Throughout the history of art, nothing has projected depth or conveyed contradictory emotion as effectively as the portrait. After all, what could offer more insight into the complexity of the human condition than the myriad expressions of the human face? Interestingly, the portraits contributed to the Hall Gallery's Portrait Show by more than 30 artists are scarcely interested in revealing such vulnerable humanity. Instead, many of the artists choose to revel in enigma.
Curator Levi Hanes' loose definition of what constitutes a portrait makes for a diverse and surprising show. So alongside more traditional portraits, Cynthia Lahti contributes five sculpted figurines; Sean Healy encases his subject—bald with a furrowed brow—inside red, headlight-shaped glass; and Matthew Yake employs sound installation for his piece. And while unusual takes at portraiture such as Healy's are immediately attention grabbing, the more traditional work leaves a more lasting and affecting impression.
Lizzie Swift's large drawing, "Kim," is one of the best in the show. Rendered in faint graphite sketching, she captures a young-ish man, T-shirt-clad with a patchy beard. He wears his disaffection in his slouching posture and down-turned head, the bags beneath his eyes, and the folds and creases of his shirt, which approximate wrinkles. Swift's light sketch projects an appropriate fragility, as if her subject is as meek as her treatment or simply might just fade away.
Storm Tharp's "Einstein" is another of the show's highlights, but unlike Swift's piece, it moves the viewer on a more strictly aesthetic level. In Tharp's portrait, which more closely resembles Frank Zappa than Einstein, the scientist dons an orange peasant shirt and his hair is a detailed nest of purplish, grandmotherly curls. Given such a disorienting frame, his face is appropriately psychedelic, composed of a whirling, black-and-white ink wash. Einstein's face shifts kaleidoscopically, moving between precise detail and abstraction as perspective and proportion fluctuate. Tharp's portrait hardly offers a window into the inner workings of Einstein's mind, but that's beside the point: It's beautiful.
While Portrait Show is ultimately somewhat inconsistent and would undoubtedly benefit by narrowing its sprawling scope, it's most notable for its impressive gathering of local talent. With established artists such as Tharp, Healy, and Lahti paired with promising up-and-comers like Adam Sorensen and Zefrey Throwell, Hanes has assembled a fairly comprehensive survey of some of the city's most vital artists.