Alphabet Dress 

Art Review

Alphabet Dress
Monthly Mobile Gallery, 288-9319
536 NE Cook, Saturday, March 24, 7:00 pm

Today we're going to talk about Alphabet Dress. But first, let's do a little empathy-building exercise. Close your eyes. Wait, open them back up.

Imagine you're in an unheard-of rock band. You've got talent up to the collar of your Levi's jacket, and you're finally ready to play before the public. Unfortunately, in your hypothetical city, competition for gigs is fierce. Instead of the nightly whirl of shows you take for granted, each venue hosts just one event per month, and hundreds of bands vie for these few slots. To cover their monthly costs, clubs charge top-dollar for tickets, so audiences are limited to wealthy music patrons, usually with conservative tastes.

Despite these unfavorable odds, your band plods on, determined to reach its public. Summer passes, and another summer. Finally, as the leaves fall shyly from the tree outside your window, a booking agent calls. The date is set. You play. You get a dusting of compliments, a ripple of pats on the back. The club takes half of the meager revenue from tickets and CD sales and promises you another show in 18 months.

Okay, break your reverie. Who are you? No, not Sharon Kitzhaber--were you even listening? You're a visual artist. Though it's hard to blame anyone in particular, life is rough for visual artists seeking a market for their work in Portland. Things may be slowly changing, however, as some young artists take cues from indie rockers and go the DIY route. Alphabet Dress is the newest joiner, following in the wake of Red 76, The Donut Shop, and the charm bracelet. Instead of waiting around for galleries to take notice, these groups are launching their own exhibits in basements, lofts, and underage clubs. Like underground rock shows, the shows are brief--one night to two weeks--and they're publicized with hand bills and word of mouth. To attract visitors, they often feature cheap booze and live bands.

Boyfriend-girlfriend team Zefrey Throwel and Jessica Sullivan came up the idea for Alphabet Dress about a month and a half ago, walking around First Thursday and, according to Throwel, "seeing how expensive and crappy the art was." Throwel, tired of letting his paintings wither on café walls, agreed with Sullivan that he might as well hang them in Sullivan's house, book a couple of rock bands, and invite the masses to "get drunk, listen to rock music, and maybe buy some art."

Their plan is to curate a "monthly mobile gallery" that will feature one or two artists at a time. Throwel goes first. His large, narrow abstract-representational oil paintings are not necessarily any less crappy than what you see in second-tier art marts around town--but he promises they'll be cheap. The Natrons and The Intima will rock in the basement.

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