Erin McGee Ferrell in her Falmouth home, where some of her paintings hang on the walls. Ferrell is a University of New England professor and an artist who is spending this month in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Erin McGee Ferrell was visiting Bahrain for the first time a couple of years ago while her husband was stationed there in the U.S. Navy, and her daughter said they should go see a Formula One race during their trip. Ferrell decided to bring her sketchbook along for the day.

“I had no idea what to expect,” she said. “I fell in love with the energy and the sounds and the speed. I brought my sketchbook to the race and just sat there for hours and sketched in the stands and came away with a whole book of sketches.”

When Ferrell returned to her home and studio in Falmouth, she continued making art about her experience at Formula One and her trip to Bahrain. Now, that body of work will be exhibited in the country that inspired it.

A gallery in the capital city of Manama is hosting a solo show of more than 50 paintings and sketches by Ferrell. She traveled to the country for the opening and will spend the coming weeks giving talks and workshops in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia about art, technology and artificial intelligence. The last stop on her journey will be a return to Manama to paint at Formula One’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix at the end of February.

“We loved to see Bahrain through her eyes and the main attraction of Formula One through her captivating artworks,” said Jehan Saleh, the curator, managing director and founder of Art Concept, the gallery that will host the exhibition.

“Thermochromic 1” by Erin McGee Ferrell uses a floral motif in the background to acknowledge a growing interest in Formula One among women. Photo by Peter Guyton and courtesy of Erin McGee Ferrell

Ferrell hopes the works will all be sold in the Middle East and not returned to Maine. Still, the collection embodies her general interests as an artist. She is a professor at the University of New England, where she teaches art to students who usually go on to careers in health care and science. She is trained in traditional oil painting, but her work often explores technology and science in both subject and medium. In this exhibition, her paintings not only depict the cutting-edge race cars of Formula One, but some also use color-changing paint and have embedded videos.


“We as humans are becoming less patient,” she said. “We’re all used to Netflix, and if we sit down to see ‘Oppenheimer,’ we might fall asleep because it’s three and a half hours. I find myself, even as artist, when I’m in an art museum, I will just walk through quickly without even appreciating or studying each piece. I think our art needs to be more interesting and interactive to have people stand in front of it for a little bit longer.”


Ferrell, 51, didn’t know anything about Formula One when she attended her first race. When she was flying into Manama, she was intrigued by a blazing cluster of lights on the dark horizon.

“Was it another airport?” she wondered at the time. “It ended up being the racetrack at night.”

Only a small number of venues host night racing. Bahrain has done so since 2014. As she researched Formula One, Ferrell also learned that each course is unique. A number of the paintings were inspired by the particular shape of the Bahraini track and the glowing effect of bright lights under a dark sky.

A viewer can scan Erin McGee Ferrell’s painting “Track Night BH” to pull up video and audio clips from the Formula One track in Bahrain. Photo by Peter Guyton and courtesy of Erin McGee Ferrell

In some pieces, she embedded videos from the track itself to capture the experience on another level. The viewer can scan the art with a phone and then watch a clip of the cars speeding past the stands. Ferrell has deployed this technique in her work before, adding videos of waves crashing to a seascape or the sounds of glasses clinking to a café scene.


“It’s all about how can I as an artist make you stop and give this piece of artwork more than 5 seconds,” she said. “You can hear the roar of the engines, you can see me sketching in the stands, and that’s so fun.”

Ferrell was also interested in the growing number of women who follow and drive in Formula One, which has traditionally been dominated by men. A series of paintings in the show depict a race car against a floral background.

“There’s a whole push to get women involved,” she said. “Part of this exhibition is about how allowing women to get involved in F1 a little bit more also can break some stereotypes for women in the region.”

Some paintings use thermochromic paint, which changes color under different temperatures. It might look pink when cold and blue when warm. During her trip, she will teach workshops on that technique, including one at Art Concept.

“Her technique is unexplored here, and these paints are not available in Bahrain, which helps to exchange artistic experiences and share her techniques with Bahraini artists and art enthusiasts,” Saleh wrote in an email.


“Rooftop Pool” by Erin McGee Ferrell was inspired by the view from her high-rise window during her last visit. Photo by Peter Guyton and courtesy of Erin McGee Ferrell

The exhibition coincides with Bahrain’s annual Spring of Culture. The weeks of events include gallery shows, theater, music and dance performances. Saleh said the festival is highly anticipated by locals and international tourists alike. For those less interested in Formula One, they will still find paintings that depict the island itself – the view of rooftop pools from her high-rise Airbnb, the city streets, the yellow desert dust in the air, the surrounding ocean.

“Her artworks offer a unique outlook to Bahrain as a visitor who was impressed by the local architecture and diverse experiences in Bahrain,” Saleh said.


During her travels, Ferrell will give talks about integrating art and artificial intelligence, a topic she has also discussed with students and colleagues at the University of New England.

Marc Ebenfield, director of the university’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, said she gave a workshop on AI for faculty last year that “blew everyone away.”

“The way Erin had integrated AI into her own courses and the way she demonstrated the flaws of artificial intelligence through art were just stunning,” he said.


In that workshop, Ebenfield said Ferrell prompted AI to create an image of a woman giving birth. No matter how she prompted the technology, the resulting image was always slightly and sometimes strikingly wrong. The woman had a vibrant smile that showed none of the pains of labor, or she was standing next to a child much older than a newborn. Especially for the health professionals in the faculty, the discrepancies were jarring.

Ebenfield said Ferrell used this exercise to show the ways artificial intelligence cannot understand human emotion. He felt inspired by the way she demonstrates to her students both the possibilities and the flaws of artificial intelligence, and he said that lesson will follow those students into their chosen careers.

“How can we use AI to extend our capabilities to maybe do some things that are onerous, repetitive tasks, but really make sure we don’t lose the essence of humanity?” he said. “So much of health care and education and teaching our students is about that human connection.”

Erin McGee Ferrell works on a mixed media painting in her Falmouth studio. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Ferrell herself applies that same question to her work in the studio.

She said she uses AI systems such as ChatGPT to write presentations and promotional materials so she can focus on actually making art. She has experimented with using AI to write stories about her art. But she also tries to add elements to her art that could never be reproduced by artificial intelligence, like using the paint that changes color at different temperatures, adding video or audio clips that give a sense of her human experience or embroidering canvasses.

“It can’t be mimicked by printing something out,” she said. “I touched this piece of paper. I have gone to another level and sewn and embroidered into this piece of paper to prove that it’s a piece of original artwork.”



Ferrell said she started with a weeklong itinerary and has now extended her travel for three.

Once she found the gallery to host the show, she decided to make the most of her experience – and the long plane rides. She sent email after email, and now she has a full schedule of events in two countries.

In Bahrain, she will also teach a workshop on thermochromic paints for U.S. Navy families stationed in Bahrain. In Saudi Arabia, she will travel as part of a speaker program hosted by the U.S. State Department and also teach for four days at a women’s school for cultural crafts.

“I’m hoping that this won’t be my last time,” she said. “This will be the beginning of this relationship.”

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.