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Heather Steeves

Heather Steeves tries to do things that are fun -- and only things that are fun. So far that's included stilt walking, roller derby and cross-country road trips in her Saturn.

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Posted: September 3, 2014

3 things to see at September’s Art Walk in Portland: Prison paintings, dance and something for psychology majors

Written by: Heather Steeves

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve been hearing more about this month’s First Friday Art Walk than I have about any of the summer ones. Maybe it’s because we’ve been camping all summer, or avoiding downtown Portland in tourist season. Either way, I’ve seen Art Walk stuff in my Facebook feed, on Reddit (that mask is cool) and around town for weeks now. So I expect it’ll be a big’gun.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you: this is your last week to see Richard Estes’ mind-bending realism exhibit at Portland Museum of Art. It’s free 5-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5 and then, bam, two days later it’s gone. In case you don’t know, his paintings look like photographs. Here’s an example:

"Near Hunters Beach, Acadia National Park," by Richard Estes, 2008. Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art. The exhibit closes Sept. 7.

“Near Hunters Beach, Acadia National Park,” by Richard Estes, 2008. Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art. The exhibit at Portland Museum of Art closes Sept. 7.


Paintings by prisoners

11 a.m.-8 p.m. | Maine College of Art’s Institute of Contemporary Art, 522 Congress St.

The top two are by prisoners, the bottom one is a shot of a bunch of pieces inspired by the Rorschach Test.

The top two are by prisoners, the bottom one is a shot of a bunch of pieces inspired by the Rorschach Test.

You know, a lot of art exhibits have lengthy prose about the artist’s thoughts, background, vision, yadda yadda yadda. Not this one. Here’s the description of this exhibit, in its entirety:

The Wrong Kind Of Bars
Paintings from the Maine State Prison
All works untitled
All artists unidentified

At first this aggravated me a bit. I wanted to know if a murderer painted that deer head or if a thief made the shadow box. Then I realized … that’s the fun in it. Not knowing. All you get is the knowledge that someone confined to a maximum security prison was given paint and time. Eight of the 10 pieces are landscapes of one sort or another — peaceful, serene landscapes that juxtapose their context. A couple tropical ones make you wonder if they were painted in blunt, grey, frozen February in an equally grey cement-walled prison. The show is part of MECA’s Institute of Contemporary Art‘s “We Are What We Hide” exhibition, which explores secrecy. Of course.

Daniel Fuller was the brains behind this exhibit. He said he wanted to display the work done at the prison’s industries program, where inmates can make things (tables, benches, paintings) to sell in a store in Thomaston. The state, the program and the inmates split the profit.

“The state does not give released prisoners a large sum of money, but some of these guys earn themselves a chance at first and last months’ rent and potentially a beat-up car. It gives them a greater chance to move on and be part of society. The program needs to be admired,” Fuller said. “Plus, for me, the paintings are weird. Very weird. They are done in a Bob Ross-style, very conventional, very soothing, but there is always something just ever so slightly (or overtly) off. They are reminiscent of Jim Shaw’s Thrift Store Paintings.”

One room over is an exhibit to make you question your brain and maybe make you feel a bit crazy. Calling all psychology majors. The exhibit is a take on the Rorschach Test. Get up close to the blown-up “ink blots” and you might see chimneys, hands and other objects blended into a symmetrical black blob.

“Once meticulously printed on a single antique press in Switzerland, the Rorschach images were sold only to licensed therapists. Having run out of copyright protection in the U.S., the test images are now available on Wikipedia for all to contemplate. We employ a reference to them as an invitation to follow and see (anew) images of contemporary architectural tropes,” the plaque says.


Who is that dancer in the window?

7:30 p.m. | Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square 

James Kramlich on East End Beach. Photo by Jonathan Reece

James Kramlich on East End Beach. Photo by Jonathan Reece

When the sun goes down and the lights stay on behind the Portland Public Library’ glass front wall, the building’s atrium lights up like a stage. During Art Walk, it will be.

The dance will be a teaser for Portland Ballet’s 2014-15 season. Dancers will perform pieces from “Jack The Ripper,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the ballet company’s “Halloween Spooktacular” and more. To watch the show, find a good spot outside near Monument Square. If the recently-released photos by the ballet and Jonathan Reece are any indication, it should be an amazing show. Find the photos of the Portland Ballet dancers in iconic Portland scenes at


Dirty dancing. Really dirty.

6-7:30 p.m. | Rosemont Market, 5 Commercial St. 

Benson 1

Guerrilla Downtown (a group that encourages the public to experience theater in new ways) is celebrating compost. People will drum out rhythms on Garbage to Garden bins for dancers to stomp, swish and twirl to.

Rosemont Market will have samples of foods, Garbage to Garden might have samples of compost.

“I may go so far as to smear compost on the dancers. You know, in a ritualistic way. It’s all about fun,” said Guerrilla Downtown organizer Linda Shary.

The dances will be short and choreographed, but passersby can join in, if they want to. Be warned, you might leave with a dirty, dirty face.




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