Afferent Seam
Matthew Dennison Froelick Gallery
817 SW 2nd, 222-1142
Through Dec 1

In Afferent Seam, Portland painter Matthew Dennison's current exhibit, there is an element that immediately jumps out; Dennison considers the frame of his paintings part of the overall work. Such is an intelligent consideration, of course, but Dennison's frames are over-the-top in color, finish, and at times, shape. The bright, glossy mix of frames are unfortunately distracting. While some consider this a clever tactic, what really happens is that the frame, instead of the image, steals the immediate spotlight. Yet, if one can move past the whole frame issue, the rest of Dennison's imagery offers some powerful intrigue.

The Portland painter has long operated within his own world of characters, many of whom appear androgynous. Dennison says, "I do not approach the figures in my paintings as men or women, but merely, as metaphor--as human being." He places the oddly proportioned characters in abstract, interior and exterior settings, and in each, he creates oddly compelling narratives. The figures are rendered in smoothed out curves, while detail is apparent in the eyes, nose, and lips of each figure. Dennison also relies heavily on a bright palette and various textures to increase the impact of the dream-like scenarios. Imaginary titles, such as "Zolner Current" and "Blaff Nearing" also add to the sense of other-worldliness and mystery.

Dennison's smaller works are the best, as evident in the piece "Zolner Current." In this work, he creates a cast of male-looking characters set in a mountain landscape, a scene enriched by a bright palette of green, orange, and yellow. And as with most of Dennison's paintings, the figures are shown in profile, looking off towards some distant and unknown stimuli. In "Zolner," he groups together a motley crew. There is a blue-faced, red-haired man dressed in a green, striped suit--and at his feet is a non-descript, blue dog. Looming large in the foreground of this duo is a green-faced figure wearing a red top and orange skirt. Another masculine character, this one with bluish skin, is dressed in a long blue tunic. He struggles to maintain the grasp of a small child, one that appears anxious to run towards the action outside of the frame.

With this, Dennison forces the viewer to come up with his or her own idea of what the complete narrative would be, but still includes enough clues to peak our interest. For example, what does each odd skin tone refer to? Why are some figures dressed traditionally while others are not? And why does the dog remain calm while the child strains to go towards the "action"?

In "Blaff Nearing," Dennison offers another intriguing scene--an interior space occupied by two contrasting figures. The smaller figure, a red-haired man dressed in a similarly toned garment, sits at attention behind a red desk. Standing near him is a figure three times his size, a yellow-toned figure dressed in mustard colored pants and shirt and white tie. Here, Dennison sets up a power struggle of sorts. The larger figure looks away from the unknown authority figure that transfixes the seated man. The difference in scale of the characters also provides clues to the role each plays. The large figure appears to have the upper hand, he appears in control of his own destiny--while the seated man takes a more prescribed path.