Velveteria Museum of Velvet Paintings
518 NE 28th
Wed-Fri, Sun noon-6 pm, Sat noon-8 pm, $3
"Good taste is the residue of someone else's privilege."—Dave Hickey
Black velvet painting is a sort of punchline of visual arts—the campy cousin of garden gnomes, tiki furniture, and pink flamingos. Signifying bad taste at its very best, portraits of Elvis, Jesus, and naked ladies on black velvet represent a goofy kitsch that many claim to ironically "love," but never give it a second thought. Not so, however, for two Portlanders, who recently opened a museum of velvet paintings on NE 28th. Carl Baldwin and Caren Anderson have dipped into their collection of over 1,000 hilarious and garish canvases to create a shrine to this oft-snubbed medium.
A visit to the Velveteria is a far richer experience than you might imagine, given its overtly campy nature. Nearly 150 canvases spanning over 60 years are on view; the selections come from years of combing estate sales, eBay, and Tijuana flea markets. The back room is dedicated to black velvet's dominant genre—buxom lasses. Painting on velvet (paint is applied either by brush or air gun, or frequently a combination of the two) results in a unique luminosity when done well, and skin tones highlight this quality best. Pigtails, arched backs, and coy faces are the order of the day in this study of divergent styles.
The main gallery is a smorgasbord of subjects. Along with the requisite tropical landscapes (the second-favorite subject matte of velvet painters), the Velveteria boasts a tremendous, meticulous rendering of Yoda in a fantastic treescape, Alice Cooper prowling an arena stage, and Jesus protectively lording over an 18-wheeler. There is a section devoted to black-light paintings, and another strictly for banditos. Some of the most charming examples of the genre are patently amateur, including one canvas of two unicorns, horns intertwined, over which the artist has painted the words "I love you" in childish cursive script.
Yes, the Velveteria is a kitschy haven, but more than that, it's an oddly refreshing examination of a multi-cultural form of art that's more varied and impassioned than you might expect.