Three dozen or so five-inch-square canvases that appear to be painted from blurry photos—doesn't sound very promising, does it? But in its deft way, Kate Protage's XS is better than almost anything else in Pioneer Square right now (also kicking major ass are Jeffry Mitchell with his wild pots at James Harris and Doug Parry with his vignettes of clown-dads 'n' nooses at Marni Muir). Most other shows have responded to the crisis of a shrinking market by cycling through the usual exhausted tropes even more frantically. There are taxonomic displays, campy appropriations of vintage illustrations, and indie cutesiness. Galleries like Grover Thurston that have always unabashedly targeted upscale living rooms are now approaching Restoration Hardware levels of harmless charm. XS (extra-small or "excess"?) is by contrast sober, agile, and alert. The magic of the paintings (entirely lost in reproduction, sorry) lies in how a few sharp-edged blobs of paint can so economically transmit an atmosphere of nocturnal mystery, and so precisely indicate the side of a bus, a haze of light from a storefront, or a couple standing in the shadows. The artist's sharp watchfulness also seems to be finely tuned to the current market: At $125 a painting, the show is a near-sellout.
La Familia Gallery, 117 Prefontaine Place S., 291-4608, lafamiliagallery.org. Wed.–Sat. 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Ends Aug. 29.-- Read more of David Stoesz's The Slutty Eye.