Philip Brou’s painting “Transparent Eyeball” shows a bare-chested man wearing a cyclops mask with a clear plastic trash bag pulled over his head and upper body. Medical illustrator Evelyn Kok’s “Lung Sections” is a watercolor of the lobes of a cancerous lung, with dotted lines depicting which sections a doctor should remove.
The two contrasting pieces – one a creative look at the human form and the other a fact-based work of medical necessity – are both part of an exhibit now on view called “The House of the Soul” at the University of New England in Portland. The exhibit is a mix of works by artists and medical illustrators, offering different views of the human body.
At the same time, the university’s Biddeford gallery is hosting another medical-related exhibit called “Sanctuary.” A hanging paper sculpture and several prints are meant to inspire people to write down their stories of illness and medical struggles, as inspiration for artist Carrie Scanga and writer Emily Rapp Black to create future art and text for the exhibit.
Both exhibits draw inspiration from and attention to the university’s programs and traditions, including a strong focus on medicine and health sciences, said Hilary Irons, gallery and exhibitions director for UNE.
“I wanted to do something that would integrate the intellectual interests of the university with the visual arts. These shows honor the university’s strong medical tradition,” said Irons, who began her job running the galleries last fall. Planning for “Sanctuary” began before she started her job, but had a similar medical theme to “The House of the Soul.”
Both shows include a mix of nationally known and regional artists, including several Maine artists who also teach at UNE or area colleges. “Sanctuary” is on view in Biddeford now through May 15, before it moves to galleries in other cities around the country, while “The House of The Soul” is on view in Portland through June 14.
A SAFE PLACE
“Sanctuary” went on view Jan. 15 and was organized by Cally Gurley, UNE’s recently-retired special collections librarian. The show is a collaboration between printmaker Carrie Scanga, who teaches at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, and her friend Emily Rapp Black, a writer based in California. The exhibit is at the art gallery inside the Jack S. Ketchum Library on the Biddeford campus.
The idea for the exhibit came about five years ago as the two friends, who had both recently given birth, talked to each other about what they had gone through and what they were going through as new mothers. While up in the middle of the night to care for her daughter, Scanga began making prints that were the size of her baby. They were sort of growth charts in the form of prints. The prints were usually images of boats in water, symbolic of a baby in the womb.
The two women, as they talked about the changes their minds and bodies were going through, thought about creating an art installation that would let others do the same. So the focal point of “Sanctuary” is to create a safe place for people to write down their thoughts and stories about their own illness, physical or mental challenges, and changes.
“We were curious about the power of stories to heal us,” said Scanga.
The actual safe space at the center of the exhibit is an enclosure made of some four dozen hanging sheets of butcher paper, each starting from a circular rod some 15 feet high and stretching to the floor. The sheets of paper have dozens of laser cutouts, in the shapes of images seen on the water, with light blue edges. At the center of the paper sanctuary is a desk with paper and pencils, for people to write their story.
Outside of the paper installation are three of Scanga’s boat-in-water prints, plus text on the walls and a specially-designed pamphlet that goes with the show, written by Black. The plan for the exhibit is for it to travel, including to hospitals, around the country. But since Biddeford is the first location for the exhibit, people’s stories are just beginning to be gathered. Scanga said she and Black will read all the stories and contemplate making changes to the exhibit based on what they read.
THE ART OF SCIENCE
“The House of the Soul” went on view Friday at UNE’s Portland gallery and features 10 artists and illustrators. Brou, a painter who teaches at Maine College of Art, was impressed with Irons’ pairing of artists like him with more scientific-oriented medical illustrators.
“I think it’s an amazing idea, to show views of the body with a fact-based approach, alongside some wildly inventive contemporary pieces,” he said. “It’s about what it means to look at being human today and all the various layers of that.”
For his “Transparent Eyeball,” Brou uses his own human body. He donned the cyclops mask and trash bag, had a photo taken, then he made his oil painting from that picture. For another painting he submitted to the show, “The Color of the Grave Within,” he used a photo of a Halloween skull mask, turned inside out, and perched upon a photographic light stand. For his work “Lost,” he made an image of a statute of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of lost things, with its back turned to the viewer.
After pondering Brou’s work, exhibit goers can see a much more technical depiction of body parts in “Lung Sections,” made by Evelyn Kok in the 1940s. Kok worked as a medical illustrator for a pulmonary surgeon based in Massachusetts named Richard Overholt, said her niece, Christina Shipps. Overholt came up with several procedures for removing lobes of the lung to try to curb lung cancer. The work, a watercolor, shows two rows of lobes. The top row has white dots to show cancerous areas, while the bottom row shows the same lobes but with dotted lines where the afflicted areas are removed.
Oran Suta, who teaches design and illustration at UNE and also does illustration work for the medical school, has submitted three new works for show that are based on views of cadavers donated to the medical school. One will show two views of a dissection of a head, while another shows legs and a foot and the third shows a hand.
The drawings, made with pencil, watercolor and ink or wax, are graphic and realistic. He thinks the exhibit will highlight for people how many different views there are of the human form.
“We all live in these bodies but we all have such different views of them,” said Suta. “When I’m working as an illustrator, I am technical and descriptive, that’s my point of view. But there are far more bold and engaging concepts out there was well.”