Cynthia Star

Basil Hallward Gallery at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside, through Nov.

T ortoise-shell owls, goopy spider webs, rascally dog-faced tennis players, and transparent bananas--they're all part of Cynthia Star's universe, now on view in her painting exhibition I'm Never Going Back at the Basil Hallward Gallery. In last summer's Oregon Biennial, Star showed three thinly washed paintings of dogs engaged in homoerotic playfulness. Here, she retains her ties to the animal kingdom, but her connections between paintings are much looser, and her paint application has become notably more thick and brushy. The results left me in that captivating wonderland of being unable to decide whether her paintings were simply amateurish or purely brilliant.

The highlight of the show is Poor Sports, a boldly colored tennis scene painted on a large birch panel. With harsh colors and painterly strokes, the scene shows a post-match celebration of joy and revelry. Two human couples hug one another in merriment and throw their heads back in laughter. In the foreground, though, two dog-faced shysters with red clown noses hotfoot it off the court, rackets in hand. There's no telling what they are fleeing from, but they look eager to escape the scene, and bring the malicious humor of Mad magazine's "Spy Vs. Spy" to mind. Star's paint handling is most unsettling here. The figures are outlined in heavy, bold colors, and parts of their bodies are completely opaque while other parts are totally translucent. Legs can be outlined in cadmium red and the heads in jet black. The painting becomes one of those fascinating cases where making the "wrong" choices leads to an arresting outcome.

T Lemon eschews three-dimensional space completely, and presents an arachnid scene with iconic flatness. A spider descends from the top half of the wood panel, dripping its liquidy web over a grasshopper below. Instead of spatial backgrounds, the spider is offset against a toxic orange field, and the cricket against an egg-white plane. Stylistically, its inclusion in the show seems like an odd choice, but upon reflection, so does every piece there. Something You Forgot depicts an angry gorilla/Bigfoot with a serpent and bunch of gorillas behind him. It would be a forgettable painting, except that it looks like Star forgot to paint the bananas into the scene. These very odd spatial disruptions confounded me and had me scratching my head the entire week, which is a refreshing, exciting reaction for art. CHAS BOWIE

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