I can’t remember which social media platform I was on when I first saw Pat Boas’ installation of wallpaper and paintings. The work is at Oregon Contemporary as part of the exhibition “Hallie Ford Fellows in the Visual Arts 2017 -2019.” Still, the moment I saw the abstractly patterned wallpaper paired with the two small abstract paintings on my screen, I knew that I wanted to write about her contribution.
That said, I did hesitate.
First of all, group shows are notoriously difficult to write about because there is the implicit command to write about a prescribed overarching theme. Additionally, length constraints imposed by a publisher may necessitate that assessments of works by individual artists remain rather perfunctory, therefore reflecting poorly on both artist and writer. There is also the potential problem of writing about one particular artist’s work to the exclusion of the others in a group exhibit. Should the writer decide to focus on a number of artists less than the total of those in the exhibit, there might be a perceived slight. (As I have previously written about several artists in the exhibit, rest assured, no slight is intended. It is merely that I was smitten by Boas’ installation.)
Secondly, writing about abstract art can be intimidating, perhaps because references drawn from the work are fairly abstract in themselves. Descriptives arise out of oblique formal concerns or color theory, which can make for fairly pedantic reading, which can suck the life out of the piece of art. Yet, just as problematic is an attempt to describe a strong emotional response from said writer about the art. The former approach seems to be objective in the extreme, and the latter seems too subjective. Nevermind that abstract art often eludes meaning (as in a literal understanding).
Of course, these difficulties have not prevented writers from trying to relay their impressions, nor prevented viewers from appreciating such art. After all, abstraction has been around for over a century now. We should feel somewhat comfortable with it. Even so, it’s nice when the artist herself gives us a work that is a joy to contemplate.
Pat Boas’ installation covers a wall that is 11′ high and 20′ wide, and consists of wallpaper titled Bliksem (the Dutch word for lightning) that covers the entire wall, plus two 20″ x 16″ paintings that are spaced 92” apart. Standing well-back from the wall, the prominent color of the wallpaper seems to be a purple, or maybe a violet. Upon closer examination, there are also significant amounts of aquamarine and light green. Pink and yellow lines serve to outline much of the larger color blocking.
I am thrown back to my grandparents’ house where I took pleasure in appreciating the symmetry and mirroring of repeated patterning in their 1950s fiberglass curtains. The effect here is similar, except Boas’ wall vibrates, and like high voltage, crackles and hums. It crawls, slithers, and hypnotizes. That dynamism helps one enter into the “logic,” or rather strategy, of the overall installation, so much so that I do not think of the wallpaper and paintings as separate from each other, but instead as parts of a cooperative whole.
While focusing on the wallpaper, purple or violet seems to dominate. Yet, in shifting focus to either (or both) of the paintings, purple recedes in favor of yellow. This “color bounce” certainly adds to the interest, for depending on how one focuses, the paintings either stand apart from or sink into the wall. Set like eyes on the face of the wall, they break up that busy plane, yet also have the potential to get lost within its patterning. The paintings are like the controls for a giant oscilloscope of some kind, yet instead of turning what would be the rectangular knobs to activate the patterns, all one needs to do is shift one’s gaze from focusing on the paintings to taking in the whole wall, and then back to the paintings.
One assumes that the painting on the left, Sentinel (Window), gets the parenthetical part of its title from the rectangular frame that sits within the outer edges of the painting. Yet, the frame appears to sit upon the paint underneath, less a frame and more a painted border atop the rest of the painting. The run of humps on its outside edge call to mind the frame one would find around an older mirror, an impression perhaps aided by the yellow wavy lines that begins to suggest the outline of a head with a pinkish forehead down to a chalky-white neck. Is this the Sentinel? I ask because in the middle of this portrait one finds a vanishing point, thereby suggesting a landscape as well. Maybe a clue can be found in the harlequin patterning, which makes me wonder if Boas, like a jester, is having a bit of fun with the viewer. Also of note is the tension between the solid colors and the back painting, which is then ameliorated with watery yellows and darker greens. The gray, somewhat horizontal lines just below the midpoint provide a certain stability, like trusses against an implosion.
The other painting, Good Listener, is to my mind hilarious, as it seems more to represent just the opposite, meaning that the varied and busy portions of the painting give the impression of someone with a lot on their mind who might indeed require someone with a ready ear. The yellow, black, and tan gridded graph runs amok alongside the tumble of boulder-like shapes. Again, the harlequin pattern may suggest a jest is again at play here, or even the perception of a Shakespearean fool where the reality is quite the contrary. Curiously, however, rather than resting upon the harlequin pattern as a sort of commentary on the other elements, for respite, my eye retreats to the small green bar in the upper right corner.
When I am ready, I step back a bit and let the whole piece do its thing again, which, when I come to think of it, has been my relationship with Pat Boas’ work from when we first crossed paths some ten or twelve years back. There are interesting concepts behind her art, along with an execution that rewards time spent with her work, which may be why she is increasingly getting the attention she deserves.
Note: The exhibit at Oregon Contemporary is the second iteration of this group show of these particular Hallie Ford fellows. The first exhibition was at the University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon. Both were curated by Los Angeles curator and author, Jenelle Porter (who, curiously enough, was also a jurist for the Hallie Ford Family Foundation’s 2020 award cycle). For the Schnitzer exhibit, Boas presented altogether different work (as did a number of the other artists), which did not involve wallpaper. However, this is the second time Boas has exhibited wallpaper as part of her installation, the first being in 2021 for Deeds Not Words at Sun Valley Museum of Art, Ketchum, ID.
Oregon Center for Contemporary Art is located at 8371 North Interstate Avenue and is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from Noon-5 pm. The exhibition “Hallie Ford Fellows in the Visual Arts 2017-2019” is open through March 20th.