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Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative

The Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative (CMAI) expands the Worcester Art Museum's ongoing commitment to the vibrant art community throughout the region. Launched in December 2017, CMAI showcases the extraordinary and multi-faceted talents of artists who live or work in the greater Worcester region with a solo installation in the Sidney and Rosalie Rose Gallery. Each year two artists, invited by one of the Museum's curators, will display a small grouping of works alongside significant contemporary artists, including Willie Cole, Doris Salcedo and Alice Neel.

Featured CMAI Artist

Split Screen (On Her Mind / On His Mind) — works by the artist Leslie Graff

Leslie Graff

October 1, 2020 – May 16, 2021

Sutton, MA-based artist Leslie Graff examines the fundamental human experience in her acrylic and mixed media paintings. Her portrait-based series explore individual identity as it is defined by relationships, especially within family settings. Perhaps Graff's best-known series, Domestics considers everyday household activities from a woman's point of view, negotiating personal desires with the expectations outlined by society. She focuses on objects, like desserts or vintage technology, as symbols of our existence and interactions with others. Graff says, “I frequently use repeated or cumulating elements or depict seemingly mundane activities emphasizing that much of the meaning and richness of life is actually found in small or ordinary things. There are metaphors for our larger struggles embedded in many simple daily activities.”

Upcoming CMAI Artist

Vandal Saint Series, #1 — a work by the artist Hank von Hellion

Hank von Hellion

Dates: Coming soon

Hank von Hellion is a Worcester artist who works with street art, graffiti, illustration, installation, and photography. Having painted several outdoor murals in Worcester, he will create a site-specific installation at the Worcester Art Museum. It will respond to museums as places of contradiction, both empowering and at times elitist, in light of his own experiences as a developing artist. Von Hellion's work is informed by his experiences growing up in the punk subculture, and reconciling his understanding of his art and identity in light of this. He says, this experience “shaped a virulent belief that action in the face of injustice is the responsibility of each and every human being and should be something we demand from ourselves at any personal cost.”

Von Hellion is Managing Director of the Worcester PopUp at the Jean McDonough Arts Center (JMAC). He is a freelance artist and muralist, workshop instructor, and creative consultant and independent curator for businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Past CMAI Artists

A work from the “This is (Still) the Golden Age” series by Matthew Gamber

Matthew Gamber

October 9, 2019 – March 29, 2020

Matthew Gamber's photographic practice explores the way meaning is constructed through photography, by isolating and confronting various elements of photography, such as color or light. Gamber created the works in his series This is (Still) the Golden Age by pressing light-sensitive photographic paper against a cathode-ray tube television as it was powering down. In doing so, Gamber captured a residual image as the heat and light of the television subsided. Despite the hazy quality of the images and black edges, indicating the shrinking and fading of the on-screen image, game show props and sitcom actors' faces remain remarkably present in Gamber's work. The photographs from This is (Still) the Golden Age create a tangible and permanent record of fleeting images from broadcast programs. Gamber is an Associate Professor in the Visual Arts Department at the College of the Holy Cross.

A work from the Departure series by Randy LeSage

Randy LeSage

May 15 – October 6, 2019

Randy LeSage, a resident of Lancaster, MA, has taught painting and printmaking at the Worcester Art Museum for over twenty-five years. LeSage's CMAI rotation features his four-part series Departure, which includes an innovative application of relief block ink to explore his career-long interest in the themes of labor and urban architecture. Departure is LeSage's personal response to New England's rich manufacturing and geographical history. Inspired by the changing landscape and its intersections with markers of industry, LeSage supplements his observations with family history, area research, and fictional writings. This reaction to the urbanization of the landscape is evocative and allusive, without a tangible narrative.

Toby Sisson, American | naciremA 1, 2017-18

Toby Sisson

November 14, 2018 – May 12, 2019

American | naciremA 1 is a metaphorical mirror — a reversed and fractured image of America across the racial divide. Artist Toby Sisson created this text-based work to explore ideas about 'the other' and author W.E.B. DuBois' concept of Double Consciousness, in which black Americans see themselves reflected in, yet distorted and diminished by the dominant culture. American | naciremA 1 challenges the conventional perspective of a unified nationality.

The artist notes, “When I was young, my father was a member of the Nacirema Club in my Midwestern hometown. The 'Nac' was one of a network of black social clubs throughout the country that served our communities when many private clubs did not welcome non-white members. The reversal of the word 'American' into 'Nacirema' was intentionally political, undermining the status quo.”

Toby Sisson is Associate Professor and Director of the Studio Art Program at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sisson's studio practice explores complex themes of race and representation through mixed media drawing, painting and printmaking with elemental materials — wax, ink, charcoal and oil on paper or wood. Her recent series engages the poetry and prose of African American writers, re-inscribing their words through an abstract visual vocabulary centered on marginalized identities and the struggle for equality.

Read more about Toby Sisson and her work

Tony King, Ice Cream Cowboy, 1978

Tony King

May 9 – November 11, 2018

The current iteration of WAM's new initiative features five photographs by B.A. (Tony) King. King lived and worked as a photographer in Worcester for many years, detailing the lives of “everyday people” from varying socio-economic backgrounds. This rotation features a grouping of candid portraits taken in the late 1960s into the 1970s, illustrating the diversity of his subjects. In conjunction with the gallery rotation, an installation of 31 photographs is hung on the walls of the Museum Café, illustrating the breadth of King's subject matter which includes still-life and landscape photography. The display of his photographs in the Museum's Rose Gallery and Café commemorates one year since the artist's passing in 2017.

Support for this project was generously provided by the Stoddard Charitable Trust and the Judy and Tony King Foundation.

John Pagano. Infatuation (A Place to Go), 2016

John Pagano

December 2017 – May 2018

The first artist chosen to debut the Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative was John Pagano, a well-known local painter whose work is often on display throughout central Massachusetts at institutions such as the Fitchburg Art Museum, ArtsWorcester, and most recently in a monographic exhibition at Worcester's contemporary art space, the Sprinkler Factory. The museum showcased John Pagano's large-format painting Infatuation. A Worcester native, John Pagano's paintings characteristically straddle the line between representation and abstraction. Pagano's use of the hard-edged acrylic paint combined with his expressive style, simultaneously conveys the appearance of fluid and frozen gestures.