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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: February 6, 2017

Inspired by the telephone game, artists riff on each other’s work

Written by: Bob Keyes
"We Spoke of a Time Before Words" by Jeff Woodbury Photo courtesy of Zea Mays Printmaking

“We Spoke of a Time Before Words” by Jeff Woodbury
Photo courtesy of Zea Mays Printmaking

Remember the game called telephone? You stand around in a circle of friends and whisper a word or phrase in the ear of the person next to you. That person then whispers the information to the next person, and so on. The idea is to see how much the word or phrase changes as it is passed down the line.

Two groups of artists, one from Maine and the other from Massachusetts, have done something similar with their art. Through March 4, the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art is showing “Unity of Opposites” featuring collaborative work from members of the Peregrine Press in Portland and Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence, Massachusetts.

They riffed on the telephone game to create the work for the exhibition of hand-pulled prints. The idea was to start from a common source of inspiration to see how the art-making process played out.

"Deliniation" by Maya Bajak

“Deliniation” by Maya Bajak

One artist from Zea Mays and another from Peregrine each created a print inspired by the same quotation. Those two prints were distributed to three artists from each of studios, and then those six prints to another 19 artists until 75 artists responded over five months.

Each new “generation” of artists made prints inspired from the previous pieces.

“The idea was to make your own hand-pulled print and not add to what came before, but to make something new,” said Peregrine Press member Jeff Woodbury of South Portland. His source print was an etching of what appears to be roots and branches, created by Zea Mays artist Maya Bajak.

He enlarged the image, turned it sideways and began building his piece, ultimately creating what resembles a human head, with a big fly in the middle. For good measure, he added an earring.

Woodbury often uses roots and branches and other objects from nature in his art-making practice. It took him a few days after receiving a JPEG of Bajak’s print to figure out what he wanted to do, but he was immediately comfortable building on work that tied so well into his own. It also opened up new creative paths. Woodbury used a lot of green and blue in his print, which was a little unusual for him. “The color surprised me,” he said, “and it’s got me thinking about color more.”

Zea Mays has a history of collaborating with other studios nationally and internationally, said director Liz Chalfin. “This exhibition came out of a discussion about communication and interpretation. We thought that a visual riff on the game of telephone would be an interesting way to explore this topic and that collaborating with Peregrine press would enlarge that conversation beyond our own studio,” she said. “At the core of Zea Mays’ mission is the dissemination of our research, so sharing and building bridges is a part of our culture.”

Zea Mays exhibited “Unity of Opposites” in October at A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Founded in 1991, Peregrine Press is a member organization of artists who share studio space and ideas at the Bakery Building on Pleasant Street in Portland. Established in 2000, Zea Mays has a similar mission, offering studio access, workshops and residencies.


WHERE: Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: Through March 4; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; open until 8 p.m. for First Friday on March 3.

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