Our ideas of the apocalypse usually include a fiery blast, or some dramatic, spectacular conclusion that cataclysmically brings everything to an end.
Maybe it’s just a pile of plastic.
Zoe Matthiessen joins of a line of committed artists who have used their work to draw attention, and focus anger, on the continual, incremental destruction of the environment. Her work—and that of many others—is irrevocably linked to politics. That makes certain subjects—the current president, big business—easy targets. And well deserving ones.
Matthiessen is a talented illustrator, working in ink and watercolor, whose charged creations have graced magazines like The Nation, Art New England, and American Bystander. Two dozen of her drawings are on view in the Spencer Presentation Gallery, part of the exhibition complex in the Walter J. Manninen Center for the Arts at Endicott College.
Flowing beneath “Ecocide” is a current of sadness. A sense of shouting alone in the dark, with nobody listening. Of vain frustration—frustration at a problem that remains easy to identify on a local, personal level, but damnably difficult to address in any effective way.
Her style, like most magazine illustrators, is accessible and point-blank. Shore birds engorged with fishing line and plastic wrap. Generic toxic environments—oil drilling platforms, pipelines. Hermit crabs living in bottle caps. And a few uncomplimentary illustrations of the chief narcissist himself, furthering current ecological disasters with no conscience for the future.
It’s not a subtle exhibition. Even the labels have secondary explications: “Trail Mix, ink and watercolor on paper,” includes the subtitle, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
We get it. We feel it. What do we do about it? The sadness experienced from an exhibition like “Ecocide” runs deep. Radical rethinking of lifestyles, and our place in the world—that’s what is necessary, and that’s not possible. We are not radical thinkers. We react. And we are already reacting too late, because we live in the present, with no more regard for the future than the horrid president, who is all too easy to blame for the problem.
The open lobby space in the art center is graced by a small exhibition, From the Heart to the Hand, which pays tribute to four retired Endicott faculty. Sculptor Mac Coleman, painters Edith Socolow and Barbara Burgess Maier, and collage artist Jack Murray each show four or five works, all different in their way, and capturing a bit of what is obviously a substantial body of art. Maier’s large, predominantly black-and-white and inviting abstracts dominate the modest show.
A sponsored exhibition, Eight Decades of Design at Knoll, documents that company decades-long success at mixing modern office design with successful business acumen. The exhibition tends toward laudatory marketing, but does show interesting furniture designs, and captures the humane spirit of the design company that was run by Florence Knoll and included work from successful artists like Eero Saarinen and Mies van der Rohe.
Zoe Matthiessen: Ecocide; From the Heart to the Hand: Artists Who Inspire; and Eight Decades of Design at Knoll, are all on view at Endicott College’s Walter J. Manninen Center for the Arts, 376 Hale St., Beverly. For more information visit www.endicott.edu/centerforthearts or call 978-232-2655.