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Fresh art feast ready for viewing

Tweaked maps, mini still-lifes are part of galleries' offerings
by: Courtesy of Pushdot Studio, Body parts and organs stand in for the human players in Grace Weston’s “Couple’s Therapy.”

Finally, the first First Thursday in months where it's guaranteed not to rain and all the rich are away.

Not that they ever go to First Thursday, but you get the point: Thursday, July 6, is a good time to go out and squint at some paintings en route to your favorite Pearl bar-restaurant. No need to pretend you're buying, but there is some fine painting going on right now.

First stop should be the Mark Woolley Gallery in the Pearl, where there are new paintings by Michael T. Hensley.

Hensley's style is recognizable from his murals at the Virginia Woof doggy day care on West Burnside Street, at the youth homeless shelter Outside In and at the Portland International Airport.

His paintings feature a wealth of detail, made up of naive doodles on washes of color, interspersed with letters, geometric shapes and found images on newsprint. He also manages to use printing techniques, drawing lines by carving away color like in a woodcut.

What could be a mess succeeds because of Hensley's fine sense of balance in making his compositions, and restraint in the use of color. He's a house painter by day, and the title of the show, 'Lead Free,' is about the desire to be free of the 'toxicity' of a day job and also free of toxic relationships. You'll never look at house painters the same way again.

First Thursday reception 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 6; regular hours 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, through July 29, Mark Woolley Gallery in the Pearl, 120 N.W. Ninth Ave., Suite 210, 503-224-5475, www.markwoolley.com

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Robert Calvo dropped off the edge of the flat Earth for eight years when he became a boat builder. He's back now, though, with a strong series of paintings that show his love of maps and interest in alphabets. (Like Hensley, he has a large work at an airport, this one MIA - Miami - not PDX.)

His previous works have used wooden panels that curve slightly away from the wall and have beveled edges (that's the craftsman in him), but these are flat panels layered with a grid of cut-up U.S. road maps. He stencils ideograms, which here are reminiscent of Cyrillic script or complex logos, then overlays them with washes of paint in one color. Once the stencil is removed, the hieroglyphics stand out in stark contrast to the murky maps underneath.

In 'Zazuela' you see glimpses of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, while in 'Candyland' it's snatches of California. Another, called 'Walkabout,' is based on star charts, where the clearings in the paint resemble made-up constellations. They're better than the original Greek ones, in some cases.

First Thursday reception 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 6; regular hours 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, through July 29, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, 417 N.W. Ninth Ave., 503-224-0521, www.elizabethleach.com

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More serious, midsize paintings with the emphasis on finish are on display down the block at PDX Contemporary Art. Joe Macca's latest works are severe in their simplicity, yet still playful.

After studying his own breathing for the past two years, Macca has attempted to put his feelings about it in graphic form. The result is a series of mesmerizing paintings, in which ribbons of gradated color float on a stark, monochrome background. The paintings sit a few inches off the wall, giving them an extra lightness.

Macca considers his style 'reductive' rather than Minimal. (Portland State teachers can do that.) The backgrounds are made up of 200 or so layers of oil paint, such that they are deeply colored and reflective like Chinese lacquer, while the wavy lines are painted in acrylic. Because of the drying time involved, he's one of those artists who put in the hours every day. Bring at least $3,000.

First Thursday reception, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 6; regular hours 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, through July 29, PDX Contemporary Art, 925 N.W. Flanders St., 503-222-0063, www.pdxcontempo-raryart.com

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Finally, with a little less analog and a little more digital (but still with a lot of handiwork involved), Pushdot Studio has a show of new photos by Grace Weston. She builds small dioramas from toys and tiny scale props, playing dark and light feelings off each other.

'Couple's Therapy' shows two patients and an analyst reduced to their basic forms: heart, brain and eye. She made the shapes out of polymer clay, but in 'Don't Pet the Bee' she has a real bee drinking from a bird bath. Weston shoots on an ultrasaturated color transparency film from Kodak, using medium or 4-by-5-inch format film. She's inspired by illustrator Mark Ryden, as well as by Gregory Crewdson and David Levinthal, masters of the 'staged photography' genre.

Sometimes a prop inspires her, but sometimes she has an idea and spends time looking for the right props and characters. She uses a small sketchbook to record the inspirations. A fine-art photographer by day, she has quite a career doing this type of illustration for magazines, her signature being little fluffy clouds and pastel colors.

Pushdot's only requirement for showing work is that at least one step of the process be digital. In this case, Weston has the transparency scanned, then made into a Chromira print (a photographic print made in the darkroom from a digital file) because the colors are the most vivid she can attain.

Although she adores film, being digital has other advantages: Chipped vintage toys can be touched up in Photoshop, to preserve the illusion of perfection.

First Thursday reception 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 6; regular hours 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, through July 29. Pushdot Studio, 830 N.W. 14th Ave., 503-224-5925, www.pushdotstudio.com

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