Savage Art Resources 1430 SE 3rd through August 13th
Portlander Zack Kircher's third solo exhibition at Savage presents another series of paintings steeped in art-historical allusion. These new works find figuration taking center stage, with the cannibalization of 20th-century styles that dominated his prior work fading to a consistent theme. Interestingly, even as he sheds the all-inclusive references to specific works of art, he has taken on various contemporary art stars as the subjects of his paintings.
In "Peyton Out of Place," artist Elizabeth Peyton cowers, frightened, behind a bold swatch of yellow, her pinkish flesh and tank top threatening to disappear into the similarly colored background. "Brown, Essenhigh" presents artists Cecily Brown and Inka Essenhigh side-by-side and shirtless with brightly colored shapes concealing their breasts. Kircher's commentary on these two artists is up front: He stencils the word "Painterlies" directly above their heads. Given that Brown and Essenhigh--as well as Peyton--are typically regarded as the new generation of American artists dedicated to resuscitating the allegedly dying art of painting, Kircher's billing seems as loaded with playful antagonism and sardonic wit as actual homage. "Painterlies" implies that these artists' celebrity has displaced their work in any critical dialogue about them.
Elsewhere, Kircher appears committed to imploding the whole high-versus-low-art debate. In "It's Over," a young blonde in denim is inserted into an amorphous field of colors and shapes, deeply troubled by the phrase, "The avant garde is so over," that hovers menacingly above her. "What Is This?" foregrounds the painting with a woman, again in pink, with one arm crossed and another pointing inward at the figures behind her. With the phrase, "What is this, a New Yorker cartoon?" floating above her like a dialogue bubble, Kircher seems to have painted the viewer directly into his canvas--a nod to the viewer's complicit role in the creation of an art work. The comparison to a cartoon also critiques the very issue of figure painting, as if representing the human form is bankrupt of meaning, the painting's contents a reductive depiction that reveals nothing about what it actually means to be human.
And while Kircher's art, to a degree, hinges on his viewers' understanding of the allusions woven into his work, he is clearly preoccupied with anchoring painting's enduring vitality in a contemporary scene seemingly dominated by mixed and digital media.