Making connections through art

Posted April 26, 2010, at 7:34 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The superhighway that connects Maine to the rest of the country is called Interstate 95. We see the importance of that connection in the 18-wheel trucks that carry goods to and from the state. We see it in the out-of-state license plates of cars, driven by tourists eager to spend their money and vacation in Maine. We experience it ourselves as we use the highway to quickly travel between towns and cities.

The exhibition that opened last week at the University of Maine Museum of Art suggests that the interstate can form other, more subtle kinds of connections.

“I-95 Triennial: A Survey from Four New England States,” highlights some of the top artists working within 50 miles of the interstate from Maine to Rhode Island, connecting Maine artists to New England and illustrating the connections among media, style and subject matter over hundreds of miles of road.

The triennial, which closes June 12, is the first of its kind for the UMaine museum where the entire gallery space is dedicated to the show. Other museums with regular shows include biennials at the Portland Museum of Art and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport, which opens in late May.

Along with museum director George Kinghorn, the jurors for the triennial were John Bailly, painter, professor and fellow of the Honors College at Florida International University, and Wendy Wischer, a sculptor and installation artist and professor of art at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla. Wischer exhib-ited last fall at the UMaine museum.

The three jurors judged the works of 144 artists who submitted up to six works apiece, culling the submissions to a final 44 artists.

There are 21 artists from Massachusetts, 17 from Maine, four from Rhode Island and two from New Hampshire.

The qualification for the show was that only artists living within a 50-mile radius of I-95 — from Houlton at the northern end of the interstate to the southern end of Rhode Island — could submit their work.

Maine artists weren’t given preference, Kinghorn said, but he’s excited by the possibilities that can be generated by the inclusion of Maine artists with those from other states in the region.

“One of the ways in which the University of Maine Museum of Art can serve Maine artists, in addition to finding new talent and bringing it out to the community, is by putting them in context in a larger group of artists working in New England,” he said. “And I think that’s exciting for the Maine artists, too, because they’re able to see other artists working in a similar area and get inspired by that.”

For the jurors, Kinghorn said, one of the most inspirational aspects of the process was finding commonalities and connections in the work they had chosen. The installation process took those connections to the next level, he said last week during a quiet afternoon before the exhibition’s opening.

“This room, I really enjoy,” Kinghorn said as he stood in the Edward D. Leonard III and Sandra Blake Leonard Gallery, the first space beyond the glass double doors of the main exhibition areas.

“J.T. Gibson’s sculptures work so beautifully with the fabric pieces by [Maine artist] Patricia Brace,” he continued, turning away from the sculpture on the floor to three quilted fabric pieces hanging from the wall, including one by fiber artist Gabriella D’Italia, also of Maine. “Patricia and Gabriella have that connection in pro-ducing quilts and fabric arts, and that have that connection to art history in that minimalist and hard-edge abstraction that you can see here.”

On another wall of the gallery, Kinghorn pointed out the enigmatic narrative in the work of Boston painter Sean Downey, and the relationship between the color of his work and Gibson’s sculpture. And then on a fourth wall, the work of Resa Blatman, another Boston-area artist.

It’s an enigmatic room — Blatman’s “Lemon Spray” is a trio of panels on which images of both plump lemons and furry bats hang from stylized botanical forms — and the colors mesh well. The red in the sculpture and fabric works brings out the red in Blatman’s panels.

“In setting up the exhibition we were looking for color relationships between the works, and seeing that, hopefully visitors will be able to make that connection,” Kinghorn said. “And then other things in terms of just simple elements of design, like shapes and colors.”

In another gallery space, Kinghorn and his team placed the work of several photographers who use a large-scale documentary format, a style that the triennial judges found to be a strength in the New England area. Many of the artists’ works show an interest in color, from Rania Matar’s images of teenage girls in their bedrooms to Lisa Kessler’s fascination with the color pink.

Blake Ogden, a photographer from Cambridge, Mass., has documented his grandmother’s home in Manchester, Maine, just outside of Augusta. His work is on one wall of the same gallery as Matar’s and Kessler’s photography.

Ogden liked the intermingling of photographic styles within the broader documentary genre.

“There are different degrees of spontaneous versus nonspontaneous work,” he said. “I would say my work is probably the most abstract, with shallow depth, but the other work has a little more life in it. The angles are more energized. [Kessler’s] work has more motion. So it’s a great mix.”

In the museum’s smaller Zillman Gallery, Kinghorn hung several realistic paintings of Maine landscapes or homes. That connection alone might be enough to warrant the works’ placement together, but there are even deeper ties between the paintings.

Power lines are the subject of two of the works. Power lines appear in the scenes that make up two other paintings. And in other pieces in the room, lines and linear qualities play an important role.

Kinghorn didn’t take only the technical merits of each work into consideration when organizing the triennial. Some areas include works that make an outright political statement or a sly cultural comment. There also is an area of work with botanical or natural elements as subject matter.

In addition to the connections Kinghorn said he hopes the viewer will make in the exhibition, his goal is for the artists to make connections to each other. Some of them already knew of each other’s work but hadn’t met. Others had never heard of someone working in a similar vein.

“I like to be able to facilitate these connections,” Kinghorn said. “Artists sometimes work in such an isolated manner in their own little pockets, so it can be particularly inspiring for artists when they can meet each other and have that common aesthetic approach to their work.”

D’Italia, for one, did not know Brace, even though they’re both fabric artists working in Maine. She wasn’t able to find Brace during last week’s opening party, which many of the artists accepted into the triennial attended, but D’Italia said her interest in Brace was piqued.

“I haven’t actually met many people who are doing similar work to myself so I’m very excited,” said D’Italia, a Newburgh native who is a graduate student at the University of Maine. “Anytime you do such repetitive, labor-intensive kind of work, there’s just an inescapable similarity, just the time you put in doing that activity. You’re physically spending so many hours doing the same kind of thing.”

Young artists such as D’Italia are hoping inclusion in the triennial will lead to more connections that will take them and their work on more trips up and down I-95.

“This kind of thing gives you good visibility, so if people are putting a show together they have an awareness of what’s out there and can make these connections again,” she said.

The University of Maine Museum of Art, located at 40 Harlow St., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The triennial closes June 12.

Admission is free. For information, go to www.umma.umaine.edu or call 207-561-3350.

···

I-95 Triennial Artists

June August

Susan S. Bank

Resa Blatman

Sarah Bliss

Patricia Brace

Gabriella D’Italia

Dan Dowd

Sean Downey

Adele R. Drake

Linda Eastman

Ingrid Ellison

J.T. Gibson

Joseph Haroutunian

Ayumi Ishii

Stella Johnson

Richard Keen

Lisa Kessler

Walter Kopec

Rania Matar

Tim McDonald

Mara Metcalf

Julie Miller

Hazel Mitchell

James Mullen

Blake D. Ogden

Christopher D. Peary

Marcy Pope

Barbara Putnam

Richard Raiselis

Stephen Remick

Beverly Rippel

Rebecca Rivers

Ken Sahr

Jo Sandman

Nancy Simonds

Steven B. Smith

Barbara Sullivan

Lorraine Sullivan

Emily Leonard Trenholm

Grace Vasta-Carr

MaryJean Viano Crowe

Anne Sargent Walker

Patricia Wheeler

Antoinette Winters

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