Balancing act

Juggling the contents of the imagination at the Front Room Gallery
By IAN PAIGE  |  January 16, 2008

WHAT IS IT, ANYWAY? "Everyone Knew What Clematis Was But Me," by Chad Verrill.

The spotty collection of work at the Front Room Gallery in South Portland is easily forgiven due to the nature of a holiday sale, and I fully expect the space will be utilized to its greatest potential when Greta Bank installs her work next month. I was first drawn to this particular show knowing that the work of Patrick Corrigan is on display. His painted worlds, with the pacifying gloom of winter lit up with interior imagination, feel most at home this time of year. I discovered other artists upon entry and quickly began to look for commonalities, seeking to stitch together a theme from radically different approaches.

Whether this compulsion to draw conclusions does the artists justice or not, it is similar to what I notice in their collected works: to make order out of inundation, to allow interior drives a place in the outer world as a sort of balancing act of psychological individuation.

Michael Malthy’s “Fimo” takes a reductive approach to the juggling act. Quilt-inspired triangles, just to the left of Crayola green, red, blue, and black, press against one another in an orderly array until the shapes careen toward the center of the composition, confused and changing position. The central movement is marked with a lone pair of yellow triangles. Standing back from the work, this motion feels comforting and carefully considered. On closer inspection, uncaring edges between forms, pencil marks, and uneven application of pigment, intentional or not, aren’t rough enough to bring a personality to the rigid structure.

Jennifer Gardiner’s untitled pieces live in this rigid world to a more successful effect. Imagine Josef Albers’s color juxtapositions while in the backwoods of Maine designing patterns for plaid hunting jackets. On each square checkerboard, the artist precisely pastes hundreds of pieces of thread, forming another layer of color play as painted shades of red vibrate with blues of the string. The small work is a unified whole, more of an object thanks to its tactile final layer, and welcomes extended viewing.

“Exotic Discovery” by Richard Wilson is a small square print refreshing in its dreamy primitivism. Three nude white women collectively stare with arms akimbo or hand to chin in bewilderment at a nude black stranger sleeping on the ground. The scene is set in a surreal subterranean void, but the figures recall the jilted classic forms of Gauguin. We find ourselves in a train of the gaze, questioning the nude as subject and object, while the women explore a sense of gender and racial other.

The most intriguing approaches to this method of expression through individuation come from the minds and hands of Patrick Corrigan and Chad Verrill. With both artists, objects exist in a miasma of motifs, continually re-explored.

Verrill’s “Everyone Knew What Clematis Was Except Me” features a complex conflagration of archetypal forms contained in a square of natural-toned paper. Faceless female figures emerge from a colorful lotus, one holding a wolf’s head up to the steaming portcullis of a castle whose walls are contorted to reveal all sides at once. Animal gods rendered in the style of the Maya enter a violent fray with dismembered arms holding bloody knives. Sex and violence are neatly squared, contained in the frame but ready to overflow.

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