Dilettante: 'Critters' invade UNE Art Gallery

Posted Tuesday, June 7, 2011 in Culture

Dilettante: 'Critters' invade UNE Art Gallery

'Circus Lizards' by Tacha Vosburgh

by Jan Brennan

PORTLAND – "Critters." Even the name of the University of New England's current art show sounds like fun.
 
Some 300 colorful works cram all three floors and surrounding lawns of The Art Gallery on UNE's Portland campus.
 
More than 100 artists from Maine and elsewhere contributed sculptures and paintings of animals. With wild animals on the top floor, pets on the ground floor and farm animals in the basement, there's plenty here to see, almost too much to be fully appreciated on a single visit. 
 
Curator Nancy Davidson has corralled a varied menagerie that ranges from the realistic to the whimsical. Seagulls made out of sausage casings float beneath the skylight; border collies made of old sweaters stand guard near the entrance – surprises lurk around every corner.
 
And almost all of them are for sale. Prices range from $35,000 for "Tiger" by Bernard Langlais, a 5-foot-tall, painted wood tiger head, to $20 for Carolyn Heasly's stuffed, wooly owl toys called "Owools."  From metal lawn ornaments to bug-themed jewelry, there's something for every taste. Not for sale are Dahlov Ipcar's two oil paintings of jungle scenes, or Justin Richel's gorgeous "Plume," hundreds of cut-paper birds glued onto a wall, which sadly will be destroyed when removed.    
Hyenas
'Hyenas' by Dan Falt
 
On the gallery's top floor, the artworks have a serious underlying message. As explained in the show's catalog, many of the artists said they chose their wild-animal subjects because they fear for the species' survival in our modern environment. Frogs, elephants, tigers and more are beautifully depicted in a variety of styles and mediums. Some works are thought-provoking, such as the large oil painting "Iconic Ape" by Philip Carlo Paratore, which shows a camera-laden photographer shooting "offscreen" while surrounded by chimps, parrots and native women. One wonders, who is the civilized one in the picture? Other works are even more unsettling, such as the forged steel "Scarecrow" by Mark Kindschi: Three crows perched on the outstretched arms of a naked, headless man.  
 
In the basement, the farm animals provide some down-home comfort. I especially loved "Frizzle," Sally Caldwell Fisher's oil portrait of the bust of a white chicken, and the three pastel paintings of ponies by Wade Zahares. Nantz Comyns' "Sheep," a mixed-media sculpture group of five lambs suckling their smiling mama made of colorful yarn, is irresistably adorable.    
sweater dogs  
'Sweater Dogs' by Kitty Wales
 
There must be something about pets, though, that brings out the most creativity in the artists. This floor was my favorite; I often burst out in surprised laughter at the artists' unexpected interpretations of these most mundane of creatures. Wendy Newcomb's take on Renaissance religious art, "Annunciation," has elaborately gowned cats standing in for Mary and the Angel Gabriel. Meryl Ruth turns pocketbook dogs into clay teapots, and Nancy Nevergole has skinny stoneware cows doing the yoga "cat" pose. 
 
This show is a delight, and children will love its humor, playfulness and just-darn-cuteness. Gallery director Anne Zill not only welcomes them, she has invited local schools and summer camps to visit. When your kids are bored this summer, or your houseguests are rained off the beach, bring them here for a few hours of fun. And did I mention admission is free?
 
The show runs through July 20. Hours are 1-4 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 1-7 p.m. on Thursdays. The gallery is tucked into the back of the UNE campus at 716 Stevens Ave. in Portland. For more information call 283-4499, or visit the website: une.edu/artgallery  
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