Analogizing artists as god-like beings, who have imagined realms into existence through their work, is a conceit as old as art itself. But looking at Mistique, the new body of work by ex-Portland artist and musician Anna Fidler, that romantic conception of the creative act seems less bankrupt. Fidler, who received her MFA from Portland State in 2005, creates psychedelic landscapes that depict the vibrant geography of some distant universe within her mind. And she does so with such consistent repetition of forms—from swooping, rainbow-like arcs to undulating tentacles—it's as if she's compulsively retracing a visit to this world.
Initially, Fidler's panoramic vistas conjure the dark and desolate terrain of the moon. In the enormous "Theory of Levitation," swirling washes of watercolor seem to roll along a barren lunar landscape, where monolithic rocks jut under an oppressively black sky. The scene becomes all the more alien as dozens of beige tentacles wriggle in the foreground and orb-like masses drift above the horizon. And while this cosmic quality is undeniable, the longer you stand in front of these works, the more they begin to point in other directions. They could just as easily be read as views into some lightless ocean ravine or a magnified perspective of cellular activity. Then again, her insistent forms may not be tethered to this world at all. Are the series of white dots that connect orbs and rocks in "Telepathy" some reified form of communication? Are the prismatic auras that huddle together in "Rock Show" extraterrestrial beings?
All that speculation might be superfluous for work that is so rigorously formal. After all, Fidler's strengths are her electric-hued palettes and labor-intensive textures, which combine expressive painting, meticulous pencil drawing, and an overlay of affixed cut paper. Still, the restricted scope of her work demands some explanation: If there is no prevailing concept unifying this work, why would she obsessively return to the same territory? As gorgeous as Fidler's celestial tableaux are, Mistique shows no significant growth from her previous work—and from last year's solo show at Pulliam Deffenbaugh, in particular. For an artist whose work is so deeply transporting, it's a shame for her not to show us a place we've never been before.