ROCKLAND — Maine’s favorite, and longest-running (since 1978) statewide juried art exhibition opens January 28 at CMCA’s Rockland gallery. The CMCA Biennial features 35 artists in all phases of their vocation. Some are local, some as far as Germany, but all have connections to this state, and were chosen by two jurors from an applicant pool of 423 artists.
What does it mean to an artist be included in this show?
To Holden Willard, a 23-year-old artist who was born at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, moved to Western Maine at a young age, and now lives in Portland, the opportunity, he said, “is, simply put, beyond my wildest dreams.”
“To be frank, I applied pretty much thinking I was going to get shot down,” said Willard. “I applied to a bunch of Maine residencies last year and got rejections across the board. It was pretty much just out of curiosity, some friends of mine were applying, too, so I just wanted to see what would happen. I’ve been showing in galleries since I was 19 so I’m very used to not getting opportunities.”
The doors that may open as a result of being part of the well-regarded exhibit enthuse him. Scary, yes, “but great things could lay on the other side,” he said.
And this is the first time his work has been shown a museum. He made sure it was framed and immaculate.
“I’m a serial perfectionist, so it had to be just right for the CMCA,” he said. “I feel very honored to be included in this prescient showing of Maine art.”
The jurors were Misa Jeffereis, assistant curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Sarah Montross, senior curator at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis is a fellow noncollecting museum of contemporary art, noted CMCA, in a news release about the show.
“There is a certain fragility and resourcefulness within this Biennial: artworks that resemble or use scrim, string, patchwork, and connective tissues,” said Montross, in the release. “There are cast-off parts or fragments brought together through collage and assemblage. This sense of connectivity — of small, individual parts joining to re-form into a whole — extends to people: artists convey intimate, private worlds, memories, and interpersonal relationships, both real and imagined, through touch, familial closeness, and tender humor.”
For Willard, the act of creating art is cathartic, which why he works hard to make and show his paintings.
“The eventual goal is to have my own studio practice and be able to sustain myself from that,” he said. “The tools that I’ve been learning while working in a gallery doing art framing, and practicing professional conservation techniques have aided that desire to make it a lifelong career.”
Currently, he works at two Portland galleries, Greenhut and Cove Street Arts.
“That gig sustains me enough to have a studio at Running with Scissors in Portland, but I will soon be looking for a new studio,” he said. “The community that I’ve found in Portland is super supportive and encouraging, I couldn’t have made a better decision in coming back home to Maine after college.”
Willard began cultivating his talents when he was a child, drawing and making cardboard sculptures.
“It annoyed the hell out of my parents, but I never seriously thought about being an artist until high school,” he said. “I, like most teens, was very impressionable and when told by peers and such that being an artist was unrealistic I believed them. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school at Windham that an art teacher, Jeff Bell, told me I needed to be a painter. He believed in all of us, and encouraged us to pursue art school and a fulfilling career. One that he knew we were yearning for.”
Willard took that to heart, graduating from Montserrat College of Art in 2021 with a BFA in painting. He enjoyed school and intends to pursue a master’s in fine arts.
“School gave me structure, it showed me a way to continuously challenge myself, and it showed me how to be a community member,” he said.
In college, he studied with colorists Timothy Harney, Diane Ayott and Nicholas Mancini, and it shows in his use of bold and focused colors.
“They gave me a heavy knowledge of modernism and preceding movements in painting that made me want to go towards focusing on color, specifically,” he said. “I try to express the vibration of our environment through these colors, like how warmth might feel if it had a color. These ideas are propagated through some of my favorite painters, like Doron Langberg, Colleen Barry, Jennifer Packer, and to some extent Fairfield Porter and Alex Katz. There is a long tradition of figuration, and to step in the shoes of that history is mind-blowing and very humbling.”
Willard also explores photography, appreciating it as a source of inspiration for paintings, and, “collage reinforces a deep knowledge of the ‘search’ which is a method that I was taught in school,” he said. “Initially developed by modernist Hans Hoffmann, it involved an activation of the picture frame. All parts of that picture interact and move amongst each other. Collage allows you to very easily see these connections and interactions. With my paintings, there is a deep connection to observation - both direct and indirect.”
He tries to work with his subjects in-person, using drawings and small studies to then blow up into large pieces.
“Photography offers an immediacy that painters have been striving to capture for centuries,” he said. “Think of the Camera Obscura, where a dark room with a hole can project an image, upside down on the opposite wall. This technique has been around for hundreds of years as a tool for painters striving for proportion and guidance. With all my mediums, including printmaking, there is a connection between them all, and something to be learned from crossing in between them.”
CMCA will keep the Biennial art on its walls through May 7. The exhibition is installed across all 5,500 square feet of the museum’s galleries. New this year, preference was given to artists who have not exhibited at CMCA over the past two years.
The CMCA 2023 Biennial Artists include:
Rachel Gloria Adams (Portland, ME)
Nick Benfey (New York City, NY)
Philip Brou (South Portland, ME)
Shane Charles (Bangor, ME)
Shaina Gates (Kittery, ME)
Elyse Grams (Portland, ME)
Dylan Hausthor (Waterville, ME)
Alanna Hernandez (Union, ME)
Rebecca Hutchinson (Rochester, MA)
Jenny Ibsen (Portland, ME)
Michael Kolster (Brunswick, ME)
Jared Lank (Portland, ME
Nate Luce (Rockland, ME)
Alex Lukas (Santa Barbara, CA)
Heather Lyon (Blue Hill, ME)
Dafna Maimon and Ethan Hayes-Chute (Berlin, GER)
Haley MacKeil (Providence, RI)
Mandana MacPherson and Gigi Obrecht (Freeport, ME)
Geoffrey Masland (Yarmouth, ME)
Travis Morehead (Evanston, IL)
Madeleine Morlet (Rockport, ME)
Pamela Moulton (North Bridgton, ME)
Elaine Ng (Hope, ME)
Anna Queen (Rockland, ME)
José Santiago Pérez (Chicago, IL)
Ransome (Rhinebeck, NY)
Mariah Reading (Bangor, ME)
Lynn Richardson (Swanzey, NH)
Brian Smith (Portland, ME)
Juliette Walker (Farmingdale, ME)
Holden Willard (Portland, ME)
Erin Woodbrey (South Orleans, MA)
Evelyn Wong (Portland, ME)
“These artists underscore the broad network of talented artists who call Maine home or who have significant ties to a specific Maine community but currently reside elsewhere, ranging from California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Germany,” said CMCA.
The final selection of artworks and the curation of the 2023 CMCA Biennial has been overseen by CMCA’s curatorial team, Executive Director and Chief Curator Timothy Peterson, and Curatorial Associate and Exhibitions Manager Rachel Romanski.
The opening reception for the 2023 CMCA Biennial will take place on Saturday, January 28 from 3 to 5:30 p.m., with free admission for the reception.
The 2023 CMCA Biennial is made possible by grants from the Susanne Marcus Collins Foundation and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and through the support of generous donors to the Suzette McAvoy Exhibition Fund.