Those of us who do not attend classes walk by Maine College of Art day after day and wonder what goes on inside the walls.

We see the students on the sidewalk with their tattoos and cigarettes and colored hair, and we apply the obvious stereotypes: Crazy kids, out of touch with the real world, wasting their parents’ money.

We are wrong.

For proof, MECA opens its doors for two end-of-year exhibitions — one for graduating seniors and the other for students graduating from the school’s MFA program.

“The Works,” the BFA Thesis Exhibition, rolls out on the first, second and third floors of the Porteous Building, as well as the June Fitzpatrick Gallery at MECA. It is on view through May 24. Sculpture seniors Alex Asplund and Liz Hardy curated the show.

The MFA Thesis Exhibition opens with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday in the Institute of Contemporary Art at MECA, and is on view through June 12.

A couple of thoughts come to mind. First, these kids are not afraid to go dark. There definitely are some disturbing images among this work.

But more prevalent impressions are the sincerity of their efforts and the sensitivity of their work. It’s deeply personal and meaningful, and demonstrates both clarity of thought and expertise in execution.

These students learned well.

In all, 74 graduating seniors exhibit hundreds of pieces of work in the BFA show. Some of it hangs on walls, but much of it bleeds over stairway railings, meanders down hallways and extends into walkways.

The work covers the gamut of ideas and materials. There are traditional ceramic pieces displayed in kitchen settings. There are color photos, paintings, artist books, illustrations and exquisite examples of handmade wooden furniture.

There are also surprises: sprawling robots that emote personality; garments made from grapefruit peels; a slightly pornographic sculpture of a giraffe with boobs. (If nudity offends you or you’re taking children to the show, pay attention to signs that note when objectionable content lies ahead.)

“The main things that stands out for me is the diversity of the work,” said Jeffrey Waites, who coordinates exhibitions in the Porteous Building. “There is a broad range of material and subjects. We were wowed by the range of the work. The big sculptures presented the challenge of finding space where they would fit.”

Hardy, one of the student curators for the BFA show, said this is the best opportunity “to let the public know all the exciting things that are happening at MECA. We’re trying to get people interested in what we do and what we are about.”

One of the pieces certain to draw attention is Asplund’s dreamscape that sprawls across the front window of June Fitzpatrick Gallery at MECA, facing Congress Street. Asplund created a series of animal skulls, sections of octopus arms, human body parts and a large hare, and positioned them in and around a desk/work station.

It’s quirky and disturbing, and somehow reminiscent of something that film director David Lynch might conjure.

“I’m interested in the science of interpretative solutions. I’m interested in finding a means to answering questions that are specific to yourself,” he said.

That quote goes to the heart of what artists do: they pose questions to themselves and create solutions.

Printmaker and illustrator Tyler Grenzeback offers samples of his handiwork in the form of beautifully drafted books. Grenzeback is one of those artists about whom some folks might make false assumptions. He covers his body with colorful tattoos, and strikes a menacing outward pose.

But his work is super-sensitive. One of his books is full of dramatic illustrations of pink butterflies.

Who would have thought it?

In his artist statement, he writes, “I view myself as a part of a restless generation, and one of great purpose. We are the sleeves pounding hard on society’s door, trying to kick-start a sleeping world. We stir up the monotony of life and stand up to voice our opinions.”

Well said. These MECA exhibitions are full of wake-up calls. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Follow him on Twitter at:

twitter.com/pphbkeyes