Art is the visual story of our times.

And the Portland Museum of Art’s “Biennial” exhibit of 2011 is proof, with 65 pieces reflecting the tensions and emotional struggles of today, respect for the environment and our electronic age.

Forty-seven artists with ties to Maine — including William Pearce Cox of Auburn, Andrew Thompson of Farmington and Mark Wethli of Brunswick — were chosen from 900 applicants to submit work for this juried show featuring a broad range of mediums, topics and styles of creativity.

Two moving photographs by Cox, both untitled, are pigment prints — one of a woman whose arm has been slashed repeatedly and another of a leg that has been slashed multiple times. “The series, ‘I am a Cutter,’ focuses on the phenomena of self-harm,” Cox states in the exhibit catalog.

“I am primarily a portraitist with a desire to reveal something emotive and intimate about my subjects. In this current work, it is my wish that the beauty and dignity of human struggle resonates with the viewer,” he explains.

His photographs resonated with me as depressing, as well as perhaps a statement of our times. Today’s society has the capacity to destroy itself while confronting the emotional tensions of our times. It is a sad message in art, but meaningful.

Thompson created a digital animation titled “Overtook” in which repetition takes on a central role. “In this modern exodus tale, people and objects are multiplied and manipulated, creating a mass of anxious tension,” he explains. His topic of exodus is as ancient as the Old Testament and yet still relevant as evidenced in present-day wanderings from Egypt, Libya and war-torn countries of the world.

Wethli’s pieces, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Kwazy Wabbit,” were painted on wood panels cut from salvaged wood tables. A well-known artist from Brunswick, he incorporates found objects — doors, walls, signs — into his artwork, focusing on the beauty of everyday objects seen in different ways. “The fundamental ambition of a work is to create an object that simultaneously affirms and questions its own identity,” he says.

A bright, cheerful and dominant work in the central gallery of the “2011 Portland Museum of Art Biennial” was done by Natasha Bowdoin. The piece created from cut paper, pencil and gouache is huge and dramatic, extending across an entire wall. Its texture, movement, color and asymmetrical balance work together to make it an uplifting piece.

“For The Trees,” by Avy Claire of Blue Hill, is a rapidograph on polyester film. Hung on translucent sheets extending from the ceiling to the floor, it looks like a dream sequence in a film.

One of the most exciting works in the exhibit is “Wonder,” by Alicia Eggert of Portland. It has an electrical component that makes its parts work as viewers step in front of it. The piece looks much like a constellation of stars as its parts blink and move.

Clint Fulkerson’s “Division Series,” graphite on paper on panels, is an appealing work with its fine geometric lines that create a sense of harmony.

Tyson Jacques’ “Imperative Series: Portrait of My Father,” an oil on canvas done in 2010, is one of the few paintings in the show. It speaks its own hieroglyphic language, dominating the first gallery.

Lesley MacVane’s photographs offer visual poetry in works titled “Madelyn’s Yard” and “Cliff Island Blues.”

Don Voisine’s “High Time,” an oil on wood, is a strong, straightforward geometric work without frills. Its beauty is simplicity, although it is not a simple work.

“Spring Suite,” a watercolor by Rebecca Rivers of Searsport, is refreshing and beautiful. I was intrigued by her ability to capture movement in the translucent water using white, creating reflections from the sky in the water.

Alisha Gould creates an Op Art wall with “Ejecta,” clay and ink objects attached to the central wall of the entrance to the museum.

Across from “Ejecta” is perhaps the most dramatic work in the exhibit. It is a gigantic coiled work by Michael Shaughnessy of Windham, titled “Cascade Current and Pool (For the Vanquished Falls of the Presumpscot River.)” Created from hay and twine woven together, it stretches across one wall of the museum’s front entrance. The piece looks like the huge ropes used to tie a massive boat to a dock.

Sarah Knock contributed a subtle work, an oil on canvas titled “Just Water,” that looks like moving water, courtesy of her expert use of light and shade.

Another subtle but outstanding work is “Quilt Drawing,” created from steel wire by Ellen Wieske of Deer Isle. Each block in this work has an intricate, geometric design in steel, and they hang united as in a quilt. From a distance, it looks like a fine ink drawing.

Panel members who selected artwork for this juried exhibit include Jim Kempner, owner and director of Jim Kempner Fine Art, New York; David Row, a painter based in New York and Maine; and Joanna Marsh, the James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

The “2011 Portland Museum of Art Biennial” will be up through June. 5.

The museum at Seven Congress Square is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $4 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children under 6. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has taught art history at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland. She has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.”


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