James Boulton

at the Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery, 522 NW 12th, through May 29

Local art writers have been all over James Boulton's jock surrounding his debut exhibition at the Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery--his first big show since busting out at last year's Oregon Biennial. The press on his swanky Pearl District show has focused more on the artist rather than on the actual artwork, and we've learned all sorts of things about Boulton, including what his recurring nightmares are and what nudie bars he frequents. We feel it's time that somebody starts to think about the artwork itself, though. So, let's jump in, shall we?

Boulton's style can best be described as "Explosion in the Spandex Factory." His frantic canvases employ garish colors, polka dots and stripes, brushy gestures, and Rorschach-like blob forms to create a unique style of kitsch expressionism. Where many abstract painters strive for balance and harmony in their works, Boulton's art relies on a frenetic tension between the Abstract Expressionist model of "paint your little collective subconscious out" versus cooler, pattern and pop-based techno influences.

Looking closely at paintings like Plexus II (all works 2004), one sees that even the most haphazard looking marks are composed of deliberate, small gestures. The right side of the canvas is dominated by engaging line work executed in a bright Miami-deco green. The marks look as if somebody ran their bike through the paint and rode across the surface of the canvas repeatedly to create an intricate diagonal latticework. Close inspection, however, reveals that the lines were applied with a tiny brush over many hours. Plexus I, the show's best piece, is anchored by one of countless undercoats of paint that peek out from the lower center of the canvas. Beneath a blanket of melting cartoon forms, drippy blobs, and messy brushwork, a precise linear pattern emerges. It's a variation on Skinner's box--a simple perception riddle. The fluctuating pattern emerges only once, like a break in the clouds, before being swallowed whole by midnight blue splatters and burnt pumpkin lumps. Its presence belies a calculated deliberation beneath the chaos, and in turn, challenges the viewer to question their presumptions about order, taste, expression, and perception. CHAS BOWIE