Michael Bland's Four Eyes
The Basil Hallward Gallery
(inside Powell's Books), 1005 W Burnside, through December

You probably think you're busy these days, attending holiday parties, drinking, working, looking for work. But you are not busy, not compared to Michael Bland. He has a piece in Motel's holiday show, Twelve Days, and has a show called Four Eyes up at Powell's Basil Hallward Gallery. He is the curator for the Stumptown cafés, co-director of the Hall Gallery and he also has a "real" job delivering art from Seattle to San Francisco. When we met up at My Father's Place for a beer, I asked him if he ever gets to fly the artwork to its destination. "No, we drive," he smiled, "I'm an art trucker."

What I really wanted to talk about was Bland's series, Four Eyes, which features paintings of plain, bespectacled girls. They are playful and stylish, but they also have a sensitivity that subverts expectations about feminine beauty. The girls--each taken from a '50s polytechnic school yearbook--stare out from behind their horn-rimmed glasses, relegated to a corner of the canvas. 50 years ago they were in training to be secretaries or housewives, and now they sit motionless on a wall: imperfect, beautiful, passive spectacles.

"I found the yearbook at the library," said Bland, "and these homely girls had so much character--I just kept falling in love." When I asked him where this attraction came from, he recounted a tale of a first grade love: "She was the girl in class with the thickest glassesÉ so sickly looking, but I guess it started with her."

The painting's surfaces are sullied to match the damaged nostalgia of their content, but according to Bland they are not sullied enough. "I tried everything to make them look as dirty as I could," he said. "I rubbed grease on them, covered them with dirt--I don't think I ever want to paint again."

Given everything else he has going, Bland can afford to drop painting from his schedule. But with an ongoing mixed media series inspired by his lonely arrival to Portland, 100 Shipwrecks, and research for an educational installation about bears, it doesn't seem like he'll have a lot of free time in the near future.