Second Set Free

Pulliam Deffenbaugh, 522 NW 12th, 228-6665, through Dec 27

How ticked would you be if you went to Costco to pick up the photos you'd dropped off to be developed, and discovered that somebody had swiped your second set, and took off with the photos to make them into an art project? Yeah, I'd be pissed, too, though the concept is a tad easier to swallow when the pictures belong to someone else, and the artist's results are as sharp and well executed as Mark Takamichi Miller's paintings on view at Pulliam Deffenbaugh Gallery. Second Set Free is a painting show that flirts with photography with the same conceptual playfulness that Hildur Bjarnadottir's Stretching Canvas skirted painting earlier this year at the same gallery.

At Miller's first gallery show of his paintings derived from appropriated snapshots, the CEO of Costco happened to see the show, and changed the store's policy on picking up your prints. Thus, the artist has had to pick up photos far from his Seattle home, which resulted in his current set--of tourists in Arizona.

Even without their conceptual trappings, the paintings are marvelous in their own right. Solitary figures, each about a foot tall on average, punctuate the 60x40" canvases, which have otherwise been left blank and untouched. Set against the expansive background, the subjects are painted so thickly they stick out about a full inch off the canvas. With ultra-thick, impasto goopiness, Miller's desert rats are imposing, swirly creatures that almost look adhered to the canvas. Isolated against the flat white setting, they are reminiscent of Richard Avedon's landmark series of portraits In the American West, but instead of handling rattlesnakes and living as drifters, these desert dwellers sport fanny packs and hiking boots.

Less interesting but equally tied to photography is Miller's black and white series that looks remarkably like Gerhard Richter's photographs of paint close-ups. Displayed under thick Plexiglas, Miller's gray, brushy fields are actually paint concoctions created by layering white paint over a black undercoat. The results look vaguely lunar but mostly like outtakes from Richter's photo-scrapbook Atlas. They were created in response to 9/11, and their titles refer to a shipwreck that occurred on September 11, 1916, yet there's no evidence of anything political or even personal in the work.

Turning Couple, a large painting taken from yet another series, is the most impressive piece in the exhibition. At nearly six feet square, paint has been poured and swirled onto the canvas to create a double portrait of a couple looking over their shoulder at the camera/viewer. The paint is applied in such a liquid and marbleized fashion that one could easily imagine dipping their finger in and disrupting the entire surface of the work. This woozy rendering is painted against a hazy airbrushed background, which makes the figures seem all the more isolated and eye-popping. It, too, derived from somebody else's roll of film, but like the rest of Miller's paintings, that conceptual framework becomes background information when we witness the mastery and inventiveness of his paint handling. CHAS BOWIE

Walid Ra'ad

Lecturing Friday at City Council Chambers, 1221 SW 4th, 7 pm, Screening Saturday at Cinema Project, 120 NE Russell St., 7:30 pm, 232-8269 for more info

In 1985, five Americans were held hostage in Beirut before being swapped through the Arms-for-Hostages programs under the Reagan administration. Souheil Bachar, a Lebanese citizen, was held captive for 10 years by pro-Iranian militiamen, and actually shared a cell with the Americans. After his release in 1993, he collaborated with the Atlas Group (a non-profit Lebanese foundation) to produce 53 experimental documentaries about his experience. Only two of the videos have been made available outside of Lebanon, and both will be shown Saturday at Cinema Project. Walid Ra'ad, founder of the Atlas Group and renowned artist, will give a slide and video presentation at the City Council Chambers inside City Hall Friday night.

Ra'ad's work includes video, writing, "textual analysis," and most tellingly, the creation and presentation of invented archives and historical documents pertaining to the Lebanese Civil War. Bachar is a fictional character, based on real life events and politics. Ra'ad attempts to release current events from the bondage of facts, and in doing, forces us to think of global situations in new ways. CHAS BOWIE