BAR HARBOR — The Blum Gallery at College of the Atlantic has just opened a fascinating new show combining the works of two Mount Desert Island residents and friends, sculptor Katie Bell and painter Clay Kanzler.
What is interesting here is that it is the painter using oozy oils on pliable canvas whose works have more hard edges. The images often border on photorealism, compared to the works of the sculptor, who brings an incredible softness to her hard marble and alabaster.
Bell has such a keen understanding of her medium that her figures – the rabbits, a basking lion, a nude, a bird, seem to emerge naturally from her stones, belying the effort it must have taken to wield hammer and chisels to release them. While Bell’s technique with her tools is sophisticated, her finished pieces have a primitive, almost shamanistic quality, reminiscent of Inuit carvings. One feels that stroking those smooth cool surfaces might bring good luck.
As there were no “Please Do Not Touch” signs, there was a lot of laying on of hands going at the opening last Thursday evening. Perhaps the most irresistible of all was a pink alabaster rabbit, which was positioned in a way that when the sun from a skylight hit it, it seemed to glow with its own soft inner light.
There is a magical quality to many of Kanzler’s works as well. His straightforward landscapes are easily the most accessible of the paintings here – his years on an island have made him a master of capturing the effect of light on water. But they are his more allegorical images, which often combine familiar land and seascapes with other seemingly, that really grab the attention.
One, titled “Be Still and Know I am God,” combines a sonogram, a sniper, a fallen leaf, a miniature seascape, a child’s face, a grouping of soldiers, a pool scene, a vaguely Jesus/God face and other assorted insets. They are superimposed over a black and white scene of a kindly mustached gentleman counseling a woman. Judging by her body language, she is upset about something. Perhaps the artist is alluding to senseless death here. An alternative title might be “Jesus Wept.”
Many of Kanzler’s titles are biblical references, which do not necessarily help decipher what is going on. While “He Stilled the Storm to a Whisper and Quieted the Waves of the Sea” clearly depicts Seal Harbor Town Pier and other familiar places after an autumnal storm, it also has four sets of eyes looming out of the canvas. One pair, viewers who know the artist claim, can be recognized as his own.
In his painting “Ascension,” a handsome elderly gent with roguish patch over his right eye seems bemused and perhaps bored at a party while the face of Jesus hovers overhead with a helium balloon. Another is apparently the singer Neil Diamond and a beautiful woman in a car. But it looks a lot like Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross in a scene from “The Graduate.” It is all superimposed over Seal Harbor and Otter Cliffs vistas and a sweet little black-and-white snapshot of three teenage girls. It seems to be a visual ode to the sights, sounds and people of a summer long ago.
On the other hand, his “Jesus and Mary,” juxtaposing snapshots from a family album with bare twigs and delicate flowers is a complete puzzlement.
And that is sort of the point. One really could stand in front of these large intriguing paintings for hours trying to figure out what the artists is trying to tell us. But as a busy opening is not the time for such a contemplative endeavor, a return trip to the Blum before the exhibit comes down, Aug. 28, is definitely in order.