The World Without Us
Urban blight glows at Opus6ix
BY SUZI STEFFEN
|Kirk Lybecker’s A Pleasant Upscale View of Redemption|
I try not to review shows from the same place two art columns in a row. Eugene has so many good galleries and alternative art spaces that it doesn’t seem quite fair — but my newfound espresso addiction changed my plans. I popped into Café Perugino for a latte over the weekend, and I glimpsed Kirk Lybecker’s Lunch at the Café Hysteria hanging on the brick wall. The seductive shine of the oil paint and the flat panels of color that define a broken-down city setting drew my eye over and over.
OK, I thought, I’ll glance at his show at Opus6ix’s freshly named Backdoor Gallery. What a stunner! Lybecker’s large-scale, meticulously rendered portraits of urban decay radiate light and color from every wall. Back in the day (the mid-19th-century day, that is), canvases as big as A Pleasant Upscale View of Redemption (42″ x 60″) would be reserved for Grand Historical Narrative. Like the Ashcan painters of New York’s blight 100 years ago, Lybecker — who paints Portland’s corroded spots — turns that assumption on its head. But unlike them, his use of intense primary colors and lack of human subjects make the city itself glorious in transition.
From the gloomy Sanctuary for the Dispossessed to the compelling The Office Furniture of Mortality, with its crumpled fast food cans and bags as the only sign of human activity; from the specific bricks of Another Day at the Hotel Rorschach to the tongue-in-cheek irony in The Nature of Fracture and Paradox, Lybecker exerts such control over his material and such precise rendering that he makes the breakdown of formerly bustling areas a joy to behold.
And Lybecker nails the loneliness of the neglected buildings, their interiors marked by tags and longing for human habitation. The driving force behind these spaces is gone, the paintings suggest, and he captures the dusty air itself, lurking without motivation. Yet the bright colors of Elevator Music and Dreams of Idaho show sunlight falling in empty rooms, where doors have been left open and the detritus of the Golden Arches limps through space. Someone once cared for these places, and Lybecker’s eye makes us care again.