Friday, December 24, 2010

art current: Spindleworks

Below is a link to my art current column about Spindleworks, a non-profit organization that offers creative outlets for people with disabilities. A visit with them triggered some musings about the art world in general too. The work featured here is by Tom Ridlon.

Monday, December 13, 2010

art current: Ben Potter at Unity College

Ben Potter has a small but fabulous show at Unity College where he teaches. Here's the link to my review of it:
above: Sanborn Pond, 2010; gouache on paper, 25 x 44 in.
below: Kelp, 2010; industrial felt and afghan, 24 x 31 in.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

art current: "Maps" at June Fitzpatrick Gallery

Review of June Fitzpatrick's show Maps for The Free Press.

images are by Shannon Rankin and Jeff Woodbury

art current: Dialogue with Connie Hayes

In this art current column for The Free Press i mused aloud about landscape painting in Maine and asked painter Connie Hayes about her personal strategies to keep her work fresh.

Connie Hayes, Pink Drifter, Vinalhaven, 2006; oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Just Seen and Dashed Off - Jeff Badger

Did you ever want to know how to solve life's big questions? Or the universe's? Or what would have happened if you had not said “no”? Jeff Badger will tell you.

He has left his trees capable of human emotion behind, and now has several ink on paper drawings as well as one site-specific wall drawing in Whitney Art Works' I'm just sayin/I know right? which also includes work by Cliff Baldwin, Adriane Herman, and Megan O'Connell. Be prepared to spend some time with Badger's creations. They are immensely worth it. With line drawings and cartoonish images Badger develops some simple and some incredibly complex structures of argument, likelihood, and could-have-beens. Applying scientific reasoning to life's uncertainties in the form of charts and diagrams has the desired effect of pointing out life's follies. Developing alternatives branching out from “yes” and “no” options, small choices develop into world-shattering events. Or not. Depending on which way you go.

Here's an example of options in How Shall We Make Our Feelings Known: “Art” or “Actions” or “Words” (written or oral) or “physical contact” (violence or affection, the latter's options are protect, foot rub, radio request, tandem bike, wink, hearty handshake, or groom) or “gift.”
Or here's What Should We Sew: “Frankenstein” or “Heavy Metal Patch on Denim Jacket” or “Voodoo doll” or “button” or “makeshift sail” (branching out into “survival raft leaving lonely island”) or “sampler.” Nice capturing of the spectrum of human quirks. For all its lightheartedness though, Badger does address issues of global impact, philosophical depth, and touching emotional uncertainty.

I'm just sayin/I know right? is on view until November 20, 2010 at Whitney Art Works, 492 Congress Street, Portland - 207.780.0700 -

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Just Seen and Dashed Off - Petah Coyne

Everything That Rises Must Converge, the title of a Flannery O'Connor short story is also the title of Petah Coyne's current exhibition at MASS MoCA. In the institution's typically large and far from pristine galleries Coyne's sculpture shines, rivets, and may make you feel uncomfortable. And that is good. You should feel that way.

I was first introduced to Petah Coyne in 1996 when i worked at the Corcoran Gallery of Art where Terrie Sultan organized a fantastic one-gallery show of Coyne's sculptures and i had the opportunity to do a studio visit with the artist. I have been following her work ever since and could not pass up this chance to see so much of her work in one place.

The MASS MoCA exhibition assembles sculptures and photographs of the last two decades. I will focus here exclusively on the sculpture. Some of Coyne's early pieces that are suspended from the ceiling are made of materials as varied as black sand, chicken-wire, steel, cotton muslin, and mud, just to name a few components. These large black forms vaguely suggest an anatomical heart, a whirl of movement, or the gravity of emotions respectively.

The thoroughly haunting Untitled #720 (Eguchi's Ghost) was inspired by the protagonist in a story by Yasunari Kawabata. Suspended in mid-air and roughly following the contours of a seated body, the sculpture appears animated, filled with a living presence, yet devoid of life at the same time. The medium corroborates the work's mystery - what looks like greysilver horsehair is in fact a shredded aluminum airstream trailer.

But the tour de force of this installation is a large gallery containing work inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. Like a swampy aviary, a multitude of taxidermied pheasants, peacocks, ducks, and one bobcat, are engulfed by black velvet and dark silkflowers dripping with black wax. In impossibly dramatic poses, they rip at our hearts and strain to inspire empathy, even if they are now only lifeless simulacra. These works state most forcefully, and admittedly not too subtly, what has activated Coyne's work over the decades. The danger of beauty. Its closeness to abjection, and the corollary play between repulsion and desire. She is in effect aiming to define her own sense of the sublime with all its associated terrors and joys.

Petah Coyne: Everything That Rises Must Converge is on view until April 11, 2011 - MASS MoCA, 1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA -

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Astrid Bowlby at Gallery Joe

Astrid Bowlby is currently showing work at Gallery Joe in Philadelphia. Light is up until November 13, 2010 -
Following is the brochure text that i wrote specifically about one series in the exhibition, A Certain Density.

Light - or dark

Darkness and light are generally taken to be opposites of each other - poetically speaking, light equals life and darkness equals death. But what if there are always specks of life and light amidst darkness, what if darkness is built on light rather than being in contrast to it? Instead of a simplistic concept of dueling extremes that nevertheless entail each other, Astrid Bowlby's work suggests a relationship of more metaphysical complexity.

Since 1999 she has been working on a series of ink drawings on 11 x 8 1/2 inch Bristol board entitled A Certain Density. The artist draws freehand up to nine layers of extremely fine straight lines of ink, vertically, horizontally, and diagonally, which may sound like an instruction for a Sol LeWitt drawing. However, although rigorous, Bowlby's drawings are enlivened by constant variance and the artist's physical touch. Her eye guides her hand at all times, making decisions all along and carefully placing lines to control density and darkness.

Depending on how many layers of lines she applies to a piece, visual interest can shift from line to overall effect and tone. The black lines define intricate shapes of white background, which range from stars and octagons in more airy works, to mere specks that are barely visible with the naked eye in the denser pieces. Random accumulations of ink appear and seem to demand from us to recognize shapes in them, clouds, fog, concretions seen in nature. Bowlby has in fact been inspired by certain natural light conditions such as moonlight breaking through tangles of
branches and leaves. So it is not surprising that the unevenness of tone in some of these works creates the illusion of openings and shimmering depths that suggest a geography of darkness. The drawings' rich patina of ink is further animated by an intricate texture of incised lines that invite the eye to follow after the artist's pen. It is also informative to note here that Bowlby is interested in physics, because some of light's main properties are frequency, intensity, and wavelength, all of which can be observed in the properties of the black lines.

The drawings of A Certain Density require a revision of expectations and adjustment of perception. In the process of layering lines, the works evolve from a black-on-white scheme to an allover black with a few white interruptions. The latter appear to be accentuating highlights but are in fact the background, thus calling into question the traditional figure-ground relationship. These drawings are not what they at first glance purport to be - black pieces of paper - but are white sheets that have been given obsessive attention and care. Dark is a version of light.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Other Writing

Here is a link to my review of the exhibition Photographing Maine: Ten Years Later currently on view at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. The image above is C.C. Church's Ondine, 2008 (archival pigment print, 17 x 11 in.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Just Seen and Dashed Off - Pepon Osorio

I have admired Pepón Osorio's socially engaged work for a long time so i was happy to see one of his community-specific installations at the Williams College Museum of Art today. The installation was first created and displayed in a former car dealership in North Adams and a whole group of volunteers helped create it. Drowned in a Glass of Water came out of the artist's engagement with two local families and condenses their histories and stories into a multi-media installation on a rotating stage that is divided into two spaces representing an interior and an exterior. The living room scene is overstuffed with furniture, tchotchkes, video screens and figures. They meld individual family stories with those of popular culture myths and cliches of happy homes. A pile up of toy police cars re-enacts a movie chase gone wrong, a whole collection of Hummel Figures sweetens the turmoil. The bodies of the three mannequins in this arrangement are covered with bandaids, symbolizing the fragility of the individual in such surroundings. The side representing the exterior thematizes nature and nurture, and sickness and health, mediated through video screens, mirrors, and artificiality.

Pepón Osorio: Drowned in a Glass of Water, Williams College Museum of Art, MA, until February 6, 2011 -

Monday, October 11, 2010

Other Writing

I recently wrote in my art current column in the Free Press about the Farnsworth's photography exhibition Emily Schiffer - Cheyenne River. Especially noteworthy is the installation's combination of words and black-and-white photographs of varying sizes.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Just Seen and Dashed Off - Karen MacDonald

Karen MacDonald's exhibition All This is nothing but paper and cardboard. The collages and constructions are spare, formally strong statements of interaction and relativity. The power of a dot - or many of them. Missing or added. The installation of individual elements on the large wall of Chase's is a collection of gems, each perfect in itself in its lack of preciousness. The power to see the potential in the ordinariness of found shapes and materials. Agnes Martin favorably comes to mind for some of the pieces on paper. It's humble but ambitious art.

Perimeter Gallery at Chase's Daily, Belfast
October 7-November 28

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ed Nadeau at the Courthouse Gallery

Ed Nadeau will be having an exhibition of his representational work at the Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth October 1-30. Artist's talk and reception are on October 7 - Following is my essay for the accompanying publication.


We Are All Mainers

Ever since he left graduate school in 1986, Ed Nadeau has been creating narrative paintings and drawings alongside his other bodies of work. He comes from a French-Canadian Catholic family and grew up in the Waterville area. This is important to note here because the artist's scenarios of transgression and absurdity grew out of this background - deep roots of folklore and oral narratives in French Canada and childhood tales of the Maine backwoods. However, Nadeau finds the ideas for his works in actual Maine news stories, events in his own life and combinations of both. For him real life is wondrous and weird enough.

Nadeau's tragicomical narratives are populated by caricatures of people and objects and implicitly challenge our everyday logic. The images remind strongly of the Theatre of the Absurd of the late 1940s to '60s which grew out of the realization that the certainties and unassailable beliefs of earlier times had been eroded. Vague moments of suspense reveal the foolishness of mankind when placed in the vastness of nature or when following its basest instincts. It is not surprising then that Nadeau lists among his literary influences Carolyn Chute's The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Stieg Larsson's thrillers, as well as Stephen King. His artistic style could be called faux-naive, revealing the deep influence cartoons have had on him (especially Bugs Bunny). However, his skillfull compositions and handling of paint give him away as a very accomplished painter who is drawn to the work of Anselm Kiefer, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, and his teacher Jerome Witkin.

Nadeau walks a difficult line between reinforcing stereotypes about Mainers, possibly even angering viewers, and creating enough distance for us to be able to experience the humor in his scenarios. He succeeds by maintaining an authorial distance, always presenting his characters and dramas from afar, thereby dwarfing the figures and avoiding an obvious point of entry for identification. This emotional distance, however, allows the viewer to relate to Nadeau's images in a more open, humorous manner. Although the incidents may originate in remoteness, poverty, lawlessness, and insufficient education, they are rooted in simply being human; thus Nadeau's stories transcend the particular and become universal. We all can recognize a part of ourselves and situations which we sometimes find ourselves in.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just Seen and Dashed Off - Jeff Kellar

I just saw Jeff Kellar's show LOCATIONS at ICON Contemporary Art in Brunswick. For those who know his work, there are a few new departures to observe. The show includes mostly wall pieces of his familiar combination of resin, clay and pigment on aluminum panels (but there are also a few sculptures). They have his trademark spare compositions of two colors interacting in fields and lines to suggest pictorial space that sometimes seems to contradict our knowledge that we are looking at flat surfaces.

Overall, the new work seems slightly more simple in composition than previous bodies of work. Especially the black-and-white pieces titled Walls or Wall Drawing seemingly describe architectural interior spaces less ambiguously than before. Of those i find Wall Drawing 16 (black/white) (a bad snapshot of it above) most interesting as it retains openness, ambiguity of spatial relations, and asymmetry. The other, more colorful work of vibrating arcs, intersecting lines and interpenetrating planes is closer to earlier work, yet feels more condensed (Lines Cross (green) below). There are also a few works in which individual marks float in a field of color that remind me of Sol LeWitt.

Jeff Kellar: LOCATIONS at ICON Contemporary Art, Brunswick until October 16 - 207.725.8157

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Other Writing

I guess this sorely neglected blog will serve as a repository of links to my other outlets for writing. Unfortunately, artscope magazine does not provide full articles on their website, but if you can find the printed copies, there's an article on Ingrid Ellison i wrote for the July/August issue, and a review of the Sharon Lockhart exhibition at the Colby College Museum of Art in the current September/October issue.

And here are the links to my latest art current columns in the Free Press-

This one was about Alan Magee's annual open studio:

About Warren Seelig's installation at the Farnsworth Art Museum:

Anna Hepler's two exhibitions at the Portland Museum of Art and at ICON in Brunswick:

And most recently, comments about Dennis Pinette's show at the Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland:
and that's his painting Sand Cave II, 2010 (oil on gessoed rag paper mounted on canvas, 18 x 18 in.) above.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Other Writing

I wrote an art current piece on Meggan Gould's exhibition at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. Here's a link to the article:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Other Writing

Here is a link to my latest art current column in The Free Press - a response to Alex Katz's exhibition at the Farnsworth Art Museum:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Geographic Observatory

As my last comment on representation of the Maine landscape, i want to introduce the work of a young artists couple, Jessica George and Cole Caswell. Their collaborative creative endeavors are intensely idea-driven and take a wide range of forms, from clothing design to book publishing. They also just opened what they refer to as a “a stepping stone for the curious public trafficker” at 157 High Street in Portland ( Making art and life one continuous practice, it is sometimes difficult to wrap one's mind around their projects. Their investigative spirit will use any tool available to them that relates to direct interaction and can incorporate antiquated techniques including cyanotypes and tintypes or technological systems such as GPS tracking systems.

The artists are based on Peaks Island and have made that geographic locale the focus of several of their Geographic Observatory projects from 2007 to 2009. As an island it provides the site for the artists' shared interest in boundaries and edges and ways to deal with them. Their engagement with land is always site-specific, based on observations from various angles and changing priorities, and results in multiple layers of representation and understanding. For the Canine Tracking Project, their dog was outfitted with a GPS marker and her perambulations across the island tracked. The resulting linear pattern is reproduced as a cyanotype and represents the island's surface with a totally different set of parameters along non-human points of interest. More traditional Plein-air Paintings record the artists' direct response to the landscape in a conventional way. A second set of paintings aims for a more contemporary feel and is executed from memory of a place or event. These small paintings are more abstract and can be hung in configurations that make sense to the viewer.

The Species series required more scientific interaction with the land as well as photographic records of it. In the margins of large images of areas of land, specific plant species are identified with their botanical names (not reproduced here). The same kind of scrutiny is the basis of a series of Botanical Sketches of wildflowers, each outfitted with a label of identifying information. Invertebrates shifts the focus to the animal world and consists of scanned images of insects found in the artists' house. Finally, exploring the physical edge of the island where it meets with the surrounding water, a complete circumnavigation yielded two sets of photographs collected in a duo of books. Detritus: Views documents a continuous view of the island, and Detritus: Objects what human trash and traces were found at predetermined intervals. Together, the two series establish a firm interaction between time and space.

While not all of these different approaches carry the same force, they deliver a cumulative, selective representation that affords a deeper understanding of a specific site. Like quasi-scientists, George and Caswell collect data of objective and subjective character, to understand systems of information that overlay the land. This kind of engagement with a place requires a lot of time on the part of the artists and viewers as well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Other Writing

I am very sorry to have neglected this blog so much for which, at least partially, other writing projects are to blame. I now have a bi-weekly column in the Rockland-based Free Press newspaper and am posting two links below. The first is about a presentation Belfast painter Linden Frederick gave and the second reviews an exhibition of drawing collages by Tony Fitzpatrick. Next up is my review of the CMCA Biennial. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Finally following up on my last blog which suggested exploring alternative ways of representing Maine's landscape or new ways to relate to it, i will here look at a few artists who do the latter. The next blog will be about a couple of young artists who represent landscape quasi-scientifically through multiple approaches.

Jasper Johns said: “Take an object. Do something to it. Then do something else to it.” Transformation as the starting point for art. Two Maine artists who have taken nature as their medium rather than subject are Susan Camp and Dorie Klein. Using intervention as their methodology, they have transformed gourds and snow respectively, for expressive and autobiographical purposes.

Susan Camp grows gourds in constraining molds whereby she completely alters their natural shapes. Some of them become beautiful vessels, hardly recognizable as lowly gourds anymore. Others were grown within molds made of doll parts. Are we looking at a doll's head that has turned vegetable or a gourd that has taken on human form? The push and pull between form and pattern is somewhat unsettling. These doll-shaped gourds open up many avenues of interpretation, from not so subtle sublimation of baby urges to god-like aspirations of new creation. They also remind of mandrake roots' humanoid shape and its magical qualities, however, these days the topic of genetic engineering is more likely to come to our minds.

Dorie Klein is predominantly a photographer but in 1997, to memorialize the death of her mother, she created Snow Bed (for Mum), Marjorie Helen Klein 1920-1997. Out of snow she shaped a bed on which to rest and from which her “mother's spirit melted peacefully into eternity.” Here nature as material assumes monumental significance yet also intensely autobiographical and cathartic dimensions.

Artistic interventions in nature have of course been around for a while. Earthworks of the late 1960s come to mind. Those though were meant to circumvent the commodification of art, were conceptual experiments, and they are tinged with grand-scale egos. The works addressed above, on the other hand, seem personal and nurturing. Yes, nature is being disturbed, but without long-term effect. Other artists living in Maine who use materials taken directly from nature include Barbara Andrus, Asherah Cinnamon, Peigi Cole-Joliffe, and Peter Dellert to name just a few. The boundaries between art and craft, between artists using wood and stone as their material and those mentioned above, is blurry. It is a matter of degree of keeping nature in the foreground and using it for expressive purposes. I believe it worth pointing out these artists' work to give a fuller picture of the range of nature-inspired art produced in this state.

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Craft Gallery in Rockland

Here is proof that something really good can come of unfortunate decisions made by others. Barbara Michelena was a board member at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) from 2000 until the end of 2009. During that time she also developed the highly regarded annual Work of the Hand Crafts Show and Sale as well as CMCA's gallery shop, both of which she is no longer involved in. Now Barbara will do her own thing: on May 28 her gallery of high quality craft will open in the carriage house of the Caldbeck Gallery on Elm Street in Rockland. Simply called “CRAFT” the enterpise has a more sophisticated, descriptive tag line: “A curated collection of fine contemporary craft.” When i expressed my concern about the use of the word “to curate” Michelena explained, “it means that I personally selected the works in the gallery during studio visits with the artists, keeping in mind how their work would complement each others'.” Some of the artists she has selected so far include Susan Atwater, Morris David Dorenfeld, Jan Muddle, George Pearlman, Daphne Taylor, and Simon van der Ven. Many of them are familiars from the Work of the Hand shows and all have a connection to Maine. In opening this commercial gallery for high end craft Michelena wants to do her part in treasuring hand-made beautiful objects in a world dominated by mass production. Cynthia Hyde, co-owner of the Caldbeck Gallery, says she is thrilled to have Barbara as their new neighbor, allowing her and partner Jim Kinnealey to focus their time and energy on the main gallery spaces.

Michelena graduated from Pratt Institute in 1952 and went on to work as an interior and graphics designer for large architectural and design companies in New York and Los Angeles, where she subsequently opened her own office until moving to Maine in 1991. She welcomes craft artists to contact her at The gallery will be open until November 1, Thursdays through Mondays with Tuesday and Wednesday open by appointment. Personally, i think this is a long overdue expansion of Rockland's art offerings and i congratulate Barbara on her vision and élan.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Randy Regier's NuPenny Installation

Intrigued by the opportunity to see an entire environment created in the mind and basement studio of Randy Regier, a few weeks ago some friends and i went on a pilgrimage. Regier's NuPenny Toy Store on view in Waterville until April 30 is absolutely worth the trip (o.k., also go to the Colby Museum of Art while you're there). The artist creates objects from re-purposed materials with such incredible skill and imagination that it is always hard to grasp that he hand-made from scratch, or rather, from found materials, such perfectly conceived toys. But they are not playthings; they are off in some odd way.

I had included some of Randy's work in the exhibition Comic-al at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art last year, but the contrast between those colorful toy creations and the sculptures in his NuPenny store installation couldn't be greater. Gone is the edgy yet light-hearted humor and nostalgia for sci-fi toys, stories, and imagery from his childhood. Instead, this overwhelmingly monochrome work excudes a sense of menace from inside the locked storefront to catch us, who are peeking in through the windows, and give us an unsettling feeling of a rift in the world. The location of the installation at an old mill building perfectly parallels this shift in reality. What we see is of this world yet it isn't. The gray atmosphere created by the robots and spaceships, their boxes and even the store's mundane implements like the tape dispenser, remind me of a black-and-white horror movie. Only here the set itself has lost all its color, its participation in our life. Some artists' creations of parallel worlds can seem escapist; not Regier's. His creations manage to hark back in time while at the same time alluding to a cold future in much more shocking ways than the sci-fi influences from his childhood that serve as his inspiration. Even our language has ceased to function in this world, instead we need to use a decoder to decipher the teletype writing on boxes and labels.

Randy Regier has received a lot of attention lately including a Maine Arts Commission 2009 Visual Arts Fellowship and several reviews in papers and magazines, the Portland Press Herald, The Boston Phoenix, and Art New England, to name just a few. The NuPenny Store will also be featured in the May issue of Maine magazine and he will have a show at Whitney Art Works next month. In his Phoenix review of the 2010 DeCordova Biennial Greg Cook claims that Regier “may be one of the best sculptors in the country” and Bob Keyes acknowledges a “streak of genius” in him. I am very glad that others share my enthusiasm and appreciation of Randy's work. Check out his websites and for more images and directions to the installation.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Through this new venue of disseminating information and opinions, i would like to reach out to the art community in Maine and beyond, sharing insights, sightings, and sites. I will periodically, about once a week, post an informal exhibition review, share my enthusiasm for particular artists, describe non-existent exhibitions of my own mental creation, and muse about topics that have cropped up in my cloudy mind. I hope you will enjoy this and give creative and stimulating feed-back!