PRESQUE ISLE – People always think bigger is better. That’s why we have SUVs and supersize and supercenters. But often, bigger just means more leg room, more french fries and more falling prices to watch out for. It doesn’t mean higher quality. It just means higher quantity.
Some people prefer little and good to big and mediocre. If you’re one of these people, you’ll love the faculty art show at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.
UMPI’s Reed Gallery is small. Bigger than a bread box, but small enough that it could be a problem if you wanted to display a sweeping, knock-your-socks-off exhibit.
That is, unless you’re a member of the art faculty.
For this year’s faculty show, four instructors culled the best of their work, nothing more. There aren’t too many pieces in the exhibit – just enough. The result is a stunning collection of sometimes avant-garde, always interesting works.
Take the three naked, bald mannequins, minus the legs, on pedestals. They stand, one with fractured head, in front of three blown-up albumin prints from the 1880s and three mixed-media collages that include the original pictures, surrounded by an altarlike network of lines and ribbons. Unlike modern photo enlargements, these faces change when they get bigger. They lose definition, but gain emotion.
Professor Clifton Boudman used the albumin prints as a starting point, and drew meaning from the curve of a smile, an unbroken gaze. He transferred that meaning to the mannequins, which are unadorned but constructed intentionally. They don’t look like the women in the pictures, rather they represent something embodied in those pictures. He went beyond these long-forgotten faces and gave them confidence and fear, sadness and distance.
“I selected and interpreted them
and made a connection with the mannequin,” Boudman said. “The morality of those women is fascinating.”
Boudman interprets this morality as virginal, virtuous and untouchable in his collages. He gives each unknown woman a name: “Madonna Laura,” named for Laura, the muse of love poet Francisco Petrarca; “Madonna Beatrice,” named for Beatrice, the muse whom Dante idealized in “The Divine Comedy,” and pencils in passages of poetry on the works.
Sculptor Leo-Paul Cyr also tries to draw meaning from his medium, but in his case, this meaning is more spatial than literal.
“The stones become my partners in my creative efforts,” Cyr said. “[I try] not to reshape them so much, but to put them in a different context so they have a different meaning. My concern is to create a relationship between matter and space.”
In Cyr’s “Homage, 2000,” a translucent egg of quartz rests in a nest of rusted mesh that he found in a field. These sit atop a glittery, shiny sheet of carved marble and an alabaster base. In “The Primal Cry,” a river rock rises like a flame from two blocks of granite.
Cyr’s works are beautiful, simple and entirely design-driven. His combinations are thoughtfully spare, letting the contrast of color, texture and sheen dominate each piece. In these works, any extra carving would be too much.
Shelley Gipson Adams’ paintings flank the sculptures on the gallery’s narrower walls. On one wall, Adams’ three 8-foot paintings are too tall for the space, so their bottoms rest on the ground. “Constant Companion,” “Rhythm of Existence” and “Your Golden Life” are a motley trio, with androgynous bodies writhing, struggling and crouching against a background of amber paint that is worked into the paper by hand – not with a brush – to the point that the surface has the illusion of texture and depth. At first, they look almost decorative, but a second look brings out their more morbid side.
“They’re surprising,” Adams said. “You’re caught by the images. … [They make] you stop and take a breath and contemplate your own life or what’s going on with the world.”
Across the room is a collection of Adams’ new works, as yet untitled. In these, she examines layers – a lithograph on top of a digital print, transparent Japanese paper glued over a woodcut. These are bright and rich, if you take the time to discern the layers and see how they work together.
The fourth artist, Anderson Giles, presents two sets of photographs that he hopes to compile in two separate books someday. Half depict his family, the other half depict the natives of Tinian, an island in the South Pacific.
Giles’ family portraits are magical. In a way, they’re like snapshots, capturing intimate pictures of everyday life. But there’s more to them – a universality that resonates even if you don’t know the golden-haired little girl or the beautiful woman in the frames.
“These describe the beautiful, mysterious, wonderful, almost inexplicable things that happen in a family,” Giles said.
In “Celia, Ashlyn in Backyard, Halloween Afternoon, Presque Isle,” Giles’ wife stands all in black, pushing her hair back as their young daughter clutches her mother’s legs. There’s a pumpkin in the foreground and a wooden chest is on fire to the side. The flames dance in the autumn air like a bright orange ghost that came out to play for the afternoon.
Giles’ Tinian pictures have a more documentary, less emotional feel to them, perhaps because his bond to the subject is less personal. In these, the stories that accompany the photographs are as important as the pictures themselves.
His portrait of Manny Dela Cruz, a Chamorro native who was allowed to stay on Tinian during the Japanese occupation during World War II, is more interesting if you read the story of how he disappeared several years after the photo was taken. He left without a trace, and islanders say he had become so wise that the island spirits called Dela Cruz to become one of them.
The faculty art show at the University of Maine at Presque Isle is on view through March 9 in the Reed Gallery at the Campus Center.