Everything We Ever Wanted @ Nationale
Portland is so hot right now. No really, from the 90 degree weather in the forecast lately it is clear that summer is officially here in PDX. If you find yourself waiting in line for an hour to get your hands on an ice cream cone from the Division Street Salt and Straw, consider this: Right across the street is an air-conditioned gallery and shop called Nationale, where a vibrant mix of paintings from Katie Batten, Jonathan Casella, and Sarah Mikenis have come together in the group exhibition Everything We Ever Wanted. These talented young artists bring us technically advanced compositions interwoven with bold color, shape and abstraction that energize the space, making it a perfect show to kick-off the summer exhibition season.
Ever since John Berger’s Ways of Seeing was pounded into my brain during my first week of art school, I’ve been fascinated by how others view artwork. The content of Berger’s text is an exact reflection of its title, explaining in detail how our perception of art is affected by the external factors we hold as an individual. Because I am a curious observer and not a mind reader, I like to take friends who aren’t “art people” to museum shows and then bombard them with questions like, “Are you really not going to read the wall text?” and, “How do you feel about this plank?” Usually, these questions are met with some seriously impressive eye rolling, but occasionally an interesting conversation will have manifested itself, which I love.
For me, the galleries are different and I always find myself a much more introverted person when I visit them. Upon entering Nationale’s exhibition space my usual tendencies to want to chat are hushed, and the only thing I find myself confronted with is the work itself. Everything We Ever Wanted is a surprisingly contemplative show and I quietly absorb each piece, gathering my own context clues based on what the artist has given me. Jonathan Casella’s paintings are like visual mazes and my eyes can’t seem to stop moving when I look at them. In a previous show at Open Gallery, Casella’s work was more sculptural and the different shaped canvases made his paintings seem object-like. This time, using the panel as boundary, the work plays with defining the shape of a paint stroke or blob, through collage-like abstracted fragments.
Jonathan Casella, What’s After the Great Escape? Loneliness and Something Else…, 2015
Casella also shares my interest in how the viewer sees his work and takes this into consideration as he paints. More specifically, he is “interested in the influence color and form plays in the viewer’s interpersonal association with memory and identification.” This statement is what got me thinking about John Berger in the first place, reminding me that the genius of abstract work is how everyone has a unique experience with it. We all have preconceived notions about what certain things mean and we hold on to these interpretations when relating to shape and color. Part of the fun of this exhibition is deciphering the iconography that presents itself in the work.
Sarah Mikenis’ work is reminiscent of German artist Charline von Heyl, who also uses classic patterns as background to her abstract forms. A rich pile of texture and pastels, Mikenis’ Everything We Always Wanted, is the most formal work in the show, with a wall of its own in the center of the main gallery. It is the most calming for me, perhaps because of it’s mostly neutral color palate, and makes me think of my grandmother’s boudoir that was filled with broaches, patterned scarves and frivolity.
Sarah Mikenis, Everything We Always Wanted, 2014
This work, and the less controlled Shifting Back, blend well with Katie Batten’s still-life paintings that are skewed just enough to make you linger. Familiar objects like a cup of coffee, a mason jar, an iPhone, and an issue of Artforum magazine are strategically placed throughout Batten’s pieces. The perspective is visually intriguing, and her use of literal representation interjects a nice break between the purely abstracted forms in Casella and Mikenis’ work.
Katie Batten, You Also Have a Pizza, 2014
With titles in the show like Galentine’s Day,You Also Have a Pizza, Confetti Party, and Jewish Girl From Florida. Her Nose. what’s not to love? Everything We Ever Wanted has been extended through July 6th, so there is no excuse not to go see it. The show is brilliantly curated, showcasing the way the works complement and converse with one another. Forget about the ice cream for now, art makes you smart.
Nationale is located at 3360 SE Division and is open from 12- 6p. The gallery is closed on Tuesdays. For more visit www.nationale.us.
All Images courtesy of Nationale.