'MEN WAITING TO VACUUM' Oil on canvas,
12 by 9 inches, 2004, by Katherine Bradford.
"Dirigo" — the state motto, I Lead — is a possibly misleading title for the last installment of UNE's "Maine Women Pioneers III" exhibition series. The 18 artists featured do not necessarily strike me as occupying the frontlines of contemporary art; however, their work is mature and confident. Gender and its societal associations only rarely come to the forefront of the artists' conception or the viewer's experience.
The exhibition's title wall supports some knockout wall sculptures by NORIKO SAKANISHI. Her work is strong, proud, and hard-edged; dare I say it — adjectives commonly, albeit falsely, associated with masculinity. In the context of this exhibition that is exactly the point, and makes her work the perfect introduction. Subtlety and complexity lie in the contrasting relationships of positive and negative forms, of round and rectangular shapes, in the harmonious balance of elements that may be thought of in gendered terms.
The exhibition layout sometimes clusters artists addressing similar concerns, and sometimes lets them stand alone. MEGGAN GOULD's photographs of viewfinders are perfectly presented like sheets of glass. All of her abstract images reveal their connection to photography and the outside world only reluctantly, as if divulging a secret, which stands in enticing contrast to photography's ubiquity in our culture. MELONIE BENNETT's camera always seems to have been around just when family and friends become wonderfully and absurdly human. Her empathic images often capture moments in which traditional roles of adults and children are being renegotiated to very touching and/or hilarious effect. KELIY ANDERSON-STALEY's formally stunning photographs of dwellings off the grid pay homage to human commitment and effort.
While BARBARA SULLIVAN'S fresco "Running Late" describes in no uncertain terms what many working women experience, she does it with humor. Her protagonist's being is literally fragmented and her briefcase is spilling its contents. MARY HART's small paintings juxtapose organic matter with the manmade or human body to mysterious effect. With fine attention to detail, including closely observed nuances of flesh color, these gems suggest calculated challenges to convincingly render light on reflective and absorbent surfaces. Although showing off one's painterly talent thus could be obnoxious, it is utterly impressive in Hart's scale, suggestiveness, and preciousness.
GRACE DEGENNERO describes the inspiration for her complex abstractions in almost mystical terms, the images also succeed on a purely perceptual level. Differences in palette, liveliness, and complexity encourage inquisitive comparative looking at various distances, while allowing intuitive understanding work on us. KATHERINE BRADFORD's witty paintings imagine the possibility of new men. Her large "New Men" is mostly a palimpsestic field of paint bordered by colorful and playful shapes and inscribed with the title, but no figures at all. Those new men are in the smaller works: washing their Superman insignia, kissing each other, and waiting vacuously to vacuum. This is not the female gaze, but an irreverent female imagination.
There is of course much more compelling work in "Dirigo" than can be mentioned here. DOZIER BELL's magnificent paintings thematize destruction and aggression within distancing formal frameworks. The particulars of the subjects thus give way to focus on the viewer's proximity in terms of emotion and consequence. KATHERINE COBEY's heart-wrenching "Portrait of Alzheimer's" captures the unraveling of a mind's coherence as her knitted shawl gradually loses form and unity.