PORTLAND – Sometimes there’s a seed of health in the worst sociopath.

“Stop me before I kill again” — most of us have heard the phrase. It would be a wonderful thing if the spirit of that seed were evident in what I hear from our Portland Public Arts Committee’s stated preferences for new public art.

Fresh from the Arts Committee’s failure with the landscape sculpture “Tracing the Fore,” which drew so much criticism from the Portland community it’s now being removed from Boothby Square in the Old Port, the committee still doesn’t get it.

That’s despite strongly voiced feelings of local residents and business owners that “Tracing the Fore” was too abstract, and even if you liked it, became overgrown with grass.

Worse, in my view, the sculpture — long sheets of flat stainless steel cut along their upper edge to suggest waves — looks like an advertisement for razor blades.

“It’s a bunch of dangerous razors,” in fact, was the response of a local merchant, “protruding from a weed patch.”

Oh, were “Tracing the Fore” overgrown with grass we might be approaching something absent in our public art, and that’s the natural world, some animal beauty, some floral warmth.

Urban and industrial forms proliferate in Portland, overwhelm with their massive, light-blocking size. To whit, four hotels in the last several years with footprints the size of the largest dinosaurs.

The Arts Committee doesn’t seem capable of making the leap from nature to art, consistently choosing intellectual, academic, esoteric forms.

Look around, see where their taste lies: “Rustle Diptych II,” a red, 7-foot steel sculpture, next to another abstract industrial work, named “Cloud Bench,” near the Back Cove.

And we’re getting more of the same in the Maine Center for Creativity’s “Art All Around” $1.3 million project, with three of eight oil tanks completed in South Portland near the Veterans Memorial Bridge, painted with triangles and rectangles.

Isn’t it obvious enough the tanks themselves are massive cylinders?

The only public art of animal beauty, natural warmth, in Portland I’m aware of is Cabot Lyford’s dolphins, which leap from the circular plaza before the Old Port’s Regency Hotel. Ironically, that sculpture was rejected by another “arts” committee of the Portland Museum of Art. To their credit, they gave up trying to choose another sculpture and gave us the slender, lovely beauty of a stand of birches. I’m not stating a preference for the trees here but a hunger, which I can’t help believing isn’t commonly shared in our city, for art that celebrates the beauty and mystery of the natural world, helps remind us of our place in it and the thrilling gift of life.

Still, the Public Arts Committee plans to “kill” again, foisting on us sculptural benches unfriendly to the human body in the form of reinforced concrete blocks resembling packing crates — to honor our industrial heritage, according to one member of the committee.

I think homage to our industrial heritage a fine idea, but please choose a sculpture that also honors the body, especially if it’s going to be a bench someone sits on.

Such a project should welcome a worker with half an hour out in the air and the sun for lunch, or any one of us wanting to stop, rest, read a book or watch the clouds.

– Special to the Press Herald