Nine Gallery

Focus on God's Eye

Nine Gallery was founded in 1987 by nine artists interested in working periodically outside the context of the commercial gallery. It is an artist-run cooperative and is administratively and financially independent from Blue Sky, as it is funded solely by its members. Each member of Nine Gallery is in charge of the gallery for one month each year. Usually members show their own work, however, they are also welcome to curate shows of other artists’ work. Periodically the members of Nine Gallery, who now number eleven, present work together in group exhibitions, and at other times they collectively invite other artists to show. Beyond the general interest in creating a largely non-commercial exhibition environment with a minimum of bureaucratic and institutional structure, the members of Nine Gallery have no collective ideological program or philosophy.

To purchase a copy of Nine @ 25, a Blurb publication celebrating Nine Gallery’s 25th anniversary, follow this link.

Nine Gallery shares the same hours as Blue Sky.

March 2014:
Mark R. Smith
Focus on God’s Eye

March 5 through April 30
Artist Reception: Thursday, March 6, 6-9 PM

Nine Gallery @ Blue Sky
122 NW 8th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209


Focus on God’s Eye (2014)

In Focus on God’s Eye, the wrapped and woven God’s Eye form becomes a compelling symbol of the rupture that took place in 2011 as people across the world came together to remark their urban spaces and reclaim their cities from those in power. More specifically, this work explores how the Occupy Movement in Portland invested Chapman and Lownsdale squares with an aesthetic power that subverted the traditional urban grid structure and reminded people that the Plaza Blocks were once popular places of assembly and discussion.

As early as 2010, communities across North Africa and the Middle East were already making their desire for political change visible by occupying public spaces, often locations that symbolized colonial power, like Tahrir Square in Cairo. By 2011, city squares in Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain had all been transformed into temporary homes for protesters, with graffiti slogans, brilliant stencils and other agitprop art encoding the squares with a new power dynamic.

Later in the year, American Occupy encampments also covered public squares with stenciled signs, graffiti and makeshift architecture inspired by the change sweeping through the Middle East. The shelters erected were a combination of mass-produced portable tents and an idiosyncratic personalization of public space that broke up the gridded, compartmentalized structure of American cities. These compositions honor the way the encampments exposed gaps in the seamless image of order and control maintained by those in power.

In Focus on God’s Eye and the smaller Untitled pieces, Mark R. Smith references the God’s Eyes that were hand made by occupiers and used to decorate the Portland camp. The Huichol people of western Mexico first used the form, which they called Sikuli, to visualize the power of seeing unknown things. Today, God’s Eyes are more often used as craft projects in the US with little connection to the earlier spiritual or apotropaic power associated with the form. Yet in the context of the Occupy Encampment, the eyes took on new energy as a symbol of seeing unknown power and reclaiming public space for the people.

The God’s Eye form also resonates with the modernist language of early 20th century geometric abstraction. And the works in this show recall the floor plans of Bauhaus modular homes or the shifting walls of De Stijl interiors. These collages play with the formal language of modernism, reminding us of links between the Occupy Movement’s optimism and the idealistic goals of early modernist designers. However, where modernist utopian design is often critiqued for symbolizing total social control in the 21st century, the Occupy camp instead mounted a challenge to the prevailing power structure. Resonating with this challenge, Smith’s compositions break the purity of the grid. His work shows how modernist design dovetails with folk art. It forces machine production into a dialogue craft and explores the use of the God’s Eye form in the Occupy Camp as a reflection of what happened when citizens tried to claim spaces for communal interaction and public power within the city.

-Christine Weber

Photo:  Mark R. Smith