University of Maine Museum of Art fall exhibits a triple threat

Posted Oct. 16, 2011, at 3:20 p.m.
&quotPortrait of a Skeptic" 1996 oil on linen by Carlo Pittore.
Photo courtesy of Carlo Pittore Foundation for the Figurative Arts
"Portrait of a Skeptic" 1996 oil on linen by Carlo Pittore.
&quotSierra Leone" 2011 archival inkjet print by Dominic Chavez.
Photo courtesy of Dominic Chavez
"Sierra Leone" 2011 archival inkjet print by Dominic Chavez.
&quotConstruction #689" mixed media wall sculpture by Abe Ajay in 1989 is a gift from John & Robin Noyes and Heidi Dickinson to the UMMA permanent collection.
Photo courtesy of the University of Maine Museum of Art
"Construction #689" mixed media wall sculpture by Abe Ajay in 1989 is a gift from John & Robin Noyes and Heidi Dickinson to the UMMA permanent collection.

The University of Maine Museum of Art wears many hats. As a museum in Bangor, it’s a place to showcase Maine artwork and educate the community. As a museum with a focus on contemporary art, it’s a place for accomplished artists to showcase their work. And as a college museum, it’s a place that challenges the mind.

This fall, three new exhibits running through Dec. 30 will take on all of these roles. “Studio Life,” portrait paintings by Carlo Pittore, is a sampling of an influential Maine artist’s work. “Constructions,” by Abe Ajay, is a breathtaking contemporary exhibit by a highly accomplished sculptor. And “The Global Lens,” documentary fine art photography by Dominic Chavez, challenges the mind, and moreover, the heart.

‘Making’ photos to wake the viewer

Boston-based photographer Dominic Chavez has traveled the globe to shed light on some of the most challenging human conditions. His images, many of which exceed the threshold of fine art photography, are found through his compassion and courage to open his eyes and focus his lens on poverty and war.

“All these experiences shape you, plant seeds, and they eventually start challenging you to want to do more,” said Chavez. “Working at the Denver Post and Boston Globe was a dream job, but I always knew I would leave newspapers and try to use those lessons learned and those tools in some sort of bigger picture. Global health and war zones have kind of been the bigger picture that has really touched my heart.”

The UMMA exhibition is a sampling of photographs from his many projects, shedding light on the effects of war in Columbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Angola, the AIDS crisis facing the nations of Africa and a wide variety of other global health issues, including his most recent project on the lack of clean water in Sierra Leone and other locations throughout Africa.

“I have a very simple approach,” said Chavez. “When I go to these places, my intent is not to ‘take’ pictures. I’m there to take from them. I’m not there to win a photo contest or better my career. I’m really going in the hopes that my craft is well polished and I’m going there with my craft in one hand and my heart in the other hand. And when I’m ‘making’ these pictures, I’m really there sharing the moment with them.”

Sometimes it’s just that, a moment, and sometimes it’s more. He forms friendships that continue by phone or email when he has returned to his home in Boston.

Because of the passion he has for raising awareness, he has never turned away from a difficult situation.

“I try to harness those feelings into being stronger and focusing on making a picture that is sensitive and respectful and really shows what they’re going through — because in many cases, it’s not just one person that’s going through this,” said Chavez. “In many cases, they understand that the loss of their son, or whoever, is representing a lot of people around the world. If someone doesn’t want me to take a picture, I don’t. I could never do this work without their blessing.”

Usually, Chavez’s exhibits are built around one theme. For example, his large exhibit in Buckingham Palace in June focused on maternal and infant mortality. The exhibit coincided with a health conference involving the top 25 global health organizations in the world. But the UMMA exhibit is a sampling of his entire body of work — large color prints that span his many projects.

“I’m hoping that people walk away feeling like they kind of know these people a little bit, that they can relate to these people. They’re not a number,” said Chavez. “I’ll throw a number at you. Right now, a woman dies every minute from very simple childbirth complications around the world. But unless you witness it, or until it’s your own family member, it doesn’t really stop you.”

Chavez’s photographs have been shown internationally, including exhibits in Senegal, China and London. He has been recognized with many awards. In 2004, he received the Media Excellence Award by The Global Health Council for his work on the AIDS crisis in Africa. He also won First Place International in Pictures of the Year International for his work during the Iraq War. He has published seven books, collaborating with writer John Donnelly and his wife, Silvia, who often designs the layout. To learn more about Chavez, visit dominicchavez.com.

Between the artist and the model

Carlo Pittore (1943-2005) lived in New York City and Italy, but he called Maine home. In 1987, he settled in Bowdoinham, where his studio quickly became known as a place of learning and creativity.

His legacy lives on through The Carlo Pittore Foundation, a nonprofit private foundation established to promote and educate the public about the his artwork and to support figurative art. They aim to aid artists and institutions in celebrating the human figure, as Pittore did.

“He was very black and white. There is no in between,” said Susan Drucker, who met Pittore in 1984 and was a part of his drawing group in Bowdoinham. “It’s the whole idea that you can’t fake art. Either it’s good or it’s not. He was outspoken and opinionated, and students flocked to him because of that clear guidance.”

Pittore’s drawing group continues at the same location, 216 Post Road in Bowdoinham, led by artist Eric Legassie. The group meets 6:30-9:30 p.m. each Wednesday.

“He was an extraordinary person, a force of life,” said Herb Hartman, a friend of Pittore and fellow artist who attended the members-only UMMA exhibit opening on Oct. 13. “That’s why his death at such a young age was hard for many people.”

“What I admire about his work is that he often found that human piece, the humanity in his models, and when he found that, he got it better than anyone else,” said Drucker, who also attended the exhibit opening.

The foundation owns more than 1,000 of Pittore’s oil paintings and several thousand drawings and sketches on paper, watercolors and Mail Art, a genre Pittore was instrumental in establishing. Executive Director Sarah Bouchard assisted UMMA Executive Director George Kinghorn in searching through the vast collection to select the pieces for the museum exhibit.

A fundraising event featuring 1,000 Pittore works on paper, “Day of 1,000 Drawings,” will be held noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at Fort Andross Mill complex, 14 Maine St. in Brunswick. That day, the foundation will award its first two grants of $1,000 to working Maine artists. Pittore drawings will be for sale at reduced prices, and the proceeds will go to the foundation for future projects and grants.

Pittore has recently been chosen to be featured in the ongoing film series “Maine Masters.” To help with funding this project and to learn about other “Maine Masters” films, visit mainemasters.com. For information about the foundation, visit carlopittorefoundation.org.

‘Constructions’ of the spirit

Abe Ajay (1919-1998) was pulled away from two-dimensional compositions to pursue an art form straddling the line between sculpture and painting — wall-oriented relief sculptures.

A self-proclaimed “unrepentant object maker,” Ajay used found objects, polyester resin, wood, canvas and wire to form wall sculptures that are so exact and intricate that they appear otherworldly in nature yet familiar. Ajay’s “objects” evoke images of Spanish and Middle Eastern architecture, shipbuilding, mechanical interiors and navigation, but to Ajay, they were echoes of his spiritual experiences while working in his studio.

“The studio for him was like a cathedral,” said Kinghorn. “It was very much about his personal spirituality emerging through art.”

His works are included in many prestigious collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. The exhibit was lent to UMMA by Ajay’s daughter Robin Noyes and her husband, John Noyes, who lived in Maine and donated two of Ajay’s pieces to the UMMA’s permanent collection.

For information on the exhibits and UMMA, visit umma.umaine.edu or call 561-3350.

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