The CMCA’s Open Season

Anna Hepler. “Fold.” 2013. Steel wire. photos/Sarah Bouchard

The CMCA’s Open Season

The Center for Maine Contemporary Art opens its 61st season with an ambitious grouping of exhibitions, most of which succeed.

In the main gallery, What Was, Is features sculptural works by Duncan Hewitt and photography and paintings by Claire Seidl. A small section of the upstairs space is devoted to two- and three-dimensional work by Anna Hepler, simply titled New Work. Most of the second floor gallery has been transformed via Peter Soriano’s exhibition Bagaduce ->()<- East 19th. Dress Shop, in CMCA’s basement gallery, offers intimate viewing of works by Lesia Sochor and Crystal Cawley.

Viewing Soriano’s work online, I was prepared to dismiss it as yet another postmodern deconstruction-turned-disintegration of Art. Stepping into his space I was confronted by a series of wall works that, thankfully, defied my preconceptions. The most successful pieces combine free-handed spray paint with taped, hard-edge lines to create diagram-like compositions. They bring to mind the neon markings utility company workers make on sidewalks and streets. Soriano uses angled planes, broken lines, and multiple arrows to convey movement, in some cases evoking an assembly-line feel. The work is colorful and light, pointing and directing without proffering anything substantial beyond the process itself. These works excel in their simplicity. Others that incorporate wire and pipe fittings are less successful. The sculptural elements feel clunky and superfluous in an otherwise dynamic display.

Hepler’s New Work is dominated by a large cylindrical form, “Fold,” sculpted out of steel wire and bent at its center. It is suspended from the ceiling with a single line.  “Fold” is aptly titled. The beauty of this piece is definitely in the fold where the two halves of the form arc and curve into one another. A shape that at first feels large and slightly awkward becomes sensual with prolonged viewing. Each wire has been carefully joined, every bend considered. The mark of the hand is simple and understated. “Wire Form #4” is a small steel-wire creation in the form of an egg set atop a gorgeous wooden pedestal. Hepler’s use of wire creates an ethereal fluctuation between form and line. This small mini-survey of her work also includes earlier, quieter ceramic pieces evocative of steel sculptures, and a series of woodcuts. “Tip” is a stand-out among the woodcuts, which mostly read as studies.

The exhibit of Hewitt and Seidl’s work, What Was, Is, is the fourth in CMCA’s Counterpoint series, which pairs the work of two artists with the intention of creating an aesthetic dialogue. According to CMCA’s website, this particular pairing was intended to create “a compelling conversation about materiality, time, and memory.” In this respect, the exhibition failed. If anything, the power of each artist’s work was diminished by its proximity to the other.

Claire Seidl. “The Likes of Me.” 2013. Oil on canvas.

Most of the paintings selected to represent Seidl’s work are unremarkable. The phenomenal energy and variance of her paintings from the late ’90s seems to have been lost in this more recent work. Those on view here vary widely in size, with some as large as 4’ x 5’, in palettes that range from deep greens and blues to light pinks. They appear as color and shadow, positioned and layered arbitrarily upon a canvas. There is nothing to grab the eye, nothing engaging. The two most recent works on display, however, may indicate a brave resurgence. “On the Up & Up” and “The Likes of Me” are fresh, vibrant and inspired. In “The Likes of Me,” black gestural lines and figures bend, dance, fall, kneel, stretch, yearn and play across a salmon-hued ground. “On the Up and Up” has more subdued layers of brushwork in striking blue and gold. The smaller selection of Seidl’s photographic work is also strong, but the abstracted black-and-white images feel out of place within this exhibit.

The majority of Hewitt’s work on view comes from his Windshields series. The power of his sculptural works lies in their ability to trigger emotions. “Long Island” is a pair of wooden sculptures resting on found wooden chairs. Positioned side by side, they read immediately as fallen bodies. When I first encountered the work, I saw two wolves, their blackened carcasses flattened. It was only after reading the title that I recognized the shape of Long Island, a realization that gave the sense of loss a sense of place. Hewitt’s hand-work and carving are evident in these pieces. The marks look more like the evidence of fingers in clay than a chisel on wood. These pieces read as an homage — to the deceased, to the impossible, to the path not taken. There is a sense of longing in the work. Read in tandem with two other works that reference Long Island, they could be clues to a broken history, raising the question, “What happened?” Or, perhaps more appropriately, “What didn’t?”

Positioned toward the back corner of the gallery, “Untitled” offers a glimpse of Hewitt’s newer work. It looks like two shrouds rendered in wood, one reminiscent of a yellow raincoat, the other of a silver baby bunting-turned-cocoon. The garments have been pressed flat, as if the fabric were worn, left outside, soaked and frozen, the human forms they once enclosed having long since disappeared. There is a tenderness within this piece, which feels a bit more playful than the rest. There still remain more questions than answers, but therein lies the power of the work.

Lesia Sochor. “Garment 5.” 2013. Oil on sewing paper and canvas.

Dress Shop, the exhibition of works by Lesia Sochor and Crystal Cawley, is not to be missed. Sochor’s work includes a series of oil paintings on sewing paper and canvas. “Garment 5, 2013” is the most successful — a fun, vibrantly rendered painting of a red dress. “Couture (Homage to Bangladesh)” is another stand-out. Cawley’s series of “Thinking Caps” are playful and provocative, stunning and exquisitely rendered in a restrained palette of black, white, cream and red. She uses an array of materials — from old maps and book pages, to sandpaper, images of insects, and interesting graphic fonts — pieced together with intricate stitching. Also on view is her collection “One Hundred Drawings of The Same Thing,” a marvelously varied iteration of a dress form in mixed media collage.

— Sarah Bouchard

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