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Critters Overrun UNE Gallery Nancy Davidson's Eighth Animal Art Show

Critters Overrun UNE Gallery Nancy Davidson’s Eighth Animal Art Show
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Reflections on the Iconic Ape by Philip Carlo Paratore

Though I am a Maine native and Maine resident, I try not to be too much of a homer when it comes to covering art in New England. But if you will indulge me on this my third Maine blog in a row, I promise to start getting out and about more now that spring has arrived.

Critters is just too much fun to pass up. The overflow exhibition of animals in art at the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland, Maine (through July 20) is the eighth “critters” art show curator Nancy Davidson has organized in a long career owning and managing art galleries in Maine and Florida. Nancy says she likes to curate animal shows because, whatever one’s level of art appreciation, everyone loves animals in art, from primitive humans doing cave paintings to contemporary artists trying to get back in touch with their primitive side.

Nancy Davidson calls the UNE exhibition her “grande Critters show” as it features 100 artist from all over new England and the Northeast, their artworks filling all three floors of the the college’s little cubist gallery and spilling outside onto the grounds.
To keep her ark of art somewhat in order, Davidson has installed farm animals in the basement gallery, pets on the ground floor, and wild animals on the second floor.

Visitors to the gallery are greeted outside by fanciful creatures such as a great stone bird by Andreas Von Huene and a pair of tree branch moose, one by Nantz Comyns, the other by Andy Moerlein and Donna Dodson.

“My artwork celebrates the mystical relationship between human beings and the animal kingdom,” writes Donna Dodson, articulating what might well be the overarching theme of the exhibition.

Children and the young at heart will love Critters for its lively, colorful, and diverse manifestation of the animal world. Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! There are iconic works by artists well-known for their depiction of animals, such as a wooden tiger by the late Bernard Langlais and a signature fantasy painting of leopard and antelope by Dahlov Ipcar. And there are wonderfully strange creations such as a wheeled rabbit by Andy Rosen.

Among my personal favorites are a peculiar jungle tableau by Philip Carlo Paratore, a school of ceramic trout by Sharon Townshend, a wacky cat lady painted by Peyton Higgison, pastoral portraits of cows by Sharon Yates, a folk art rendering of a cat in a garden by Charles Wilder Oakes, and a serious of fabulous fabulist paintings by Fleur Palau.

Autoportrait in Five Parts by Katherine Doyle

Autoportrait in Five Parts by Katherine Doyle

I think I’d give the Critters blue ribbon, however, to New Hampshire painter Katherine Doyle for her five-part bvertical self-portrait with a small bird perched atop her head. The bird, a thrush, was inspired by a wild bird that Doyle once cared for and nursed back to health.

“The bird is a sort of crown,” Doyle writes, “a reminder of my wild nature and animal origin, a stand-in for the finer part of my self whose feet have been set down in the tangled fibers of physical experience, and whose perfect eye looks out unabashed at the world.”

Lighter fare with a serious subtext.

Very Large Bird by Don Gove

Very Large Bird by Don Gove

[UNE Art Gallery, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland ME, 207-221-4499.]

Edgar Allen Beem

Author:

Edgar Allen Beem

Biography:

Take a look at art in New England with Edgar Allen Beem. He’s been art critic for the Portland Independent, art critic and feature writer for Maine Times, and now is a freelance writer for Yankee, Down East, Boston Globe Magazine, The Forecaster, and Photo District News. He’s the author of Maine Art Now (1990) and Maine: The Spirit of America (2000). In 1988, he won the Manufacturers Hanover Art/World Award for Distinguished Newspaper Art Criticism for his coverage of the 1987 auction sale of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises. Ed says, “My credo as an arts writer has long been: ‘The work of art is the search for meaning.’ I believe art is not only a form of personal expression but also a form of inquiry, every bit as much a quest for truth as scientific research.” Ed Beem’s newest book, Backyard Maine: Local Essays, has just been published by Tilbury House, Publishers, of Gardiner, Maine. It’s not about the meaning of art; it’s about the meaning of family, community, and life in general. Edgar Beem is currently at work on a new book about contemporary art in Maine to be published in the fall of 2012.

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