MOUNT DESERT — The MDI Open art exhibit at Sam Shaw’s in Northeast Harbor is always a fun season kickoff for the arts.
Every year, it showcases the variety and depth of talent possessed by the people living and working here. And every year, certain works stand out, demanding we pay closer attention as we wander through the rooms, trying not to be too diverted by the sumptuous jewelry also on display.
But this year, almost every painting, sculpture, photograph or mixed-media creation exhibited entices our attention individually and as a whole. From the moment we enter the front door, the show is an exuberant explosion of color and creative diversity.
On your left as you enter is Jeanne Perkins’ paper-mache “Sea Star,” an attenuated pastel starfish dripping with shells, pebbles and other bits and pieces the artist must have picked up along the beach. On the opposite wall, Nan Ulett has transformed pieces of sea glass and broken pottery she found on Mount Desert Island beaches into a window with its own brilliant floral view.
A few steps on, Leanne Nickon’s bright scarlet mixed-media “Cardinal” perches on a delicate branch overlooking a gray wintry sea. Nearby, Barbara Strubell has departed from her usual landscape painting with a rather haunting scene of an Italian street where a father bends down to comfort a small child beneath looming buildings.
Another departure from her usual landscape painting is Linda Rowell Kelley’s “Repairing My History,” an intricate abstract that resembles an artist’s version of a DNA code.
Then comes Art Gowie’s strangely compelling acrylic “Blue,” which I can envision being either a cartoon cat or a castle. Hmmm, and on to Kelly Dean’s watercolor, which captures the wild spirit and eroticism of her subject in “Ariel.”
And speaking of eroticism, J. Aaron Mitchell’s “Breast Friends” is a pretty, rather romantic watercolor of a Sapphic embrace, while Sam Shaw’s own large oil “First Dance Party” brings to mind a marriage of Henri Matisse and Julian Freud with the dancing movement and the fleshiness of his rather grotesque figures.
Many of the artists in this show have chosen to represent MDI in lovely landscapes, like Marc Fink’s exquisitely detailed encaustic “Hadlock Pond,” which captures that mirrored pool of water, sunlight and reeds on a perfect fall day; Beth Lambert’s joyous “Manset Shore;” and Bob Jay’s tranquil “Eagle Lake.” Wesley Libby has chosen a different perspective with his “Fear and Loathing on MDI,” a lurid graffiti-tagged bureau front that suggest another, less idyllic aspect of island life.
Sometimes it’s all about the process, as in Beth Pomroy’s amazing fish in acrylic on wood. At first, the simple fish shape appears to have been decorated with thousands of colorful beads, but a closer view reveals it is tiny beads of paint she has applied here. One has to marvel at the artist’s control and sense of design.
Marilyn Herman actually did use beads to embellish her wonderful birch bark bag, which demonstrates a keen knowledge of traditional Abenaki artistry.
About midway through the show, we come to Obie Buell’s “Stone Boat,” which is just that, a sweet little sloop under full sail, rendered in speckled granite. Out in the garden, you’ll discover another intriguing sculpture – Paul Kozak’s stolid “Sentry,” in which his black basalt figure seems somehow heavier than stone.
Also in the garden are Marcie MacKinnon’s colorful “Spirit Stick” and Sydney Roberts Rockefeller’s funny and surprisingly pleasing “Falling Angels,” literally a cascade of plastic angel food pans.
Be sure not to leave before visiting the side room in the gallery, where among other delights hangs Judy Taylor’s calico cat observing its seaside home and Susan Lerner’s assemblage of wine bottle foils celebrating the centennial anniversary of Acadia National Park.
There is so much more fun here – Deborah Page’s evocative “Familiar,” some wooden puppets titled “Martha” that require some pondering, Tammy Packie’s photograph “Courting Crows” and Roc Caivano’s old school still-life poppy. It’s quite amazing all the wondrous things you’ll come across in the short walk through Sam Shaw’s shop on Main Street in Northeast Harbor. And when you’re done, there’s all that jewelry, so you’ll just have to turn around and go through it again.
The show will be up for another week, when it will be replaced by “J. Aaron Mitchell: Friends and Idols” on June 16.