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On my first morning in Camden, a charming town in Maine’s mid-coast region, I awoke at the Camden Harbour Inn to a colorful painting hanging before me with Surrealist style tribal patterns in hues of red, black, purple and teal. An Argentine artist, Ricardo Cony Etchart, had painted the bold piece, and when my husband, Mahir, and I had spotted it the day before at Carver Hill Gallery it had instant appeal. Now, we were sleeping- literally- with the art.

We had booked our hotel’s “A Date Night with Art” package, where guests pick a piece of art from one of two galleries in Rockland and have it installed in their room. If they still like the work when they wake up, they can buy it. If not, the inn returns it to the gallery. “Giving our guests the chance to sleep with art they like is one of the ways we support the contemporary arts here,” said Oscar Verest, the hotel’s co-proprietor. “It’s a scene that’s growing by the day.”

In fact, this mid-coast area, between Portland and Acadia National Park, has long been an enclave for prolific artists, including the renowned American realist painter Andrew Wyeth and the notable American sculptor Louise Nevelson. Perhaps they were inspired by the small villages, photogenic sea, rocky beaches, peninsulas and sprawling fields, which continue to be untouched by time.

On our trip, we witnessed firsthand the most recent arts movement, which Mr. Verest had spoken of with much gusto: it includes an increasing number of contemporary art galleries, new street art, an expanded contemporary arts center and a new cadre of artists who call the area home.

The splashy Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) is a big draw. Founded in 1952, the center moved from Rockport in mid-2016 to a striking 11,500 square-foot space here. The acclaimed New York City-based architect Toshiko Mori designed the Instagrammable glass-enclosed building with a saw-tooth roofline and courtyard. Plenty of natural light floods in, and the rotating exhibits feature works by contemporary artists with a connection to Maine.

We stopped at Carver Hill Gallery, where we were spotted Mr. Etchart’s painting which would hang in our room later that night.

Rockland’s art world old guard, the Farnsworth Art Museum, is also helping to bolster the newfound attention on art. Around since 1948, the museum has a world-class collection of 15,000 works; most of the artists, such as Robert Indiana and Edward Hopper, have either lived or worked in Maine.

In 2015, the museum began collaborating with local artists and students to bring street art to Rockland. The project has since led to the fruition of two murals, each spanning a downtown block. The second mural, painted together by both experienced artists and budding ones, debuted this August and is a maritime-themed work with buoys and sea creatures.

“We’ve been around a while, but working with the burgeoning art community in Rockland is definitely a priority for us,” said David Troup, the spokesman for the museum.

Farnsworth has an extensive collection of works by Andrew Wyeth and his son, Jamie Wyeth, who has established his own name as a prominent realist painter. The younger Mr. Wyeth grew up in the area with his father but also lived and worked in New York City. In the last several years, however, he has settled primarily into his home on Southern Island, an island off the coast of Rockland.

My. Wyeth is an integral part of the newer community of artists in mid-coast Maine, a group that’s growing each year. The fine arts photographer Joyce Tenneson, for example, moved from Manhattan to Rockport several years ago. “I came here to teach photography and fell in love with what I saw,” she said.

As for Mahir and I, we were as taken with Mr. Etchart’s painting when we woke up looking at it as we had been the night before. We contemplated buying it but who knows, on our next trip here there may just be a piece of art that we like even more.

I’m a frequent contributor to the New York Times.

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by Alan Crichton
8/1/2019 8:08 AM

All anyone can ask of an artist is, “Convince me that what you’re showing me is somehow real. I don’t care how you do it.” There are as many ways to do this as there have been artists.

How do artists keep all the parts of a painting living and “talking” to each other so that when you stop painting, the painting keeps talking? The French cave paintings are 40,000 years old and deep underground, but they not only still talk to us, they sing.

Here are three painters who take quite different approaches to creating a convincing reality.

John Winship is a widely exhibited painter and teacher with more than 30 solo shows in major cities, galleries, and museums. NPR’s Linda Wertheimer speaks of his “dark and dreamlike pictures seeming to evoke another time.”

Winship starts with the endearing ambiance of old snapshots, where the subject may be confusingly framed or obscured, or where incongruous events appear simultaneously. Without recognizable contexts, found photos can have surreal qualities without the slightest alteration or reinterpretation.

Winship interprets, nevertheless, intentionally collating the inexplicable with the mystifying in landscapes with vast skies that earth has rarely seen. Somehow, they do feel familiar, maybe from the thick atmosphere of dreams.

In “Barking Dog,” a 1940s couple pose late on a summer’s day. He, in a stylishly raked fedora, leans confidently against a dark structure. She, in a sleeveless, black dress, stands beside him, one bare arm modestly behind her back. The patch of dying sun behind them completely shadows their features. This couple alone might be enough to evoke the inexplicable past, but two other events deepen the mystery without clarifying it. A barking dog twists uncomfortably in the foreground, yapping aggressively towards a further distant couple, perhaps a mother and daughter talking as they walk into a dark copse of trees. The dog objects, and above them all looms a huge, uncanny sky.

These paintings intentionally seek to be strange, and they succeed. Surreality is a form of reality, after all. Perhaps Winship depends on those otherworldly skies a little too much, though. In their repetition, a little reality is lost.

For thirty years, Ted Keller was a ceramic artist, making pottery and sculpture, living in, and teaching from, Union. He left ceramics for painting 20 years ago, and in 2008, the New Mexico sun, mountains and light attracted him to Taos, where he still resides. Unable to resist, though, he continues to frequent midcoast Maine.

In a New York night scene, “Houston Street,” a neighborhood on the major thoroughfare thrums in the wee hours. A car makes a left while a delivery truck impatiently waits, headlights blazing. Random windows shine softly in apartments above. A streetlight’s acid yellow glare pops complementary lilac in six stories of window trim, while ghostly green copper rooftops glow above dark brickpile canyons, and the sheer bigness of the city marches away with its millions of tales.

“Down Bowery Street, NYC” is a large and lively compilation of five views and three streets, looking downtown on a fresh summer day full of sunshine, birds, traffic and pedestrians of all ages, colors and stripes. Like all of Keller’s images, whether day or night, it is cheerful, festive, full of joy. A flock of birds flaps into a sky full of little splashes of color that open up space like confetti at a parade. The day feels typically real though, not a holiday, except that you feel like Sinatra singing, “Start spreading the news — New York, New York!"

Ingrid Ellison is an abstract painter and teacher, well known in the midcoast for her elegant mixture of geometry and gesture. In “Ice House,” she evokes a frozen lake with two partial-pyramid roofs in front of her signature black-and-white, irregular checkerboards that feel more improvised than grid-like. The painting plays 3D against flatness, livening the picture plane with small strokes of contrasting and adjacent cool colors that say, “Ice!”

Ellison clearly loves paint and the act of mixing, brushing and scraping, painting out and back in. She creates a lively surface that “talks” to the other brushstrokes and colors in a close conversation that thoughtfully involves the viewer.

The title “We Could Smell the Rain” is the first line of one of Ellison’s poems, attached to the back of the canvas: “We could smell the rain before it arrived and stole the color out of the garden, now flat mute sage and celadon, awaiting 1st drop.” The painting is a meditation on this experience, with its soft jade greens and pouring blues evoking that silence, and then the rain. Its gestural grids may be handmade garden plots. The painting’s quiet suspense awaits that first fresh drop. Did poets invent metaphors to heighten reality? I think so.

Alan Crichton, a cofounder of Waterfall Arts, is an artist from Liberty. His column will run every other week in The Free Press through the summer.


Art review: Borne from a rich history, Maine photography shows continued strength in three coastal galleries

By Daniel Kany August 26, 2018

It wasn’t that long ago that Eliot Porter led the charge for color photography to become its own field, changing everything. His brother, Fairfield, was not only a great painter but a muscular critic. His family’s island in Maine, Great Spruce Head, became not only a point of importance but a simple reminder that place was a sort of key that could, potentially, unlock the future.

And it did.

Photography went far past what Alfred Steiglitz, the champion of photographic pictorialism, and his colleagues could have imagined. Steiglitz, of course, was so much more than photography. His gallery, 291, led the way for so many artists to become international leaders, many of which were to crystalize into the new image of Maine art. Marsden Hartley and John Marin, for example, weren’t merely two Mainers he championed; they were giants in the making.

Looking back, and not merely limiting ourselves to the more obvious photo-oriented Maine artists, such as Berenice Abbott, Joyce Tennyson, Richard Estes, Paul Caponigro and William Wegman, Maine’s ranks of photography-related artists has been rich.

But the key, however, to Steiglitz’s pictorialism was a reverence for painting. In Maine, it was always about painting. The early artists holding cameras in their hands understood this: To be seen as art, photography had to take on painting. This was akin to the lesson that the first abstractionists got from Cubism: Legibility was everything. If a painting was legible as a painting, that was enough. Later, if a photograph was legible as art, that would be enough. And from that perspective, contemporary photography was born.

But what does that look like now? The new stuff and the new spaces in Maine we’re seeing this summer aren’t simply doing what they had been doing before. Photography, while it isn’t the only aspect, is very much part of the growing vision of Maine art.

CARVER HILL GALLERY

I move to Carver Hill Gallery here, not merely because of photography, although the gallery indeed represents some challenging and accomplished photographers, but because of the freshness of its artists and their new work and, more importantly, its move to new digs in Camden.

Art-motivated Mainers should rejoice. Carver Hill is one of Maine’s better and smarter galleries. The gallery represents artists from around the nation and around the world. Carver Hill certainly shows photography (Nick Gervin and John Kolkin, among others), but it specializes in strong (and sometimes quirky) painting, such as by America Martin or Jennifer Knaus.

Martin is a young Californian painter whose works look to Picasso and Leger, but her hand can handle it. “Woman, Eel & Fish,” for example, might seem simple things, in the echoes of Picasso, but there is nothing simple about the power of Picasso, Matisse, Leger, Marin, Utrillo or the other artists who worked so hard to make the seemingly simple seem simple. To set it in motion, Martin uses excellent drawing, scintillatingly clear, and planar colors. But to make it work, Martin has to find her own design, her own balance, her own picture. And she does.

Carver Hill Gallery’s new space is a healthy step forward from its Rockland space. Its strong new space can now better feature more artists from its notable roster, such as Ron Rovner, Ingrid Ellison, Lesia Sochor and Rose Umerlik.

We’ve seen some major galleries close recently because of age and time. But Coastal Maine is a place of lively dynamism. Not all of the newness relates to the hitherto unknown; sometimes it rehashes aspects of what has always been. And sometimes, the “new” is a fresh space for an already-known gallery. Sometimes it’s an addition. Sometimes it’s new artists. And, sometimes, it’s us – hitting our own reset buttons and looking with ever-fresh eyes.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. 


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Rockland gallery starts the season surreally

It’s a wondrous-strange range of photography at Carver Hill.

The works by seven artists in Carver Hill Gallery’s season opening show, called “What You See …,” flit between odd collage, semi-scripted dream narrative, mini-stage theater of the absurd and single-lens photography, all with an eye to the uncanny.

It’s a strange range.

Seth Lester sets up bizarre table-top scenes thick with surrealist themes in de Chirico-like settings: A tiny plaster figurine girl, for example, stands before a lordly pink shoe perched on a thick wad of hair sitting on a box on a gray stage before a starred backdrop. She’s like a night-confused Dorothy, awestruck in a head-bumped dream, twisting the wizard and her no-place-like-home shoe fetish.

Elizabeth Opalenick’s beautifully printed images include a Frisbee-focused dog in the air on a beach in what looks like an old-school colorized panorama; a dreamlike shot of a dancer backstage, perfectly lit and spinning to blur while all else is dark but utterly crisp; and underwater models posed and distorted by rippling water, then printed on handmade paper with savvy prowess.

Nadine Boughton playfully blends ’50s-style male and female imagery: Suited boardroom men pose with an air of arrogance while floating beyond them are a giant bustier and a Russian rocket – their fantasies and fears, we presume. A pin-up girl dries off in a towel-strewn factory interior with a potted fern setting the stage: Is it like a sauna, or are we getting a glimpse of the pictured worker’s off-site head space?

In several images, Virginia Fitzgerald takes a freestanding, shoulderless dress sculpture out to play the part of her model and muse, with an eye to its ghostly emptiness. The dress, however, finds its best repose leaning against a garage wall with an old push mower. As a couple, they punctuate.

Agnes Riverin’s two large square prints were toughest to parse, but patience paid off. They follow a logical path of traces, clues and straightforward symbolism into the realm of memory, regret and loss, where Einsteinian relativity invites us to rethink concepts such as simultaneity (i.e., depending on your perspective, A could happen before B, or B could happen before A) in relation to the personal perspectives of our emotional lives.

The strongest works, however, are by Sharon Arnold and Craig Becker. Arnold’s photos, though digitally textured like old paintings, feel like well-scripted memories or dreams. A sexually dressed Gretel (sans Hansel, and not such a little girl) dances in the woods in front of a dingy trailer with a “beware of the dog” sign. A woman (the artist?) hugs herself before a beautiful panorama of mountains near Katahdin. Inexplicably, her feet and their pedestal are doubled, which can’t quite be explained with the logic of a bouquet floating in the pond before her; we grasp at reflection, but the flowers too are doubled and made smaller in their echoed image.

One of Becker’s digital collages feels like the Arnolds next to which it hangs: a black-and-white lighthouse before a glowing pastel sky hiding subtle cities of industrial smokestacks. But his best works lean on more layers than we could possibly count. One is a bizarrely dense portrait hinting that we know the iconic but indecipherable elements from dollar bills and famous paintings. The strongest piece in the show looks like kangaroos that escaped into an alternate dimension based on a textile factory.


What struck me about “What You See …” was not how unusual the show was, but how aptly it taps the current pulse of art in the region. The Portland art audience just had a taste of the psychologically odd, with the excellent exhibition “Neurotica” curated by Jeffrey Ackerman and Veronica Cross at the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery at the Community Television Network on Congress Street.

Some viewers might be frustrated at first that “What You See …” does not coalesce into a clear curatorial statement. But this is by design. The curator’s refusal to be pigeon-holed helps the show hit a deeper mark. The shift away from linear narrative is varied and complex. Many of Maine’s strongest “realist” painters, like Linden Frederick, have less in common with Frederic Church than with Andre Dubus (think “In the Bedroom”) or Stephen King. So it should be no surprise that photography has followed this path of psychological complexity. Now that photography has opened itself to digital printmaking (Becker is the first Mainer I knew who switched from referring to himself as “photographer” to “digital printmaker”), there is no limit to the tools of painting, collage, editing and manipulation that cannot be put to task in a digital print.

When it comes to wondrous strange, we are well-seasoned. But “What You See …” iterates a bona fide paradigm shift both in terms of philosophy (hearing lots recently about romanticism, the baroque, surrealism, the irrational, etc.) and the content of the art we’re seeing in Maine’s leading venues: We are becoming less Eliot and Fairfield Porter and more Jeffery Becton and Elizabeth Fox. Carver Hill director Jana Halwick deserves credit for getting the irrationally nuanced edges right.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland.


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Art Spotting 

Work, dignity, and beauty: Q&A with America Martin

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http://mainetoday.com/blog/art-spotting/work-dignity-and-beauty-qa-with-america-martin/

 Work, dignity, and beauty: Q&A with America Martin

Martin, a Colombian-American painter and sculptor, has a distinctive style that mixes abstract and indigenous motifs with hints of Picasso and Gauguin. She injects her work with a vitality and enthusiasm that demands attention.

For her paintings, Martin employs raw canvas, layering it with oil and acrylic paints and finishing with varnish. The roughness of the canvas conveys a sense of raw, unabashed emotion.

On August 30th, Martin will be in Maine for a launch of her new contemporary works at Rockland’s Carver Hill Gallery. During Labor Day weekend “America’s Maine,” an exhibition that represents her time spent on the Maine coast, will be under way. I had the pleasure to ask Martin some questions about her influences, her process, and her upcoming exhibition.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by work, dignity and beauty. These three elements, when authentic, are never without one another.

I love the lobster men and women on the Maine coast, their bold sure movements in bringing in a catch, the curve of a strong back and the clean lines of an action done a thousand times.  I appreciate the dignity of a woman running, or at rest and the simple beauty of child coming to understand the world and the people in it.

Can you talk about how your Colombian heritage influences your work?

Roots are like fingerprints. They are always there informing and coloring every choice you make. My Colombian roots definitely have an impact on what I find beautiful aesthetically and what I’m drawn to. But I’m also influenced by other peoples’ culture and heritage. That’s something I welcome. Is it not the best thing to learn something you did not know before?!

How did you become interested in creating art?

When I was nine, I found an old large-scale book of the works of Vincent Van Gogh at a garage sale and bought it for a quarter. I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom — the sun was setting making the air gold and thick with beauty.  I remember turning the pages and gazing at the paintings and feeling something change in the very center of me. I knew at that exact moment that I had two homes:  the home of my mother and that of my spirit. I remember so clearly feeling an overwhelming sense of comfort, relief and gladness, and I knew that I would not get lost along my life’s road because I loved something very much, and that something was art.

Your work is reminiscent of some of the Old Masters — is this a deliberate choice or does it come through from your inspiration?

By nature I am drawn to enduring classics. I’d rather read Portuguese poetry than watch reality TV. The wonderful thing about all the arts — music, literature and fine art, is that we understand by observation and comparison. And we compare things to other things we’ve experienced. This is what makes art so cool and the most universal language. I deeply love the works of the masters, after all, they have created the very vocabulary we use today. I look at the work of other artists past and present, as an ongoing conversation that we all must add to. Artists do not ask permission to speak, to make — we do so because it is how we breathe.

Can you describe your process?

I usually put up a canvas, or take out a piece of paper and just look. I let the image present itself. I think of this point as when the artist and muse come together. People often ask, how do you know when a piece is done? You know a piece is done the second you are aware of it. It’s when you stop creating intuitively and start looking at the work objectively. That’s the time to stop because you’re already outside of the arena.

What can we expect from the Carver Hill Gallery exhibition?

The August exhibition will be a collection of images inspired by falling hopelessly in love with Maine. Last summer I drove up and down the Maine coast, visited neighboring islands and listened. The voice that I heard was as vast and as varied as the colors of the ocean. I came away with a respect for the beauty, the people and the dedication it takes to work with the seasons and the sea. There is a pace to Maine, a rhythm that works on you and leads you to wander, to be quiet and to look. The images I created came from that space and from that rhythm. Whimsical renditions of men at work, a boy with a bucket of clams, night swims in lakes, ink studies of docks and busy hands — and always the female form. As a woman feeling the presence of seasons, I found that the voice of time sings in harmony in Maine with a nostalgia that heightens moments and memories. These are not elements that I would associate with Los Angeles, where I live.  But all painters know that solitude is a window that is never closed. Places that beckon and nurture the insights of solitude seem to glow with a kindred light. Maine brims with this light.

Anything you can tell us about upcoming projects or plans?

I have a new large scale book entitled “Yes” coming out in October through Snail Press.  It will feature selected works from 2009-2012.  The rest of the year I will be developing a new body of work for a multi-media exhibition in 2014, entitled “My L.A.”  This exhibition will essentially be a portrait of Los Angeles, and will permit me to regard my home city with new eyes. This will be such fun for me as I will be working with multi media:  photography, painting, drawing, sculpture and film


CARVER HILL GALLERY Featured in the NEWLY PUBLISHED BOOK from the NEW YORK TIMES:
“36 Hours”

By BRENDAN SPIEGEL
Published: August 2, 2012

Wedged between the indie environs of Portland and the great outdoors of Acadia National Park, Maine’s midcoast region has long enthralled summertime drivers with its quaint towns and pastoral, pine-lined roads. The tranquil harbors and craggy beaches along U.S. 1 offer settings as quintessentially Maine as can be. (Lobster roll with a lighthouse view, anyone?)

But lately, as Portland’s arty influence creeps northward, the midcoast is flush with chic new inns, art galleries and a modern, hyper-local food scene. For visitors, that means the best of both Maines: a cool, innovative spirit that lures city dwellers from Portland and beyond, blended with the laid-back Down East spirit coastal Mainers have long taken pride in.

Read entire article >

Carver Hill Gallery was featured in Maine Home & Design in April 2012.

Maine Home and Design April 2012

Carver Hill Gallery was featured in Down East Magazine in February of 2009.

Downeast Magazine Feb 2009