Downtown New London comes alive with Hygienic Art XXXVI show

New London — Despite frigid cold temperatures and bitter wind to enhance the winter feeling, downtown streets came alive Saturday night with the Hygienic Art XXXVI Salon des Independants show on Bank Street.

Music, drums, laughter and song could be heard up and down the street. The songs, from traditional to rock to the old standard “Happy Birthday,” served as the admission price to Ice Carnival III, the outdoor attraction in Hygienic Art Park adjacent to the famous art show opening night. For a song, you could get 10 tickets to spend at any of the 11 event stations, including a booth with hot chocolate, cider and coffee.

It was Ice Carnival organizer Amy Hannum’s birthday, according to ticket lady Gillian Beebe, so 6-year-old Ronan Parsons earned his tickets with “Happy Birthday.” He proudly declared he was going to try all of the carnival games.

“Hey, can we go stand inside for a minute?” his dad, Charlie Parsons, begged of the boy.

Inside, opening night of the Salon des Independants was toasty warm and jampacked with fans coming to view the 347 works entered into the show, which proudly claims “No Judge, No Jury, No Fee, No Censorship!”

Prime space in the two-story gallery was claimed early Saturday by works that included a full-size mirrored glass sculpture of the crucifixion, a giant dragonfly formed of recycled electronics wire and, keeping to the Hygienic spirit, a huge painting of a penis.

“There it is, the penis,” a woman said. “There’s always a penis here.”

But crowds gathered at the real showstoppers, including “Disco Jebus,” the title of the crucifixion sculpture by Shawn Bugbee. The work consisted of odd-sized shards of mirrored glass soldered together. Bugbee’s two nephews served as models, one for Christ’s body and the other for his hands and feet.

Viewers paused to read Bugbee’s full-page description of the work and methods. The crown of thorns, Bugbee wrote, was imported from Jerusalem, boiled and softened to fit on the lifelike scalp with its short-cut hair to symbolize youth.

“It’s fascinating,” said Linda Palmieri of Mystic. “It gave me goose bumps when I turned around and saw it. Exquisite.”

As patrons made their way toward the stairs to the lower level, they inevitably paused to get a closer look at “The Girl with the Pearl,” a poster-sized photograph of a woman in colorful attire and head scarf with a prominent pearl earring in her visible left ear.

“That’s beautiful,” more than one passerby said.

Downstairs, a group of women tried to figure out how the unsigned three-dimensional work titled “Breach of Peace” — a breaching humpback whale with a whale watch boat painted in the background — was made. The whale’s giant mouth, head and flipper were formed of driftwood, as carefully placed shells highlighted the jaw. Netting formed the whale’s baleen plates, but just what did the artist use to form the waves that splashed against the whale’s body? Seaweed, the onlookers eventually surmised.

Artists Frank Gilliland of Groton and Tracey Harrington of New London got an early look at the show before the doors officially opened. The two lingered in the upstairs late Saturday afternoon main gallery after placing their works on display downstairs.

They especially admired the piece that occupied prime real estate in front of the main gallery window. “Angry Eagle,” a stainless steel eagle sculpted by Allan J. Briggs, is perched ready to take off from a stout branch. An American flag is draped over the branch and a small sign reads: “United We Stand. Divided We Will Fall.”

The Salon des Independants runs through Feb. 14 at the Hygienic Galleries. The show is open from noon to 6 p.m. today and then is open during regular gallery hours, Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday noon to 3 p.m.

“Thirty-six! Number 36!” said Robin Harris of Norwich, a member of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition. “I love the concept, for anyone to be able to exhibit, from the little Post-It Note with the drawing that’s about my talent level to this gorgeous piece … It’s nice to be impressed by local talent.”

Twitter: @Bessettetheday


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