It’s hard to imagine more diverse exhibitions in one museum than the three now on display at the University of Maine Museum of Art in downtown Bangor.
All three of the artists are women who happen to have ties to Maine. But the way in which they depict the world around them couldn’ t be more different.
One binding element, however, may be a sense of the drama present in each collection on display, whether it’ s Katherine Bradford’ s oils of maritime scenes, Nicole Duennebier’ s still-life acrylics or Stella Johnson’ s photographs from her book, “Al Sol.”
The three shows will be on display until Oct. 1.
George Kinghorn, the new UMMA director, didn’ t curate the show himself — that job was done by former director Wally Mason, who left the museum last fall — but he sees something for all visitors in the different styles.
“They all use the materials very differently,” he said. “[One is] very tight and controlled, [one] loose and expressive, [one uses a] photographic medium to capture light and shadow. They’ re very different creative processes.”
Bradford, who has a studio in the Brunswick area, doesn’ t seem to attempt to depict a specific event or scene with her large-scale oil paintings. Rather, her work springs from her imagination and evokes different feelings, from the vastness of the ocean so that even a large ship seems dwarfed when set against the water as in her 2006 work, “Liner in Sight,” to a childlike fascination with a mythic scene such as a whale hunt in her “Whaling Painting,” also from 2006.
Bradford’ s technique seems to be just as important as her subject matter, and certainly helps convey the drama. Her brush strokes are so bold and sweeping that in some paintings it’ s easy to tell the size of paintbrush she used.
“It’ s about mood, paint application and energy,” Kinghorn said. “They’ re more symbolic in terms of her depiction of boats on the ocean. It’ s about being very painterly and allowing the brush marks to be one of the primary features. They’ re very prominent, all the way down to the gestural drips.”
The work of Duennebier, a recent graduate of the Maine College of Art in Portland, runs counter to that of Bradford. Duennebier’ s still-life works mix abstraction with references to nature and Dutch still-life traditions — in her 2006 work “Hunting Hot Bed” she sets the swirl of a fabric ruff with bones, arrows and a dead rabbit.
If the drama of Bradford’ s paintings lie in her use of bold colors and brush strokes, Duennebier’ s work finds drama in darkness and light. The precise, exacting images seem to emerge from a dark world — some seem as if they’ re set on a mystical ocean floor as in “The Marshes” from 2008.
“I think you get that sense of drama in terms of lighting, forms that emerge out of the darkness, the internal light in the painting,” Kinghorn said. “That’ s the drama there.”
Duennebier’ s other achievement is the way in which she manages to make the acrylic works look as if they have the sheen and glaze of oil paint.
“It’ s much more difficult to get that effect with acrylic, to achieve the same optical look with oil paint,” Kinghorn said.
Johnson’ s photographs, many of which are from her book “Al Sol,” published by Wild Greek Press in association with the University of Maine Press, are unlike the work of Duennebier and Bradford in that her images are grounded in real people and places.
A Boston-based Fulbright scholar, Johnson spent years in remote communities of Mexico, Cameroon and Nicaragua developing long-term relationships with her subjects.
“All of the photographs have an element of humanity and trust,” Kinghorn said. “The people whose lives she is capturing, she’ s visited them and has become like a member of an extended family.”
The high level of trust between photographer and subject is evident as Johnson captures her subjects in various states of undress, napping in a hammock and milking cows. It’ s daily life seen with an intimate eye.
The photographs have documentary elements, but Johnson’ s dramatic use of light and shadow mark them as art as well. In “Halloween Mask,” a 2003 photograph taken in Mexico, the shadows cast by a boy holding a mask seem bigger and bolder than the boy himself.
“The way she manipulates light and shadow in many of her works is a recurring idea,” Kinghorn said. “There is a lot of play of cast shadows.”
Johnson also chooses unusual perspectives, such as her 2003 “Good Friday” photograph of a man portraying Christ carrying the cross. Rather than depict the man straight-on, as a viewer is used to seeing a Christ figure, Johnson photographed the man from the side, emphasizing his thin figure and the gauzy, transparent fabric that seems to float on the mystical figure.
That sense of the mystical and the drama permeates the work of each of the three very different artists, and it’ s something visitors to the museum can relate to in all of the images.
“When you’ re programming something like this, you want to make sure there’ s something that everyone can connect to,” Kinghorn said.