The 2018 PMA Biennial Spotlight: Elise Ansel

The 2018 PMA Biennial Spotlight: Elise Ansel

While the 2018 PMA Biennial is on view, we're sharing profiles of curators and participating artists to bring you a closer look into the show. Circle back for more Biennial spotlights here on the blog, and don't miss  the guide to Biennial programs featuring artist talks and special events like today's noontime talk with Elise Ansel. And while you're at it, pick yourself up a copy of catalogue, only $14.95 online or in the PMA Store!

When it comes to biennials, one of the things I like the most are the myriad perspectives in the galleries at one time. In the 2018 PMA Biennial, many of the artists in the exhibition are directly addressing, confronting, or challenging the great discourses of our time, and it doesn't take long in the galleries to realize that artists connected to Maine have a lot to say about representation, race, gender, the environment, identity, and a host of other social and political issues of the day. What's extremely compelling to me is to see the differences in approach, style, and medium that the artists have employed in telling their story or the stories of others. 

Two of my favorite paintings in the exhibition are by Elise Ansel, who not so coincidentally is swinging by the museum today at noon for a special artist talk about her work in the galleries. Ansel looks at paint as a vehicle for feeling or sensation rather than as a means of illustration, and the results are incredibly moving and affecting. It’s a method inspired by Cézanne’s idea of “la petite sensation,” of using each brush stroke to communicate a sensation that is simultaneously optical and emotional, and it is exemplified by Ansel’s works in the exhibition. 

On of Ansel's works I have come to adore is titled “Damascus,” and The Lewiston Sun Journal concurs—and goes further—calling the contemporary abstraction of the old master Caravaggio “the most powerful work by an artist in the exhibit.” One of the reasons Ansel’s work is so powerful stems from her belief in “reclaiming, re-visioning and re-presenting paintings that were created at a time when women were seen as objects rather than equal participants in the creative dialogue,” according to her artist statement.

The results are works that mirror well-known imagery of the old masters, but form a decidedly new narrative, one that “interrupt[s] a one-sided narrative and transform[s] it into a sensually capacious non-narrative form of visual communication that embraces multiple points of view.” From my own perspective, that’s everything I look for in a biennial: an exhibition that asks me to move beyond my own experiences and perspectives and challenges the way I might see the world. I hope you open yourself up to those possibilities as well.

See you in the galleries!

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February 9, 2018
Director of Communications

Graeme is a Maine native who, after ten years living in New York and the west coast, decided to come back and set up shop in Portland. In addition to the PMA, he's held positions at GQ, Rogues Gallery, and Might & Main. He lives in Yarmouth, where he spends most of his free time with his daughters, Ramona and Maude.