There is so much art to be seen every day in Rockland that it’s hard to decide what to focus on.
The Center for Maine Contemporary Art has a magnificent exhibition of paintings by David Row (through September 12), already insightfully covered by Press Herald art writer Bob Keyes. It is a highlight of the summer season.
Another exhibit at CMCA, however, “SB Walker | Nor’East” (also through September 12) could hardly be more convincing. And around the corner of Elm Street, at the Caldbeck Gallery, is “Katherine Bradford – Dan Dowd”, a quirky and intriguing exhibit that could easily be missed for its modest size and location on the second floor of the gallery.
CAPTURING THE SOCIAL LANDSCAPE
Sam Walker began traveling Maine in 2014 at the age of 27, photographing what Edward Earle, former curator of collections at the International Center of Photography, in his catalog essay calls the “social landscape.” of State. The first thing you realize when you walk around the space is that Walker’s eye goes way beyond the documentary. He has a sharp and incisive point of view and a knack for the poignant ironies inherent in Maine’s economic, social and political diversity.
Several photos capture the melancholy of ancient ways of life that blend into history. “Family Dollar” announces it by juxtaposing the ubiquitous chain store’s gleaming molded plastic sign in front of a sadly dilapidated rural building with a satellite dish attached. Concrete road barriers lined up in front of a weather-beaten church in “Benton” could portend simple road repairs or the construction of a new artery in front of (perhaps through?) The steeple structure.
But those that appear to us offer a dystopian view of the myriad polarities of Pine Tree State, in line with the photographs of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange for the Resettlement Administration of the US Department of the Interior during the Great Depression.
Individually they are quite powerful, perhaps nothing more than “The Gunsmith, Raymond”, a grid of 49 images, all but one showing plastic neon sign boards with incendiary slogans: “” The Little Trumpets rotten and spoiled trust funds march to murder unborn children “or” Liberalism like feces attracts vermin. “
Another, less politically one-sided image, “Athens”, shows a handwritten sign outside a dilapidated house that says “The system is the problem”. It is difficult to dispute this assessment as the progression of the images has an uncomfortable impact on our trajectory in the gallery. But stepping back and comparing photographs in different parts of the room further intensifies the dystopia by challenging us to reconcile extremely disparate situations.
How to make sense of a photo of two boys standing on the front landing of a house in “Monson” – one of Maine’s poorest towns – which looks like it is about to collapse around them and “Cumberland”, with its comfortable home and expansive entertaining terrace cantilevered over a cliff above a private child-sized train emerging from a tunnel?
Can we find common ground between the anti-liberal cope of “The Armorer, Raymond” and “Eid Prayer, Portland”, which shows Muslims with their heads bowed in worship on an Islamic holiday? sacred, or “The Women’s March, Portland?” One image finds an elusive unity in our perpetual human dilemma. It’s an engraved three-letter single sign, YMI, titled “Why Am I, Casco.” The show reveals strikingly our countless futile attempts to answer this question through surprisingly divergent prisms.
BRIGHT COLORS, RUBBER ART
Katherine Bradford is one of Maine’s best known and beloved painters. Still, critics seem to be unsure of what to do with her. They compare her to Philip Guston. They describe his art as expressionist, others as a combination of romantic New England realism and subversive abstraction. Some see a “utopian collectivity”, others a deconstruction of our hero worship, and still others a deeper questioning of sexuality, gender and identity.
All of this can be true. But in Caldbeck, his small paintings, all 20 x 10 inches, feel a bit like light summer reading, and not just because most portray the pleasures of beach life in Maine. His characters here are rendered in an even more casual and childish way than his usual style, adding to their sense of innocence.
The color palette is noticeably bright, although many works apply the paint in a lighter, more airy manner, so that they appear fairly flat, rather than emanating the deep luminosity that most of us have come to expect. regulars.
Some works involve deeper meanings. The figure of “Strong Woman at Mere Point” holds up a large house and the firmament below, and “Good Morning” shows a woman supporting the rising sun. They certainly convey feminine power – the former gives new meaning to the term “domestic goddess”, the latter celebrates women as the eternal and omnipotent force of the universe.
Others also return the heteronormative ideal by representing two men holding hands (“Beach Walk, Night”) and more androgynous figures sharing a bed (“Under the Covers”). But the images are above all lovely. “Coldwater Night Swim”, “Cove Swimmer” and “Beach Fire” all evoke this brief season with joy and tenderness, while also telegraphing its fleeting nature. And “Lifeguard Reunion” does this especially with characters whose slim presence makes them seem to already fade into the fall.
Dan Dowd’s wall sculptures are also lovely, but in a much more eccentric way. For years he haunted landfills and flea markets picking up the wrecks and jetsam of human life. The strongest works in the exhibition are those that incorporate rubber inner tubes, a material for which he has a palpable affinity. Dowd exploits both the material and sculptural qualities of this object in fascinating ways.
Dowd’s dad was a truck driver, so Dowd grew up in constant contact with rubber, either against his skin as he floated on inner tubes in the water, or against his jackets and coats as he hurtled down. snowy slopes in winter. So it is no coincidence that he handles rubber in a way that feels bodily and often mixes it with woolen fabrics.
“Hidden Balls” is overtly sexual. Pieces of a snorkel mantle wrap around the top and bottom of the makeup, giving the rubber in between a skin-like feel. The overall impression is of someone caught with their pants down, mostly because a threaded metal tube protrudes upright in the center, above two round bumps in the rubber. Your imagination can complement this thought.
In “Crawling,” Dowd folds up a woolen sweater, leaving all four corners loose to simulate a baby’s stocky arms and legs. The rubber rolled here, coming from a truck inner tube, forms a long neck-shaped element that induces the child’s intense effort to move forward.
Dowd’s use of discarded clothing gives tangible new life to those who previously wore it by incorporating the stories that reside in the fabric into new narratives. “For George Floyd” uses red velvet to suggest the blood of life and a fragment of a leather shoe to indicate that life has died out.
The juxtaposition with Bradford’s work was more fortuitous than intentional (Dowd and Bradford are friends and live close to each other). But in a strangely curious way, their works and the conversation between them can at times appear to be alternately playful and serious, flat and three-dimensional, but unified in the way they emphasize the ephemeral of everything.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]