Mark Wethli and Cassie Jones '01 to Exhibit New Paintings at Icon Contemporary Art Gallery

Mark Wethli, A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art, and Cassie Jones '01 will present a two-person exhibition of recent paintings at Icon Contemporary Art, 19 Mason Street in Brunswick, beginning Saturday, May 1. The show will run through May 29.

An opening reception will be held on Saturday, May 1, from 4-6 p.m., to which all are invited.

Wethli's latest paintings, completed during his current year-long sabbatical in New York City, continue his investigation into the interplay of color, light, and geometry. Unlike his previous work, however, in which grids comprised of various colors were defined by straight edges, the grids and stripes featured in his newest work are drawn by hand and more freely painted, giving them a hand-hewn quality that tempts the boundary between the organic and the geometric.

"My trips to the Metropolitan have always centered on the Vermeer paintings, and in some way always will," said Wethli, "but lately I've been spending more time in the Rockefeller Wing [which features the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas]."

The work has also been inspired by visits to the Museum of American Folk Art in New York and the Museum of Visionary Art in Baltimore. Wethli also cites the stripes and grid patterns that are frequently found in fabric design and decorative art in general, which are especially abundant on the crowded sidewalks of urban centers like New York.

"I'm continually looking for ways to make the work more elemental and direct," he added, "which pulls me in two directions at once--toward ideal platonic forms on the one hand and toward my own creative origins and native instincts on the other."

This effort has inspired a change in painting media as well, with a switch from acrylic paint on manufactured board to gouache on hand-made paper, a combination that yields richer color and a densely pigmented, matte finish.

"It reminds me of the quality I admire in Persian and Indian miniature painting," said the artist, "but also the tempera paint I used as a kid. I want them to have the intimacy, intensity, and reverence of illuminated manuscripts but also the off-handed quality we admire in paintings that are made for the sheer joy of it."

These smaller works, which measure about 14 x 10 inches apiece, are a counterpoint to the larger, site-specific works that Wethli has also been pursuing in recent years. One of these, "Transom," from 2003, is now in the permanent collection of the Portland Museum of Art, where it's prominently located in the main lobby of the building.

The Icon show will feature a similar piece, a floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall painting entitled "Foyer," also from 2003, which is painted directly on the walls of the gallery. Just as the smaller works are inspired by illuminated manuscripts, the larger ones, which respond to the unique circumstances of the site where they're painted, are inspired by the tradition of mural and architectural painting.

Cassie Jones' new paintings, all from 2004, were inspired by a residency at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, last October. As a means of brainstorming, she began making about eighty small drawings per day, using a marker on pads of graph paper, and letting the images emerge unedited.

Upon returning to her studio in New York, she culled through the drawings and chose the ones that interested her most. These were enlarged and painted with black enamel on 18 x 24 inch sheets of acrylite, a white, translucent plastic, maintaining as much of the spontaneous and unstudied qualities of the original drawing as possible.

The subject matter of her work, which resembles rudimentary scientific illustrations or diagrams of nondescript events shown in mid-action, is reflected in the deadpan titles of the pieces--"Figure 1a," "Figure 3b," and so forth.

"I chose these titles to be ironic in a certain way," said Jones, "but also to have fun with the idea that something so spontaneous and subjective might also have some kind of validity or authority, like the kind that's automatically assigned to things that we think of as 'scientific'.

"At Bowdoin I was a psych major and visual arts minor, which might say something about an interest in the places where art and science meet," she said. This boundary is also expressed in the works themselves, as the fleeting, private notations of the original drawings are transformed into more formal, cool, and relatively uniform lines of black enamel on plastic--materials more often used in commercial sign painting.

"I chose the plastic as an extension of my earlier work on translucent vellum," said Jones. "I wasn't thinking of it as an industrial material as much as its luminosity and the soft light it adds to the painting."

Jones and Wethli, along with their good friend and fellow artist Kyle Durrie '01, have collaborated on earlier projects as well, including "Four Quartets," a mural for Mid Coast Hospital; the re-design of the David Saul Smith Union Cafe; and a mural for the Bowdoin Children's Center, among other projects.

Last summer the three artists, with the help of a small crew of other Bowdoin artists, completed "Passage," a suite of 32 murals totaling 3,000 square feet, for the newly renovated Maine Department of Transportation office building in Augusta.

Gallery hours at Icon are weekdays 1-5 p.m. and Saturdays 1-4 p.m.

For more information, call the gallery at 207-725-8157.

Story posted April 28, 2004

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