A rising star in the art world has transformed maps of Cape Ann into silhouettes of two residents. Nikki Rosato, a recent graduate with a master’s degree from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, will premier her works at an upcoming watershed show in Rockport, together with fellow museum school alum Alex Hamrick, a conceptual text-based artist who created a new work connected to Cape Ann’s seaside locale.
The two artists are among 18 alumni of the museum school whose work will be on show at the Rockport Art Association’ trendsetting eclectic exhibit “out of bounds 2014,” opening this weekend. The RAA has a historical connection with the museum school through several of its founders, including Aldro Hibbard, Marguerite Pearson and Harold Rotenburg, all of whom were students at the venerable Boston institution.
At least 88 Rockport Art Association artists, deceased and living, attended the museum school, from the founders to the newest members.
“There’s a past, present and future element to this show,” said Bob Armstrong, co-curator along with his wife Jill Armstrong, an artist herself. “We are curating an exhibition featuring a dream team of artists from all over the world.”
The show is intended to be both provocative and educational.
The artists, who range in age from 25 to 75, represent both alumni and faculty. The SMFA was founded in 1876, at the same time as the Museum of Fine Arts. The school is unique in that students do not declare majors but explore all areas of the arts as they develop their talents. Some enter as painters or photographers and leave immersed in a different medium.
“You may come in a photographer and leave a performance artist. The artists are exploring concepts and issues and should be free to explore in whatever direction they want to. The school encourages and supports whatever creative direction the artist chooses to go down,” said Paul Kotakis, who serves as a SMFA liaison for the curators.
Rita Fucillo, associate publisher of Art New England, is eager for the public to see this show.
“When you add the passion of a Bob and Jill Armstrong -- who I have known for years -- with the powerhouse of the museum school, there is this harmonic convergence of energy and talent,” said Fucillo.
She commended the willingness of the Rockport Art Association to give the curators a free rein in creating this exhibition.
”The Rockport Art Association recognizes that now is the time to really embrace this pivotal event,” said Fucillo. She is referring to its acceptance of a show of contemporary art in a region known for its more traditional plein air reputation.
In spite of that reputation, artists here have been creating art on the cutting edge for decades. Cape Ann has attracted and nurtured some of the great artists of the 20th century, like Marsden Hartley, who experienced a rejuvenation after spending time here on the coast and in Dogtown, the island’s inner expanse of wilderness.
“As someone who has spent 50 percent of her life up there, I think my perspective is a little unique because I have one toe on Cape Ann and one toe in the city,” said Fucillo.
Over the years, she has pondered why there seemed to be a resistance to really defining Rockport and Cape Ann as an arts destination.
“Was it fear of letting contemporary art in, or fear of letting visitors in, or losing some of its idyllic quality?.” said Fucillo. “The art here is underestimated, undervalued and underviewed.”
She said there is a movement and a confidence on Cape Ann that is palpable.
“The community is recognizing the role of the arts and what this creative energy can do for Cape Ann in relation to the creative economy,” said Fucillo.
Kotakis applauded all involved for pushing the boundary on so many fronts.
The Armstrongs, who have volunteered for the museum school’s annual show and sale, learned from Kotakis that a demographic study revealed that few people from the North Shore attended the popular annual show of more than 4,000 artworks. Not long after, the Armstrongs called Kotakis to talk about an idea they had. The result is this exhibition. The Armstrongs own iartcolony gallery in Rockport.
“They are nuts for history of the North Shore,” said Kotakis. “They could have pushed the boundaries even more but they wanted to be mindful. I think the show will be somewhat controversial, and I think there will be a sense of ‘wow -- where did this come from?”
The curators believe when the arts are the center of discussion, there can only be positive outcomes.
“I have faith they will continue to shake things up on the North Shore and continue to make connections and give people a reason to come to the North Shore,” said Kotakis. “Most of these artists in the show do not have a North Shore connection but some are making works connected to the area, and have made a connection to a place where they may otherwise not have gone.”
The Armstrongs are an interesting combination of a laid-back ease combined with a dynamic affection for all the arts. In this case, they wanted to push the boundaries in this exhibit beyond representational art, which is prevalent along New England for the obvious reason because the region brims with gorgeous marine vistas that have for centuries been painted by some of the country’s master artists, including Edward Hopper and Fitz Henry Lane.
“The whole point is about bringing in diversity,” said Jill Armstrong. ‘out of bounds’ came about because the Museum School really stretches the boundaries of art and because we are going out of bounds in so many way.”
Judith Larsen, a 1976 museum school graduate, said this is an exciting group of artists. When asked about the meaning of contemporary art, one aspect of the term became clear. It is about the mental energy artists pour into their work. These works are manifestations of that energy. Contemporary art does not necessarily mean abstract, but it is the result of months, years, even a lifetime, of research and experimentation.
“If just one conversation gets generated by the show -- it’s a triumph. It doesn’t have to be a nirvana moment,” said Larsen. “It is about having a thought while looking at something new, to ponder something you never thought about before, and look at an (artwork) in a different way.”
Contemporary art is rooted in the process of discovery, said Larsen, who continually immerses herself in scientific study. — ”I started studying the history of humanity in a scientific manner. I am forever comparing and contrasting and trying to make sense of the world. I am fascinated by beauty and potential,” said Larsen. “I have always loved science and science is in my art. They are working together all the time. The learning never stops and every day I do research.”
The artists have varied international backgrounds, including the United States, Chile, Cuba and Poland. Suje Garcia, an artist in the show, is a veteran who spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan as a medic.
”It was brave and bold of the Rockport Art Association to allow us to curate this show,” said Bob Armstrong, “It is the start of something.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or via email at email@example.com.