The most common meaning of the word threshold is the threshold of a door, which must be spanned, and figuratively, the door itself or an entrance of almost any kind.
Another meaning of threshold is “the magnitude or intensity that must be exceeded for a certain reaction or phenomenon to occur or manifest”.
Both definitions seem particularly apt when considering “Thresholding: New Work by Mark Phelan,” a new exhibition of paintings, prints, sculptures, found objects, and site-specific installation at the Co-Creative Center in downtown New Bedford. .
Passing through the two doors at the entrance to the space, one encounters an old battered door frame. The door itself is opened and locked in this position by means of a metal frame. The paint on both sides is weathered and cracked, the knob is rusty, and the brass lock is worn from years of use.
Phelan removed the door and frame from his late maternal grandfather’s studio in 1997 and rebuilt it in the gallery space. It functions as a physical threshold and, more importantly, as a metaphor for passage into the past, with all the emotion and desire it evokes.
The artist often dealt with heady symbolism and heartfelt sentiment (never lapsing into sugary melancholy) as he dealt with the long aftermath of his father’s death in 2008. The Door is Just the Beginning of a journey, as he recently unearthed. a treasure trove of his grandfather’s belongings, each a touchstone to something greater than the object itself. More on that in a moment.
Phelan is exhibiting nine prints (silkscreen, linocut and glued elements) and eight large paintings on stretched canvas or eyelet tarpaulin. He is a formidable draftsman who uses colorful images (chairs, frames, chandeliers and much more) in the service of stories shrouded in mystery.
Questions arise but the answers are fleeting.
What to do with the haunting “Birthday” painting, with its barren, twisting branches against a dark sky? Dozens of bright pink hash marks are floating in space. But what are they taking into account? Days, weeks, months? Since what? A marriage, a birth, an injury? A death?
Two canvases with evocative and complementary titles: “The Back Side of Before” and “The Front Side of After”. Both contain chandeliers in dark spaces and other objects, such as an overturned stool. But it’s the names themselves that weigh heavily on my heart. As someone who recently experienced a tragedy in my family, I know something behind the scenes. And I feel the front of the after. Every day.
In an artist statement prepared for the exhibition, Phelan wrote “…we are reminded why we leave ourselves so vulnerable by occupying two places at once, and a glimmer of memory offers us a presence from somewhere else.”
Beyond the paintings and prints, Phelan displays dozens of objects found in his grandfather’s studio and he displays them as sacred relics of sorts. They include well-worn baseball mitts, an old Pentax camera, toy cars, tools, porcelain coffee mugs with long-defunct trade names, roulette wheels, and cans of oil.
I thought I smelled the smell of Marvel Mystery Oil and old leather and as I lingered I felt a sort of imaginary synesthesia perhaps known only to middle-aged men, thinking of their fathers and grandfathers. fathers. There was no smell of sawdust or unfiltered camels or Canadian Club…but I wanted there to be.
There were a few books, including an automotive guide and a set of manuals “for carpenters and builders”. As a boy, you’d think such leather-bound tomes could impart obscure knowledge, a way of understanding creation.
The secrets of the universe itself could be found in these books, in these thresholds. One of those secrets could be the sacred space between grandfather and grandchild. Or between father and son.
“Thresholding: New Work by Mark Phelan” is on display at the Co-Creative Center, 137 Union Street, New Bedford.