Rama

at the Mark Woolley Gallery, 120 NW 9th, Suite 210, through May 24

T o contemplate a canvas by the painter Rama is to enter a non-figurative realm of blobs, flips, squiggles, splotches, marks, and splatter.

Occasionally, you can attach nouns to forms. In some works, you seem to be underwater, brushing past swaying foliage and passively floating sea creatures. At other times, however, you have no anchor: You stand before a two-dimensional field where colors and shapes battle for primacy--pink versus blue; thick strokes versus blank spaces.

The 21-year-old artist appears to favor contrasting pairs of tones--often colors of a soft or pastel-style hue--and if you had to come up with antecedents, you'd think of Jackson Pollack, Joan Miró, or Paul Klee, though these names don't quite evoke Rama's broader strokes or narrower focus.

The full extent of Rama's art will soon be on display at the Mark Woolley Gallery after an opening party at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 22. But the artist himself will not be in attendance. Not that he's hiding from the public, though--rather, Rama can be seen almost daily in his residence at the Portland Zoo's elephant yard.

Rama is a bull elephant, the offspring of Asian elephants Packy and Rosey (he turned 21 on April 1st). He took up painting as a form of art therapy, as part of the Zoo's "animal-enrichment" program, under the tutelage of trainer Jeb Barsh, who will be at Rama's opening party. The 8000-pound, 12-foot-tall pachyderm wields a mean brush. He also sprays the paint--non-toxic, egg-based tempura--through his trunk. The therapy seems to work. Rama reportedly knows what he's doing--and enjoys the process and attention.

The public can revel in Rama's paintings in their gallery setting for three days only. After the opening party, exhibition hours are from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday, May 23 and 24. Later on, Rama will be the star of a documentary by Portland filmmaker Patti Lewis (Collectors at Large). It's all for a good cause, though: 10 percent of sales will find their way to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to support elephant conservation via the Future for Wildlife Program. D. K. HOLM