The Sea, Just Like Your Eyes, Became a Refuge: Joe Wardwell Mural Commission

The Sea, Just Like Your Eyes, Became a Refuge reflects on the powerful, yet fragile, point where sea and land meet. For this site-specific, exterior mural—the first for OMAA, and first since 2013 for the artist—Wardwell selected passages from Notes from the Sea (2024, White Pine Press)—a work by Chilean American author, human rights activist, and Ogunquit resident, Marjorie Agosín. The text centers on the sea as a repository of memory. The fluidity of the ocean becomes a metaphor to explore the violence, displacement, pleasures, and fears of life.  

Wardwell dives into these slippages in meaning, as landscape, text, and pattern constantly oscillate in legibility. Each wall of the mural begins with an image taken of the coast of Ogunquit, over which Wardwell layers excerpts from Notes from the Sea. The artist then completes the image with a final layer of abstract patterning onto which he imbeds the original Spanish of Agosín’s writing. The murals remain open and participatory, revealing themselves in fragments to visitors walking around the building and its grounds.  

With The Sea, Just Like Your Eyes, Became a Refuge, Wardwell intentionally resigns himself, and the project, to nature. The color palette for the project is meant to evolve with the changing meteorological conditions of the Southern Maine Coast. On beautiful, sun-filled days the murals recede, subtly complimenting the sea behind, vegetation around, and sky above. In more inclement weather, the colors radiate, infusing a bright energy into the landscape.  The sublimity of the murals harkens to the Hudson River School yet filtered through the immediacy of advertisement design and the transnational experience of Agosín’s poetry.  

The Sea, Just Like Your Eyes, Became a Refuge encapsulates the churning of nature, culture, memory, and being that occurs at the edge of the ocean.  

Organized for the museum by Devon Zimmerman, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary American Art. The mural was completed with the assistance of Quayshaun Owens. English translation courtesy of Suzanne Jill Levine.

This commission was made possible with generous support from Fotene and Thomas Coté. 

Joe Wardwell is a Boston-based painter and muralist. His work considers the traditions of landscape painting, literature, and popular music in the United States and delves into their interconnected role in defining the ideas and values of “Americanness.” Wardwell has exhibited widely, including at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass MOCA, the Insitute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Wardwell is currently an Associate Professor of Painting at Brandeis University. 

Marjorie Agosín is a poet and author, whose writing is driven by social justice and meditate on the tragedy and displacement caused by historical violence in Europe, Latin American, and the United States. The Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and a professor of Spanish at Wellesley College, she is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Jeanette Rankin Award in Human Rights, the United Nations Leadership Award for Human Rights, and Pura Belpré Award given by the American Library Association.  

 Suzanne Jill Levine is one of the most important translators of Latin American literature today. Among her translations are works by Manuel Puig, Jorge Luis Borges, Guillermo Cabrera Infantas. She is also the author of The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Literature and Manuel Puig and the Spiderwoman: His Life and Fiction. She is Professor Emeritus Univ of California, Santa Barbara.

This exhibition is Made possible with support from Fotene and Thomas Coté.
Exhibition Preview
Wardwell's murals will cover OMAA's entrance façade and two ocean-facing walls on either side of the museum’s new glass window.
Joe Wardwell, Just laugh it off its better than it seems, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 inches. © Joe Wardwell. Courtesy of Artist and LaMontagne Gallery.
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