PORTLAND – Using strips of common blue tarp and discarded boat wrap, artist Anna Hepler has transformed the Great Hall at the Portland Museum of Art into a massive mesh-like nest. She stitched the strips together with staples, and suspended the hulking sculpture from the skylights to within a few feet of the floor.

It hovers from above, dominating the volume of the Great Hall with a breathing, life-like vessel. Light filters through the piece and casts shadows on the floor.

The installation, which Hepler has cleverly titled “The Great Haul,” is the most commanding of four elements that she has created for her new solo exhibition at the museum.

She is also showing two series of prints and has created a smaller installation, “Full Blown,” on the fourth floor that’s related to her Great Hall installation. Whereas the Great Hall piece resembles lattice, the fourth-floor piece is solid, constructed with thin translucent plastic and joined with brown translucent packing tape. Hepler designed it to so that it inflates and deflates every half-hour or so. Because the plastic is so thin, and the entire piece weighs maybe 8 pounds, once the volume is filled with air it sways and has delicate movements.

“Anna Hepler: Makeshift” opens Saturday and will remain on view through Oct. 17. The museum will celebrate its opening with the First Friday Art Walk on Aug. 6.

The Hepler show is the first in a new series of exhibitions called “Circa,” which explores contemporary art in Maine and beyond. The museum plans to feature “Circa” exhibitions two times a year, said Sage Lewis, assistant curator.

“Anna is a great choice to kick off the series, because more and more artists are working in large-scale installations in different media. She offers a really good example of the kind of work that is being created in Maine today,” Lewis said.

Hepler has lived in Maine eight years, and has exhibited widely through the country. She has taught at Maine College of Art in Portland and Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

In addition to the PMA show, Hepler will also show small-scale work at ICON Contemporary Art in Brunswick in August.

For the installation of her PMA work, Hepler has been assisted by two colleagues, Jenna Breiter and Nathan Johnson. The three spent almost a week constructing “The Great Haul” before moving upstairs for “Full Blown.”

“The Great Haul” is similar to an installation she completed previously at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport. For that piece, she suspended her woven plastic mass from the ceiling in an elongated fashion, almost resembling a ship’s hull.

The PMA piece is more reminiscent of a gumdrop, with light passing through the lattice construction.

As originally conceived, the “Circa” series was slated only for the fourth floor. But Hepler was motivated by the challenge of transforming the Great Hall, and urged the museum to allow her to take it over. Specifically, she wanted to incorporate the architectural element of the skylight into her work because of its filtered light.

“I was really interested in the idea of light passing through, or seeming to pass through, and the feeling of suspension. The skylights in this space beg for this form,” she said. “It’s always exciting to transform a familiar space.”

The four elements that comprise “Makeshift” share Hepler’s quest for exploring luminosity.

In addition to the two large-scale installations, the exhibition includes a series of drypoint prints in the elevator gallery on the first floor. The images are based on balloons that she made from taped-together bags, and reflect her ideas about spherical volume.

On the fourth floor are eight cyanotypes, or blueprints, that began as scans of dragonfly wings. Hepler was attracted to the intricate designs of the wings because of their lattice-like appearance. She scanned the wings, and made printouts on a transparent material.

From that, she made palm-sized sculptures, then photographed the sculptures and turned them into the larger cyanotypes.

She’s happy to be the first artist featured in the “Circa” series.

“There is a lot of great stuff happening in Maine, and it’s nice to see that honored by the museum,” she said.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]