Right off Central Street in downtown Bangor, above the now frozen but sometimes flowing Kenduskeag stream, sits the University of Maine’s Zillman Art Museum (ZAM). The museum’s free admission allows visitors to explore the works of visiting artists as well as the museum’s permanent in-house collection, exposing students and community members to an array of artistic styles, expressions and concepts.
On Jan. 19, 2024, ZAM opened its gallery doors to six new exhibits. Two were from the visiting artists Richard Wilson and Linda Packard, and the other four were thoughtfully curated by the museum’s staff from their permanent, in-house collection.
Just behind a large glass door on the first floor of the museum, Wilson’s exhibition “Storm Over the City” invites visitors to explore the human experience from a sometimes satirical and investigative lens. Wilson’s unique collection of work is vast, including graphite sketches, screenprints and acrylic paintings, all spanning over the 45 years of his artistic career.
You could spend hours in front of one of Wilson’s graphite drawings, peering into the detailed and biting insights into the human condition. “Dysfunctional Friends” will make you consider Wilson’s meticulous patience in his pieces. How much detail does a rock face deserve? The line and shading work of the rocks highlights the unusually eerie feeling of the piece’s main subjects: a collection of 12 friends, each in their individual caves with their own particularly questionable quirks. Wilson takes it up a notch with the graphite drawing “Success,” which portrays a women’s theatrical performance juxtaposed with an unsettling scene of forced labor.
His screen prints are comparatively bizarre and thought-provoking. He explores human connections to land in his 1981 piece “25 Buddhas,” which depicts — you guessed it — 25 Buddhas meditating over a dark, blue cityscape with tall, snowy, looming mountains pasted over a bright, bare green and yellow landscape of rolling hills. The juxtaposition of the beautiful nature and meditating Buddhas with the chaos of contrasting landscapes not only catches the eye but leaves you wondering: Why?
His more recent screenprints evoke a darker and cynical feeling, which is of little surprise since they date to 2020. His works “Leaving Home” and “No Choice” echo the shared agony and anxieties felt during the COVID-19 lockdown. Wilson’s 2023 acrylic painting “Looking for the Garden” is one of his larger works. Most of the canvas is taken up by dark blue rippling water, with two bodies moments from passing as they swim across the seemingly endless water in two different directions. The painting peers into a moment absent of context. This lack of context, however, provides insight into the mysterious nature of a moment and the power context can have.
Packard’s exhibit “Poems I Meant to Write” includes various towering abstract paintings, each with its own comforting color scheme. Packard spent many years as a plein air landscape painter, an artist who set up shop with their easel and painted outside to paint the beautiful rocky coast or alpine scene in front of them. You can sense the impact of Packard’s plein air experience in her abstract work. On her website, she writes, regarding the style, “I continue to be drawn to the same organic shapes and marks, rich textures and earthy palette.”
Although abstract and self-proclaimed intentionless, Packard’s artwork reflects her exploration of oil paint as well as her expression of mood.
The displayed artwork transitions from abstract to minimalistic in the exhibition, with squares coming together to outline a square, circles, lines, trapezoids and optical art fill the walls of this exhibition.
“Frost and Bloom” was curated by ZAM’s 2023/2024 Curatorial Intern, Sarah Renée Ozlanski, who studies studio art and English at UMaine. This exhibition displays artwork from the museum’s permanent collection that communicates both the visual and the emotional contrast and transition between cold winters and inviting, bright springs. Ozlanski’s attention to detail when curating the exhibition is evident. She draws on small details like the number of paintings and color palettes of each to capture “the season in Maine that may feel like it lingers too long.”
When entering the second gallery of the exhibition, you can feel a stark change to vibrant pink, purple, green, red and orange paintings that invoke the same excitement and hopefulness felt across campus on the first warm day of spring. On the museum’s second floor, “The Marin Family Collection” displays a collection of work graciously donated to UMaine by the Marin Family and “Paintings from the Museum Collection,” which contains a wide variety of compelling, imaginative and realistic artworks.
On your way down the stairs and out of the museum, check out the museum’s “Spotlight Gallery,” which highlights the artistic works of high school students in the greater Bangor area.
To learn more about the Zillman Art Museum’s mission, exhibitions and hours of operation, visit their website: zam.umaine.edu.