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Artist, local painters finalizing details for South Portland tank art project

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Artist, local painters finalizing details for South Portland tank art project

SOUTH PORTLAND — Jaime Gili's artwork revolves around three central elements: color, speed and repetition.

At times, those elements come together in a figurative sense, as in a gallery. Other times, they come together in a literal sense, when Gili paintings decorate motorcycles, cabs and helmets. 

This summer, Gili and the Maine Center For Creativity will be bringing those elements to three of Sprague Energy's 40-foot oil storage tanks near the Veteran's Memorial Bridge. 

"It's like explosions in your eye," the London-based artist said about one of his typically abstract paintings of jagged lines and patterns.  

MCC Executive Director Jean Maginnis said the $1 million Art All Around project will take about three years to finish. Maginnis could not say exactly when paint would actually start hitting the tanks, but given the short painting season in Maine, it could be fairly soon.

"Right now, it's like juggling 16 balls," Maginnis said. "They have to land in certain spots. When they do, we'll start."

Once complete, eight of the oil tanks will have their sides and tops painted, while another eight tank tops will painted. The artwork will be visible to tens of thousands of visitors travelling by air to the Portland International Jetport, on land by those using Interstate 295 and on water by those boating on the Fore River. 

Gili's design was selected from more than 500 entries received after a global call for art. An panel of art experts and local residents chose the Venezuelan artist's design partly because the abstract design had staying power. 

The 36-year-old said he was heavily influenced by public art projects that seemed to dominate the urban Venezuelan landscape. His primary influences are Jesus-Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez, both of whom are famous for their optical and kinetic art.

"You have to be moving to get the full effect," Gili said. 

Unlike his influences, however, Gili uses a computer to create his designs.

Gili and his wife have been in Portland for the last week, meeting with Acme Painting Co., which will apply the intricate, abstract design to the 40-foot tall tanks. 

While in Portland, Gili has also been giving talks and some of his artwork is being shown at Whitney Art Works, 492 Congress St., throughout the month of May. After that, the art will be returned to the Jetport, where it has been on display since Gili won the contest. 

During an interview at MCC headquarters in Portland, Gili showed some slides of how his original design has been altered to blend with the Maine landscape. A photo of a coastal ledge illustrates the jagged, linear nature of Gili's design and a photo of peaking fall foliage will influence the colors.

"Colors are a big part of my work," he said. "When I had to choose colors for here
there were limitations, where I had to play with them and adapt them to
my taste and to the context of the landscape. I have to bring my experience the local context to the final project."

Maginnis said it's important to reintroduce Gili to the community, so folks can feel comfortable with the man whose art will dominate the Portland-South Portland landscape for the next 15 to 20 years. 

"The big thing about public art is educating people," Maginnis said. "We want people to understand where the design came from."

Both Gili and Maginnis said they hope Art All Around will receive worldwide attention, securing the artist's stature in the art world and putting the region on the map as a creative economy. To some extent it already has. Gili was recently commissioned during the spring to do a large-scale project in London. 

Maginnis, meanwhile, said the art community and other creative circles are already buzzing about Portland.  

But both will have to wait at least three more years for the project to be literally on the map. 

The tank-top art will eventually appear on satellite images, like those on Google Earth. Although it can take years for Google earth to update their images, Maginnis said the MCC is lobbying Google to coordinate their update with the tank project.

"There's no guarantee it will happen," she said, "but we're working on it."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net