There are so many places to see art in Maine, including places under the radar that you might not think of checking out. One such site is Frontier, the former restaurant, cinema and mixed-use space in the Fort Andross Mill building which anchors Brunswick’s main thoroughfare. “Mill Works 3” (until January 31) brings together 26 artists who occupy the workshops of the old mill.
From 1809, the massive edifice harnessed the force of the Androscoggin River to fuel a huge operation that produced cotton for yarn. It failed several times and renewed itself several times before falling into disrepair in the 1960s. In 1986 it was bought and renovated into offices and studios.
Michael Gilroy established Frontier in 2006 as a venue for film, food, music, and art. After closing at the start of the pandemic, the restaurant space reopened on November 3 as a gallery and cafÃ©, and its “welcome” show features 26 artists who have studios in the building. The show was hosted by Frontier employee Kristyn Platt in collaboration with Richard Keen, one of the exhibiting artists (who contributed colorful nautical-inspired graphic abstractions that are pleasing to the eye – if not charming -). in their simplicity and unidimensionality).
There is a lot of interesting work to be seen here. But because the space was more recently a restaurant, it has its challenges. Many structures are hung too high to release old restaurant fittings, such as partitions. It also makes it difficult to approach some works, as it forces the viewer to look at them either up close but from the side, or from the front but further back.
The generality of the rubric under which this art is collected can also be problematic. It’s a bit of a catch-all, uneven in terms of the quality of work. It is also not organized in the sense that Platt grouped works together without giving much thought to how they complement or distract from each other. His emphasis seems to be more on the final configuration of the wall than on its individual parts.
A living room-style wall, for example, features some of the best works of the show by Andrea Sulzer, William Zingaro, Ellen Golden, Carla Weeks, and others. But there is no connection between them, leaving each to fend for itself regardless of what is adjacent.
Take one of Bill Zingaro’s âcityscapeâ aluminum constructions. It is strong, volumetric and masculine, and it literally jumps out in the eyes of the beholder. This distracts attention from the hypnotic, but smaller and more subtle Carla Weeks’ Monochrome Study in Blue 6 “and” Monochrome Study in Blue 7 “.
Taken individually, each is powerful. Zingaro heats sheets of metal and hammers them into desired modular shapes which he welds together into framed grids. They look like two-dimensional topographic models produced from surveys. The silver metal has a harsh industrial presence underscored by areas where the underlying foil has split, which Zingaro repaired with smaller riveted pieces. Visually and viscerally, it packs a powerful punch.
Conversely, Weeks’ canvases use a few barely graduated shades of deep cobalt blue to convey abstract forms that allude to architecture. Visually and viscerally, they are quietly deep. The color is so deliciously thick that you can almost taste it, and the gradation of shades is so subtle that it takes your eyes a minute to distinguish the different shapes in the frames. They require a deep look and convey a sense of peace that seems at odds with the tremendous charisma of Zingaro’s work.
The salon-style grouping also means that some works hang lower than the optimum. Sulzer’s extraordinary âSnow Packedâ is the victim. He deserves a lot of space around to understand the complexity of his process. It’s made with oil-based printing ink and watercolor, which Sulzer applies to the paper in what appear to be hundreds of random, obsessive marks.
Overall, the work appears to represent a snow-capped mountainside. But brands confuse our sense of scale and subject matter. Sometimes clusters of short lines can look like trees, other times like skiers. Other clusters can intimidate entire villages perched on the mountainside. Still others appear to be foot or hoof prints tracing the movement of humans and animals through the snow.
When we look at sections of the painting, the details seem to move and change, constantly reassembling in our brains as something different until we have no idea what we are looking at. In this way, the composition appears significantly unfixed and elusive, leaving us suspended in some sort of insoluble space. The inner sensation that this produces is fascinating and disorienting.
One of Ellen Golden’s optically exuberant works also hangs on this wall (her work is also currently on display alongside her late husband Duane Paluska at the Maine Jewish Museum). In this case, there is a link. Golden credits an intensive drawing course she took with Sulzer as a turning point in her art.
The âintensiveâ orientation has certainly remained blocked. Like Sulzer, Golden’s designs can disrupt our sense of continuity. They are essentially composed of horizontal bands. But Golden erases their linear quality by breaking them up with intervals of black ink that collectively form triangles, rectangles, and trapezoids. These geometric shapes interrupt and completely break the horizontal embedding of the stripes.
Flanagan himself has some wonderful abstract works in the exhibit. “Mumbles”, on the wall opposite this one, has a distinctly rhythmic musical quality. Its blurred geometries create an impression of movement. Trapezoids and triangles can make it look like they protrude towards the viewer or disappear into a void. The lines wiggle back and forth, moving forward and back on themselves. All of this conveys the individual moving elements in an energetic, improvised dance.
In general, abstract works are the most rewarding in “Mill Works 3”. The exceptions are âDune, Popham Beach, Phippsburg, MEâ by Tina Ingraham and âForest Boardsâ by Renuka O’Connell. Ingraham’s impressionist style lends itself well to the subject of dunes, which, like his blurry brush, can appear to move and metamorphose. It’s traditional landscape painting, but it keeps the romanticism well in check with this work. O’Connell uses ink to evoke the woods in winter. But the image is not literal. On the contrary, he seems to have a touch of analytical cubism that sits intriguingly on the border between representation and abstraction.
The works of these artists and others are worth seeing. Even when their presence appears to be an anomaly within the business they maintain, they reward our attention. A single digital video of Elijah Ober, for example, seems oddly placed in a small hallway leading to the cinema. Still, it’s so visually absorbing that you’ll likely see multiple loops of this snail making its way and revealing enigmatic structures in its wake.
Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [emailÂ protected]
Book review: Lily King’s new collection of short stories is a model of its genre