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Originally published Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 5:31 AM

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Gregory Grenon: oil-on-glass paintings with a stained-glass glow, at Traver Gallery

Portland artist Gregory Grenon tries new things in "Outside of Society," his show at Seattle's Traver Gallery, featuring reverse-oil-on-glass paintings and collagelike mixed-media pieces. Through July 29, 2012.

Seattle Times arts writer

Exhibition review

Gregory Grenon: 'Outside of Society'

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays, through July 29, Traver Gallery, 110 Union St., Seattle; free (206-587-6501 or www.travergallery.com).
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You know Gregory Grenon's work.

You've seen it in museums, offices, restaurants or bars in Seattle or in Portland (where Grenon is based). Even if you don't know his name, you'll notice straight away that the women in his paintings are as unmistakably his as Modigliani's are Modigliani's. They're alluring, aloof, always poised in some glossy limbo between the sinister and the seductive, the moody and the menacing.

They're literally glossy, too, thanks to Grenon's reverse oil-painting technique on glass. After sketching the details of a model's eyes, nose, lips or cheekbones in emphatic lines on the back of his glass "canvas," Grenon, with a looser hand, fills in each subject's hair, complexion, garb and backdrop.

The results have a stained-glass quality, both in the glow of their colors and in the sharply drawn outlines of the figure or head. Those outlines function the same way a chapel window's dark leading does. They lend the portraits a stylized strength while still, at their best, conveying something both distinctive and elusive about the individual. Again and again, the same dynamic is in play as Grenon's subjects seem both candidly caught and strangely inaccessible, thanks to the layer of glass that intervenes between the viewer and the actual paint.

That said, there are a few new wrinkles in the work in "Outside of Society," Grenon's latest show at Traver Gallery. The title painting is a rare double portrait, in which a redhead and brunette, eyeing the viewer warily, are linked by a visual code: dark dotted patterns across their faces and clothing.

"Mannerisms," a reverse oil painting on confetti glass, ramps up the abstract component with the glass's "confetti" pieces (geometric slivers of green and red embedded within Grenon's transparent panel of glass) punctuating the features of a solemn female.

There's an atypical male presence in a couple of the pieces, too. "The Sleeping Man" shows a recumbent young man dozing, either on a blanket or in a mannered treatment of an ocean shore. Grenon uses a multipane window-frame as his "canvas" here, with the figure occupying the central pane and a festive Fauve-inspired border surrounding Mr. Sleepyhead on the eight outer panes.

Other pieces take a mixed-media turn. "Doesn't Matter What You Wear" incorporates actual cotton, clothing a forlorn young female in a poignant mismatch of rainbow and floral patterns. "Buffalo Boy" and "All My Characteristics" stray into Joseph Cornell territory, with constructions that incorporate everything from silver coins and an ornate wood framework ("Buffalo Boy") to a photograph, a key, a teacup, photographs and more ("All My Characteristics").

Still, Grenon's women and girls (some are definitely youngsters) dominate the show. A few feel like rote productions. But the best are striking indeed. "I Can't Leave Now" is Grenon at his most erotic, with its big blonde in a suggestive pose, hiking up her skirt, her eyes lidded asymmetrically. The random bits of color on her knees — blue, green, yellow, red — fizz things up considerably.

"Both Sides Now," by contrast, is pure pensive innocence, with its portrait of a young girl looking to one side. Her eyes are a striking blue, her skin is a mute confetti of colors and her unruly Rasta braids are a thing of wayward wonder. You'd know it instantly as Grenon's work — yet it couldn't feel fresher.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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