INTO THE LOOKING GLASS “Wave,” oil on linen, by Alyssa Monks.
It's a sad thing to have an empty gallery in the center of Portland's Arts District. Whitney Art Works was a vital organ in Portland's arts community, and since it closed in January, the scene has missed it dearly. Now that the space has been enlivened by Virginia Rose, art history professor at Southern Maine Community College and board member of the Portland Public Art Committee, we look forward to Rose Contemporary filling that void.
Rose's inaugural show, "Space Invaders," collects an ambitious array of artists. Signature works by Portland's contemporaries — like Greta Bank's outrageous sculpture (which we'll get to shortly) and Randy Regier's re-imagined toy figurines — mingle with impressive works by New York artists from Rose's past curatorships. With 46 pieces by 21 artists, you might think of "Space Invaders" as a killer party that you won't want to miss. Though you might find some of the conversations a little busy or loud, you'll surely make some lasting acquaintances, learn some new perspectives, and just maybe, someone might take their clothes off.
At a party this big, better to tend to the big personalities first. New York artist Peter Drake's burnished acrylic paintings depict rich snapshots of 1950s American suburbia re-imagined through a latently violent and sexualized lens. In "Siege Machine," (acrylic on canvas, 30" x 35.75") a presumably betrothed man and woman stand beside a massive engine in the driveway of their suburban residence. Drake's method of applying multiple layers of acrylic paint gives his work the timeworn, sepia quality of old photographs, while smartly lending his subjects a fuzzy, as if misremembered, tone.
Large works by other New Yorkers also stand out. Jean-Pierre Roy's fantastical paintings depict massive geopolitical monuments using the language of late-20th century pop sci-fi cinema. In his "Geometry For the Post-Divine," (oil on canvas, 40" x 30") a sort of enormous steam-powered coliseum invokes a dystopian view of the future application of human technologies. Meanwhile, "Brockenspectre" (oil on canvas, 38" x 38") calls upon other powers, depicting a herd of wild white horses climbing a resplendent natural tower. The piece is magnificent, with carefully rendered shafts of refracted sunlight suffusing the work with wonderful energy.
If the brushwork in the paintings by New York's Jennifer Presant were any coarser, her surrealistic images of bedroom interiors would lose their vitality. Any finer and they'd lose their ability to haunt. Located in the gallery's back room, Presant's oil works explore interiors and landscapes by using a unique conceptual trick of transparency, and are very successful studies on voyeurism and the privations of memory. They also help define the room's looking-glass theme, which comes into full view with Alyssa Monks's "Wave" (oil on linen, 32" x 44"), depicting a girl submerged in water or steam in intricate brushstrokes. The gallery's back room is a gift, its tight quarters lending it an intimacy and stillness in stark contrast to the busy main room and its open facade. Rose's curatorial choices put that contrast to great use; every party contains quiet, meaningful conversations that can only happen on the periphery, and the works in the back demand similar attention.