The open art show in downtown Biddeford ranges in quality but includes some gems.

Engine’s annual “Rumpus” is an open art show. That means whatever shows up is in. I love this kind of thing in places with a real art heartbeat. Engine, located in downtown Biddeford, is the center of a significant art community. So, once again, “Rumpus” is fun. Yes, it’s mixed (to say the least), but plenty of gems sparkle through, and seeing kids’ art next to professionals’ can be interesting and entertaining.

Overall, the 2019 crop doesn’t quite match up to the previous “Rumpus,” but just because last year’s circus was better than this one doesn’t mean it’s not worth going.

The most notable element of “Rumpus” is the window installation by James Chute, “Stones & Dead Flowers.” It’s a symphony in subtlety. It’s Zen with an optical twist. The large window space (Engine’s building was once a department store) is filled with just a few objects: four stones, two concrete blocks, two squares of patterned contact paper, two vases of tulips, a hanging power cord and a clock. My kids were the ones who noticed the optical effects, starting with a reflection that places the two concrete blocks over one of the stones so that they appear to occupy the same space. From another angle, the clock doubles, and the black/white paint on the wall is divided, so that it appears like a solid black panel, and the black-and-white analog clock, forever marking an odd time – 2:52, is mirrored.

Chute’s vision is oddly intriguing. It sways from seemingly simple to possibly philosophical. Is it a rebus or a spot of meditative simplicity? It’s divided into pairs that spill out from their apparent binary inclination: black-and-white paper, black-and-white paint on the walls, black-and-white clock (which apparently is a veteran from Amy Stacey Curtis’ “Millennial” that was held at the nearby Pepperell Mill a few years back), and then there are the yellow and purple tulips (complementary colors) that, from the title, we can presume will fade and fall over the next few weeks. Dead flowers? They were very much alive during the opening.

“Princess Power,” Margaux Boger, age 5 Photos by Engine

My inclination is to see the work as a meditation on memory. Chute clearly took the stones from different places. The clock is a specific relic. The flowers, after their death, will remind us that they were once pretty and appealing. The paper, though printed, reminds us that Chute is primarily known for his drawings. Considering the list of ingredients, it’s an unexpectedly engaging installation.


The rest of “Rumpus” features about 130 works, mostly paintings and drawings with just a few sculptures. The real fun is scanning the works and seeing standouts among the well-intentioned but less successful pieces. Professional hands are here and there: For example, there is no mistaking Tanya Fletcher’s drawing of a leaf as anything other than confidently exquisite. But it is a diminutive thing and it doesn’t try to raise its voice above the others. The same cannot be said of Michael Evans graffiti/tat-style “Collection.” Evans’ pristine hand and graphic style is loudly evident in this large and lively work.

Andy Heck Boyd’s “Untitled” strikes a similar tone to Evans’ piece, but with an intentionally uncanny sense of discomfort. It looks like the character “Cuphead” from a rather surreal kids’ video game that looks back to 1930s-style drawing, such as early Mickey Mouse. But Boyd mashes up the character somewhat with rather iconoclastic handling of paint. It’s like an update of the old clown-painting cliche, but with a very contemporary attitude – bizarrely ironic, to the point of revolutionary.

Just below the Cuphead character is a child-style picture, Margaux Boger’s “Princess Power” in marker, a T-posing little girl among flowers. It is fun and charming in all of the right ways; and, among many other works, it reminds us that kids don’t struggle remotely as much as adults with the question of authenticity. Five-year-old Margaux’s princess is for real.

I was particularly struck by works that intentionally tread the line between art and kitsch: Sebastian Meade’s “Monster in the Woods” is a dioramalike stage in bright kid colors with a grinning little monster who looks like a Day-Glo green gumdrop with horns who just found out it’s his surprise birthday party. What could be more fun? That said, if your idea of art is high-skill and nuanced traditionalism, well, then you’ll want to look at other stuff. And there is plenty of other stuff.

“Monster in the Woods,” Sebastian Meade

Tom Leytham’s watercolor of a snow-covered old tractor seen from head-on is impressive. Dean McCrillis’ “Storm Brewing” is a dark sea meditation in deep magenta and gold in admirably handled oil. Harold Philbrook’s “Past/Present/Future” is a mixed-medium drawing (watercolor, pencil, etc.) that looks like it was done in three vellum layers stitched together: It’s an ode to kids, and it’s a master class in mark-making and subtlety.

Michele Caron’s “Shared Axis” is a notable rarity (for Maine, as well as this show): a solid, axial, geometrical abstraction. It’s a handsome and impressive work. It sits just below a notably elegant and minimally loose abstract graphite drawing by Rebecca Cote.


But the best set of stuff in “Rumpus” is fun, such as Sean Hasey’s painting of a wobbly traffic cone dreaming of sleep. Laura Dunn’s “Micro Museum with Tiny Pots” is a playfully witty diorama – with a wee Duchamp reference. Tori Marsh’s “Pink Little Rat” is an embroidered drawing of a rat turned away demurely with her buxom woman’s body left to face the viewer. And I particularly like Dave Wade’s “Building Stage 3,” a photograph of a construction site shot through the protective screen material used to rope it off: A yellow stripe on the screening gives the work a flat, abstract feel that opens deeply with a longer look. It’s smart, savvy and fun.

Sure, “Rumpus” has plenty of amateur angst, but what a chance to see what this stuff looks like lined up side by side with excellent works by professional artists. It’s a fun challenge, too – sifting the wheat from the chaff.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

Correction: This story was updated at 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, 2019, to correct artist Rebecca Cote’s name.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.