From left to right, top to bottom: Jessica Straus, Abbie Read, Ieva Tatarsky, Daniel Anselmi, Paula Green, Karen MacDonald

Jessica Straus, Abbie Read, Ieva Tatarsky, Daniel Anselmi, Paula Green, and Karen MacDonald

On View: March 25 – April 30

Altered” features a diverse selection of mixed media and assemblage works by artists Jessica Strauss, Daniel Anselmi, Abbie Read, Ieva Tatarski, Karen MacDonald and Paula Green. The exhibition will be on view March 25 through April 30, 2016 and the public is invited to an opening reception on Friday, March 25, 5-8pm. Both the exhibition and the reception are free and open to the public.

Ever since Jasper Johns encouraged us to “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it” artists have responded to this call to action. Of course, the inclusion of objects and unusual materials in mixed media works began long before John’s, with Picasso and Braque in Western Art and with many indigenous peoples long before them. Reaching for non-art materials for artistic expression has a long history now, and for good reason. Perhaps as a reaction to our materialistic culture it is a part of who we are as artists to look around at nature, at our collections, at our accumulated Stuff and wonder, “What can I do with that?” Some of us are drawn to humble artifacts as others are drawn to paint.

The artists in this exhibition have done just that. Old papers, found objects, discarded items and, well, junk have been incorporated as raw material into the artistic practice of each one, to different ends.

Comments from curator and artist Abbie Read: There is much precedent in recent art history for artists making art from nontraditional materials in nontraditional ways. This is what brings together this group of mid coast area artists. By taking an object, or an image, as a jumping off point, altering it with additional materials, changing the original nature of it, each artist speaks in her or his own language about the nature of the creative process.
Karen MacDonald makes use of everyday materials like bubble wrap, stones and paper dots to create poetic compositions addressing issues of memory and familial relationships. Ieva Tatarsky takes old letters and beaded purses and dissects them literally and metaphorically before putting them all together, suggesting the layering of time and memory. In his own layering approach, Daniel Anselmi creates abstract compositions in both two and three dimensions from found and painted pieces of paper or objects that are familiar and yet clearly nonrepresentational. Jessica Straus is at once representational and yet merely suggestive in combining figurative elements with old glass bottles in what she calls “interventions.” Paula Green’s masks began with a self-portrait photograph, which she altered on the computer before further altering it with layers of paint to arrive at a portrait of emotion both literal and metaphorical. Abbie Read’s work involving the stitching together of books to create quilt like wall hangings led to another, more experimental project in which she captured detritus from the Maine shoreline in net like stitching, serving to elevate the found objects to an ambiguously animated status.
All the artists are experimental in their artistic practice, exploring materials as well as personal themes. They are responding to their world in their own way, by removing something from a familiar context and imagining a new one. In some cases the urge to make use of discarded materials drives the inspiration, in other cases some essential aesthetic seduction of the materials themselves sparks the transformation.

Jessica Straus used bottles found at the bottom of a river to comment on our individuality with the carved figures that reside within their glass walls. She writes of this work, ”Obsessively whittled wooden forms, enigmatic and evocative, replace the original Victorian elixirs…these interventions stretch the definition of function and celebrate the quirkiness of the individual. Twice purged—once from the river then from a basement—I have breathed new life into these twice resurrected vessels.”

Daniel Anselmi paints old papers, discovers shapes in them and creates layers of meaning through his abstract compositions. In his assemblages the original found object may or may not be recognizable. Of his work Daniel writes: “Never using the new, I enjoy the felt quality of the discarded: blueprints, old ledgers, charts and used canvas drop cloths are materials that offer an aesthetic conversation with my work.”

In the collages of Abbie Read we see investigations into the myriad compositions to be derived from a limited palette and an embracing of the grid to organize space on the two dimensional surface. In other works, old books are deconstructed to become the raw materials for quilt like wall hangings, assemblages or free standing sculptures. “The physical act of repetitive sewing and knotting, the arranging of layers upon layers of paper strips, the expression of tactile surface while exploring abstract spatial possibilities in the creation of beauty is what keeps me working, “ writes Read.

The dense textures of Ieva Tatarsky’s intimate works invite close viewing while asking us to explore the meaning of richly layered surfaces. In her own words: “Much of the time what you see is the result of my enjoyment in putting together common materials in ways we don’t commonly encounter them. I am interested in the interaction of energy between shapes or objects. Visually, this energy is seen as linear elements or wires reaching outward. I also make use of the different energies expressed in handwriting fragments, which span generations and languages.”

In Karen MacDonald’s art practice, anything can become a meaningful material for art: plastic bags, cardboard, white and black paper dots, bubble wrap, small stones. From her website: “In 1996 Karen arrived at the style and focus of her current art practice that makes expressive and unexpected use of saved objects, found images and humble materials.” More recently, she has written “Using mundane, typically discarded materials, like bubble wrap and cardboard, I craft elegant pieces that employ repetition and accumulation. An interplay between order and chaos, positive and negative, and variation and uniformity characterize these meditations on life’s beauty and uncertainty.” It is the intimate care taken with each component within the work that invites us to contemplate the nature of art as well as the nature of being.

Paula Green states that she is “interested in exploring personalities and relationships by working with oil stick and acrylic on paper. I strive for using the simplest means to achieve human expression and to convey emotion in a way that is familiar to the viewer. Three-dimensional assemblage is another aspect of my artwork. I like to use commonplace objects which, when added to other materials, make a new form. That form is most often human. The challenge is combining materials to make something that transcends the original elements and takes on a life of its own.” 

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Altered is sponsored by Great Gatherings LLC.

 2016 exhibition season at the Harlow Gallery has been made possible by our season sponsors: Capitol Dental Care, Camden National Bank, the City of Hallowell, the Jennings Family, Kennebec Savings Bank, Rosemary Presnar, Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe, and by grant funding from the Quimby Family Foundation.