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Bad Habit (B) at Falsefront

Portlanders are stressed, blood has been spilled along ideological and racial lines recently and our own government appears to be trolling the entire United States as political shell games are being played. In short nerves are raw.

Finding an exhibition that speaks eloquently and meaningfully in these somewhat less than nuanced times has been difficult. Yet, one has presented itself and its like breathing clean air for the first time in so many months.

Funny thing, the exhibition is called Bad Habits…


The show is hung at FalseFront, one of my favorite alternative spaces. It is an art gallery in front of a house in a charming residential Northeast Portland neighborhood. Thankfully it is about as far from Documenta as you can get, no crowds, no Obrist wannabes… just 3 small green paintings on linen in a room with ample natural light that mercifully overpowers the gallery lighting.

Bad Habit (C)

The lighting situation is good because there is something about natural sunlight that rewards reveling in what it reveals here. There is a time-worn care to each millimeter of the work… like paint and scuff marks that emerge from behind old appliances or vaguely military barracks with its regiments of greens. They are portable artifacts. Each painting (like most paintings) is kind of false geological accretion put there by a painter who develops the surface. The marble dust on linen calls fresco to mind and the fact that it is on stretched fabric is a breath of fresh air when so many painters feel that tacking an stained rag to the wall suffices (as if everyone is an artist in the intellectually vapid gambit, but popular among liberal elites of denying expertise). Here contemplating time as a form of gathering expertise is given a place of honor.

(detail) B

Instead of a “move” or “position” by the artist, there is a kind of history here that feels like something old, perhaps Etruscan or Roman that was uncovered during WWII. Thing is we know it isnt, its a loving salute to time spent looking carefully. At least it isnt like many other painter’s rags of surrender tacked to a wall… those field colors of a limp oil-soaked army of inclusion that isnt conscripting or inspiring anyone since the last election. Titled A, B and C Mahn’s paintings are like partial schematics… epicurean surfaces that tell us that humanity has been around a long time and making the same mistakes. I find them somehow comforting and thrilling.

Bad Habit (A)

The works recall Cy Twombly and Blinky Palermo… they dont use twitter and they dont buy the viewer and it is surprising since Clay Mahn is only a recent graduate of SAIC who lived in Portland for a time before that.

Bad Habit (A)

So do yourself a favor and check out this the last day of one of my favorite shows of 2017. It gives you freedom from the news cycle and reminds us what freedom really is… an absence of having to rush and allow ourselves a close look. It lets us find ourselves in the quiet of contemplation… where everything isnt on some spectrum of insult or affiliation. Instead, we can just be and observe without being judged.

Perhaps the only bad habit is of being too self aware rather than contemplating that which isnt us or them?

Sat and sun 12-3PM Through July 9th
4518 NE 32nd Avenue