To honor and celebrate the forty-year creative career of artist, educator, and collector Juris Ubans, who is retiring from the University of Southern Maine faculty in August, the University of Southern Maine Art Gallery has mounted a sumptuous exhibition that fills the little gallery on the Gorham campus (through February 15) not just with art by Juris Ubans but with what curator Dennis Gilbert calls “a life-in-art,” a congenial coming together of art by Ubans, his former students, his colleagues, his friends.
“What makes this exhibit so exceptional as a retrospective,” writes Gilbert, a close friend and fishing buddy, in the marvelous catalogue essay for Ubart: A Juris Ubans Retrospective, “what elevates it to the level of meta-work in the artist’s oeuvre – is its success in capturing the compelling creative force of the entire career, the true spirit of conviviality: this is art as feast and art as fellowship.”
Juris Ubans came to USM in 1968, when it was still Gorham State Teachers College, and has been a creative life force there ever since. Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1938, Ubans was born to art, the youngest of three sons of Konrads Ubans, one of Latvia’s best-known painters. Displaced by World War II, the Ubans family, minus his father, made their way to the United States in 1950. He studied at Syracuse University, Yale, and Penn State before coming to Maine.
Ubans’s own expressionist paintings form the nucleus of what is essentially a salon show with Ubans as the common denominator. The exhibition features 150 works by 60 artists. Among the name artists Ubans has collected are photographers Berenice Abbott, Eugene Atget, and glass master Dale Chihuly. His influence, however, has been more important than the art he has created or collected.
Juris Ubans is a cultured man, visually literate not only as a painter but also as a photographer and filmmaker. Something about his personal investment in the life of art communicates a sense of confidence that art is vital. Further, he possesses a knack for instilling that confidence in his best students, inspiring them to dedicate themselves to their talents and to look beyond Maine for an audience and a dialogue.
Three of Ubans’s prot