Mel Katz
Laura Russo Gallery
805 NW 21st Ave
Through June 2

In 1963, artist Mel Katz chose to leave the New York art scene and seek a certain freedom and independence in Portland. Over the years he has been an active force in turning a once-sleepy Northwest art scene into a thriving community. In the '70s he was one of the founders of the nationally acclaimed Portland Center for the Visual Arts. He was a Professor of Fine Arts at Portland State University until he retired in 1998.

Most importantly, he has consistently produced work, availing viewers the rare opportunity to follow an artist through decades of exhibition. His sculptures are traditionally rooted in clean, geometric lines and bold colors. He focuses on symmetry and dabbles in Constructivist tendencies. Interestingly, Katz also notes the late New York artist Gorky as a source of inspiration; Katz seems to have drawn from Gorky's abstract botanicals, translating them into his modern industrial objects.

Usually, he works three-dimensionally. However, in his current exhibit, Drawing in Steel, Katz makes an interesting move. He has steered away from free-standing sculptures, choosing instead to steam-roll his ideas into flat, steel wall pieces, and cut sheets of metal into abstract stencils. Against the white gallery walls, the steel silhouettes become hypnotic. The play between the positive and negative spaces creates a playful Rorschach's test for the viewer. Katz beckons the viewer to consider what they see forming from the geometric lines and patterns. For example, "Hinge" is a symmetrical pattern of interlocking, horseshoe shapes. It is formally smart, zeroing in on the powerful contrast between the dark gray steel and bright pearl walls. The two elements seem to blend; the metal recedes into the space and becomes a natural part of the gallery. The motif found in "Hinge" is interesting--the horseshoe shape makes the piece worthy of an updated, Western décor.

For those who are familiar with Katz and others new to his work, Drawing in Steel is a perfect opportunity to learn about one of our city's art veterans.

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