Local Book Reviews December

Portland's best tunes, reads, and more

By Camela Raymond May 19, 2009 Published in the December 2007 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Hyena Reality

“Most of Chris’s art makes me happy,” writes Sean Kennerly in an introduction to Please Listen I Have Something to Tell You about What Is (Alleged Press), a new book about the art of Chris Johanson, whose gnomic paintings, drawings and installations are more influential than the title lets on. “In real life, dealing with all the scuzzy prostitutes and junkies and the gangs and harassment and kids on the bus and hippie burnouts and business people and schizos and thieves can be tense,” Kennerly continues, apropos life in the Bay Area, where Johanson cut his artistic teeth before moving to Portland in 2003. “But in Chris’s art it all becomes pretty mellow.” It’s an apt summation of Johanson’s subject matter, and it also reveals much about the sensibility behind it: After all, why not have Larry Rinder, the esteemed curator who tapped Johanson for the 2002 Whitney Biennial, write one of the book’s two essays? Because rather than flaunt his art-world credentials, Johanson prefers to disarm people with his laid-back, West Coast cool, befriending them with dopey, kaleidoscopic abstract paintings, portraits of New Agers in spiritual crises and grungy street scenes. You’ll be saluting his freak flag too, by the time you turn the last page of this gorgeous hardcover.

Portlander Tara Jane ONeil makes remarkably winsome music and embarrassingly dull visual art. Which is why you should pick up a copy of Wings. Strings. Meridians. A Blighted Bestiary (Square Root Books/Yeti), bypass the ninety-some pages of cutesy bird paintings and proceed directly to the CD, neatly folded into the back cover. There you’ll find ONeil’s introspective solo songs, driven by her airy soprano vocals and droning guitar, including a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” that sounds like it’s been soaked in a dishpan and taken on a long drive in the rain. At $14.95, the songs are still a solid deal. —Camela Raymond

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