Challenge your assumptions

This evening I will stroll over to PopUp 265: A Fresh ArtSpace in Augusta for the opening of Barbra Whitten’s The Usual Suspects. Since I helped her do the two-person part of her installation a few weeks ago, I’m looking forward to the final project.
A graceful old storefront on Water Street, PopUp265’s plate glass windows act like a kind of fish bowl, magnifying the contents. When I last saw the work, it hadn’t spread over the floor yet. How it’s going to work with a crowd is an interesting question.

The figures were painted in an intentionally amorphous way, giving the viewer lots of room to personify them in their own imagination. I immediately identified with one who seemed to be dressed in evening wear. I felt uneasy seeing this figure later with a pentagram on her chest, for a pentagram is anathema to my religious values. Will tonight’s visitors see past the symbols to personalize the figures, or will they be stopped cold by the symbols? Since this question is at the heart of the work, I’m curious to watch the interactions.
Whitten’s earlier piece, now at the Maine Holocaust and Human Rights Center.
Whitten based her figure on a piece she did six years ago as a student at University of Maine at Augusta (UMA). This piece is currently on exhibit at the Maine Holocaust & Human Rights Center at UMA, in Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The piece has particular resonance with the current crisis in American politics, where we seem to be interacting with labels instead of people. As Whitten’s artist statement says:
This work invites us to…
…EXAMINE important issues;
…REFLECT on our positions;
…IDENTIFY our values;
…CHALLENGE our assumptions;
…ACKNOWLEDGE our prejudices;
…CONFRONT our fears;
…RECOGNIZE our shortcomings;
…ADMIT our failures;
…ACCEPT responsibility for our choices;
…CONSIDER alternative viewpoints;
…ASK difficult questions;
…SHARE our experiences;
…EXPRESS our feelings;
…LISTEN to each other;
…LEARN from each other;
…FIND the good in each other;
…STAND UP for each other;
… APPRECIATE our differences;
…WORK for social justice;
…CHANGE our world. 

PopUp265 is located at 265 Water Street, Augusta, ME.  There are two artist’s receptions: from noon to 1 PM today and 6-7 PM this evening.

Marriage, learning, and dissatisfaction

Barb tightened down the last strip before we left for the night.

Barb tightened down the last strip before we left for the night.
I spend so much time doing other things that one could be excused for not believing I’m married. In fact, we have been pursuing this fidelity lark for 36 years. There have been long stretches of conventional living, spent raising kids, paying mortgages, and pursuing careers. However, we’ve never been inseparable, even though we prefer to do things together.
When my husband left for band practice on Thursday night, our houseguest asked me if I was going to go with him. That sort of surprised me, because I couldn’t imagine using my time like that. My husband helps me when I need help and vice-versa, but we each have our own work to pursue.
This week, he’s on the road and I’m home in Maine. When that happens, I exercise a vicious double standard. I can camp on the road somewhere and I’ll check in as soon as I have cell service. He’s just going to a Hyatt hotel in a large city, but he’d better call me when he gets there or I’ll squawk until he checks in.
I chose ladder duty. I must be nuts.

I chose ladder duty. I must be nuts.
One thing about not living in my partner’s pocket: when he asks for help, I jump. When he realized—in Freeport—that he’d forgotten something important, I changed my plans and met him to deliver it. Yes, I was doing something equally important at the time, but our special relationship dictates that he takes priority. That’s not a gender-role issue; he would do the same for me.
This meant I had to tell my friend Barb that there was a glitch in our plans to install The Usual Suspects: An Ongoing Investigation, opening on November 11 at Pop Up 265 in Augusta. She’s not feeling well and the delay made her very nervous. Still, we got the main structure in place by the time we ran out of steam, and I have to say, it looks nice.
I was helped by having no expectations or emotional engagement. I was seeing her idea for the first time and it was exciting. She just saw the ways in which it failed to meet her plan. If you’ve ever helped a friend clean, you know exactly what I mean. For you, it’s a lark; for your friend, it’s all wrapped up in emotion and ownership.
The painter's equivalent to an installation is the Big Framing Project for a solo show.

The painter’s equivalent to an installation is the Big Framing Project for a solo show.
My husband has heard that exact same pessimism from me as he’s helped me frame work for shows. It’s almost impossible for artists to see the work of our hands objectively. My daughter Mary told me that every time I finished a painting on my Canadian trip, I announced to her that it wasn’t that good. I’ve learned to not share that initial discontent with the public, but it’s hard to keep it totally to oneself.
We only made one significant error hanging Barb’s panels (our initial spacing of the magnets). That was nothing short of miraculous, since the figures were intended to be evenly spaced around an old room with uneven walls and more than a few obstacles. If you’ve ever wallpapered in an old house, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
In so many things, the learning lies in the doing. The best a teacher can do is steer you away from pitfalls. Often, your hard-won knowledge is task-specific, never to be used in that form again. But as it joins your sum total of knowledge, it informs you in new ways. Take those young-wife tasks of my misspent youth—wallpapering and sewing. Both helped me as I helped Barb.

Ripple Effect

Semicolon, by Barbra Whitten
If you’re in Portland, ME a week from today, go to see Ripple Effect: Monoprints by Karen Adrienne, Kris Sader & Barbra Whitten. I know Barb Whitten through Camden Falls Gallery, where she is an indefatigable gallery assistant. Turns out she’s a wonderful printmaker, too.
“For as long as I can remember, I have loved words,” Whitten said. “What gives these mysterious collections of marks, arranged in specific and particular ways, the ability to represent sounds and transmit ideas through time and space from one person to another?”
Parenthesis, by Barbra Whitten
Barb and her co-exhibitors are members of Circling the Square Fine Art Press . This is an open-access cooperative in Gardiner, ME, population 5,800. You can take printing classes in Rochester, NY (including linoleum block printing from my very own painting student, the multi-talented Victoria Brzustowicz). However, I know of no cooperative presses here in our county of 750,000 people.
Later this year, Circling the Square will collaborate with EstamperĂ­a Quiteña in Ecuador in a printmaking exchange entitled A Sense of Place.  These two fine-art presses will create limited edition prints that will be exhibited simultaneously in both Ecuador and Maine, with a companion catalog documenting the project and the work.
FYI, by Barbra Whitten
All of which speaks to the remarkable art culture in the state of Maine. Small state, big art scene.
Ripple Effect  will be at PhoPa Gallery at 132 Washington Avenue, Portland, ME, from April 22 to May 30. The opening reception wil be Friday, April 24, 5-7. An artist talk is scheduled for Sunday, May 17, at 3 PM.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.