Just around the corner from the defunct Stone Coast Brewery and in the same building as the Yes Bookstore is the Danforth Gallery, where, on a rainy evening last week, I attended the reception of a student art exhibit. Every gallery opening I go to evinces the same immediate question: are people here for the art or the free alcohol and crackers?
Forging through a bottleneck hallway packed tight with a table of refreshments and the camel-like patrons of an intoxicating waterhole, I finally broke through and saw some incredible art by three very talented USM students.
Laura McMahon, one of the three artists featured in the show, approached me and gave a detailed account of her artistic influences and passions. Not wasting any time, she talked about her ceramic bowls, dishware, and a very elegant tea set. She said that ceramics are “something that’s a lifelong thing; the minute I really got into ceramics it became the center of my life.” McMahon’s work reflects this dedication: glorious earthy brown ceramics that provoke a subtle beauty.
Martha Brown, another artist featured in the exhibit, was shy and humble as we were introduced in one corner of the gallery. Her portion of the exhibit included woodcuts of violins and lobsters, and some very interesting ceramic sculptures. I was mostly drawn to the woodcuts, and couldn’t take my eyes off the lovely violins. Their textures and shadows were perfectly composed.
Knowing a bit about Andee Warren’s feminist perspective, I wasn’t surprised when the artist crept up to me in a light dress and high heels and exclaimed in third person, “It’s Andee in drag! Woo-hoo!”
Warren’s ceramic sculptures were just as dramatic: exploratory representations of female genitalia that, as a posted statement explained, “explored issues of gender and the body.” Unless my understanding of psychoanalysis and feminist theory are completely wrong, a hanging dull brown ceramic breast embedded with shards of bolder matte ceramic fragments suggests the latent cultural and mental fragmentation of the woman in contemporary society.
What really spoke to me, however, was the surprise I got when I looked into the mouth of a vaginal vase and saw a carefully placed, well-crafted ceramic cervix: itself a subtle politicized representation of femininity.
By the time I left the gallery, my already high respect for Portland’s art community was unexpectedly raised even higher. The work I saw was nothing short of exceptional craftwork, no doubt the product of great passion and refined skill.
All three artists are talented, and although their exhibit ended in April, the artists themselves will be attending USM at least until the end of the semester. Find them quick before their immense talents take them to distant galleries in foreign lands.