While there's no easy way to tie together the respective art forms of Pat Corrigan and Jennifer Gardiner, the community hub of Mayo Street Arts is a fittingly off-center venue for their latest work, which fuses discrete processes and subjects for a modestly sized showcase. A new record of these artists is compelling enough on its own, but that it might contain the seeds of an even more ambitious project makes the show a stirring one for the Portland art scene.
'COURTYARD' Pen and ink by Pat Corrigan, 2012.
Depending on the medium, intention of function or decor, or focus on narrative, Corrigan's art has a distinct style, one that can register anywhere between Edward Gorey, Joan Miro, or an underground comix illustrator. His work is seemingly everywhere in Portland, just as often within restaurant interiors and print media as in galleries, and a good chunk of his originality comes from working in a virtually unlimited scope of tactile media — such as murals, oil paintings, drawings, and even performance art. Taken as a whole, you might view his career body of work as a polymorphously expressionistic canvas, each piece or project a different splatter of paint. But within each, formally speaking, he's a well-studied, even faithful artist, versatile enough to work within several different schools.
The bulk of his drawings at Mayo Street are from a still-in-conceptualization graphic novel, using actual locales, vaguely post-apocalyptic drama, and the familiar vocabulary of shadowy, golem-like mythological characters he began using years ago, which derive from a Passamaquoddy legend where they were spun from a mermaid's hair. The illustrations may or may not appear in narratively sequenced book form one day; for now they merely hint at what an ambitious, Portland-born fantasy comic might look like.
All elements converge in "Behind the Cemetery on Federal St.," a dense illustration of pen and ink, where two black-hooded people have dug up a mermaid's bones in the Eastern Cemetery, as if trying to unpack the myth. In "Underground Theater," a room that bears likeness to Corrigan's own (and mostly publicly shuttered) Apohadion Theater, a modest stage is at the center of a fanciful showroom, on which a dark golem is depicted behind a large reticulate curtain hewn from an oddly patterned fabric. Typical for the series and Corrigan's art in general, it's a fantastical image that builds from Portland's underground — or at least under-recognized — communities. The post-Surrealist illustrative style is Gorey without the digestible storybook narrative, while the aesthetic of the curtain itself nods to another artist much closer at hand.
Jennifer Gardiner's work hangs on a wall opposite Corrigan, but her four radiantly colored panels are very much in dialogue with his work. "Peppermint" and "Spearmint" are intersections of layered, multicolored lines that flicker over a solid acrylic background. Their clean, vertical meditations of intersecting threadwork are a familiar study for Gardiner, and here, they echo the motif in Corrigan's "Underground Theater" stage curtain, which provides a nice harmony between the two longtime collaborators.
In the natural light of Mayo Street Arts, a converted church, Gardiner's pieces are particularly compelling. On the frames of "Night Light" and "Day Light," a spectra of hand-applied silk swatches form a prismatic grid of color, each resetting the temperature of the stained linen that forms the work's base. Reminiscent of the "magic squares" of Paul Klee or elements of color theory, the panels are dizzying to observe, glowing with a nearly pixelated resplendence.