A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art Mark Wethli may be on sabbatical, but he's still close to home. His exhibit, "New Work," featuring 25 paintings of colorful, geometric shapes on rugged tabletops, is the new solo feature at Icon Contemporary Art in Brunswick.
Wethli acquired the aged tabletops—veterans of 15 years of sculpture classes taught by Lecturer in Art John Bisbee—when the top floor of Adams Hall, which had previously housed Bowdoin's sculpture studio, was renovated in 2007.
"They were about to be thrown out," Wethli said. "But I thought they were really beautiful in the way they were scratched, cut by Exacto knives, drilled [and] hammered."
"The boards had a lot of character," he added. "I wanted to do as little as possible to disrupt that character. I've always been drawn to things that are elegant [and] reductive. The guiding principle was, 'Keep it simple.'"
The tabletops languished for two years in Wethli's garage before he was inspired to work with them last winter, his first try at painting on unconventional surfaces.
"During the winter, I kept the colors pretty quiet," he said. "Then this summer I noticed the colors getting stronger, with even some pink and orange ones."
Wethli refrained from painting the sides of the tabletops in order to remind viewers of their heritage. He noted that all the geometric figures in his paintings were done freehand.
"I didn't want the geometry in the paintings to look too cold or clinical, which can make the paintings harder to connect with," he said. "So I didn't use a ruler or masking tape to make the lines perfectly straight. I wanted them to look hand-made."
The works on exhibit are painted in correspondence with two general themes. Wethli says the first of these themes could be called "a windmill or airplane propeller" theme.
The paintings "aren't meant to give an overt sense of windmill blades," he said. "But that's where that idea comes from. The other work in the show focuses on rectangular designs and rectangular divisions of the panels."
Asked to interpret the relationship between his designs and the tabletops, Wethli said, "The radiating shapes are a counterpoint to the rectangular shape of the panels while the rectangles are more in harmony with the panels."
The pieces are stylistically similar to ones Wethli displayed at the RedFlagg Gallery in New York City this spring, though as the title of the show indicates, most of the works are recent.
"Except for about five of them, none of [them] have been shown before, so the show is primarily a show of new work, completed this summer," Wethli wrote in an e-mail.
While on sabbatical for this academic year, Wethli plans to refocus on his core artistic interests and travel to exhibits and museums.
"I really try to trust my instincts, and see where they take me," he said. "Hopefully by this time next year, I'll have that much more to show for it."
"New Work" is showing at Icon Contemporary Art on 19 Mason Street in Brunswick until October 3.