March 3, 2013

Smithsonian to exhibit Portland metalsmith's artwork

Jeffrey Clancy's reputation in the craft-art world just gained a substantial amount of weight, thanks to his inclusion in the prestigious exhibition.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

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Jeffrey Clancy leads a discussion of a student’s work of art with his MECA class, including Daniel Marcucio.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Jeffrey Clancy makes pieces that riff on functional tabletop objects, like these spoons. “The way he renders them is the opposite of practical,” says Daniel Fuller, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at MECA.

Courtesy of the artist

Additional Photos Below



In addition to Clancy, the show includes Vivian Beer, a Maine native and MECA graduate now living in New Hampshire.

Clancy has lived in Portland for six years. He came east out of graduate school at San Diego State University for a job as an assistant professor of metalsmithing and jewelry at MECA. He also serves as a visiting lecturer and critic in the jewelry and metals department at Rhode Island School of Design.

Clancy lives on Munjoy Hill with his wife, Marie, and their 2-year-old son. Portland has been good for him, he said, because it is both understanding and supportive of the arts.

"I feel like a lot of things have happened for me because of being in Portland," Clancy said. "It's an encouraging community. It's a community that can cater to a lot of different artistic practices. And it's a community you can be productive in as well."

When Clancy arrived in Portland, he maintained a work bench studio in the Artist Studio Building on Congress Street. He loved the interaction with other artists, and enjoyed seeing what his peers and colleagues were up to. Now he focuses his studio practice at MECA and mostly in the summer. Teaching keeps him busy most of the academic year.

In Portland, Clancy's work was featured at the end of 2012 in a faculty show at the Institute of Contemporary Art at MECA. Gallery director Daniel Fuller said people seemed to appreciate the humor in Clancy's objects.

Among other things, Clancy makes whimsical and ironic pieces that riff on functional tabletop objects -- dinnerware, utensils and that sort of thing. But his pieces are exaggerated and over the top.

"The way he renders them is the opposite of practical," Fuller said. "With the spoons, for instance, he elevates them and transforms them to the point of absurdity. They are completely pointless at that point."

Clancy's humor runs both subtle and deep. Sometimes, he might poke fun at his own field, offering an art-world critique of its self-perceived preciousness. But the inside joke isn't so exclusive that it's lost on everyday folks, Fuller said.

That's a fine line, and Clancy seems to toe it well. "He gives just enough to let the public in," Fuller said.

Longtime friend David Clemons said Clancy's niche is his ability to take traditional forms and techniques and the practices that surround them, and put a contemporary twist on them.

"The forms are more current, but at the root has always been this investigation of this historical body of work," said Clemons, who went to graduate school with Clancy in San Diego and now teaches metalsmithing at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock.

"Jeff's work promotes a continuation of the use of the hand and the appreciation of the hand," he said. "Jeff is still working with a utilitarian object, and yet the way he renders them, it's not something that will go right on somebody's dining room table. It's most likely going to be purchased by collectors or galleries or museums."

Fuller said it's important not to pigeonhole Clancy as a Portland artist, or even a Maine artist. His world is much larger. He just happens to live here.

"He is unique in Portland, but he is unique in the country too. He gets press and gets recognition in Portland, but far beyond it too. That's what '40 Under 40' was all about. It was about the best and most important craft artists working in the country today," Fuller said.

That point was hammered home for Fuller when he attended a contemporary curator's conference in Boston last year. "Everyone in that field knew MECA because of Jeffrey," he said.

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Additional Photos

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Jeffrey Clancy works in traditional forms such as bowls, cups and vases, but with a contemporary, often whimsical, twist.

Courtesy of the artist

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Jeffrey Clancy, right, with Maine College of Art student Zach Nelson.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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