In the interest of full disclosure, Portland gallerist Andres Verzosa is a close friend and my partner in a forthcoming publishing venture, but after 35 years of writing about art in Maine, if I refrained from writing about artists and art dealers I know personally, most of the best would be off limits.
The current exhibition (September 7-29) at Verzosa’s Aucocisco Galleries, The Crux of the Matter, is reason enough to risk a conflict of interest as it pairs two fugitives from the Maine art scene in what might be thought of as a minimal-meets-maximal Maine show.
Joshua Ferry, who grew up in Maine, attended Maine College of Art, and spent 15 years in New Jersey before returning to Maine this year, is the minimalist. Sean Foley, a Midwesterner who had an enormous impact on Maine art and artists while teaching at Maine College of Art from 1998 to 2006, is the maximalist.
Years ago I read an interview with the great abstract painter Frank Stella to the effect that his early work was all about minimalism, trying to reduce color and form as much as possible while still retaining a creative dynamic, and that his later work was all about maximalism, trying to see how much color, form, pattern, texture, structure and illusion he could pack into one painting without it falling apart. I once stood in front of a recent Stella at the Museum of Modern Art watching glitter fall off onto the floor and wondering whether I would be guilt of art theft if I took some of the debris as a souvenir.
Joshua Ferry follows the reductivist impulse. The painting in the 2005 Portland Museum of Art Biennial that brought him to wide local attention reduced the image of a flag-draped casket to red and white stripes on a field of green. In the formal minimalist tradition, Ferry painted his way through checkerboards and grids to a focus on the intersection of the lines. That reduction of form led to his most recent cross paintings, 20 x 16 acrylic on canvas abstractions consisting of a single bold, wide cross in one color against a field of another.
Ferry’s cross paintings at Aucocisco explore the cruciform for its own formal properties and chromatic possibilities, yet there is no denying the religion symbolism of the crosses, especially given both their vertical orientation and that Ferry’s father is a Christian minister.
“Crosses appear in contemporary paintings often without there being specific religious connotations,” notes Ferry. “I’m satisfied with the cross as a formal centering device and welcome associations that the viewer wishes to bring to the work.”
Sean Foley pursues the maximalist impulse out of surrealism into biomorphic abstraction. Though he has been teaching at Ohio State since 2006, Foley has retained his Maine and New England connections. During all of 2011, his 100-foot painting installation Ruse hung at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams. In February of this year, Foley was featured along with seven of his former Maine College of Art students (Ahmed Alsoudani, Hannah Barnes, Natalie Larsen, Sage Lewis, Larissa Mellor, Patrick O’Rorke and Justin Richel) in an exhibition at Birke Art Gallery at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.
Sean Foley’s explosive, fantastical paintings sometimes strike me as a cross between the surrealism of a Salvadore Dali and the Pop Art of a James Rosenquist. He plays with shapes and illusions, patterns and forms, imagery and abstraction in ways that invite the viewer to wander around in the paintings if they dare.
“My process is tedious and slow. It drives me crazy, but I suppose it’s because I’m seeking an ‘event’ rather than any singular aesthetic resolution,” Foley said in his artist’s statement for the 2009 Portland Museum of Art Biennial. “I view the work, especially the installations, as a type of suspended animation. They precariously balance figuration and abstraction as well as numerous other contradictions.”
The concurrence of the quiet rectitude of Joshua Ferry’s crosses and the boisterous irreverence of Sean Foley’s visceral abstractions should make for a thought-provoking exhibition.
[Aucocisco Galleries, 89 Exchange St., Portland ME, 207-775-2222.]