Natasha Mayers is Maine’s leading artist-activist.
Mayers has been the animating force behind everything from the local Fourth of July Parade in Whitefield to protests outside Bath Iron Works. She uses her art to call attention to all manner of political, social, and environmental injustices and has occasionally been arrested for her efforts.
That art activism has now been documented and celebrated in a 38-minute film, “Natasha Mayers: An Un-Still Life,” by Anita Clearfield and Geoffrey Leighton.
The Mayers film is part of the Union of Maine Visual Artists’ Maine Master series and the first not made by Richard Kane and Melody Lewis-Kane. Kane Lewis Production videos have generally featured older artists such as William Thon, Beverly Hallam, Ashley Bryan, and Dahlov Ipcar. Clearfield and Leighton have elected to capture the lively spirit of an artist of a younger generation.
Clearfield has collaborated before with Mayers on the UMVA’s Artists’ Rapid Response Team, or ARRT!, which creates signs and banners for demonstrations, and LumenARRT!, a video project that projects texts and images on buildings such as the Maine Statehouse.
Leighton teaches special effects and animation at the University of Southern Maine, and the effects he has created for the Natasha Mayers’ film distinguish it from the more straightforward documentaries of the Maine Masters series. For instance, Leighton has Mayers and artist friend Katherine Bradford “flying” like Superwomen in front of a green screen and has animated Mayers’ signature “Men in Suits” images such that they come alive and talk to the artist.
“When we set out to make the film, we had in mind Natasha as a trickster who disobeys normal rules and defies conventional behavior,” Leighton explained. “To capture that feeling, we used visual effects to create a sense of magical realism … moments throughout the film where the rules of reality are suspended in her life and art.”
While Mayers does create nonpolitical plein air paintings, “An Un-Still Life” focuses on her as a teacher, organizer, and demonstrator. It portrays a tireless activist who has directed hundreds of mural projects, attended more protests than she can count, and helped Maine immigrant students paint lobster buoys with the colors of their countries’ flags.
When I asked Mayers how effective art can be in influencing the public, her answer surprised me.
“I stood with Women in Black for a year in Augusta after we started a war in Afghanistan, all of us with wordy signs,” Mayers said of the worldwide network of women who stand for peace and justice. “Then I made a whole series of black-and-white large drawings, no words, and discovered that when we all held those, people approached us for a closer look and questions and dialogue. Nobody gave us the finger, some people threw money. Words had separated us. Images brought us together.”
Along with Mayers and Bradford, also featured in the film are artist Rob Shetterly, creator of the “Americans Who Tell the Truth” portrait series, and art writer Lucy Lippard, author of “Overlay” and “The Lure of the Local.”
Mayers is devoted to inspiring a new generation of artists to engage with social issues and “Natasha Mayers: An Un-Still Life” furthers that mission. The film will be shown March 25 by the Maine Film Association and April 3 at the Maine Art Association spring conference at Leavitt Area High School in Turner. Details of when and where the film will be screened can be found on natashamayers.org.
Edgar Allen Beem has written about art in Maine since 1978.