ESSAYS AND REVIEWS
Excerpt from Dan Kany’s review of Tiny Catastrophes: Michel Droge, April 2015 [read the full review]
“To begin, Droge’s atmospheric abstractions had caught my eye in recent shows. Pieces like “Distant Anthem” with its dreamy atmospheric softness offer lush and even plush repose for your eye. And they work because Droge doesn’t get too blurry or overly heavy with the paint. They are like chaos-lite – free from the fear of solid things into which you might crash.
Paintings like “Anthem,” the larger “Milkweed” (imagine the silky explosion of the pod contents) or the waking-from-sleep’s soft cushion of “Morning,” reach out to welcome the viewer’s subjectivity. That is to say, Droge doesn’t try to force her emotional engagement with the work on us. She seems to leave us alone with our own readings and our own feelings. And as a fan of abstraction, I appreciate that: I like to enjoy non-objective paintings my own way.
But Droge leaves us a trail we can choose to follow. If “The Year the Ocean Froze,” for example, were untitled, we might remain in the experiential mode of Droge’s atmospheric abstractions. But the title puts us within an annual rhythm that not only adds a bit of nostalgia, but makes all the water (in the entire show) colder. That made me, for example, fear then for the figure in “Life Saver” whose lobster boat is sinking; the title in this case is not necessarily some heroic agent – it could just mean the orange flotation device holding the figure in the freezing water.
Droge’s etchings reinforce the cold. Titled “February” and “Late February,” two 4-by-12 inch prints show long forgotten pilings from a chilly, near-water perspective. Their feel is like a barely scratched drawing, long beaten by time – like wisps of memory of poignant, far-off feelings. They have substance, but it is not physical.”
The largest painting offered me the biggest surprise. When I first looked at “Night Bridge,” I saw a night-softened coastal landscape dreamily looking toward shore. But getting through “Catastrophes,” my hackles were up. At some point, my eyes shifted from repose into lookout mode. Certainly, it’s a handsome painting, but it’s also an effective vehicle for shifting perspectives. The night will do that: Sometimes the children are nestled all snug in their beds, and sometimes the dream of reason produces monsters."
Excerpt from Britta Konau’s’s review of Tiny Catastrophes: Michel Droge, April 2015 [read the full review]
“And that is the greatest strength of Droge’s work — that we can relate to it on many different levels. While it is not exactly comforting to be in a position somewhere between thinking you know and being clueless, and notwithstanding all of the above, this is not a depressing show. It offers subtle pleasures of paint and abstraction, rich textures in print, perceptive studies of the interaction between water and light, humorous narratives, and sensitive suggestions about human nature.”
Excerpt from Cameron Shaw’s essay for Joan Mitchell 2010 MFA Grant Recipients exhibit at Cue Art Foundation, June 2011 [read the full essay]
"We live in a world where “140 characters” has become an accepted standard of communication. Tweets, buzz, and relentless status updates have reduced our capacity to process information down to practically nothing, while multiplying the frequency of our public declarations. That’s not to say that weightier, more time-consuming forms like letter, novel, and essay writing are all dead, but the simultaneous shift towards brevity and babble is hard to ignore. Young artists today must grapple with this radical compression of content, just as those before them responded—consciously and unconsciously—to the political, technological, and social shifts of their respective times. The five MFA graduates discussed here, though diverse in their approaches, seem to foreground this sense of loss, glossing the contemporary visual language of emptiness. Some explicitly acknowledge the constantly changing relationship between man and machine in their work, while others more broadly indicate the isolation that remains when the deluge of babble has passed......
Michel Droge negotiates the place of the individual in relation to the natural world. During her ongoing travels in northern Maine, Droge has conducted a number of interviews with survivors of storms, shipwrecks, and other tragedies at sea. She then translates these remembered experiences into eerie painted scenes where pieces of rope float, barely visible through white mists that hover above an inky backdrop. With no evidence of the human form, the images seem like tightly focused views of a limitless vortex. Droge’s works seem weighted down by their emptiness, signaled by the exaggerated contrast between her dark grounds and wisps of whitish paint, and convey a heartbreaking absence that is evident even without knowledge of these paintings’ backstories. Despite the current communal willingness to overshare daily, Droge’s paintings serve as a reminder that some human experiences remain almost beyond linguistic communication, mysteriously unspeakable in their gravity."
Press release for Other Landscapes: Michel Droge and Michael Shaunessey at Gould Academy, curated by Veronica Cross, December 2015
BETHEL, MAINE: The Owen Gallery at Gould Academy in Bethel, Maine is pleased to announce the opening of Other Landscapes: Artists Michel Droge & Michael Shaughnessy, an exhibition by Maine-based artists whose work is inspired by the natural world. Multiple works based in sculpture, painting, drawing, printmaking, and installation will be entwined through the gallery. The artists’ common thread resides in the appearance and metaphor of the twine that binds and the weaving together of experience with the landscape.
Working from fishermen’s stories and her own coastal research, Michel Droge creates paintings, prints and drawings that suggest literal and figurative connections between humanity and sea. Her introspective works traverse the boundaries between realism and abstraction, generating shadow-worlds between recognizable vistas and the intangible. Her unraveling sweater mono-prints hint at the tenuous mooring of the soul; the large-scale Requiem paintings pursue linear tethers through ocean’s murky depths.
Michael Shaughnessy’s use of hay in his sculptures and installations hearkens back to collaborative labor and the use of regenerative elements that are relative to their surroundings – hay is at once recognizable and universal. These gathered, bound, and woven organic schema evoke naturalistic forms and rope itself, but also function to connect the artist to audience, invoking Minimalism’s emphasis on the social space sparked by art. Shaughnessy’s serpentine forms become both object and place proportionate to their context.
Both artists invite viewers to consider their relationship to the landscape – in Droge’s work as a quiet meditation and Shaughnessy’s, a collective engagement. Michel Droge’s current work investigates the impact of climate change on smaller and island communities. Michael Shaughnessy, a long-term environmental and political activist, is the current president of the Friends of the Presumpscot River.
Michel Droge, a resident of Portland, ME, earned a BA in Studio Art and Cognitive Psychology from Oberlin College and an MFA in interdisciplinary Studio Art from Mane College of Art. Michel is the recipient of awards and grants including the Joan Mitchell Foundation MFA Award and a Maine Arts Commission Good Idea Grant. Michel currently teaches at Maine College of Art and at Southern Maine Community College; she is represented by and appears courtesy of June Fitzpatrick Gallery, Portland ME
Michael Shaughnessy, also a resident of Portland, has exhibited in venues such as the Museum of Contemporary Art / Chicago, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Decordova Museum; in 2011 he received the Jurors award at the Portland Museum of Art’s Biennial of Art. Michael teaches Drawing, Design and Sculpture at the University of Southern Maine. In 2012 he took a large hay ball for a ride on a small car on a 10-week journey to meet America and is currently writing about the experience.
The Owen Gallery has a distinguished history of artist’s exhibitions, showcasing Gould alumnae and staff, and also shows by Jamie Wyeth, Neil Welliver, and Jung Hur.
Michael Droge and Michael Shaughnessy will give an artist’s talk with the curator, moderated by The Portland Press Herald arts writer Daniel Kany on Saturday, December 6th at 6:30 in the Trustees Auditorium in the McLaughlin Science Building. Curator Veronica Cross is a visual artist in Portland, ME.