Upon entering the Portland Public Library and peering down into the Lewis Gallery, I let out a disgruntled sigh. Seen from above, Maine Sculptors 2011 is a disappointing array of sub-par work arranged with little or no attention to the space in which it is exhibited, the kind of hodgepodge one would encounter in a tacky tourist gallery in Santa Fe.
This exhibit re-asserts, by omission, the importance of the role of the curator. Most of the work suffers from poor placement, a lack of dialogue between pieces, and crowded viewing space. The annual show by the members-only group Maine Sculptors looks, at first glance, like a vanity project gone awry.
That said, descending into the gallery, imagining that some pieces have actual breathing room, there are several works that warrant a closer look.
Gary Ambrose’s delicate branch pieces (“Thoughts on the Figure” and “Pink”), poised in pinks and purples, are clear standouts. Upon first impression, both are so simple they may leave viewers feeling cheated, but the elegant lines and understated gestures create a space for pause and reflection amidst the heavy-handed creations nearby. There is genuine life in these works. Ambrose exhibits not only mastery, but also respect for the medium, and a clear attunement to line, color and form.
Scott Hendrickson’s “Life Drawing Class” also incorporates a found “figure”/tree branch, but this figure is set atop a larger piece of wood that’s been nailed to a “canvas” made of wood, framed with wood, beneath nine small wooden box frames holding small sections of branches. This convoluted piece would be more successful with less of the artist’s hand. The branch “figure” itself is interesting, well lit and poised. Every other component is superfluous.
Hendrickson’s other contribution to the show demonstrates a love of repetition and “ordered chaos.” In “Shelters,” the artist seems to have rummaged through the recycling bin of a first-rate wood shop and crammed every piece he could find into two vertical wall sculptures. Beyond the awe at seeing so many tiny pieces of wood glued together, there isn’t much left to ponder.
Though poorly placed in this exhibition, Donna Caron’s fragmented human forms are transporting. The two pieces here, “Standing Figure 2004” and “Standing Fragment,” look like the decayed remnants of ancient statuary. Her work inspires a sense of timelessness through a combination of overtly man-made and organic materials: concrete, stone, bone, and impressed vegetation.
A landscape painter whose sculptures often double as weathervanes, John Bowdren’s contributions are a pleasant shift. “Vector” and “Flounder” are accomplished and witty works. “Flounder” is a two-foot-high, gold-leafed fish with a human face. “Vector” is an abstract, seven-foot-tall, copper-shingled form with a gold-leafed, airplane-like insertion near the top. As a pair, the two sculptures communicate a potential that neither piece carries alone. It would be great to see more of the humor these two works could convey if placed side-by-side.
Kim Bernard’s two encaustic, wood and lead pieces are attractive one-liners that leave something to be desired. Both “Convolution” and “Chambered Nautilus” are wooden sculptures created by cutting and building up repetitive sections of circular forms, overlaying each with lead and/or copper, and then covering them, in sections, in encaustic. As early explorations that led Bernard to her current interest in kinetic sculpture, these works may provide historical context, but her kinetic pieces and two-dimensional encaustic works are more successful.
Steffi Greenbaum’s “Flight From Reality” and “Free to Fly” are perfectly rendered, abundant female forms — one painted with sky and mountains, the other all in white, bursting through a paper-like surface. Greenbaum demonstrates excellent control of the medium, but any commentary or depth to her work remains elusive.
Jacques Vesery’s intricately carved, well-considered pieces, “Swept from the Tides in My Sky” and “Relics of Seasons Past,” are technically flawless. “Relics of Seasons Past” is comprised of two small (3-inch diameter) spheres carved from cherry wood and painted a deep olive green. The surface is embellished with curves and swirls that call forth leaves and vines on one sphere and sections of abstract oblong rings on the other. Each piece evokes a sense of otherworldly magic and exhibits a keen attentiveness to detail.
After leaving this exhibition and seeing images from last year’s Maine Sculptors show online, I wondered whether these artists are interested in pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones. Will next year’s show be more of the same, or will some of them actually grow?
— Sarah Bouchard
Maine Sculptors 2011 shows through July 30th at the Portland Public Library’s Lewis Gallery, 5 Monument Square. Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more info, visit mainesculptors.com.