Visual Jazz 

Art Review

Visual Jazz
Philemon Reid Onda Gallery
2215 NE Alberta, 493-1909
Through Dec 22

At the core of his working process, Portland artist Philemon Reid digs into the layers that make up jazz and blues music. Inspired by these sources, Reid produces a series of abstract oil paintings and pen and ink drawings. His aim is to translate his audile experience into a visual experience. The exhibit Visual Jazz, presents this eye/ear connection by way of images rich in energy and rhythm.

Reid's formal education is rooted in engineering, which is apparent in the crisp, geometric lines of his paintings. He utilizes a style akin to early cubism--Painters such as Picasso and Braque are recognizable influences. Yet, a more specific comparison jumps out when viewing Reid's work; Marcel Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" (1912) is an apt inclusion into the discussion of Reid's work. In "Staircase," Duchamp conveyed the human form through a dynamic version of Cubism, showing the successive movement of the figure. Duchamp reveals the physical pathway of the subject through a series of sharp angles. His nude descends the staircase in a flurry of overlapping, geometric planes--the subject's specific identity is replaced by the essence of a physical gesture. Philemon Reid also incorporates this practice into his "visual interpretations" of jazz.

In "The Next Gig," Reid unveils characters moving through the city at night. The sharp angles of a narrow, urban street are lit by the glow of a street lamp. Underneath the yellow light, a trio of characters jump, jive, and wail down the avenue, adorned by trademark fedoras and zoot suits. Reid depicts the posse through a range of brilliant colors, though leans towards a warm palette. The one downfall in this piece, which is characteristic of most of Reid's paintings, is that the painting is a little thin. The texture of the canvas is quite apparent, which spoils the slick, polished nature of the subject matter. This glitch aside, "Next Gig" is engaging. Planes of color construct the abstract bodies that collide and mesh within the dynamic composition. Like Duchamp's figures, Reid expresses the movement and physical presence of the subjects, without overly defining their personalities. The trio in "Next Gig" seem to spill out of the frame, moving at a frantic pace to the next smoke-filled bar. The apparent leader of the pack is established in the middle of the frame--he holds his cigarette up high, as if to proclaim a "jazz revolution."

Reid conveys a decidedly different mood in the piece, "Bedroom Dance," by bringing out the sexuality intrinsic to jazz. Two nude forms are presented in a contortion of crisp geometry. They embrace amidst a wide palette of colors, though special attention is paid to the brown hues describing the curves and angles of their muscular forms. It is a sexy painting--and is especially evocative because Reid avoids direct representation. Somehow, his abstract portrayal of sex is more believable, more physical, and more dynamic than any realistic image could be.

In "A Ballad of Expectation," a bass player and saxophonist emerge from a geometric composition. Again, Reid does not portray individuals--instead, each figure represents their instruments and the sounds they produce. In this piece, the posture of the figures is key. They interact closely, each appearing attentive to the musical efforts of the other. Their collaboration plays out in a wide range of colors; the various hues translate a frenzy of notes spilling out of the saxophone. Again, Reid successfully brings to life the sounds that capture his imagination.

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