by Ethan Harrington
New work by Mary Tapogna
Mark Woolley Gallery
120 NW 9th, 224-5475
Through Dec 1
Each process that Mark Woolley artists Mary Tapogna and Ethan Harrington utilize differs quite a bit. Harrington addresses the landscape through loose gestures of paint layered onto canvas. Tapogna's approach is more intimate: she carefully combines pieces of ceramic and glass tesserae to form small, mosaic portraits.
The two-person exhibit at Mark Woolley favors Harrington's work, as his canvases establish a more succinct mood. Within the series "Cityscapes of Portland," Ethan Harrington sets out to describe various nooks and crannies of the Rose City. What materializes from this quest is a set of depictions that reveal the Seattle artist's unusual take on Portland urban spaces.
Two key factors are at play here: palette and perspective. Harrington largely relies on fiery reds, which transforms this gray city into a place seemingly alive with the energy and passion of a crowded jazz club. Harrington employs a surrealistic perspective- The city streets and landmarks are rendered through his mind's, fish-eye lens. One of the more vibrant and well-composed pieces, "Night on Broadway (Bridge)," offers a contorted, side-view of the monumental structure. Harrington exposes the aggressive lines of the bridge through rich, red tones. Bright orange accents allude to light reflecting off the steel. The night sky is rendered in Van Gogh-esgue swirls of blue and green. Particularly striking about Harrington's work here is the lush presence of the oil paint, layered onto the canvas with thick, fat, expressionistic strokes. Harrington establishes a strong sense of fluidity--of the dynamics of a city at night. Yet, there is an occasional distraction within Harrington's efforts. At points in the exhibit, he leaves both the edge of the canvas and minute portions of the surface bare, allowing the blank canvas to become an unwelcome visual element. These areas are starkly white, drawing the eye up close and revealing that Harringotn's lush oil paintings are not as thick and lovely as they appear from a distance.
Mary Tapogna's mosaics attempt to portray those close to her; Family members, specifically the artist's elderly parents, are rendered through a careful combination of small, colored tiles. Tapogna also includes a few self-portraits into the mix. On the whole, the success of the exhibit is hampered by the physical presence of the tiles. The imagery is secondary to the mosaic process, as each subject succumbs to the whimsy of multi-colored pieces of glass. Especially unsuccessful is a series of mosaics that employ a photographic element, as in "Viva Las Vegas." The diptych features the image of two elderly figures, presumably the artist's aged parents. Crudely cut, newspaper-quality prints are set into blocks of amber-hued resin. Within this material, Tapogna also includes flower petals and glitter. These blocks are in turn set into a colorful, mosaic fields. Tapogna covers every inch of surface with tiles- even the frame is overcome by the artist's penchant for the mosaic tradition. The bottom line is that the various elements at work here do not blend well--the piece simply becomes too busy. The intention, which the viewer assumes is to sweetly preserve the image of beloved persons, is lost within a sea of craftiness.