Matthew Mitros at Portland Art Center
This was an important breakthrough exhibition for the 29-year-old Seattle artist Matthew Mitros, a 2006 graduate of the ceramics program at the University of Washington. Mitros has already been included in group shows in London, Baltimore, and Indianapolis; his solo gallery debut was in Philadelphia in 2002. Leaving clay behind, but adapting its processes, Mitros’s new work operates on a number of intriguing levels: as a critique of abstract painting; as a warning about runaway genetic experimentation; and as a spoof of flesh-eating bacteria that develop a taste for oil and canvas.
Building on the illusionistic powers of clay, the former philosophy major constructed five wall-mounted objects of wood and urethane resin that resemble medium-size, monochrome abstract paintings exploding off the wall, with edges and corners being eaten away. Deleterious I and II (all works are 2007) seem to be imploding before our eyes: Bite-size chunks missing in each “painting” join crumbling corners on, respectively, creamy white and blue surfaces. Each object is struggling to be a well-mannered Color Field painting, but something has gone terribly wrong. In Mitros’s wicked hands, holes are blasted through otherwise perfectly smooth surfaces of poured colored resins. Merlot, with its wine-red plane, is punctured by three holes, each with eerie yellow-green tentacles protruding into the gallery space. Held tightly within the regulation rectangle, Merlot is improved by the puffy residue attacking it. (Both Deleterious I and II also have sickly white spots violating their post-painterly picture planes.) Another work, Center, has its entire drippy surface jutting out three feet off the canvas into the viewer’s area.
Melt is the most clever and most beautiful of all. Sidestepping the blasted holes, it is a yellow field of drenched, dripping resin over a framed, wooden rectangle. Echoing every spatter from Pollock to Brice Marden, Mitros’s Melt lets the drips extend beyond the frame’s base, humorously suspending and freezing the spilling-over yellow plastic. A shift away from his earlier, three-dimensional mixed-media works, the new objects both celebrate and critique an abstract art of mostly solid colors and mysterious materials, but with a detached wit that makes all the difference.