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Please join us tonight for
a very special
artist reception - 5-8 PM

and an artist talk by visiting artist Jaime Gili
tomorrow, Saturday, May 9 at 1:00 PM

Whitney Art Works
492 Congress Street
Portland, ME 04101

Stratum will be on view from May 8th through May 30th.

History itself can be explained as strata. So can the metropolis: tiers of growing concrete atop sedimentary layers laced with water and fire and green things. Emotions and memories are like lamellae of reality and thought twisted through the serpentine channels of the psyche and reflected off into society. Layers accommodate rifts, indicate creation, accumulation, and areas of overlap. As an idea stratum challenges the absolute by being a twisty ladder between the shallow and the profound. The artists in Stratum represent an array of backgrounds and approaches but are linked by how they navigate structure and its interactions with history, society, memory, emotion, nature, and illusion, so heavily reliant on layered meaning.

Michael McFalls's sculptures are geological but their position in the chasm between natural and artificial is complex and multifaceted. The sculptures evoke both the plastic palette of a Wal-mart aisle but have the grace and presence of something created by the elements. Combining waste and strongly colored plaster, McFalls makes sculptures that seem like they were shaped by a millennia of geological forces at work...on a day-glo planet...from apocalyptic rubble! It is a combination of the kitschy residue of human life and the profound phenomenon of creation (also an act of accumulation) because, as McFalls says, "the creative impulse for (his) work has emerged from the interstitial zone located between the modern juxtaposition of naturally created and man-made objects". The result is work that, despite valuing human production, critiques consumption while wavering between being awe-inspiring and mischievously vulgar. McFalls teaches art at the University of Maine-Farmington and has exhibited nationwide.

Bursting out of the desert-y structure of canvas are colored explosions informed by particular histories, urban environments, and people close to the artist, Jaime Gili. Gili has a myriad of influences; he is Venezuelan, was educated in Barcelona, and currently resides in London. His bright paintings are about presence. They mostly, commandingly, just are. That said, to Gili, painting seems an earnest concept he hopes to extend to encompass whole spaces, cities and landscapes as in the upcoming painting of the 16 Sprague oil tanks in South Portland sponsored by the Maine Center for Creativity. It is this candid consumption of space that is most exciting. At Riflemaker in London (where Gili is represented), he leaned paintings against the walls where they blew up against the frou-frou architecture. Likewise in a Miami installation paintings were wedged between floor and rafters, a fully realized manifestation of fracture, interrupting glum gallery walls and spaces where people gather. Although crystalline shards splinter his paintings, Gili doesn't let the energy break. Instead the feeling completely expands, without tension or anxiety. His work is an invigorating lens, a personable sheen that offers its glossiness to society and activates the urban. It contains the slick, hopeful zing of Futurism or Rayonnism and brims with a romantic wish for the world that is conversely anachronistic and fresh.

A glimpse into the most infinite layer, Diana Cherbuliez's constructions are, in her own words, "the in-between states and places... ambiguous times, like the drift between consciousness and sleep, and structures of transition, like ladders and bridges". Though her whimsical constructions seem sturdy, the reveries they produce explore the symbolic mirage of memory. She describes the importance of reflections; "Every time we look in the mirror there's our childhood face, grandparent's face, etc. It all flashes to us, it all overlays to our own image." Building also seems significant here, the architectural comes to represent tension and the deep fissures that reside even where there is a sense of purpose and completeness. A solid, perfect bridge upon closer inspection is made of burnt wood and carries its fragile symbolism. Glass pools up or stretches out, now solid and topographical, now with the reflective confusion of water, a long, deep illusion. Cherbuliez has shown extensively throughout Maine including multiple inclusions in the Portland Museum of Art's Maine Biennial.

While Cherbuliez uses structures to stage a moment in which memory swirls infinitely, Molly Levine's paintings are like the cumulative recollections of generations of flâneurs. She writes how "the strange conglomeration of eras and ever shifting styles of architecture can determine the character of the city". At first inspection these unpopulated city scenes present innocuous neighborhood houses. With a color palette that just begins to tip from the everyday into the violent, Levine hovers alternate histories, eras and futures in the air. This architectural palimpsest though ephemeral in nature, is super-charged by the force of the color and the gesture of the artist's hand. Skies become graffiti while muted reality pops out here and there like clouds. These paintings offer a political and emotional imagining of the secret life of buildings. Levine is a graduate of Maine College of Art. Although a Massachusetts native she has no doubt been inspired by the multiple urban revisions evident in the hodge-podge architecture of Portland, the city in which she has studied, exhibited, and lived in recent years.

If urban planning is the arranging and organizing of environments to reflect the values of a society, then Maine College of Art alum and New York City native, Elianna Mesaikos is a crack-pot architect, arranging and organizing animals, symbols and flowers to express a subjective sense of beauty and order. These collections and fragments of things may be drawn with clarity but they remain enigmatic. It is hard to place the time period of a scrap of garment. Animals and plants that shouldn't exist together frolic while modern design elements are combined with Rococo flourishes. The line work in her drawings is delicate and humorous reflecting the artist's attitude. She calls this work "a romantic tragedy... a flirtation between fact and fiction" and a "maudlin tale of passionate wildlife" with equal parts sincerity and hilarity. An artist who once set out to make a drawing of everything, Mesaikos allows layers and layers of influences and symbols into her work. The drawings are gorgeous in an austere palette but lush with detail and information. Equally as refreshing is the extreme use of scale, drawings barely larger than an inch hold their own with enormous pieces. Despite the quirky themes and the artist's playful descriptions one gets a sense that there is something deeper at play, perhaps who or what is actually embodied in the "portraits" of the "valiant" and the "feeble" that Mesaikos mentions in the titles of a series of drawings. The artist is an inventor of a deeply personal hierarchy, a classification of life that we are fortunate to peek at.

--Celeste Parke

Gallery hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 12-6 or by appointment.


Molly Levine, <i>Big Ol' Whirlwind</i>, oil on canvas
Molly Levine, Big Ol' Whirlwind, oil on canvas

Michael McFalls, <i>Geoform 6.8 (Unfettered Growth 2)</i>, plaster, pigment, steel, and resin, 49
Michael McFalls, Geoform 6.8 (Unfettered Growth 2), plaster, pigment, steel, and resin, 49" x 29" x 28"

Jaime Gili, <i>Eichner</i>, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 106
Jaime Gili, Eichner, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 106" x83"

Elianna Mesaikos, <i>Brine Lurker Crown</i>, 2008, ink on paper, 14
Elianna Mesaikos, Brine Lurker Crown, 2008, ink on paper, 14" x 14"

Diana Cherbuliez, <i>Hell Gate</i>,  burned apple wood, mirror,  birch plywood, 15
Diana Cherbuliez, Hell Gate, burned apple wood, mirror, birch plywood, 15" tall x 18 1/2" x 9"

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