicates a memory of being put at the center of an uncomfortable discussion in history class where she was forced to say whether or not she would have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (she is part Japanese). Scattered around the text describing her 14-year-old self’s experience are the portraits of her grandmother.

In an adjacent gallery is Kiana Thayer’s solo exhibition “Rolling Coal,” which is an alternately amusing, derivative (admittedly in the case of her “Warhol B” screenprint) and odd. It’s a one-note show that looks at car culture, but specifically through sexual allusions that are both subtle and not. “Truck Nutz,” a sculpture of a porcelain scrotum hanging from a steel chain, made me laugh out loud, even as it evokes an intriguing sculptural presence. The clearly priapic etchings of “Tip to Base” are too obvious to even call suggestive. And “69 Tissues” is interesting for how a common material found on many a dashboard can be interestingly deployed as tactile art material.

Jorge S. Arango has written about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at: 

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