Constructing images in a fantasy world
April 23, 2008 11:01:29 AM
MOOD LIGHTING: "Good Night I," by Colleen Kinsella.

"Turbulent Times" works by Colleen Kinsella + Deborah Russell | at Cooper Jackson Gallery, 70 India St, Portland | through April 26 | 207.450.7334

"New Natural History" | at Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Sq, Portland | through May 11 | 207.775.6148
At Cooper Jackson Gallery, Colleen Kinsella exhibits the mythical found in the personal with a warm selection of mixed-media etchings and prints by combining found photographic images-turned-Technicolor with layers of colored etchings and hand-rendered floral landscapes.

Repetition of image is important to the overall show — a sleeping baby is cut out and pasted over and over on the upper wall like a stencil. Another wall features multiple images composed of Buckminster Fuller’s “Bucky Balls” with flowers weaving in and out of the printed material.

In “Hot Head in the Garden” Kinsella turns her back on potential trappings of irony in favor of lush composites reflecting a universal fantasy world. A child looks out at the viewer, unfazed by its non-sequitur surroundings. The foreground flowers form a counterpoint to the architectural background, infused with an archaic tonality. The result is relaxed and warm, contextualizing what could be a confusing eruption of flame emanating from the child’s head. The quality of the etching with its layers of multi-colored tints, is brought to fruition by tactile surface scratches making the image more a documentary artifact of a scene existing in a dream.

“Good Night I” and “II” exchange the flame for a successfully delivered dose of absolute serenity. In each there are three figures huddled together adorned with Renaissance-era costume, pulled from their original fine-art context. We witness a timeless lullaby. One person plays a fife and stars fall like snowflakes. The arrangement of deep blue hues and soft lines feels like music, an absolute evocation of mood. The infusion of a personal panoply of mythological motifs allows Kinsella to create highly decorative pieces that still speak to the soul.

MANDALA "Pony Tondo," by Lauren
Outside, inside
The Portland Museum of Art’s top floor gets the usual intimate curatorial treatment for “New Natural Histories,” highlighting both the contemporary and local. The show looks at approaches by artists with an eye for nature and the aesthetically pleasing science that studies it.

Joe Kievitt plays a starring role in the exhibit with an untitled ink-on-paper piece from this year. A wide tableau depicts a narrow forest where we see neither the roots or canopy, but a sinewy maze of winding branches and curvaceous blossoms. Each image is made from cut paper, patterned with monochromatic stripes and plaids that pop each shape into perspective. The result is both energetic and elegant.

Lauren Fensterstock looks to the nature object itself as a starting point for collage. "Butterfly Tondo #5" is a swirling construction of butterfly wings. The overall shape of the mandala is clearly derived from the artist’s patient attention to the inherent lines and colors of the wings, mixing and matching to ensure a uniform image. “My First Maine Landscape” from 2004 utilizes this technique to an irreverent end. Dark wings are arranged with a conflagration of blue spots forming a horizon line reminiscent of a choppy ocean.

Sara Crisp embalms sacred geometries, hard lines, and multi-sected circles in encaustic resin. The composition feels delicate despite its weighty helping of etched flowers, leafy veins, and rigid tangents forming a unified whole. By building from these basic forms, the artist seems to create a natural art object out of the canvas rather than an abstraction. We see the rose rather than its fractal growth pattern.

Other contributors submit fine work but to a confusing effect. One artist’s take on nature may move the show in a political direction while another makes it personal. With each contribution, the exhibit becomes more diffuse. Photographs, installations, schematics, artifacts, and mobiles all stretch the thematic imperative of “New Natural Histories” in different directions but, ultimately, variety does not offer up the necessary spice to bring this show to life.

Ian Paige can be reached at .


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