‘Collective Art for All To See’

Pop-up art show returns artistic life to vacant Rockport gallery

Posted:  Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - 3:00pm

ROCKPORT — 162 Russell Avenue was most recently the home for the Center for Maine Contemporary Arts, but was sold in 2015 as CMCA moved to its new digs in Rockland.

Before CMCA, the address was the town’s fire station and a livery before that. On December 22, 2018, the renovated gallery hosted the collective works of three photographers. The show ran through January 5, 2019 and because of its success, its run has been extended through January.

The gallery featured the works of Paul Caponigro, Dirk McDonnell and Ni Rong. When asked if the show was a success, Caponigro replied that with three excellent photographers, how could it not be a success?

“We had a great opening,” said Caponigro. “I was amazed at how many people showed up.”

Ni Rong said it was amazing given that they planned and presented the show so quickly.

“I didn’t even get to send out invitations until the day before the reception,” Rong said. “Even given that situation it was amazing how well received it was in that people were going by word of mouth. And people were walking by and saying ‘is there something going on today?’ and ‘we’re so glad we went for a walk.’”

Rong said even though it was seasonal, a lot of people were here because it was Christmas time.

Ni Rong said the decision was made to extend the showing for another month. The gallery will be open on Friday and Saturdays from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.

“We can also open by appointment, too,” said Rong. “The last day of the show will be February 2.”

Photographers have a tendency to archive most all their work. It was surmised that between the three there could possibly be thousands of photos. The question was how do you pick which photos you will put in a show?

“That’s easy,” said Caponigro. “These were already framed. One of my students had an exhibition in Brunswick. I needed to include some of my work as well, so we had a very nice show last June, and when these other two called and asked if I could participate I said sure, and these were already framed and sitting in my studio.”

Caponigro felt the prints were a nice cross section of his work over the past years.

Dirk McDonnell prints in large format. He said he’s been doing it for 25 years.

“What’s the point of a six by six inch print when you can do larger and get away with it?” he said.

McDonnell has lived in Camden for 30 years. He has some sculptures on display in the gallery that are 35 years old.

“When I came to Maine I wanted to try something else,” he said. “I went down to the workshops, had a 35mm camera and that was the next step.”

Ni Rong is a Rockport based photographer and is a native of Beijing, China. She moved to Maine in 2005, and photography has become her focus in life. Rong’s work was paired with McDonnell’s in a CMCA show in 2015.

Ni Rong says she has been inspired by both McDonnell’s and Caponigro’s work through their soulful and poetic approach to their own work.

“I’m so thrilled and happy that this first show in the gallery came off so well,” she said. “Everything just fell into the perfect place. Someone said to me that this might be the best exhibition space in the Midcoast. I was so happy to hear that. This place has historical beauty and tradition.”

McDonnell and Caponigro have 25 photographs each in the gallery. Ni Rong said her count is around 15. Rong said she hopes to continue her work with both artists and said she is looking a doing a showing with Caponigro’s students.

The space is also well suited for fundraisers, performances, auctions and shows.

McDonnell said photographs are elliptical by nature; the uses to which they are put are endless.

“The means by which advertisers encourage consumption, photojournalists seek to document and inform, scientists record phenomena, and then there’s selfies of course,” he said. “The taking of a photograph in all of its gestural simplicity, is an expression of awareness before all else. The photographer is only distinguished by the ability to record, and the quality by the depths of one’s ability to see.”

Caponigro said simply he does his photography because he likes doing it.

“I love doing my work,” he said. “I want to continue doing it because I like doing it. I really don’t care if there’s an audience or not. I mean yes, it’s nice to share my work with others, but I don’t do it for that purpose. My work is up there if others want to see and have to time, but I continue to do it because I’m hooked.”

Ni Rong’s photography uses herself as the model.

Ansel Adams was one of Caponigro’s first teachers.

Collective Art for All To See will run until February 2.