Portland

Porn and Patterns: 21st Century Vanitas in Portland

It may take a second to see the sex. Ty Ennis’s show at Nationale this month consists of petite paintings featuring prominent textile patterns, done with the gentlest touch. Look a second longer and you notice the erotic: porn dvds, romance novels, a vaginal oyster.

The paintings are mostly still lifes, and even though there’s sex, they’re not sexy (and not meant to be). They’re softly painted, but the sex imagery is rougher: a DVD case is open to a disc titled “Weapons of Ass Destruction,” with two women flashing.

Ty Ennis, “Still Life with Weapons.” Ink, watercolor, and acrylic on paper. 15x11”. 2012.

Note how the color palette of the disc sticker correlates with the lavender lilacs in the painting: the work is funny. After all the show is called JKJKJK, as if to say “just kidding just kidding just kidding,” (but also JK for Jill Kelly, the porn starlet). The bluntness of the erotic images sidles up to their demure setting. Not surprisingly, the paintings are illustrative. Ennis is Portland-based, and Portland is renowned for its graphic arts scene (comics, illustration, and graphic design alike), with Nationale being fantastic at showcasing some of the best work in the illustration vein, (see: Carson Ellis, Cari Vander Yacht). Like a number of other finely curated shops in Portland—Ampersand Vintage and Monograph Bookwerks—it also features original artwork.

Ty Ennis, “The Knowing You.” Mixed media. Dimensions variable. 2012.

Within the context of a retail space, lines blur between the art and the space. An installation on the right side of the gallery exhibits flannel, the Marquis de Sade, a vase of lavender, a candle, and a record. Although the art camouflages slightly with the merchandise of the retail space, the work is extremely personal. A previous show by Ennis at the (now defunct) New American Art Union also united somber with the personal: You’ll Love It Here: The Lilac City Track Murders ’96-‘98 was based on the female victims of a serial killer in his hometown of Spokane.

In addition to being personal, The work in JKJKJK is not purely humor; as still lifes, they pull from the vanitas tradition, referencing mortality. Ennis’s work is often wrapped up in the past, evidenced by other previous show titles: The Bronze LossWhat it All MeantEverything is great here, maybe.

Ty Ennis, “2nd & Bernard (Spokane, WA).” Ink, watercolor, and acrylic on paper. 15×11.” 2012.

Although the work draws from personal imagery, the show doesn’t dive into any deep realms of Ennis’s psyche. There’s not necessarily any revelations in the work. It’s hard to make any major summations, although it’s obvious that Ennis is playing a bit, most notably with color. (Previous work is largely black and white, although this show has a fondness for hot pink.) One piece is even framed by the jolt of hot pink, as if to emphasize the experience of seeing itself. The biggest walkaway from the show harkened back to that word “scopophilia,” although in a loose sense, as in, the “joy of looking.” Ennis’s work by and large seems to be about the joy of looking, specifically at objects, and his paintings themselves are delights to look at. There’s something about the gradual layering of Ennis’s watercolor washes and his slightly nervous mark making that suggests a sense of searching and meandering (sexual) desire. Conceptually, the show may be lacking, however, visually, the show is a great success; these mixes of porn and patterns are lovely things to look at.

Ty Ennis, “Haunter.” Ink and watercolor on paper. 7.5×5.5″. 2012.

 

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