AH, LAST THURSDAY, a spring-and-summer
clusterfuck celebration of the Alberta District's creativity in all its forms: OG galleries, backyard artists and casual crafters, hammy musicians and stilt-walkin', tall-bikin', hula-hoopin' hoi polloi. At the start of the 2014 season, however, there's new consciousness of a pending crackdown. The mayor's office will enforce a strict 9 pm closure. They've also announced that they plan to impose vendor and/or business fees soon, for the first time in the event's history.
For the most part, the season's first Last Thursday looks like business as usual:
Many Albertans subscribe to the school of Found Object Functionality, AKA stuff made from other stuff. Some choices are obvious: leather belt segments = snap-on bro-celets. But when fire extinguishers become smiling "people," and animal bones become wind chimes, you wonder more about that artistic process....
Skateboard decks, busted in brutal nosegrinds, spring back to life as smaller paintable plaques, or get stacked, glued, and sanded to show their stripey layers. Some artisans make skate-wood jewelry; Copeman's Corner hews hammer handles. A bunch of old shoes have become planters for small succulents, strewn on the sidewalk with crime scene chalk outlines. Stencil painting abounds. Vinyl records stencil painted with a spider monkey dressed as Hamlet brandishing a skull. Stencil portraits of powerful black folks—Tupac, Hendrix, Martin Luther King Jr.—adorn old plywood.
Of course, you've also got hippie frippery: yarn dreads and feather barrettes, children's fairy wear, hand-stretched hemp canvases, rainbow pixie sweaters re-fabbed from other, duller garments. Then you've got yer frontier goods: woodworked teaspoon sets and combs,
Huck Finn Ruff Hubbard and friends' home-whittled slingshots and jars of raspberry jam.
For the lost, Last Thursday offers lots of "You are heres." There are Oregon map-shaped cutting boards, and regional T-shirts make cheesy proclamations like "Living in the Hood Is Good [picture of Mount Hood]" or, on an Oregon map, "Welcome to California." Hilarious. Now let me try: "I raised your rent!" "Don't ask me, I just got here!" "My other borough is Brooklyn."
At Ampersand Gallery, Scott Zieher pairs his new book of poems, What to Want, with minimal, inscrutable collages. Jumbled bubble letters join isolated images in white space. Paintbrush tips. Denture set. Frying pan. The word "This." At Guardino, Paula Blackwell's subtle, overcast landscape encaustics represent trees as dark umber daubs, water as silvery gray sweeps. Esteban Hermida-Espada's seed sculptures poke smoothly into early stages of sprout. Nearby, the brand-new Nebraska Gallery opens with Eli Lewis' stylized character paintings. Recurring motifs are flies, playing cards, and beer.
Amid artists who'll paint butterflies on your face, a balloon-animal sculptor, and a tarot reader, the most refined snake oil is probably a "photograph of your aura"—a Polaroid that shows bursts of color glowing around your head—and a "poem while you wait," typewritten by Noah Brand in his rakishly tilted writer-guy hat. I got: "The sky's slow Morse code | Sun cloud-cloud sun, transmission | Message: Portland spring."
Between the hours of 5 and 8 pm, the dim din of the street's musical acts' amplifies into a dull roar. First, a lone woman strums an acoustic guitar near her earthenware mugs. Then a one-man band kicks up at Six Days, accompanying an iPod beat with live guitar layering. I see my first DJ douche-wagon get put in check by rent-a-cops. A decent bucket drummer flies a sign that says, "My summer job," while a kid violinist gets more specific: "Trying to raise $2,000 for a trip to Grant Park Music Festival." Some fedora-clad a-hole blasts clubstep, two electro-turds rock an amped didge and drum pad, and an embarrassingly amateur b-boy crew throws down—or rather sets down, very gingerly.
As enthusiastic and self-evident as it is, and more sedate than it was at the end of last summer, Last Thursday remains a fragile installation. As new homeowners defend their freshly gentrified lawns, rumors of event closure still swirl. Gallery owner Donna Guardino's on guard: "Say what they will, everyone who's here on this street, every business that's thriving, owes it to Last Thursday. And kids, and amateur artists... they're what it's all about." We'll see in a few months if that's still true.