Art Review: Artists explore themes of euphoria in two Portland shows

Rachel Adams, “Send Off” Courtesy of Ryan Adams

Two shows until early April have us revisiting the many possible meanings behind the concepts of euphoria and home.

At Alice Gauvin Gallery, artist couple Ryan and Rachel Gloria Adams have curated a pop-up exhibition entitled Euphoria (through April 2). Their choices make it clear that what evokes, according to Miriam Webster, “a feeling or state of intense excitement or happiness” is highly subjective.

The Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art and Design presents “Journey Through My Room” (through April 9), which will surprise—and at times probably unsettle—viewers because it rarely fits the old adage, “Home sweet home.” Instead, it questions our educational assumptions about the sanctuary and sanctity of the home.

For Euphoria, the Addams family prompted 17 artists, plus themselves, to meet the definition of euphoria, as explained above. All but two created new work for the show. It won’t surprise many that the first impression as one looks around the room is unbridled, eye-popping color. No monochromatic wall work. But when we start consuming the art on display, it becomes clear that euphoria takes endless forms.

Right off the bat, for example, we get the beautiful but understated work of Will Sears. A naturally soft-spoken and quiet person, Sears finds joy in structure and order, two characteristics not usually associated with euphoria. But as we sit with his work, we begin to experience the deep pleasures of precise mathematical construction and the meticulous (dare I say obsessive?) coloring and assembly of tiny wooden pieces as small as tesserae.

Or there are Adams’ own works. Rachel Gloria is a pattern-based abstraction of flower petals floating in water that celebrates the intimate relationship between siblings that she witnesses during a sea ceremony celebrating the life of the family matriarch. The painting represents new territory for this artist, a fluid but consistently pattern-based beauty that moves—excitingly—from a focus on decoration to an exploration of depth.

Ryan Adams, “Beat The Odds” Courtesy of the artist

The embedded message on Ryan’s black-and-white painting is “Beat the Odds.” This may seem like a pale consolation prize for genuine euphoria. But as a black artist—or just a black person living in modern America—it feels like a seething achievement. That should give us all pause.

However, our more familiar concept of euphoria is well represented in many works. The artist of one name, based in Portland, Chel., contributes a jubilant abstract expressionist composition whose excitement of color, gesture and line seems to burst from the canvas. In Biddeford artist Hannah Hirsch’s Afterglow, the ongoing euphoria of love-making is so uncontrollable that it can’t even fit into a single shaped canvas, but splits, like cells rapturously replicating themselves, into smaller subsidiary paintings , which are nevertheless unmistakably connected to a larger work.

Leon Benn, “Ancient Future” Courtesy of Grant Wahlquist Gallery

Leon Benn, arguably one of Portland’s most talented and imaginative recent arrivals, offers “Ancient Future,” a hallucinatory painting that looks like Yves Tanguy on mushrooms. The reference to Tanguy is not arbitrary. Although Tanguy’s surrealist paintings deal primarily with marine forms, the composition of “Ancient Future” resembles Tanguy’s “Mom, Dad is Wounded.” But in Behn’s work, nature seems to have fallen (literally) into such a state of wild intoxication that it shows itself at its most shameless, with psychedelic northern lights and heat that radiates from the surface so intensely that it threatens to scald the viewer. To paraphrase Estelle Reiner, director Rob Reiner’s mother in the famous orgasm scene in the 1989 comedy When Harry Met Sally, I’ll have what he has.

There’s a euphoria that springs from the fearlessness of youth and its blatant naivete (Holden Willard’s painting of flipping birds, revealing tattoos, drunken buds); erotic euphoria (Bee Danielle’s lesbian kiss against a backdrop of floral fertility); the euphoria induced by extreme activities (Kelly Riou’s watery tripartite composition, referencing the transporting and healing power of swimming in cold water during the death of a relative from Alzheimer’s), and on and on.

The works will resonate or displease you depending on how much you agree with each artist’s take on the state of transformation of the show’s title. But ultimately, what becomes clear is how personal and unique each individual’s experience of euphoria can be.


The inspiration for A Journey Through My Room was a 1794 book of the same name written by French aristocrat Xavier de Maistre, who was under a sort of 42-day house arrest for participating in an illegal duel. The exhibition statement explains that “in a playful contemplation of his space, (he) articulates every detail of his daily passage with excitement and attention.” It was a way, the text continues, “to make new, to revive his vision of the everyday and to build space through joyful attention.”

Merik Goma “As I Wait, Untitled 1,” #1 of 5, Digital C-Print, 30 x 60 inches Courtesy of the artist

However, ‘joyful attention’ is not necessarily what is likely to come to mind in many of the works on display. See Merrick Goma’s large-format photographs where home is a secluded place laden with sad memories and sorrow. “Your Absence Is My Monument, Number 2” depicts a woman in a horsehair gazing thoughtfully out of a window. The open door of a nearby birdcage shows a bird (read: soul, lover) that has flown away, while a vase of flowers has tipped over, leaving the flowers it contains to breathe for the water that gives them life. It is clear that Goma depicts loss and offers the domestic space as a cold comfort in which to experience your mourning.

In the more elusive “While I Wait,” an androgynous adolescent sits at a table. His or her expression looks dejected. Is she or he waiting for a call from a current crush? Awaiting the arrival of a drunk and potentially abusive parent? Or is the sad, expectant look representative of a more general loneliness due to dissatisfaction and detachment from the true self that has strayed?

Anne Buckwalter Two Glasses of Milk, 2022, gouache on panel, 40 x 30 inches Courtesy of the artist

There is something wonderfully unsettling about Ann Buckwalter’s work. Her most innocuous canvas, at least at first glance, is “Two Glasses of Milk,” which depicts a room with a flattened, foreshortened perspective reminiscent of the popular Maine artist Gail Spaien. Unlike Spaien, however – and far more provocatively – the more we look, the more we realize the strangeness of the unrealistic angles, reflections and sense of interior and exterior. And as we head towards ground zero, we notice that in front of the window, a naked woman is hiding behind a tree.

Even stranger is what appears to be a painting of a dining room. But in the reflections of two mirrors on the wall we see the split image of two bodies in the midst of an act of oral sex. The table is sweetly set with a glazed cake, a vase of tulips dropping their petals and, in the erotic context of this work, a knife that looks menacing despite its small size. Despite Buckwalter’s innocent-looking style (informed by the folk art of her Pennsylvania Dutch heritage), her work is sexually charged and constantly surprising.

Gideon Bok, “Mom/Liquid Swords/Ys/Being There,” 2022, oil on linen, 49 x 44 inches Courtesy of the artist

Gideon Bock has an obvious attachment to the studio, obsessively painting and repainting, marking the passage of time by observing the constant transformation of objects, furniture, light, etc. His nervous brushstrokes charge the canvases with an ever-changing energy. The presence of his mother, knitting in a chair, becomes phantom as he paints the rug’s ocher on her lower legs, making her appear both here and gone.

Like James Caseber’s partially submerged miniature architecture, Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber build dollhouse-scale interiors and photograph them. But while Casebere’s flooded palaces and architecture are melancholy and quiet, those of Nix and Gerber are hauntingly crowded, littered with messy, messy details. There are things everywhere. Cleverly, to the left of the Living Room we see the artists’ process in the form of a miniature subway car under construction, which will also eventually be photographed.

There are other works here that look at interiors and the objects and symbols contained within and beyond. Some are strange, yet tenderly combine different memories of home (Henri Broyard’s strange rooms, assembled from snatched memories of different homes he lived in). There are also fiber-based works by Oona Brangam-Snell, which begin as paintings of images and household objects that are jarringly removed from their usual context (a lamp, a Venus flytrap plant, dandelions in the grass) and then woven into Jacquard tapestries and embroidered.

Few of these works express Dorothy’s feeling in The Wizard of Oz that “there’s no place like home.” Or perhaps, because of the individuality of their internal narratives, they do.

Jorge S. Arango has been writing about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be found at: [email protected]

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