PICA, 219 NW 12th #100, through January 24
I n these dread latter days of the Homeland Security Act, mounting US casualties in a war that few support, a barrage of lies and half-truths from an administration that the majority voted against, and the looming notion that we may be saddled with a president who defies the U.N. and popular opinions for four more years, it was only a matter of time before contemporary painting awoke from it's kitschy lollipop slumber. Now that the neo-hyper-formalist Beau Monde tsunami of Pattern and Decoration painting and plasticky finish-fetish wankdom has been done to death, another painting spirit looms on the horizon, breathing life into the corpse of surrealism and bringing us scenes of gloom and Technicolor doom.
Unforeseen: Four Painted Predictions is the final exhibition at PICA as we know it. After this show, the institution relinquishes its lease on the gallery and says goodbye to curator Stuart Horodner. The four artists in the exhibition range in age from 27 to 66 years, yet their painting sensibilities teeter on the apocalyptic and fantastic. Capsized submarines, suspended corpses of winged beasts, fantasies of being the last human on earth, dead zebras, and Matta-inspired nuclear abstractions are all par for the course in Unforeseen.
The show-stealer comes from Portland veteran Henk Pander, whose Song of the Wild depicts the ruins of a grotesque diorama that has rotted away but remains gorgeously spotlighted against a twilight coastline. In the diorama, human skeletons ride the carcasses of winged hybrid beasts that are suspended in midair by thick brown ropes. Symbolic still-life metaphors such as a busted clock, and a skull litter the area.
The narrative tradition is further rekindled by Hilary Harkness, whose nautical canvases are as densely populated as a Where's Waldo panel, although in Harkness' intricate cross sections of sinking ships, scantily clad women obliviously engage in masturbation, tea parties, synchronized swimming, and catfights.
Steve DiBenedetto's abstract nightmares are thick build-ups of paint that suggest plastic villages and landscapes eradicated with the blue flame of a passing blowtorch. Beneath their intense, woozy surfaces, architectural compositions arise with all the fury, resignation, and horror of the haunting visions we find in Goya, Blade Runner, and William Blake. CHAS BOWIE