Wethli Puts It All on the Table in New York Show

Story posted May 09, 2009

Only an artist like Mark Wethli would have described these much-abused tables as "daunting."

wethli painting nights in barcelona
Nights in Barcelona, acrylic on found wooden panel, 2009, 20 x 15".

They had been pounded, stabbed, scraped and drilled in their 15-odd years in Bowdoin's sculpture studio. They were slated for the landfill when Adams Hall was readied for renovation.

That's when Wethli, Bowdoin's A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art, loaded them on the back of his truck and hauled them home. "I liked their patina," explained Wethli. "I just couldn't part with them. They were too beautiful."

They sat in his garage for two years before Wethli could figure out what to do with them. "I was kind of daunted by them, actually," he said. "I have great reverence for wood, or any surface, that has picked up the marks of time. I didn't want to obliterate what had accumulated, all the memory that had been built into them."

Then he had what he terms "a Mozart moment" — when, like the famously prolific composer, he had a clear idea of where to go and how to get there. "I realized I wanted to paint the boards, not build with them," said Wethli. "I saw the kind of imagery I wanted to put on them. The paintings, among other things, are a meditation on what I saw in the board."

The resulting series of nearly 40 paintings — all of which were painted through an intensive winter in the studio — are currently on display. Thirty of the paintings are enjoying a solo exhibition in New York's RedFlagg Gallery in Chelsea, while seven small works grace the walls of the President's Dining Room at Thorne Hall.

Colorful and graphic, the paintings reference some of Wethli's iconically geometric murals and paintings. However, these forms are anything but perfect. Painted lines are deliciously irregular, traveling the length of wood grooves and illuminating pitted surfaces. His vibrant palette of black lines and saturated, primary colors evolves from a softly washed, layered background that marries the underlying and painted surfaces.

Three Wethli paintings

(From left to right) C'mon C'mon, Refraction, Patch, acrylic on found wooden panel, 2009, all panels measure 20 x 15".

Wethli's traditionally rectilinear focus is sometimes upended altogether with angled lines, triangles and trapezoids that radiate out from a central focal point.

Wethli says he was inspired by a trip to Barcelona and Majorca several years ago. "You see a lot of paint and weathered wood on city walls," said Wethli, "particularly in the Mediterranean and North Africa. I wanted to pay homage to these traditions while recasting and extending them in new directions."

Wethli's wood-panel paintings are the second exhibition at the newly opened RedFlagg Gallery, which is affiliated with the Coleman Burke Gallery in Brunswick, a site-specific space founded by sculptor and Bowdoin adjunct art professor John Bisbee. The inaugural RedFlagg exhibition featured Bowdoin alumna Cassie Jones '01.

Wethli's new works are on display at RedFlagg through May 16, 2009. For more information, call 207-522-1194.

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