With the opening of Professor of Art Mark Wethli's show "Recent Paintings" at RedFlagg Gallery in New York City, the Bowdoin arts continue to make a scene in the Big Apple.

RedFlagg Gallery, the product of Bowdoin professors Wethli and John Bisbee's inspiration and effort, exhibited works from another Bowdoin artist at its inaugural show. In February, work from 2001 alumna Cassie Jones' "Standard Deviations" was the first art to fill the space.

"RedFlagg Gallery is an outgrowth of the Coleman Burke Gallery in Fort Andross," said Wethli, who was approached with an offer for the New York gallery space by owners of Fort Andross who liked the way Coleman Burke Gallery was being run.

Wethli points to key differences between the two spaces.

"Coleman Burke's mission is to be a site-specific sculpture gallery," he said. "Artists are asked to come and look at the space and then design a piece that directly responds to that space. RedFlagg, on the other hand, is a smaller space. It's more ideal for two dimensional work and so its mission is really to show what's new in painting, works on paper, and new media, but on a smaller scale."

Coinciding with this mission comes Wethli's show, opening at the gallery tonight.

"Recent Paintings" is composed of 30 of Wethli's paintings, a series he has been working on since winter.

"It's hard to draw the line, however," Wethli said of his creative process. "The beginning of this series goes back two years, but the original inspiration—a trip to Spain—goes back 10 years. It was only this past November or December, though, that all these strands started coming together."

Wethli's paintings hearken back to traditions of art in Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, while at the same time pushing these traditions in new directions.

"I like to test boundaries and categories with my work," Wethli said. "In this case, the works are fundamentally abstract but there is also something faintly representational in them as well. I'm interested in having a foot in each of these categories: the symbolic, the iconographic, the representational, and the abstract."

"I wanted to create work whose identity and purpose was somewhat ambiguous, an object. That doesn't quite want to be one thing or another but which wrestles with the question of its own identity. I want to leave the viewer thinking about that idea," he added.

This idea of an artwork that pushes artistic definitions is strengthened by Wethli's choice of material.

All of his paintings are done on old recycled tabletops that were used in the sculpture studio in Adams Hall for many years and were destined for the landfill when that building was renovated.

"The environmental aspect of re-using these materials has been an added bonus," Wethli says. "The effects of wear and tear on the tables was too beautiful to let me pass them by. They had this rich patina and sense of history that caught my attention."

Even so, Wethli was unsure of how he would eventually use them, storing them in his garage for ahile but perpetually thinking about them.

"They are a part of Bowdoin's history. I'm not sure how long they've been around but it has definitely been a while and that has certainly added to the project," he said. "These surfaces already had a strong visual quality as found objects, which I've added to as little as possible."

Using these tabletops has emphasized the feeling of ambiguity and uncertainty that Wethli cherishes in his work.

"There's this question of whether the pieces are found or made. I'm well aware that when you see them on the gallery wall, you know an artist made them," he said. "But, if you found one of them in any other context you might imagine wondering who made them and why. I like them to tempt the boundary between the functional and the aesthetic. The physical make up of the object is telling you one story and the image is telling you another. The question is, how do you rectify that?"

According to Wethli, the true inspiration came from home-made road signs, medieval art and African art, and the art of other times and places when objects had more than just an aesthetic purpose.

"At the same time, in order for something to be of use—in rituals or to draw the viewer's attention, for example—they also need to fulfill certain aesthetic criteria, It's this quality that I would like for these paintings to evoke," he said.

Of particular interest to members of the Bowdoin community is the fact that seven paintings from this series are indefinitely on view on the Bowdoin campus. This past year, Wethli took on the project of redesigning the President's Dining Room in Thorne.

"These paintings were painted as part of the series, but they were also painted specifically for that room. I wanted them to respond to the color and shape of the room and really set up a relationship, tying the room together. I was looking for unity and completeness," he said.

"These pieces hold particular resonance because of the recycled tables," he added. "I think they were probably used by dining services and then re-used work tables in the sculpture studio when they got too beat up for food service. It's especially interesting that they've come full circle and are now hanging on the walls of a dining room."

Wethli will continue working in this vein even while his show hangs in RedFlagg.

"I have a lot more to do with this," Wethli said. "Sometimes you get the feeling of closure when you have a show, but right now it feels like I've just begun to scratch the surface."

"Recent Paintings" is showing at RedFlagg Gallery on 638 West 28th Street in New York City until May 16. For information about the gallery, visit www.redflagg.com.