WHEN I FIRST moved to Portland, the studio lofts in industrial Southeast were a lawless country, where hipsters with hotplates lived secretly in low-rent studio splendor. Tenant friends would sneak me in at night, because technically, this was a "work space." They'd have a cot in a corner, a ladder as a bookcase, blankets as curtains, a struggling space heater. They'd shush me. We'd snuggle for warmth.
Well, sunlight (and disinfectant) seem to have come at last to these east bank studios. Last Friday, Portland Storage Company was all-access, letting me and any other lookie-loos wander the halls freely and poke into more than 30 open galleries. What have we here, former squats?
The 7th floor has the most action, and it's roughly half black-and-white abstraction. Painter Jason Vance Dickason, a convert from color, sticks to shattered, slashy angles. Fern Wiley only explains her endless fields of graphite hashmarks (think tally marks) as symbolizing "accumulation, time." (Indeed.) Roy Tomlinson tries considerably more with the drab palette, using varied shapes: dots, grids, streaks, and podlike forms that imply realism and rain-spatter.
Hilary Berry buys my approval with a few caprese skewers and a seeming recent move from naïve primary-color streetscapes to blurry pastel-hued paintings of cell structures and rock formations. If her neighbor Judith Sturdevant isn't kidding with her debris-dangling canvases, then she's trying to explode preconceptions. However, her works beg for either a keener design eye or a cleaning lady.
Mark Gatewood appropriately plays high fidelity jazz to accompany his slick-surfaced, murkily deep color studies that—whether or not they're your taste—show chops with medium and texture. "Harmonic," a work so lacquered and layered it's almost relief sculpture, shimmers like cracked facets of precious stone. Bertha Pearl's rainbow bright big-lady togs are fun to look at and imagine in action, but I would've liked to lay eyes on Adam Arnold's more austere shifts and suits, too. If his door was open, I never found it.
I follow the girl with the coolest Punjabi slippers to the 8th floor and into HiiiTop Gallery and Forecast Studios. Walls and works are infused with graffiti and graphic design. They're selling street-wearable leather pouch necklaces, and a DJ is spinning groovy stoner-hiphop. In one painting, cosmic mustachioed teddy bears appear to share a thought: "The planets are aligning." Down the hall, Cristin Norine and Teresa Christiansen share a much breezier Cape Cod collegiate vibe, playing something Jack-Johnsony and showing vacay-themed Photoshop collages, antique antler kitsch, and transparency-printed portraits. This is the same Norine who once lived in a glass-walled gallery on lower Burnside for a month to raise awareness about social media—so transparency is appropriate.
World traveller and public art participant Joe Sneed seems more imbued with a mission than most, talking excitedly about his 100! Facts Preserved from China as "a study of how these objects move through us." On uniform manila pages, he's mounted machine pieces, keys, and textbook illustrations that codify utilitarian Chinese factory life.
The 2nd floor has both the wildest and the tamest fare: Daniel Gill's rainbow-colored mandalas are, upon closer inspection, comprised of prints pressed by real in-the-flesh T&A. He offers some young ladies wine, but they politely refuse. Meanwhile, Bill Rollins' studio doubles as a sitting room full of old-timers regaling his whimsical floral-and-tile-print encaustics. Just when I think wryly that they ought to offer hard candy, I spy a dish of Dum Dums on the table.
Later, suckers; I'm loping down Morrison, popping into Holocene for a bacon-wrapped date that tastes like a cockroach from heaven, heading to Nemo Design for the Pinewood Classic—a Mercy Corps-benefitting brouhaha that races homemade woodblock cars. Since it's a race let's accelerate: checkered flags, velvet ropes, designer types, rockabilly chic. Novelty car shapes abound, creating some interesting showdowns: In bacon v. steak, bacon takes it ("Bacon always wins," someone yells). In Pussy Wagon v. Covered Wagon, Pussy proves faster (Kill, kill!). In car #666 v. #69, evil prevails over love (quelle surprise). But ultimately (and somewhat suspiciously) a wheeled cheese wedge entered by main event sponsors Meat Cheese Bread pulls ahead, confirming that the cheese stands alone.