CHARLIE HEWITT’S 10-foot-tall aluminum sculpture outside of ICON Contemporary Art on Mason Street. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

CHARLIE HEWITT’S 10-foot-tall aluminum sculpture outside of ICON Contemporary Art on Mason Street. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

BRUNSWICK

In late July, a 10-foot-tall aluminum sculpture appeared outside ICON Contemporary Art on Mason Street. There was no ribbon-cutting ceremony and little hubbub — that’s not ICON’s style. The gallery has been quietly showcasing contemporary art and artists, many from Maine, for the past three decades.

Though the sculpture, part of the gallery’s current exhibit by Charlie Hewitt, was not intended as an anniversary gift, it has taken on that significance, said gallery director Duane Paluska.

“It’s big, and it’s bright and it’s eye-catching, and I hope it raises some questions and curiosity of people who don’t necessarily come in here but see it anyway,” he said. “That’s a sort of celebration for the 30 years.”

Paluska has always been interested in art, but he originally moved to Maine in the late- 1960s to teach English at Bowdoin College. He left teaching after several years to open a custom furniture company. Eventually he “indulged” himself and opened ICON in the house on Mason Street; his woodworking studio is still attached to the gallery.

CHARLIE HEWITT’S pieces occupy all the nooks and crannies of ICON, a house converted into a gallery. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

CHARLIE HEWITT’S pieces occupy all the nooks and crannies of ICON, a house converted into a gallery. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

The gallery’s two floors have plenty of nooks and crannies to display art, including the stairwell.

“When I first started (ICON) I had a sense that I ought to be making it less of a house and more of a traditional gallery space,” said Paluska. “But I was too lazy to do that.”

As he stretched the boundaries of what a gallery should look like, he also began to explore the line between sculpture and furniture with his own work. He took all the recognizable components of, say, a square end table, and jumbled them up, playing with function and aesthetic.

It was indicative of where Paluska’s other work — now mostly painting and sculpture — was going. He fuses the media to create wooden wall pieces, cut geometrically and painted over with grid-like patterns and clean lines. The colors are muted, but contrasting.

His work, however, has never been the star of his gallery.

DIRECTOR AND FOUNDER OF ICON Duane Paluska in his woodworking studio attached to the gallery. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

DIRECTOR AND FOUNDER OF ICON Duane Paluska in his woodworking studio attached to the gallery. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

“I occasionally show something of mine here as well, but the gallery doesn’t really exist for my work,” Paluska said. “It exists for other people’s work.”

ICON has put on more than 200 month-long shows during its 30 years, and many of the artists have had local connections. The current featured artist, Charlie Hewitt, was raised in Maine and now lives in Yarmouth, with a studio in New Jersey and a gallery in New York.

“I don’t restrict it to Maine people,” said Paluska, “but people in Maine are interested in other people in Maine, Maine artists. So I think I concentrate more on Maine people because of that.”

The state’s art scene has been on the rise, Paluska explained, from the First Friday Art Walk in Portland (and similar events in Brunswick and Bath) to the space in Fort Andross that has been repurposed into artist studios.

“There are lots of artists in Maine, lots of good ones. It’s quite remarkable,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how much artistic talent we have here.”

Hewitt, who grew up in Maine and has returned to live Yarmouth after 40 years in New York, has known ICON and Paluska since the beginning. He has seen Paluska’s enduring dedication to Maine as an artist and a curator.

“It’s been wonderful having him as an anchor in the art culture here in this state, and in Brunswick, too,” said the artist, who lived in Brunswick for several years.

“It’s fun to be involved in promoting that, however ineffective I feel I sometimes am,” Paluska said.

ICON has a dedicated, albeit small, audience. It has received positive press — the Portland Press Herald critic called the gallery’s exhibitions “consistently sophisticated” — yet makes few sales, given its quiet demeanor and niche style.

But Paluska didn’t open ICON to get rich.

“That hasn’t happened and is not likely to happen,” he said. “One of the reasons most galleries don’t stay open for very long is, it’s kind of hard to keep going because for most it’s a money-losing proposition rather than a money-making one.”

On the other hand, Paluska empathizes with the financial and emotional stresses that artists may experience when they show put their work out in public.

“They put a lot of effort into making the work and deserve some reward other than just my putting it on these particular walls,” he said.

Artists like Hewitt appreciate that particular perspective and trust Paluska more for it.

“He celebrates art from an artists’ point of view,” Hewitt said. “I love showing up and seeing what he’s done with my work. It’s like being a playwright and having a director take over your show.

“I like working with other artists,” he added. “How rare it is to find an artist of Duane’s quality who’s interested in representing another artists’ work.”

At its core, ICON embodies Paluska’s deep appreciation for art, regardless of profitability. He quietly displays the art and artists that he likes, simple as that.

“It’s fun for me because I’ve got all these beautiful things that change every month, and I can go in and enjoy them whenever I want,” said Paluska. “I sort of own them for that period of time. Sometimes I end up owning them altogether, but that’s a pleasure of working here.”

Charlie Hewitt’s collection is on display at ICON Contemporary Art in Brunswick until Aug. 25. The gallery is open 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1-4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (207) 725- 8157 or visit ICON’s Facebook page.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: