Cynthia Lahti has earned a reputation as an artist who deftly maneuvers between various media, from drawing to sculpting in glass, plaster, and bronze. This versatility is on display at her current show at PDX Contemporary Art, New Found Land, which presents a handful of slight porcelain sculptures, sketches in pastel and crayon, and, most impressively, a series of doubled ink drawings that call to mind the symmetrical blots of a Rorschach test. While narrative focus has been one of Lahti's strengths in the past, New Found Land falters in its lack of conceptual coherence. Faint connections can be drawn: every piece in the show depicts a human figure, and Lahti uses fragile and decidedly ephemeral materials like tissue and wrapping paper. But these few common threads never quite add up.
Still, there are highlights to be found. In "The Golden West," which is made up of six pencil drawings on Easter-hued tissue paper, alternating images of a rifle-toting marksman and a '50s-era schoolgirl juxtapose violence and sweetness. The baby pinks and blues undermine the machismo of the shooter, as he aims his gun from the window of a pickup. And the girl, who seems to beam for some unseen photographer, only complicates matters. Is she an accomplice or a victim? Or are the twosome a killer couple a la Terrence Malick's Badlands?
The show's most engaging pieces are Lahti's doubled ink drawings, in which meticulous renderings are pressed into the opposing halves of folded tissue paper. They create chaotic mirror images, in which the strong lines of the original drawings are reflected in faint and splotchy inversions. In "Miss Amy," for example, an image of a girl is bisected so that the figures appear to be fused at the head, like conjoined twins stumbling into one another in a precarious dance. These works could be read as explorations of the psyche. But, like those throughout the show, they never seem to dig so deeply, instead relying on the primacy of the image. That's a shame—New Found Land could have been quite a discovery. JOHN MOTLEY