Jamie Potter: Universal
A couple of weeks ago, David and I went to Portland to visit my sister and some friends. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to catch Universal, an exhibition of works on paper by Jamie Potter at Valentine’s, a bar and venue in downtown Portland.
Jamie’s first solo exhibition since leaving Seattle for Portland last year, Universal picks up where his 2008 solo exhibition at Gallery4Culture in Seattle left off, with a series of abstract paintings that incorporate collage elements from comic books. Isolated rocks, superhero hairdos and technological doodads are removed from their narrative contexts and presented alongside sensuous blobs of sugar-sweetened color, swept up in eddies that alternately resemble both metaphysical mandalas and the organic paths traced by the presence of shallow water in a landscape. The resulting images fall somewhere between chaos and delicate order, characterized by a gentle, almost goofy dynamism whose surface-level innocence overlays a matrix of invisible forces that always seems to be simultaneously coming together and falling apart.
Jamie Potter’s paintings move with the ease of skillfully executed musical improvisations, and it is worth noting that he is also an accomplished musician in this precise vein. His best known project is Brother Raven, an improv-driven synthesizer duo with Gift Tapes founder Jason E. Anderson, and he has also released solo material under the monikers Million Mists and Father Sound and was a member of Bonus with Scott Goodwin and Matt Carlson. Jamie is also a video artist, whose experiments in light and sound have been featured, among other places, on Portland cable access show Experimental 1/2 Hour and at the 2006 New York Underground Film Festival.
Like his works on paper, Jamie’s music and video work often begins with thrift store castoffs as source material, with unwanted and undervalued synthesizers and VHS equipment taking the place of the comic books that seed his works on paper. He then proceeds to coax idiosyncratic, inharmonic spurts of data into compositions typically dictated by the confines of a semi-obsolete format, such as 2″ cassette tape. Through the intuitive process of improvisation and revision, Jamie imparts his trademark organic dynamism to a diverse array of materials, somehow always arriving at a vaguely biomorphic, self-similar end result with more than a hint of the uncanny. The ingredients might feel nostalgic, but the finished product is wholly other.
On a side note: Jamie is also a hell of a carpenter, and received his BFA from the University of Washington’s prestigious ceramics department. While this tremendous set of fabrication skills does not go entirely untapped in the new work (he built gorgeous frames for each of the pieces by hand, and they are almost worth more than he is asking for the framed paintings), it still seems to me like his best work—or at least something that synthesizes and makes full use of his huge range of interests and abilities—is still ahead of him. Thus, my only criticism of Universal, if you can even call it one, is that it is not *quite* universal. I only say this because I know there are plenty of things in Jamie’s creative universe that aren’t in this show, and if there were ever an artist whose Gesamtkunstwerk I am anxiously awaiting, it would be his. (I have invited Jamie to come do something in the Portal at his convenience. If and when he does so, I hope it will be both time-and-object based; an eternally encrypted moment of indulgently performative image, sight and sound.)
Universal is currently on view at Valentine’s at 232 SW Ankeny in Portland. I have no idea how long it will be up…their website is decidedly uninformative. Go check it out if you can, and by all means, get into everything Jamie does if you aren’t already!