Rae Mahaffey

Laura  Russo, Portland, Oregon

by Richard Speer

    Layering geometric imagery to explore the link between two- and three-dimensional space, Rae Mahaffey offers up a host of happy paradoxes in her latest outing at Laura Russo.  Mahaffey has long toyed with the intersection of pattern and dissonance but is tending toward increasingly rigorous, yet still buoyant, geometries.

    In works such as Substratum III, the artist composes in essentially rectilinear fashion, bringing her interlocking, Lego-like forms forward atop pulsing interference patterns, waves, and circles.  The circle assumes more prominence in Concentric IV, with its striking bullseye motifs in blood-orange, turquoise, and acid green.  But the pieces that assert the most presence—Entrance, Shelve, and Holey Apparition—incorporate ovals and dramatic wood-stain effects whereby Mahaffey echoes the panel’s grain by painting knots and contours in black and vivid color.  The result looks as if some sort of preternatural light has seared through the wood, imprinting itself upon the viewer’s retina:  a hardwood floor crossed with the Shroud of Turin.  Another work, Town, extends luxuriantly on the horizontal, its imagery an etude on the parallelogram.  In the space’s back gallery, oil-stick pieces on copper play nicely with patina, complementing small patterned blocks that evoke swatches of decadent wallpaper.

            Collaged monoprints on ubiquitous sheet-music pages are cloying by definition and signal the show’s only misstep—the art world could use at least a half-century moratorium on sheet music as a collage element.  In the oil paintings that make up the bulk of this body of work, Mahaffey is at her boldest when she exerts the most geometric precision, less secure when she free-hands quirky circles and honeycombs, for idiosyncrasies do not easily mesh with the perfection inherent in her jaunty Platonic pastiche.

—Richard Speer