Artwork by Storm Tharp Artwork by Storm Tharp

OKAY, what are we up to, Portland? Summering, or falling? Developing, decaying, or merely maintaining?

The former Backspace (115 NW 5th) blasts pink skull flyers for an "art show"... that's really a design conference put on by an ad agency. (Skulls are hot, guys! Acquire rights from Damien Hirst, metal, and Mexico!) The website boasts that an unnamed "scrappy old skool punk" will lead an upcoming Chinatown walking tour. Punk wars, anyone? Because about a block away at Diode Gallery (514 NW Couch), actual old school (cyber) punks preach a kitsch religion: the Church of Robotron. A new Church of Elvis? Hallelujah! They usher me into a sanctum with a candled altar where I kneel and play Robotron. They decide I'm not their "mutant savior," but that's okay; the COR embraces error. Amen! (Scratch the skulls. We're going with fake religion! Acquire rights from the majors; lawyer up for the cults.) Meanwhile, out-punking all, Upper Playground (23 NW 5th) has ripped the doors off some cars and painted 'em. 'Cause paper's for squares.

You know who'd enjoy this "punk" rumble? Chris Haberman, whose urban folk paintings are always sociological summaries, but especially in his series Hoods and Pockets at Right Side Art (625 NW Everett), where he attempts to capture the vibe and people of each local 'hood, from Sellwood to Southwest. TBH, they all look a bit the same—signature Haberman. At Charles A. Hartman (134 NW 8th), Anna Fidler's work has also become even more itself, with washy purples, neon bursts, tree branches, and her usual topography, newly popping with layers of cardstock.

Upfor's (929 NW Flanders) all a'babble over Ralph Pugay's Critter. Fallopian tubes are haunted by ghost-sperm eating junk food from tiny snack bags. Okay. People and dogs in a swimming pool are raptured and transformed into particulate by yellowish rays. Mmm-hmm. Artist statement? "...odd thoughts... like daydreams." Caught it.

Next door at PDX Contemporary (925 NW Flanders), Storm Tharp's Tiger is just as indulgent, but quieter and higher-brow—arch, even. He writes word associations in a notebook, then paints said book and frames it. In "Plum Cosmos," a gouached hand cradles a vulva half-plum. And Tharp delivers the promised tiger: His name is "Eugène," and he looms huge in oils, ready to eatcha... and he's SOLD!

Tharp's tiger might want to slink over to Elizabeth Leach (417 NW 9th), where Ryan Pierce's Sad Gods presents botanical-illustration-esque images and near-trompe l'oeil zoo habitats. With its unsettlingly perfect prickly plants, white stones and blue lake, "Virga" could house a Komodo dragon. Eek! I'm startled as my eyes find severed heads amid the greenery. They're white like statues, not pink or gory; still, they lend sci-fi menace to this Choose Your Own Adventure tableau, like somebody's been here already, and it didn't end well. (New plan, guys. Heads. We can still use the skulls—just slap on some noses and beards. Great! Acquire rights to heads. Collect royalties from all.)