In the Realm of Ideals
I’ve been hearing good things about what Fr. Iain MacLellan has been doing at the Chapel Art Center at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, so I was not all that surprised when two of Maine’s best painters turned up in the current three-artist show there. Mirare (through March 20) features geometric abstractions by Grace DeGennaro, organic abstractions by Meg Brown Payson, along with symbolic abstractions by Thomas Driscoll, an artist on the faculty of Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
The Alva deMars Megan Chapel Art Center (to give it its full name) was indeed the college chapel until 1967 when an abbey was built. Since then the little gem of a building, with its stained glass windows and lunette murals by Benedictine monk Fr. Raphael Pfisterer, has been Saint Anselm’s art center and gallery. The Chapel Art Center is a bit off the beaten art path, but if you’re in Manchester to visit the Currier Museum of Art it’s worth crossing the Merrimack to find it.
Mirare, Latin for “to admire or behold,” suggests Fr. MacLellan’s eye for aesthetic consonance in disparate art. There is a formal elegance underlying the art of all three painters. “Collectively,” states the exhibition announcement, “the works create an opportunity for investigating the livelihood of the mind and heart, challenging the ways we appreciate, or derive meaning from, a work of art.”
Grace DeGennaro, a Yarmouth resident with a studio in Brunswick, creates geometric abstractions with a meditative, devotional, almost ritualistic quality. Hers is an a priori art of transcendence, an appropriation of pure forms to personal ends.
“My interest in sacred geometry,” DeGennaro has said, “lies in its description of systems that illuminate some of the universal facts of existence.” Her meticulous pattern paintings seem to well up out of a realm of ideal forms.
Meg Brown Payson of Freeport paints a realm of biotic forms, almost aquatic abstractions evoke the exquisite beauty of the primordial ooze, life lived at the biochemical level.
“I am fascinated,” Payson writes, “by the human need to construct meaningful order in a world filled with too much information. My work focuses attention on embodied perception and on that ordering intelligence which precedes and exceeds the limits of language.”
I am less familiar with the art of Thomas Driscoll, but his paintings seem somehow more earth-bound, abstracting elements of landscape and the dynamics of nature while overlaying them with glyphs (Japanese characters?) that evoke the realm of language.
Grace DeGennaro paints out of thin air. Meg Brown Payson paints out of the depths. Thomas Driscoll paints out of the earth’s core. And Fr. Iain MacLellan was prescient enough to engage them in metaphysical dialogue.