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‘Arrivals & Departures’: Mark Wethli looks back on his career

April 14, 2023

Cora Dow
ARTFUL ADIEU: Professor of Art Mark Wethli gives a talk in Kresge Auditorium. The talk also served as his goodbye, as Wethli is retiring from his decades-long career at Bowdoin.

This past Monday, dozens of current and former students, faculty members and other community members filled Kresge Auditorium to celebrate the career of Professor of Art Mark Wethli.

Wethli gave a talk in honor of his career at Bowdoin entitled “Arrivals & Departures: An Artist’s Talk,” where he enumerated eighteen vignettes that framed his career at Bowdoin through a term he referred to as “patterns of making.”

The talk was varied in style, including everything from Wethli recalling the story of the life-sized model of a Piper Cub aircraft he created out of wood with his father to him reading singular jokes, which were met with laughter from the audience as he delved into his next topics without pausing.

Before starting, Wethli mused on the nature of giving a talk that spanned his decades long career in art, during which his ideas evolved as he grew as an artist.

“Everything I tell you today is in retrospect and hindsight. When I did this work I had no idea where I was going or where it would lead to,” Wethli said. “Please don’t confuse anything I say in retrospect for how I make art.”

A lot of Wethli’s work was created in his studio space at Bowdoin. Most of these paintings went out to museums, galleries or individual collectors, but a few remained at Bowdoin in the form of murals.

If you’ve been inside Druckenmiller Hall or down to the basement of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, you’ve seen murals that Wethli created. The mural in Druckenmiller Hall was the first one he ever produced. Wethli created the mural alongside his art class at Bowdoin, a tall task for a new muralist.

“This was one of those times—and I bet no teacher in the room has done this before—that I taught something I hadn’t done before,” Wethli remarked.

Wethli’s work has been described as realist, figurative, abstract and geometric. Looking through his work, one cannot help but be struck by a resemblance to other famous painters. One such painter is Johannes Vermeer.

Wethli acknowledged these comparisons, speaking about being inspired throughout his career by the way Vermeer represented light within his paintings.

“[His contemporaries] paint the objects, he paints the light on the objects,” Wethli said of Vermeer.

Wethli also spoke about a past experience of a friend comparing his art to that of Rene Magritte’s, a comparison he delighted at.

“A René Magritte painting, if nothing else, lands a punch. They’re also so fantastical,” Wethli said.

Like Magritte, Wethli has never shied away from pursuing the type of art that interests him—no matter how it may be received. When talking about the Piper Cub model aircraft he created, Wethli discussed navigating internal questions about what defines art as well as critics’ criticisms of his piece.

“You might even ask, is it art? And the critic for the Portland Press Herald thought, ‘No!’” Wethli said to laughs from the audience.

One of the students who attended the talk, Sujata Tewari ’23, appreciated the content of the talk despite not having a background in art.

“As someone who’s never taken an art class, it was really cool. You don’t get to hear about a lot of professors’ backgrounds or how they got into their field,” Tewari said.

When the talk was finished, the audience erupted into a 33-second round of applause.

But Wethli wasn’t finished yet. He spent the remaining time allotted for his talk answering audience questions, one of which included an anecdote of how Wethli helped high school students paint a mural for free. When asked about how he could afford this generosity, Wethli had a straightforward answer.

“Bowdoin treats me well.”


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