When an artist curates a show, it's tempting to interpret the art she selects as a kind of sum total of her own artistic strategies. But the scattershot Do No Harm Vs STEP UP, curated by painter Jacqueline Ehlis, sheds little light on what makes her lovely abstract paintings tick. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the show—which includes more than a dozen artists from Oregon, Washington, and New York—would benefit from more focus. Running the gamut from Mack McFarland's cartoonish portraits of local politicians to the high concepts of Derek Franklin's installation work, there's no real thread of subject to bind the show together.
One thing Ehlis does especially well, though, is create dialogue between works through resonant juxtapositions. In one of Franklin's installation pieces, three white panels hang, each embossed with a different phrase: "Rabbit drawing," "Cute pink doodle," and "Andy Warhol faker." Franklin's scathing critique of ubiquitous "types" in today's art world suggests that a categorical descriptor carries equal weight to the tired retreads each panel identifies. Interestingly, the show contains examples of these very types. Next to Franklin's installation, Mamie Korpela's "Collateral Damage" presents a patchwork quilt, screenprinted with drawings of bunnies and foxes. On an adjacent wall, Erin Paterson's untitled acrylic painting—an amorphous form resembling a twisting piece of coral—fulfills the "cute pink doodle" quotient.
The two best works among Ehlis' selections are undoubtedly Portlander Kim McKenna's two beautifully painted canvases, both jarring amalgams of unrelated images. In "Lounge," McKenna presents a modern penthouse apartment. But in this apartment, the adjoining room is a meticulous re-creation of Matisse's "The Red Studio," while a mushroom cloud spews in the night sky, seen through an enormous picture window. By incorporating Matisse into the painting's dimensional landscape, McKenna playfully pays homage to art historical tradition, while also relegating it to "the spare room." The explosion also figuratively blows up the notion of the picture plane—providing the painting with the kind of connecting logic the rest of the show so sorely lacks.