Offerings: Where Art, Philosophy, and Form Collide

UMB alum Phil Nerboso standing by his If These Walls... They Would installation, currently on exhibition in The Harbor Art Gallery.

DS Mangus

UMB alum Phil Nerboso standing by his If These Walls… They Would installation, currently on exhibition in The Harbor Art Gallery.

MiMi Yeh

Although the campus is quiet around winter break, activities never cease in the world of fine arts. The latest exhibition to be held at the Harbor Art Gallery features a playful and thoughtful look at childhood, philosophy, and ego. Alumnus Philip Nerboso returns to UMass Boston not as a student but as an artist displaying a collection of his work at the Harbor Art Gallery with his “Offerings.”

“Offerings” offers a variety of pieces in various media ranging from couch cushions to canvas, wax, and glue. However different one piece may be from another, they all share a common theme of introspection. Sometimes, the message is boldly stated as it is in small lettering beneath each of the seven large digital prints of the aforementioned Offerings for which the exhibition is named. At other moments, one may reflect on their own or others’ childhoods as they crawl on hands and knees into the pillow fort installation titled If these walls…They would and read through the pieces of paper piled in the center.

We first delve into the mind of the artist with In My Mind, a straightforward title with an abstract rendition. This work involves the layering and texturing of a large canvas with nine different colors and over ten other assorted elements (i.e. wax and string) to give the appearance of an oxidized Martian landscape, complete with polyurethane craters and ridged mountains. If one looks closer, the potholes on the surface are actually windows into the layers of paint beneath, preserved with a shiny veneer.

Nerboso encouraged me to touch the canvas; a practice usually frowned upon by most museums and curators alike, in order to get a complete feel for the picture. The uneven, roughened, off-color patches remind one, simply in just viewing the piece, of just how multidimensional the mind can be. In fact, the title alone is ambiguous enough to bring up the question of just whose mind it was that was being examined.

Another interesting bit of information that adds a twist and a tweak to In My Mind can be found out is listed on the placard, showing that this is a collaboration between Ben Merris and Philip Nerboso. A fellow artist and close friend of Nerboso’s, Merris is well known in his own right. So the question is, whose mind is it? Perhaps, the rusty orange edge violently clashing with the greenish field is a collision or a merger of two minds. The previously mentioned “potholes” are colors that either of the duo wanted to keep; their favorite parts of the canvas.

The largest piece dominating the exhibition is the installation If these walls…They would, a take on the saying, “If these walls could talk…” a pillow fort takes a playful slant on childhood. All are forced to retake their first steps by getting down on all fours to crawl into the playhouse, lit by a single bulb, resembling a cardboard igloo. The space is devoid of any decoration except what appear to be a few scraps of paper. A closer look reveals they are the real and imagined memories of nameless children and adults. Some were submitted by a class taught by Dianne Nerboso, the artist’s mother and a part-time professor at UMB, while others were written by friends and family.

A video setup shows not only 24 minutes of A Light Walk, whose opening shot somewhat humorously begins with a pile of feces, but alsoa 5-minute Self-Portrait featuring a visual slate boxes in a 3 x 3 formation, each with a headshot of a slowly moving Nerboso.

A Light Walk deals with the interplay of shadow and sunlight through the brilliant midday of autumn. From stasis to stumbling, this slightly dizzying experience focuses on light pushed around be wind and clouds, falling on the earth, with only the soundtrack of ground-crunching steps. However, Self-Portrait is less serious in nature with the many varied expressions of Philip Nerboso. Creating the latter required shooting himself for five minutes at a time, nine times. He definitely struggles at some points to keep a straight face.

“Offerings” gives something different to every viewer: maybe a chance at self-examination for the motivated, a laugh for the light-hearted, and a taste of nostalgia for the sentimental.