Proofing Sessions
Rae Mahaffey Bullseye Connection Gallery, 227-0222
Through Nov 17

Portland painter Rae Mahaffey is known for compositions rich in layers of pattern and color. Her canvases are uniquely abstract and become nearly psychedelic. This year, Mahaffey has enjoyed an increased presence in the Portland scene--largely due to her inclusion in the 2001 Oregon Biennial. In her artist statement for that exhibit she wrote, "My aim is to achieve a conspicuous level of optical arousal. I want to heighten the awareness of how one's eyes and mind collaborate." In her current exhibit at Bullseye Gallery, Mahaffey continues to exercise the mind-eye connection, but with the aid of new mediums. During a residency at Pilchuck School of Glass, Mahaffey explored the use of glass as a means to express her formal objectives. At Bullseye, she presents products of her investigation in Proofing Sessions, a display of fused glass panels and corresponding vitreographs (essentially prints made from etched glass plates). For starters, the show illustrates a comparison between the two artistic practices. "By showing the fused glass and prints together," Mahaffey says, "I can illustrate the commonality of the two processes."

Yet, the more potent effect of the exhibit is not a consideration of process, but rather an elegant display of Mahaffey's formal tendencies. She establishes quite a visual pop. Slick, steel wire suspends various chains of brilliant glass panels. The glass casts a series of reflections across the gallery's wood floor, and behind this network is a wall of vitreographs, which echo the patterns within the panels. The colors are rich and embolden the various patterns and shapes. Her source images seem common place: Everything from samples of intricate, lacy wallpaper, to simple geometric patterns, overlap to form interesting layers. An intriguing contrast develops as the shapes and lines oscillate between delicate and powerful. Included in the mix are stripes, circles, ellipses, and a sort of court-jester-plaid.

The vitreographs shown behind this display--as well as on an adjacent brick wall--are imprints of the various glass plates. They are more subtle in their graphic presence and therefore, appear somehow less impressive. Still lovely compositions mind you, but they lack the vivacity and luster that draws the viewer into the glass medium. Also detrimental to the print inclusions, is the matter in which they are displayed. A majority of the vitreographs are lumped together in one large grid behind the suspended glass. With this decision, Mahaffey has lessened the individuality of each print, and logistically made them less easy to look at. The viewer can only really look at the prints through layers of glass. Such is an intriguing idea, but one that doesn't manifest well in the group installation.

However, the prints that are displayed on an adjacent wall are more accessible. The titles of these prints are important: "Capture," "Restraint," "Tossed," and "Constraint" encourage readings beyond color theory or compositional pull. "Capture" (above) is a four-color print that utilizes two patterns. In layers of yellow, blue, and red, Mahaffey has printed a barbed-wire pattern. On top of this, she adds repeated black shapes, reminiscent of the six-pronged metal piece used in the game Ball and Jacks. It is indeed a playful and fetching mesh of color and pattern. Yet, as the title implies, the barbed wire takes on a conceptual role. Rather easily, Mahaffey creates a tension between impulse and consequence. At points in the exhibit, the figure is included in Mahaffey's layers. In "Constraint," a yellow grid of lines forms a foundation. Next, Mahaffey revisits the red, barbed-wire pattern. Finally, she imprints a Dionysian scene, a festive gathering of Greek figures in a lush forest. Again, the title provides the trigger--detailing a conflict between the festive activity and the barbed wire that "constrains" the participants.