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Matthew Picton
at Pulliam Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Recommendation by Richard Speer

Continuing through July 30, 2011

British-American conceptual artist Matthew Picton has long traversed the intersection of topography and sculpture. His sculptures of the early 2000s were impressions of eroded, potholed roads, dressed up in wild Pop colors. Similarly his fastidious river sculptures, attached to walls by stickpins or hung from ceilings by Slinky-toys, married nature’s snaking, twisting organicism with the artist’s taste for almost preternaturally obsessive execution.  In the current exhibition, Picton takes his odes to topography to higher levels of abstraction than ever in a suite of wall sculptures that depict the grids of five different cities — Florence, Dublin, New York, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon — through the conceit of the printed word.  

Some pieces (“Portland” and “Dublin”) take inspiration from novels exalted by the artist (for example, Ursula LaGuin’s “The Lathe of Heaven” and James Joyce’s “Ulysses”). Others, such as “Lower Manhattan,” draw on newspaper clippings — specifically, headlines from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Many of the works have an apocalyptic bent; in addition to employing smoke-saturated paper to convey the destruction of 9/11 in the New York piece, the Washington, D.C. sculpture employs burnt paper to convey an eerie sense of impending harm to the nation’s capital. Just as Picton once alluded to the sinister undercurrents of nature, he now undermines the cartographic rigor of city grids with intimations that the barbarians may already be at the gate.

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