ROCKLAND — At a time when an unprecedented number of women are running for political office and the voices of more women are being raised and heard, it’s not by design, but probably not by coincidence either, that the Center for Maine Contemporary Art Biennial includes the work of 27 women among its 43 artists and art collectives.

The statewide juried exhibition, which just opened and is on view through March 3 at the art museum in Rockland, offers what director Suzette McAvoy called “a very lively and very varied” snapshot of the contemporary art scene in Maine, across all media and with a strong showing of female artists.

The jurors, Kate Green, guest director of Marfa Contemporary in Marfa, Texas, and Robin K. Williams, a Ford curatorial fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in Michigan, chose the work blindly, not knowing the name or gender of the artists until after they made their selections. The large number of women represented in the biennial reflects the urgency of their work and its insistent appeal among the jurors, McAvoy said. All the art under consideration for the biennial had to be created within the past

two years, since the last biennial cycle, so the strong showing also suggests that Maine’s women artists have been busy – and effectively so.

“This is the work the jurors were attracted to,” McAvoy said.

The CMCA Biennial is the longest running juried competition in Maine, dating to 1978. The 43 artists and collectives in the exhibition represent 33 communities across the state and were selected from 659 submissions.

“Arc,” by Jesse Potts. At right, for her installation “Strange Fruit,” Eleanor Kipping hung hundreds of hair combs at varying heights from ceiling to floor.

McAvoy and her staff challenged themselves to get the biennial up. CMCA’s galleries required a complete do-over following the removal of the John Bisbee sculpture show and large-scale photographs by Jocelyn Lee. For Lee’s show, the gallery walls were painted dark and had to repainted for the biennial, and Bisbee’s exhibition involved thousands of nails. Each nail hole had to be filled and the walls repainted.

VARIETY IS THE SPICE

Gender aside, the exhibition’s other theme is variety among media. The biennial includes paintings, sculpture, photographs, textiles and videos, many showing an influence of fine craft and others an awareness of space. There are nine painters, seven photographers and seven sculptors. Four artists work with textiles. “And we’re seeing an increasing number of installation-based works and pieces that are interactive and involve the viewer to participate,” McAvoy said.

The new CMCA building opened in 2016, giving this round of biennial artists ample time to size up the space and imagine work for it. Artists are taking advantage of the building’s high ceilings, open spaces and glass enclosures.

Eleanor Kipping hangs hundreds of hair combs, each strung individually and floating in space at varying heights from ceiling to floor, quietly casting shadows against the gallery’s soft-white walls. Julie K. Gray creates a larger version of her installation “Waiting Room,” which she showed in the window at Space Gallery in Portland last winter, and Ethan Hayes-Chute presents one of his clever and creative workbench installations.

Textile artist Sarah Haskell of York is showing a six-panel piece called “Secrets of the Infinite,” distinguished by its hand-dyed woven linen and an indigo horizon line that carries through all six panels, achieved through a careful gradation of colors from top to bottom. The six panels are hung tightly together and stretch across 90 inches. The piece is 28 inches tall.

Haskell, who completed a five-week Monhegan Artists’ Residency last summer and has been juried into previous biennials at CMCA and the Portland Museum of Art, finds herself “moving more in a direction of using natural processes for coloring my fabrics, which is something I did in the ’70s. I am pulling out my old books.” She’s pleased the jurors’ vision included her combination of traditional techniques and materials with a contemporary approach. “I am thrilled to be included in that regard. The curators were really thinking broadly,” she said.

For her intallation “Strange Fruit,” Eleanor Kipping hung hundreds of hair combs, each strung individually, floating in space at varying heights from ceiling to floor and casting their shadows on the gallery’s walls.

Midcoast artists Anneli Skaar and Sal Taylor Kydd collaborated for a painting and photography installation, “Part of the Maine,” inspired by the poet John Donne, as well as their winter visits to Maine islands. Once a month, the artist-friends picked an island to visit and made art while there, sketching, painting, writing and creating photos and films, not knowing what would come of their work. They went to Vinalhaven, North Haven, Monhegan, Matinicus and others.

For the biennial, Skaar made a painted accordion screen with nine separate panels, each a foot wide. At its tallest, it stands at about 7 feet and tapers to floor level. On one side, she painted the landscape looking out to the islands from the mainland. On the other, she painted the view from the islands looking to shore. It’s anchored with a granite base.

Kydd is showing about a dozen photos from her island series. She explores how family histories and memory reflect in the landscape and in the objects that have meaning. Her photographs are displayed salon-style on a wall behind Skaar’s screen, suggesting the warmth of a well-worn home with a wall of family photos.

This is Skaar’s third try to get into the biennial. “To be included in a cross-section of Maine artists is an honor, really. You do have people from all over, and it’s a venue that I think a lot of artists dream about having their work in,” she said.

Belfast painter Alan Fishman is showing 60 watercolor seascapes mounted in a grid that’s 9 feet across and 5-feet tall. Fishman has made the paintings during his work as an art historian on cruise ships, which take him around the world. He paints from the decks of the cruise ships, interpreting the infinity and endurance of the landscape.

These paintings represent a big departure for Fishman. For most of his career he has been a studio painter from either imagination or memory. This has been the first time he has worked consistently outdoors directly from nature. “I have been fascinated by the simple premise of sky/water/weather/horizon,” he wrote in an email during a full gale in the Atlantic Ocean between Madeira and A Coruna, Spain, while aboard the Celebrity Silhouette. “I have found the work both stimulating as an act of contemplative observation as well as awe at the extraordinary beauty of the world at sea all around the world. The work has certainly made me a much more acute observer of the environment. As I am not a camera, and the sea and sky and weather are never still, I had to find a solution for creating a general state of the conditions each time I set down to work. This practice has really helped me to understand the reality of imagination juxtaposed with abstraction, even while working directly from nature … unlike painting a still life in a setup.”

Fishman doesn’t know where this work will lead, but he said that after 50 years, there is no doubt he has found a new creative vantage point. These paintings, he said, are about sheer beauty and wonder. “The art I love most speaks to me through its imagery, color and composition. I would like the audience that sees these paintings to relate to them in that way,” he wrote. “A kind of return to the simple appreciation of special visual moments in their lives, like recognizing an old friend they haven’t seen in years.”

CURTIS IS BACK

Lyman artist Amy Stacey Curtis is showing a piece called “Mirror I,” which involves 300 black cubes and 300 white cubes, set upon two wall-mounted columns of shelves. Each column holds 300 cubes. At the start of the exhibition, all of the black cubes were set toward the center of the installation, while all the white cubes were set toward the outside.

Curtis wants participants to carefully switch any black cubes with white cubes so the result is symmetrical participation. The cubes on left side should mirror cubes on the right side.

Curtis has been struggling with health issues for the past year, fending off persistent thoughts of suicide while seeking a variety of treatments. She has recently re-emerged with her art, with an exhibition at the Bates College Museum of Art, and now the CMCA Biennial.

“It feels celebratory and like a triumph, also like a light in the middle of the dark,” she wrote in an email. “It’s also proof that so long as my brain continues to let me create, no matter how hard things get, and because of the support I have from the art community in Maine and beyond, I will be able to keep making and presenting the work I want to make. Exhibiting and talking to participants also maintains a momentum for me, like extra energy, as I continue to develop new concepts.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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