April 22, 2018
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UMMA magic offers reprieve from a gray world

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff

After a short holiday hiatus, the University of Maine Museum of Art is inviting the public to an exciting show of illusion, interaction and astonishing artistic skill. Once through the doors, prepare to spend some time exploring the five exhibits because, as participating installation artist George Terry put it, “there’s a lot to investigate.”

The winter exhibits, opening Friday, Jan. 13 and running through March 24, are new works of four accomplished New York artists, Lori Nix, painter Michael De Brito and installation artists Brett Day Windham and Terry.

“What I think viewers will see with these shows is that there is magic in terms of the artistic process,” Kinghorn said.

“The City,” Nix’s recent photographs, appears at first to be a collection of abandoned urban locations. A public aquarium and vacuum showroom are slowly being reclaimed by nature, a scene similar to those in apocalypse blockbusters.

One of the first photos the viewer will come to is of a decaying theater. But something is wrong with the eerie sight, and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Is it the birds flying near the ceiling and pecking at the stage? No, it’s bigger than that.

The theater isn’t a theater. It is miniature diorama, painstakingly handmade by the photographer, as are the scenes in every single photograph. Many of the compositions took Nix more than seven months to complete.

To show viewers the intricacy and scale of these models, select pieces — a tiny vacuum, a worn violin case and a battered salon chair — are on display as representatives of each tiny world.

Nix is known nationwide for her extraordinary art. She was the recipient of 2010 New York Foundation for the Arts Individual Artist Grant, and has shown her work at numerous museums, including the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, California Museum of Photography and the Smithsonian Museum of Art.

The sense of illusion continues, but with a dash of whimsy, in works of installation artists Windham and Terry. The two young artists have been in Maine since Friday erecting their solo installations, “I Put a Spell on You” and “Because You’re Mine,” respectively.

The Brooklyn couple met in the Rhode Island School of Design masters of fine arts program. Their installations are linked by one collaborative piece, an archway or portal that joins the artists’ separate worlds through video, performance and sculpture.

“There is a sense of humor in both of our works that carries through,” Terry said Wednesday while building his installation.

Terry combines classical Greek architecture, video and spontaneous performance to express psychological conflict between desire and rationality, unfiltered brain function and ownership of internal baggage. His sculptures are made of a variety of materials, which is exactly why he enjoys the art form.

“You can use peanut butter or steel because it’s sculpture. That’s why I’m attracted to it,” he said.

One of the pieces is a mechanical contraption sporadically playing a video of the artist attempting to act impulsively for 13 minutes.

“It’s something you can’t do. But I tried. It looks insane,” he said.

Every aspect of the installation is being shown for the first time.

“I hope it’s visually arresting and weird,” he said. “Weird seems to be a word for something confusing to you at first. I think it’s something you can continue to think about. Something genuine.”

On the other side, a red and white hand-constructed circus tent stands as the centerpiece of Windham’s installation.

Two tall, cloaked sentries, the Floating Harlequin and Braided Ellegua, guard the door. Both mythical beings reflect Windham’s deep interest in art history, which her mother and father instilled in her at a young age.
The Harlequin is made of stiff, resin-infused cloth, while the Ellegua is wrapped in hundreds of braided hair extensions, a material that grabbed Windham’s attention at a beauty supply shop near her studio in New York.

Inside the small tent, the sentries and Windham are the stars in a stop-action film of 1,000 long-exposure photographs taken in Windham’s dark studio. The video tells the story of her artistic process, depicting the artist as an alchemist bringing magic to life.

Carnival colors carry throughout the installation of thought-provoking and personal sculptures, often inspired by a particular material or gift. This is especially true in her piece “Rosary,” a garland-like strand of objects found by Windham over a three-year period during walks to her studio.

“The walk to my studio is when things are most clear. The day is fresh, and I have all these ideas,” she said. “I started doing it to mark the discipline of work as an artist.”

It became a ritual — one item per walk. The discarded items of a community became art when she cast her hand in epoxy resin to hold the extraordinary garland.

“I’m interested in including people in my work,” she said. “I’ve been looking at art with my father since I was born, and the strong experiences are what I remember vividly.

“A year ago when we were planning this show, we definitely thought about it being January in northern Maine. We wanted this to be a rich, passionate, exciting experience.”

One artist’s world merges into the next.

In “The Moment,” contemporary figurative painter Michael De Brito engulfs viewers with large-scale paintings of the artist’s everyday life. Each work is a snapshot of a family moment, displaying Brito’s Portuguese heritage and vibrant domestic world through his grandmother, family gatherings and traditional foods and household items.

When viewed up close, careful, expressive brushstrokes emerge; while at a distance, the 6-by-8-foot paintings approach photorealism. Faces in the artist’s basement kitchen are unknown to the viewer, yet the scenes stir a sense of familiarity.

De Brito is the recipient of the prestigious Pollack-Krasner Grant, and his works have been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Presidential Museum in Portugal.

Before leaving, don’t miss the fresh batch of works from the museum’s permanent collection, particularly the art illusions of Frances Trombley — a corkboard decorated with receipts — and Richard Haden — a crumpled and mounted pan handler. Spoiler alert: Trombley’s receipts are cloth and each tiny number and letter is hand stitched, while Haden’s seemingly metal pan handler is actually carved out of wood.

UMMA, located at 40 Harlow Street in Bangor, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For information about UMMA, visit umma.umaine.edu or call 561-3350. For information about Lori Nix, visit lorinix.net; Brett Day Windham, brettdaywindham.com; Michael De Brito, michaeldebrito.com.

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