phile under: art

Review: Pat Boas Record Record

exhibition at Marylhurst Art Gym

By Lisa Radon October 25, 2009


Portland artist Pat Boas takes selective readings of the world, processing received information such as front page news or signage through filters that result in, for example, some of the remarkable drawings in her current one-woman exhibition, Record Record at Marylhurst’s Art Gym. Her readings are experiment, expose, illumination.

I’m partial to the work that is more procedural, in particular, her series here that uses as source material pages from the New York Times that become a critical editing of the edited, of, "all the news that’s fit to print," when by “fit” we mean, what exactly? By isolating certain typographic or photographic elements, her drawings get at questions like this in very elegant ways.

For “All the Heads on the Front Pages of the New York Times,” Boas traces, on a single sheet of vellum the silhouette outline of all of the heads that appear on the front page of the Times for a month. These are ghost crowds of the news-makers, the victims, the heroes, the bystanders. Similarly, for her “NYT Little People” series, she does finely wrought gouache paintings of only the non-famous figures that appear on the cover of the Times. The figures float in isolation on a white ground, holding their places in the invisible layout on which the paintings are based. She titles these pieces with a headline from that day. Both of these series raise questions about who is newsworthy and what the structures are that determine their newsworthiness, and in fact the rules are that dictate what makes anything worth reporting for the Times.

“A3” jarringly isolates incidences of the ad for Tiffany’s jewelry and the international news photos (of disaster, war, death) beside it that shared that page of the Times for many years. “If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing,” you can hear Peggy Lee sing. This series is the best example of perfect-pitch political work that says what needs to be said sans sledgehammer.

In contrast to those works that foreground the people on the front page of the Times, “Alphabet (NYT 01/01/01)” isolates the letters of the alphabet that appear in the type on the page (one drawing per letter displayed in calendar form) via solvent transfer. The pieces are beautiful, as if letters were randomly shot through screen and stencil at the paper. It’s as if the practice of recording these letters might reveal a secret and it does: the layout of the page foregrounded with the image areas left blank, and of course, the codebreaker’s cheat, the letter frequencies in the English language: etaoin shrdlu.

Boas’ more current work, her 2007-2009 series “What Our Homes Can Tell Us” suffers in that its methods are more ad hoc. The artist tiles lyric phraselets from photos she’s shot in her home and on her travels of words she finds on signs, packaging, book spines, &c. Because the artist subjectively shuffles the words, these are best seen as micro-poems rather than the mystical readings of a medium as Boas asserts. Higgledy-piggledy framing of the individual words might be deliberate, emphasizing their found nature, but it thwarts any visual rhythm that could create structure. So we’re left with whether Boas’ phrases resonate as phrases.

I’m glad curator Terri Hopkins honed in on this info-related work of Boas’. An exhilarating show overall.

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