grey|area explores vacillating streams of consciousness. This mysterious epicenter is where the state of mind-over-matter is materially questioned.  In a lateral examination of minimal details, these artists are scratching the bare surface which is visible to the naked eye, but perhaps a true test to the observer. In the viewers’ own frame of reference, a new higher form of truth emerges.  These circumstances, drawn by comparison, fall between the cracks, and just below the surface. Glints of a perverse subset of comparisons start to appear.  Works herein focus on the depth and contrast of absence in its many shades and layers, confronting questionable versions of power and conventional logic.   grey|area is an invitational group exhibition that attempts to ride the edge of perception.   

Selecting work for grey|area started with the assessment of artists I’ve worked with, or those I have wished to, but haven’t until now. The process of curating a show is, in and of itself, a process of installation, and this in turn informs my own work as an artist. So, upon a successful proposal and with the gracious assistance of Guestroom Gallery and its staff, my mind suddenly went blank. And what an ingenious place to be. A clean slate, but also a place of emptiness. Was it a void, or a solid space? One thing was certain, the artists that started surfacing, as I connected dots and engaged in several studio visits, all had something in common aside from their prolific nature as hard workers. They each created work that was deftly “other” – work that dealt in the phase of “in-between” – that oozed transitional hybrid of thought or matter.

When I first encountered Ellen George’s work I was amused on contact. I found an instant sense of farce, but couldn’t pin-point why exactly. It was a physical reaction to one of her works that I lovingly refer to as “danglers” that were on view at PDX Contemporary Gallery. Her use of color was spectrum-pure and at the same time strikingly circus-like. Choosing her work for the show could have obviously posed a formal problem if divorcing color was impossible. You see, I was subconsciously searching for work that dealt with unknowns, and maybe to a more subtle degree, secrets. At the same time I wanted work that dealt not only along the lines of colorlessness and translucence – I wanted work that offered a spirit of curiosity. So, the show could have also easily been titled “left of center”. Persuing George was important to challenge myself as a creative curator, but persistence paid off in her ease of responding in-kind to our conversations and other shared interests. Though still George’s new work moves in mysterious patterns with the viewer’s gaze. They swirl and coil, cocoon and punctuate the space they reside in. Her studio is a Seussian labyrinth of odd shapes of size and design.

When I saw Troy Briggs work for the very first time it was in a publication, Portland Modern to be exact. I found his spindly creatures disturbingly strange and tricky. His sense of line, cragged and abrupt, gestural and deliberate made him someone to research a bit closer. When I saw his work in the final exhibition at Gallery 500 these figures had all about disappeared and the work got extremely dark and haunting, they were also now somewhat large scale. At the time he was also working with other materials like casting resin and small-scale sculpture, so here was someone who thought outside the proverbial box. I wanted to find out what he was doing behind the scenes, part of that exploration wound up on view here. We met informally as part of an art exchange event that I designed, where he went home with my art work. When I followed up with him on it I was more interested in making a studio visit, and when we met in his work space and went through a large volume of drawing that had not yet been shown, I realized that his minotaurs, bird-people and other curious creatures needed to be brought into the light. Reminiscent of mythical monsters, his oeuvre has a provocative, gothic quality.

Speaking of resins and things that could be assumed to go bump in the night I offer the work of Laura Fritz. Fritz has made a habit of developing works in a basement lab-like setting that often silence many viewers. Her pieces have also incited interactivity, but they are meant to be shown as in “exhibit a, b and c” not handled like flanks in a meat market. By using foreign materials like rubber, glass, plastics and tubing atop tables of her own design the work derives much of its voice from assumed experiments, and junk science gone wayward. Working with Fritz while at Soundvision gave me the opportunity to completely change a gallery (and living) space into something more cavelike or akin to the theater. The rub here is that the work takes its form from the ephemeral, delicate movement of light as seen in some of her video boxes. It is this luminescence that shares the shadows of its immediate environs. So, even when she is not using light directly, it’s the indirect sense (or lack) of it that informs the viewer’s experience.

I only recently met Daniel Duford, though we exchanged several emails, reviews and postings before our eventual studio visit. After having experienced his PICA-featured outdoor golems that were vandalized years back, I was mused by his work in his recent Art Gym manifesto, “Sleeping Giant” where he took back the night with a real passionate sense of artistic gusto. His use of materials, from huge charcoal wall drawings to tiny semi-naked clay wrestlers, not to mention building several toy-like houses that centered the installation gave audiences a wide-open view of his alternate realities. These realities, many illustrated ala comic strips, are fascinating studies into religion, psyche, heroism, sexuality, tension and banal domesticity. When we met to discuss his newest book-in-the-making, “The Naked Boy” I knew we wanted to include something of an excerpt without ripping a page from its overall integrity. A testament to his artistic spirit, Duford completed his contributions to the show this side of a very recent unfortunate bicycle accident. His diptych here is the breath in between parts of the whole.

It was 2002 that I first heard the environmental sound work of Los Angeles artist j.frede. His work drew upon the immediate environment and his aural travel documents in the form of electro-acoustic phonography. These were especially fascinating when brought into the installation realm. We worked together to bring his work to a cross-audience in this vein at Soundvision (2003) and since that time frede has truly developed innovative approaches to creating both environments and sound sculptures, both in and outdoor. Though he was performing live internationally, he has left his travel gear aside while focusing on this new body of work. He is interested in the way in which people perceive space when you change it by using sound, subliminally re-drafting empty space by planting organic sound within four walls. In the Fall he will present work alongside sound installation mastermind John Duncan. The piece on view here plays on human perception and expectation.

Since my relocation to Portland five years back one artist has remained at least in my peripheral vision at all times. David Eckard is truly a pioneer of sorts in this town. You may see him riding a contraption face down through a park as I once did, drawing circles unbeknownst to the oogling public, but always focused on the task of creating, marking, through gesture and sensual, rapturous forms. He’s been seen atop podiums speaking in tongues as well as showing in the area’s best known galleries. A bit of a Renaissance man when it comes to materials and process, he builds and welds large works to hand-held objects that suggest torture, fetish and lost Victorian values. An accomplished draughtsman, Eckard has developed a new language in organic forms. At once grotesque, upon repeat viewings may be quite elegant in their undulating duality. I’ve caught him inside a time of transition. He is now levitating in a field where he’s questioning his own knowns. His breakthrough Tournament (lumens) presented at the Art Gym at Marylhurst University convinced me that Eckard is an artist in his own category, a talent to contend with on the large-scale museum circuit. And, in fact, Eckard’s work will be included in the Oregon Biennial to be shown at the Portland Art Museum opening in July. The work presented in grey|area, with its elements of chance and improv, is a hybrid of his various means as an expressionist – and though sculptural I want to call it performance drawing.

Ty Ennis is a prodigy of sorts. As a young, emerging and prolific artist his enigmatic, often obtusely comical drawings, speak to viewers on many levels. His work can be read as gawkily childish -- but then suddenly one single element emerges, maybe the title or perhaps a finite detail that completely changes the meaning and the viewer’s stance as perceiver. His lines are committed enough, delivering in the spirit seen in works by master draughtsmen like 15 th Century German Albrecht Dürer’s phenomenal etchings. It’s obvious that his work is included in the current West Coast edition of New American Paintings, which surveys the most vibrant voices in American art today. Ennis’ subject matter, in another vein tells a contemporary story of rural angst and daily banality. Though his works on paper are far from one-liners, his titles have the impact for imparting a wry tone of much needed humor, without discounting the stunning intimacy of detail. He is represented by the New American Art Union and his work will also be included in the Oregon Biennial.

It wasn’t until I had closed Soundvision in mid-November of ’03 that Abi Spring and I met as volunteers for a lecture by Vito Acconci presented by PICA. We hit it off instantly, discussing performance and architecture in between greeting guests and informally showing people to their seats. But it wouldn’t be for nearly another year before I would have the opportunity to see her work live and in person at the now defunct Lovelake Gallery. And what I saw not only delivered, but mesmerized my senses. Her use of color and process fascinated me. Ground pigment, marble dust and paint all finished with a sense of pristine granite, only in colors and designs you wouldn’t find under earth. Dealing in the cross-current and luminescent quietude of watery reflections and cellular matter her works on wood panel, traditionally rectangular and square, always have a sense of calculated balance. She openly experiments with color while hard-working the surfaces, polishing them with the brilliance of a brand-new bowling ball and doesn’t shy on scale as she recently contemplates working up to ten feet tall. She respectfully acknowledges the late, great minimalist Agnes Martin as an influence, though Spring has her very own voice, and personal take on the psychological surface. Needless to say, we have had a lot to discuss since that chance late Autumn evening.

In June of 2005 my travels took me to Montreal to exhibit a series of photographs and document my experiences at the annual electronic music festival Mutek. This was my first exposure to the work of Vancouver BC’s multimedia artist Jamie Drouin. His work was being presented as part of an artificial intelligence installation/collaboration with husband/wife art team skoltz_kolgen at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. Having been familiar with the duo’s sound work I decided to sit in on work by this undiscovered newcomer. I was curiously engaged by the happenstance of what transpired in that large room where he sat at center surrounded by huge paper tarps embellished with wires and microphones. Though heavily technological in effect, it came together quite organically, especially in the sparse black and white imagery that panned over these two large screens. The crowd was surrounded by his undulating ambient sound and quirky, chopped visuals. After emailing to and fro we finally met while I was speaking on a panel at last year’s Decibel Festival in Seattle. We started the discussion of collaborating somehow. In the meantime I became more versed in the art of looking at his ghostly, stark abstractions in pure black and white contrasts. Forms of unknown origin surface, levitating with the poetic gesture of smoke rings or liquid objects floating in a tide pool. Beside for the two small works seen here a screening of his video-work Microforming II will be shown in the area soon.

Olympia Washington-based photographic artist Daniel Barron creates work that teeters on questioning bio-genetics and the ethics of inventing hybrid forms and contorted realities. In this way his work echoes both Laura Fritz and David Eckard (both included here). The work depicts dripping fluids and ambiguous flesh that are physically immediate, yet out of context. There is an absent narrator in his visual laboratory who seems to operate as robotically cold and experimental, while retaining something quite raw and human. After seeing his recent In The Knee of the Curve exhibit presented at Pushdot I was convinced that his vision coincided with something quite ‘other’ in its extreme assumptions. The brand-new piece we chose for the show, at six-feet tall, will be literally larger than human scale and dabble in that life Barron has invented.

Scott Wayne Indiana recently reminded me that we met back in circa 2002-03 while he was visiting my former gallery Soundvision. I don’t remember that first encounter as clearly as I did visiting his website I also recall reading about his daring large-scale grafitti meets painting work that Willamette Week’s Richard Speer openly praised. And then there were the tiny horses in the Pearl District (and now throughout Portland), garnering quite a bit of press and fans in their wake. All the while I realized I was subconsciously watching an artist with my third eye – he was growing ideas, and lots of them. His use of materials are endless, he seemingly has no real barriers between installation, drawing, painting, public art, you name it. In the spirit of harnessing his many interests I chose an artist book work that has literally rescripted and fully deconstructed Liz Taylor’s My Love Affair With Jewelry (Simon & Schuster, 2002). The awe-inspiring 240 page tome (give or take a few pages, literally) is a testament to Indiana ’s sense of meticulous repetition and exhaustive hyperactivity. Though he seems incredibly laid back outside of the studio there’s got to be a maelstrom of activity that goes into the wee hours on occasion. His scrawls I liken to some seen in works by Terry Winters and even Cy Twombly, his improvised use of text here is randomly post-Dada, and when paired with the converted imagery activates a new schema altogether.

In the late 90s and into Y2K I was involved with historian Les Wright in developing a visual exhibition of the non-hegemonic male to be presented at both Mt. Ida College’s Art Gallery in Newton, MA and as part of the Lesbian and Gay Center’s National Museum Project in New York City. Having heard about the exhibition San Francisco photographer Chris Komater contacted us about participating and though he was spot-on, the exhibition was already in-progress. Having seen his photo grids (ala frescos) at Boston’s prestigious Bernie Toale Gallery I kept him in mind for future ideas. It was Komater who introduced me to my first-ever blog experience on LiveJournal in 2002, and even though this was totally peripheral to my experience to getting to know his work, it bridged the regional gap in getting to know the artist. In late 2002 I presented Komater’s multi-part photo work Thundercrack in a three-person exhibition entitled disembodied.reconfigured. The work acted as centerpiece a show that dealt in the body as surface, de-and-reconstructed. His work speaks the soft side of testosterone as he presents the brut figure. On view here are two small-scale works in his continuing series, stemming from his interest in the organic.

Including my own work in this exhibition was less an afterthought and more of a kinship to both the artists and vast methods that make this group inexplicably diverse. The work I have chosen are outtakes from my ongoing Tribryd series, one that just happens to be called (untitled) grey|area and the other which is my first-ever double-diptych. Pairing images from quiet, urban environments gives the eye an opportunity to both compare and subjugate intents. The work is born from a process of listening to both collaborative composers and local ambient sound. I was encouraged by both Marilyn Murdoch and Shawn Long to include my own work and want to acknowledge their part in the process and for offering this forum to share this larger body of work with you.


- TJ Norris, May 2006