Annual USM Faculty Exhibit brings big ideas to an intimate setting

Monica Chau, a staff member for the USM department of marketing and brand management presents her work &quotI Ching, Forest of Steles" at the USM Faculty Art Exhibit at the USM Gorham Art Gallery.
Justicia Barreiros
Monica Chau, a staff member for the USM department of marketing and brand management presents her work "I Ching, Forest of Steles" at the USM Faculty Art Exhibit at the USM Gorham Art Gallery.

Posted on January 28, 2012 in Arts & Culture
By Ryan Cutler

From a large pile of knotted hay strewn in corner, to a man trapped inside a pair of larger-than-life wine bottles, a diverse mix of abstract-expressionist paintings, organic sculptures, and 21st century new media installations adorn the floor and walls of the USM Art Gallery in Gorham as part of the annual USM Art Faculty Exhibit.

23 full and part-time faculty and staff members of the USM art department are showing their latest projects at this year’s exhibition, which is on display until Feb. 17. “This is the forum, the way in which studio faculty show the results of their creative research and production,” said Director of Exhibitions and Programs at USM’s Art Gallery Carolyn Eyler. “It’s a nice way, in a sense, to catalog who teaches here.”

Among the artists exhibiting their work is James Flahaven, a studio art professor and practicing artist who has been with USM for 11 years. Culling work from his larger, ongoing series of non-objective acrylic paintings to put on display at the gallery. “The work is completely non-objective: there’s no reference to anything,” Flahaven said. “If I start to see in the course of making the painting, like an eye or tree, I change it. I don’t want those references there.”

Flahaven says he takes his cues from well-known twentieth century abstract expressionist painters, such as  Willem de Kooning and Richard Diebenkorn. “What all those artists were doing was working unconsciously. They were making, in a sense, things that came from the gut, images from the subconscious. Dealing with feelings and emotions and that turmoil. All that stuff that’s deep inside of us,” Flahaven said about his painting influences.

Egg-shape forms appear and disappear before they finally fuse together on Flahaven’s canvas amidst clouds of earth-tone colors. His process of applying paint with frantic strokes, scraping paint off with palette knifes and shifting forms and colors around the canvas, creates a constantly shifting world. The title of Flahaven’s work points to his well-known light-hearted humor: I’m Okay with Snap and Pop but Crackle is a Total Asshole.

New media artist Raphael DiLuzio joins the faculty this year from the University of Maine at Orono, currently teaching 2-D design and video art. DiLuzio’s two pieces in the exhibition, Lies and Whispers and Awake are both large-scale, time-based pieces. Lies and Whispers projects a three-by-three square grid of neon colored mouths inside the gallery’s digital art room. The mouths speak in different languages at the same time, so that the viewer feels confused when trying to make out the individual utterances. Awake shows the professor projected into two wine bottles, appearing as though he is trapped inside. DiLuzio is adorned in tight, white clothing and clasps his hands over his face after attempting to break from his bottle prison.

As the newest addition to the USM Art Department’s faculty, DiLuzio serves as a counterpoint to the more traditionally oriented art works at the exhibition. By utilizing projectors to display moving images with various sound pieces, the artist is able to create work that is continually moving and changing — perpetually in a state of creation. DiLuzio, having being trained as a painter for his artistic career, says he doesn’t want to be a prisoner to his medium. “To define oneself as only that, when the process of innovation and creativity is so wide and open seems to be like saying I will only eat peanut butter jelly for the rest of my life. And maybe broccoli.”

While the Faculty Exhibit is a chance for professors to show their newest works, it’s also a chance for the students to see their professor’s own work. Allowing students to engage with their professor’s personal artwork in an intimate location, where their professors are not only teachers in a classroom, but peers trying to make it in the art world. “It’s really important that the students see that we’re practicing what we preach. We are going through the same struggles the students are going through,” said Flahaven. “The students need to see that we’re out there and in this together trying to make art.”

DiLuzio agrees, “I’ve been in exhibitions from the Prague biennale to huge exhibitions in Italy — and sometimes the work I’ve been in is horrible at a major exhibition. From what I’ve seen, it’s really wonderful to see the range of expression in the type of work the faculty produces.”