A trio of newly opened exhibitions at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art demonstrate the building’s capacity to accommodate art of all shapes and sizes.
In one gallery, there’s a full-size model of a Piper Cub airplane – or is it a sculpture? – by Brunswick artist Mark Wethli. Built to scale, with an 18-foot fuselage, the wooden plane sits comfortably in the middle of the Bruce Brown Gallery, filling the space but leaving plenty of room for a good look from all angles and perspectives.
In CMCA’s large vaulted gallery are Sam Cady’s sprawling, shaped, dimensional paintings of skyscrapers, mountains and the Maine coast, in the first large-scale retrospective of the midcoast artist’s four decades of work. And finally, CMCA also is showing a suite of quietly elegant prints by longtime Maine artist and printmaker David Driskell.
The three exhibitions are on view until mid-May. Gallery director Suzette McAvoy planned the trio around Cady, who has shown often in Maine, but less often with the chance to hang so much work at once. This exhibition, titled “Parts of the Whole,” takes advantage of CMCA’s high ceilings and sleek, contemporary feel.
“Many people know Sam’s work, but not the whole range of it,” McAvoy said. “There are so many pieces here that he has never exhibited before – not only in Maine, but anywhere – primarily because of the scale of them. Many are quite large. There’s a lot of work here that is not familiar to people, and I think it will be a surprise.”
Cady paints realistic images on shaped canvases that match the shape of his subjects. When he paints a circling gull, his painting is shaped like a gull in flight, giving it a sculptural, three-dimensional quality. His paintings trick you because they suggest there’s more dimension to them than flat surfaces.
McAvoy hung the art at various eye levels and arranged the pieces to interact with one another, so the gull is circling high on a wall and high above a painting of a sailboat that is displayed standing upright on the gallery floor, away from the wall. Such arrangements create an interactive feel and suggest a sense of being among the work rather than looking at it.
The name “Parts of the Whole” references the inclusion of painted fragments that are leftovers, or remainders, from Cady’s finished paintings. Cady uses these discards to create abstract shapes that become explorations of color and form.
The CMCA exhibition marks the second time Wethli has shown “Piper Cub.” He built the plane a decade ago and displayed it at the now-closed Coleman Burke Gallery in Brunswick.
Wethli’s “Piper Cub” is a wooden model made to scale without the skin or motor. It can’t fly, but it looks like it should. It begs the question: Is it a sculpture, a model or a prototype?
The plane is a tribute to Wethli’s father, who restored an actual Piper Cub when Wethli was 7. The plane was a popular aircraft in the 1930s and 1940s.
“I had very fond memories of watching him work on it, and it quickly became emblematic of all the father-son projects we’d tackled over the years, from model airplanes to car repair to home construction and maintenance, and the many lessons in patience, perseverance, problem-solving and the aesthetics of a job well done that went along with that,” Wethli said.
He found the plans on the internet and began to make his plane one part at a time, using wood instead of the welded aluminum of the original. Unlike the original, he had to create parts to allow for assembly and disassembly. Otherwise, every part and dimension are identical to the original.
The installation also includes three large wall-mounted drawings that Wethli used to guide the project. He made the plane with 27 lightweight parts so a single person can carry it, with the exception of the 18-foot fuselage. He spent most of January re-gluing joints and giving himself a refresher on how to put it together.
“Even though I’m the one who built it, after 10 years, it was like trying to assemble a piece of furniture without the instructions,” he said.
It’s been gratifying to return to the plane after a decade, he said. “I often wondered if I’d ever see it assembled again, and it’s always been my ambition for that to happen, so I was very grateful when Suzette got in touch about showing it,” he said.
His father, who is 92, will see the plane when he attends a closing reception in his honor on May 14.
Driskell’s “Renewal and Form” includes quiet woodcuts, serigraphs, linocuts and monoprints of trees and lakes, portraits of women and images that draw from the artist’s experiences growing up in the rural South.
All are recent prints, McAvoy said. They provide a nice complement to the other work on view. The shows are tied together by each artist’s work of the hand, she said.
“There is so much hand in all of these,” she said. “They’re all about the idea of the craft as well as the art.”
SAM CADY’S “PARTS OF A WHOLE,” MARK WETHLI’S “PIPER CUB” AND DAVID DRISKELL’S “RENEWAL AND FORM”
WHERE: Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 21 Winter St., Rockland
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday; Sam Cady on view through May 21; Mark Wethli until May 14 and David Driskell until May 11.
INFO: 701-5005; cmcanow.org