In an array of magazine clippings, photographs, photoglyphs, prints, collages, poems and audio, artist and poet Mark Melnicove presents “Word Art Collaborations.” This exhibit is now on display in the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. Spanning the past 40 years of his life as an artist in Maine, the collection not only offers a distinct perspective of Melnicove’s evolution as an artist, but also illustrates the ability of text to contain meaning beyond literal translation.

“In the show, I’m emphasizing the intersection of art and literature, where the collection contains pure works of art and pure works of literature,” Melnicove said. “The intersection between the two has always been a focus of my work.”

The exhibit is composed mostly of what Melnicove calls “word art”—a synthesis of modified texts and images, torn apart or put together to create meaning beyond the original intent of their publication.

“It represents mine and other artists’ efforts to expand the notion of typography and text to make it more visual than we normally think about it,” Melnicove said. “When most people read a book they don’t think of it as a visual object. They try to read for meaning. What we’re doing is recognizing first that all text is visual, it’s not just words on a page.”

When Melnicove moved to Maine in 1977, he joined a community of writers and artists that not only shaped his creative content but also provided a means with which to collaborate. Since then, Melnicove has worked with artists such as Bern Porter, Carlo Pittore, Lee Sharkey, Grace Paley—all prominent figures in the Maine art community. The exhibit features Melnicove’s individual work as well as those pieces produced in partnership with fellow artists and writers.

Preparations for the exhibit began 11 years ago, when Melnicove began to work with Richard Lindemann, the former director of the Bowdoin Library’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, to preserve his original work.

Caroline Moseley, the acting director of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, noted that the library was drawn to the collection for its innovative approach towards art and literature.

“The way special collections works is by collecting around the strengths and the academic interests of the College,” Moseley said. “This collection ties in and makes for a really interesting way of looking at art and literature of a more avant-garde kind. It’s literature, it’s poetry, it’s photography, it’s word art. It’s different ways of looking at things and trying to shake things up a bit and get your message across in a different way. It’s very visually provocative.”

Divided into 21 sections, the exhibit is not arranged chronologically, but thematically by the medium that’s used within each chapter. With underlying themes of social and environmental justice woven throughout, the show uses a variety of word art mediums to convey a message.
“I have always been interested in making the world a better place,” Melnicove said. “This often involves working with, rather than against, nature. I want a just and peaceful world and have seen how art and literature can motivate people and systems to change...Experiencing word art is a sensual experience that stimulates and motivates the mind and changes our perceptions of the world.”

The show also includes unconventional art forms, such as mails art, or words gleaned from junk mail and then highlighted to bear extracted meanings, and what Melnicove calls “photoglyphs” or photographs of words as they appear on signs, windows and various other surfaces. 

The culmination of the show even includes art made by Melnicove’s students at Falmouth High School, where he teaches literature, creative writing and permaculture.
“Students tend to both ask important questions and demand substantial, meaningful answers,” Melnicove said. “This comes out in their word art. Students represent the future; they represent [and embody] hope.”

This engagement with high school students is translated into the overall goals of the exhibit, which Moseley mentions extends from Bowdoin students to members of the Brunswick community. 

“Maine is off the beaten track, and I like that. I’m interested not just in Maine art but art that exists on the margins of society at large,” Melnicove said. “Maine is not New York but there’s something that can be done here that can’t be done in New York. Obviously, our closeness to nature has something to do with that. Every region produces art in response to the region itself.”

Through its connections with Maine and the College, the exhibit aims to inspire by extending the innovation of Melnicove’s work to the community at large.

“I hope that people can just spend time with the exhibit and that maybe it will stimulate them to be creative themselves in different ways,” Moseley said. “It is about the creative impulse and getting a message across and the different and effective ways of doing that. Even if it’s just one or two people that look at that exhibit and think, ‘Wow, I want to try to do things differently’ or ‘I really want to take a class in that,’ that’s a great effect.”

“Word Art Collaborations” will be open for viewing on the second floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library until the end of the semester.