Jeff Badger, in his studio on the SMCC campus in South Portland, has put together an exchange of work by American and Spanish artists that he hopes will foster “meaningful, real-life connections toward a more peaceful world.”
By Bob Keyes
Art may not provide all the answers for cultural understanding, but it can provide a platform for dialogue.
Jeff Badger and Jeff McCreight -- two friends from Portland, now separated by an ocean -- talked off and on for more than a year about coordinating an international art exchange.
Badger, who lives in South Portland and teaches art at Southern Maine Community College, wanted to send art from Portland over to Spain. McCreight, who lives in Madrid, envisioned enlisting Spanish artists to make work and shipping it to Maine.
After a lot of talk and emails back and forth, the exchange is happening, and takes the form of "Esta Tierra Plana -- This Flat Earth: A Cross-Atlantic Group Exposition." The international show is on view throughout January in Madrid and in February at Rose Contemporary Art in Portland.
It features works on paper by about two dozen artists from Maine and Europe working from a common flat-earth theme.
This is the second time in two years that Badger has facilitated an international art show. The first involved Portland artists showing work in Mytilene, Greece, one of Portland's sister cities.
But this one is a true exchange, bringing artists from Maine together with artists living in Spain.
"Cultural exchange is an important form of diplomacy," said Badger. "Greece and Spain have both been in the news quite a bit lately, but we only hear about government, banks and money, money, money. Less often is there reporting on what the citizens in those countries feel about their current situation, much less a venue for artistic expression."
Badger hopes his art project can create "meaningful, real-life connections toward a more peaceful world."
McCreight opened the Madrid show last week in a multi-use gallery "in a richly textured immigrant neighborhood." DJs spun tunes, and the timing coincided with the Spanish holiday Reyes Magos. People were festive, and the opening drew a lot of attention, he said in an email.
"While a show on either continent would be worth going to, the international character piques interest and works as a great selling point," McCreight wrote. "Any show that can be explained thematically in one sentence or less is up to grade in my book."
"This Flat Earth" takes its cue from the Thomas Friedman best-selling book "The World Is Flat." Friedman suggests that the world is a level playing field, at least in terms of commerce. Badger and McCreight posit the same is true of the art world.
In the Madrid gallery, the art from Portland mingles with the art from Spain, side by side. McCreight detects only subtle differences -- and then only in the details.
Thematically, the artists mostly seem to be on the same page.
"Many artists from both cultures went after similar concepts," he said. "We live in a world of global media, after all. Moreover, we didn't see a lot of references to Colonial history, except in a few cases where the reference is tied in somehow to popular media.
"In the end, we are far enough removed from those historic events that they have little bearing on our current visions of each other. All that may be where it started, but the cultural thread is somewhere else by now."
McCreight and Badger are college buddies. They met at Skidmore College in New York and crossed paths again when both ended up in Portland. McCreight grew up here; Badger moved here from New York City in 2000.
McCreight eventually moved overseas. He's classically trained, but "became fed up with the preciousness of oil paintings, galleries and so on." He turned first to mural painting, then spray painting and urban art.
This show is perfect for his present mind-set because of his interest in what he calls dynamic interactions between artists and within communities.
What has been most appealing is that this exhibition has come together mostly seamlessly. There have been a lot of details to attend to, but not a lot of angst.
McCreight made a poster for the show, which is being sold to raise money to cover the cost of shipping art overseas. He arranged the gallery space in Madrid, and Badger approached his SMCC colleague Virginia Rose about using her gallery, Rose Contemporary, for the Portland show.
They both recruited artists by talking among friends. It's very DIY, McCreight said.
For Badger, the show has been rewarding because it allows him to continue his work as an art ambassador. While this is the second international show he has coordinated, it's the third exchange he's helped promote in Portland.
In 2011, he and an artist friend from Santa Fe, N.M., put a show together that reached out to artists in six communities across the United States. Each city had a different vibe and feel. In Detroit, it was hung in a former meat-packing plant. In Santa Fe, it was a high-end gallery. In Portland, Badger arranged the show at a small waterfront gallery.
The show spurred Badger to create an umbrella organization that he calls Tetra Projects. It supports collaborative experimental art and media projects between diverse artistic communities.
That led to the Greece show and now to "This Flat Earth." Badger is talking about a 2014 show in Japan with Portland's sister city of Shinagawa, and he would like to pursue art projects with Portland's other sister cities in Russia and Haiti.
The goal is simple, he said.
"We have such a great artistic community here, but oftentimes it can be a bit of a closed circle -- artists presenting their work to the same audience," Badger said. "I wanted to share our art scene with the rest of the U.S. and the world, and I wanted to bring the artwork of other communities to Portland, with the hopes of an exponential benefit through exchange."
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:
“Overlooking the Edge of Earth” by Anne Buckwalter of Maine, 2012, gouache and pencil on paper.
“Une Catastrophe Passant a l’Atelier” (“A Catastrophe Passing a Workshop”) by Justin Richel of Maine, 2012, mixed media, gouache on cut paper and ink jet collage.