May 27, 2012

Sexy 60: Maine art museum celebrates big birthday

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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"This is Only a Test," hammered and bolted 12-inch spikes, by John Bisbee.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

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"Picnic at Blue Rock," oil on canvas, by Katherine Bradford.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

Additional Photos Below

ON VIEW

60th ANNIVERSARY "HONORS EXHIBITION"

WHERE: Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 162 Russell Ave., Rockport

WHEN: Through July 8

HOW MUCH: $5/donation

INFO: 236-2875; cmcanow.org

"Many years ago, when I worked at the Farnsworth (Art Museum in Rockland), I did a show with Kathy and Mark," McAvoy said. "Back then, Mark was painting realistically and Kathy was doing abstraction. Now, 20 years later, they have switched."

For this show, Bradford is showing recent paintings that hover between dreams and reality. These are poignant, almost musical paintings of people in the water, swimming and bobbing.

But look closely, and you will see that she barely paints the human figure at all. Her marks merely suggest a figure. They lack detail, but are full of form. She generates a lot information with minimal brush strokes and a small selection of colors.

Wethli, on the other hand, fills his surfaces with a lot of color, sharp angles and rigid shapes. For this series of work, he paints with acrylic on wood. His surfaces are found tabletops left over from the old studios at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where Wethli teaches -- as does Bisbee.

Perhaps coincidentally, or not, Bradford lives in Brunswick in the summer. So all three artists showing on the main floor also are connected geographically.

Lately, Wethli has received a lot of attention for his public art projects. He painted the mural in the Great Hall at the Portland Museum of Art, and completed two high-profile projects at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, including a sculptural piece. He has never settled into one expressive format for long before he tries something else.

These paintings are similar to the geometric color mural at the PMA in that they feature lots of colors and distinct shapes formed mostly by sharp angles. But unlike the PMA piece, his shapes here are not uniform, and Wethli has chosen not to improve his surfaces. The wood is riddled with holes and imperfections, and the paintings are somewhat loose.

As such, this body of work has a sense of history and age with utilitarian qualities. 

A DISTINCTIVE PAIRING

Lynch and Watts share the loft gallery, and what an interesting combination they make.

Lynch has been making art in Maine for four decades, producing a wide-ranging body of work that includes paintings, drawings, prints and his latest idiom, incised wooden reliefs. These are free-standing and wall-hanging pieces that extend from a controlled physical space.

In many of these works, Lynch extends the surface beyond what we might perceive to be the frame. Some he encases under glass, others are built up to resemble a self-contained suitcase.

Lynch has been making what he calls division paintings for years -- abstract images made from a precise set of lines that result in ever-diminishing spaces. His approach reveals many shapes and forms that are discovered through a process of mark-making and sequential thinking.

For this series, he makes his incisions with a dental tool into a hard wood surface, then fills the void by applying paint. The end result looks like a fine etching. It is remarkably detailed work, made all the more complex by his decision to extend the edges of surfaces.

"He is pushing the idea of what it means to make a painting today," McAvoy said.

Watts occupies the back area of the loft with several large-scale photographs that look nothing like photographs. He has been making images for 30-plus years, and began his association with Maine in the mid-1970s when he bought a house next to the famous Maine photographer Berenice Abbott. He moved his New York studio to Maine in 2000.

Watts' images begin traditionally, with a large-format camera. He then scans his negatives and manipulates them in wildly imaginative ways. His presentation involves large-scale prints, often with a single color or shades of the same color.

Oftentimes, the original photo that Watts began with it barely recognizable. As with Lynch, his frames are very much part of the final image. In that respect, the two artists share a sense of craft.

"Todd thinks of himself as an image maker more than a photographer," McAvoy said. "He thinks of himself as a painter and his images as drawings. He is making an object, not a photograph."

None of the artists in this show make what we might expect.

Bisbee's nails look nothing like nails. Bradford's realistic scenes of people at the beach feel surreal and dream-like. Wethli's painted panels conjure ideas of ancient folk art or something post-modern. Lynch's shapes and scratchings could just as easily be ancient scrimshaw. And Watts creates images that begin as photos but end up as something else completely.

"This, to me, is what Maine art is today," said McAvoy. "It's about artists expanding their boundaries and our expectations of what art is and what it's supposed to be." 

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

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

 

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Additional Photos

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"The Last Supper," 2011, photograph, triptych, by Todd Watts.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

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"Cleft," "Seam," and "Map", acrylic on panel, by Mark Wethli.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

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"First Uncertainty," photograph, by Todd Watts.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

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"Limb," acrylic on panel, by Mark Wethli.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

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"Flight of the Non-Euclidian Spike," branded wood, by John Bisbee.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

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"Division Piece #64 (Tempting)," oil and enamel on fiberboard, by Frederick Lynch.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

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"East Beach" oil on canvas, by Katherine Bradford.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art

  


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