Michael T. Hensley
Mark Woolley Gallery, Portland, OR
by Richard Speer
Michael T. Hensley presented two bodies of work in his latest outing at Mark Woolley Galllery: intricate etchings on rusted steel and lowbrow acrylic fantasias on birch panel. With their cartoon- and grafitti-influenced aesthetic, both bodies of work exhibit a penchant for pictorial intricacy that updates and Westernizes a Batuan density with cheeky, Gen-Y imagery. The mechanically and chemically distressed etchings on steel could on first glance be taken as abstracted landscapes, with top-heavy expanses of milky white enamel cut by a low, mountainous horizon of brown rust. On closer inspection these contours reveal themselves as far from monolithic. In works such as Downtown and Astoria, they betray a panoply of urban imagery—smokestacks, bridges, and drainage pipes—as well as more fanciful groupings of skulls-and-crossbones, hidden faces, and mummies. Empire and Phoenix counterbalance the heavy cityscapes with ethereal scratches and tree-like forms. Smaller works such as So Long, with its hippie-haired figure waving goodbye to an offscreen companion, and Porcupine, with its hirsuite male nude, are less virtuosic and more illustratorly in timbre, lacking the larger etchings’ concentrated visual punch.
Every bit as fastidious as those etchings, although less texturally piquant, are the artist’s acrylic works on panel, all of which span the a chromatic spectrum from gunmetal blue to navy. If the rust-on-steel works succeed primarily as juxtapositions of positive and negative space, these paintings make their statement through sheer graphic prolificacy. Sucker Punch is populated variously by thought balloons, PacMan figures, regurgitating totems, robots, and no less an icon than Godzilla himself. Overall the works are feverish meditations on the relationship between high skill and lowbrow iconography, counterposing an accomplished, Brueghel-style fecundity against Zen-like remove.
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