Erik Sandberg

at the Compound Gallery, 11 NW 2nd, through June

C ompound Gallery brings the collective neurosis to Chinatown this month with an exhibition of mixed media paintings by Erik Sandberg, a masterful illustrative artist from Pasadena, CA. With superior technique and draftsmanship, Sandberg employs a fairy-tale like collage approach to convey his allegorical narratives that swirl around themes of classism, despair, death, sex, and progress. The fantasy realist style that he traffics in is familiar to enthusiasts of lowbrow art in the highly crafted tradition of Juxtapoz Magazine or fans of Georganne Deen's painted psychodramas. But while Portland prides itself on having an active underground art scene, it is dominated by a more graphic, cartoony style rather than the surreal, Hieronymus Bosch-influenced methods that Sandberg displays here. While this strain of illustrative realism may not be to the tastes of everyone who likes their art to have a New York seal of approval, Sandberg's work is highly engaging and deftly painted.

Fame at the Lake is a quintessential example of Sandberg's narrative approach. The scene depicts a frenetic landscape that plays on natural and social histories, as well as themes of decency, evolution, and religion. Painted in dark, juicy oils, a cast of characters abound that include a bonneted woman clutching a small dinosaur, a pair of women in antiquated one-piece bathing suits, and a winged angel bicycling across the foreground. The illustrational style looks clipped from the pages of old Sears Roebuck catalogs and scientific manuals. The scene is garnished with rococo floral motifs, balloons, and an exploding star in the distance that recurs in several of Sandberg's paintings.

Gratis Habere depicts a golf scene in which a man in a fez putts while a clown on stilts watches on and a lost-looking Black girl darts across the scene, trailing a spout of rain behind her. There are a variety of illustrative styles working in the piece--expertly rendered figures, stylized raindrops, and even some coarse screen printing to add background texture. In his most successful works, the players in Sandberg's paintings appear trapped in their own skewed narratives. There is a heavy nostalgic element in the pieces, but the promissory dreams have exploded, and the characters within are forced to continue their prescribed roles--dazed, but oblivious to their own imprisonment. CHAS BOWIE