An Arts Boom Sweeps Coastal Maine
Sep 12, 2019
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, in the nearby town of Rockland, 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.
Much of the action is happening in Rockland. We spent the day there with multi-media artist Jonathan Laurence, who grew up in Rockport, a village next to Camden, and currently lives in Camden. Locals, he told us, used to frequently toss around the expression “Camden by the sea, Rockland by the smell.”
“The town had a smelly sardine plant and was generally considered to be not so nice,” he said. “Now, thanks to art, everyone wants to be Rockland.”
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.
CMCA celebrated its one-year anniversary in the new building with the twofold exhibit, “Night Stories.” Visitors first saw 15 paintings by the Maine-based painter Linden Frederick, known for his depictions of rural America, and then, for each, read the accompanying short story written by one of a group of prominent American authors such as Ann Patchett. This summer and into the fall, the museum will feature the work of American painter Ann Craven, known for her paintings of moons, flowers and animals, particularly birds; it will be Ms. Craven’s first exhibition in Maine.
According to director Suzette McAvoy, the CMCA had 40,000 visitors in its first two years in Rockland. The old space, in comparison, struggled to hit 10,000 visitors annually. “We’ve had people visit us from all over the world,” said Ms. McAvoy.
Rockland’s First Friday Art Walks are another driver in the flourishing arts. Founded by Arts in Rockland, a group of local artists and gallery owners, the event takes place on the first Friday of every month from May to October and has the more than 20 galleries, the CMCA and the Farnsworth Art Museum staying open after hours.
The walks started in 2006 with a handful of participating galleries and meager turnout, said Bruce Busko, one of the event’s co-founders and the owner of Landing Gallery. That’s hardly the case today when the primary thoroughfare, Main Street, is thick with pedestrians on a first Friday walk, who move from gallery to gallery.
When Mahir and I were in Rockland, Mr. Laurence took us to the bi-level Dowling Walsh Gallery, where his photography is on display on the second floor. He had taken the shots with his iPhone’s camera while on early morning runs through the woods and then had manipulated the images of landscapes and trees by hand and with various apps. They resembled paintings more than pictures and were incredibly creative.
Another stop was 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 didn’t. Who knows? On our next trip here, there may just be a piece of art that we like even more.
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.
At Rockland’s Caldbeck Gallery, you can get as weird as you want with Alan Bray’s and Dennis Pinette’s dream logic landscapes. Maine’s biggest gallery, Dowling Walsh, just across Main Street from Carver Hill, is now showing large and gorgeous photos by Cig Harvey, including a scene of a diver splashlessly hitting water in what looks like a hallucinatory memory from the 1960s, and a swanky little show of wacky retro collages by Margaret Rizzio that would have been perfect for “What You See …” if the collage elements had been united digitally. But the bit of Dowling Walsh that matters most is the Maine strand running through N.C. Wyeth’s dream-addled “Return of Rip Van Winkle,” to Andrew Wyeth’s immaterial oddness and then up through his son Jamie’s direct fixation with the irrational. It’s not just a family affair; We see irrationally edged narrative in some of the gallery’s best works by younger artists, such as the gifted metaphysical realist Sarah McRae Morton.
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.
Carver Hill artist Jennifer Knaus’ oil on panel painting “Burgeoning”, 30″ x 28″ on the cover of the July issue of Art New England. Congrats to Jennifer.
See the issue’s focus on the gallery scene in Rockland, Maine.
Click below for the Art New England website and Emag.
ART NEW ENGLAND
A lifetime of artistic exploration
By Dagney C. Ernest | May 20, 2015
Belfast — Fifty-five years ago, Aroostook County native and Crosby High School grad David Estey was in an attic on Belfast’s Congress Street, “dreaming of being an artist someday.” As the featured guest artist of the 13th annual Festival of Art, he will share where that dream has taken him.
The Festival of Art opens Thursday, May 21, with a 6 p.m. reception that includes a light buffet and music by the Belfast Bay Fiddlers. It will continue Friday and Saturday, May 22 and 23, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, May 24, from noon to 3 p.m. at the University of Maine’s Hutchinson Center, 80 Belmont Ave./Route 3. Admission is free and open to all.
Presented by Senior College at Belfast, the fest will showcase some 150 Maine artists age 50 or older. It is a non-juried show and features the work of both professional and amateur artists. Estey began to teach himself how to draw and paint in the third grade and, by some standards, went professional in the seventh grade.
“I’d paint eagles, tigers, horses on guys’ leather jackets and get 10 or 20 bucks for it; I couldn’t afford a leather jacket myself, but I did a lot of those,” he said a week before the festival.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, Estey will present the festival’s highlight, an illustrated talk followed by a Q&A. He said he will offer a PowerPoint presentation addressing the development of artistic creativity and the creative process. As is the festival’s tradition, he also will display a couple of actual artworks. And he will bring along a poster of a painting that got a big response when it appeared in his “Inside the IRS” solo Philadelphia exhibit some years ago. It is a painting of a 1040 tax form that he has since reworked; it is an unusual work for him, given its realist nature and written, quite humorous, commentary.
“I’m not a letterer,” he said, but that didn’t keep him from painting signs as a working-artist youth. Some of the signs he made for businesses in Fort Fairfield and Belfast, where his family moved to when he was in high school, ended up in antique stores, as did some handprinted labels he made for Perry’s Nut House.
What he is is a sketcher — he led the local life-drawing group for several years after returning to the city in 2002 — and a painter. At age 16, he executed a portrait of one of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln, using house paint. The next year, he drew the toothy visage that became the high school’s official mascot for a number of years.
“I wanted to be the next Norman Rockwell,” he said, and indeed, the Rockwell-supported Famous Artists School courted him. But he listened to his Crosby adviser and went to Rhode Island School of Design, looking initially to combine his art with engineering. He started out in illustration, but switched to fine art painting — not what his adviser and instructor Robert Hamilton, who many years later became a Maine friend, thought best, Estey writes in his recent memoir, “Whoop and Drive ‘er! Growing Up in Aroostook County, Maine.”
“And when I studied many years later at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts, they said that RISD had ruined me,” Estey said.
He disagrees. Attending the prestigious design school began him on a creative journey that included a year’s study in Italy, an Army stint doing illustration and a public service career with the Internal Revenue Service, where he began as a more art-oriented visual information specialist, but ended up in public affairs. Based in the Baltimore area, he had his own radio and television shows, created publicity materials — which included becoming a photographer — and was witness to more than half a dozen presidential administrations.
“One of the things I learned at RISD was problem-solving, and that’s so important in public affairs: the awareness there’s more than one solution; and that you don’t want to solve the wrong problem,” he said.
All the while, he taught art on the side and did the occasional commissioned portrait. When the IRS reorganized in the mid-1990s, he got a hoped-for chance at early retirement and took it. He had begun seriously showing his work a year before leaving the IRS and when he retired, he threw himself into what has become a second career. Estey has had 20 solo exhibits and been in more than 35 group and juried shows, earning multiple first-place awards. His work is in many corporate, institutional and private collections in 19 states and seven countries.
When he and his wife, Karen, moved to Belfast 13 years ago, they added a two-floor studio to the back of their just-up-the-hill-from-the-footbridge house. That Belfast attic studio so many years ago has finally led to a bright and spacious artist’s workspace, filled with works in progress and others in bins, drawers and boxes and on shelves and easels.
“If you count the drawings in the sketchbooks, I’ve done 10,000 pieces of art,” he said.
He’s got some 87 sketchbooks, many filled since his return to Belfast at the life-drawing meetings and during his frequent visits to the Belfast Bay Fiddlers sessions at Waterfall Arts just a block away.
“I really enjoy the music,” he admitted, pulling out a poster he’d created for the group. When Estey was on the Festival of Art committee in previous years, he brought the Fiddlers into the mix and the current committee has continued the tradition.
The reason Estey can rattle off these numbers of notebooks and artworks is that he is in the process of photographing and digitally cataloging — “my wife is my computer techie” — his prodigious output. He took to heart the advice of a lawyer friend, who told him that the best thing he could do for himself — and his children — was to “know what you have and where it is and what it’s called.”
The process has led to insights into how a kid from The County who wanted to be Norman Rockwell has ended up an abstract painter. Estey’s Festival of Art talk will highlight works that he realizes in retrospect sent him off into new directions. He promises the presentation will be fun, as well as enlightening.
“People usually enjoy hearing my talks about abstraction, because they don’t understand it,” he said, bending down to pet the couple’s ancient bulldog, Toots.
The process of pulling out and cataloging his work, even as he continues to create — he started experimenting five years ago with Japanese Yupo paper and has so far turned out about 350 improvisatory acrylic pieces — has been eye-opening for someone who for many years put his art on the back burner. There is a large body of monochrome work, for example, to contrast with the bright acrylic and oil paintings.
“And it makes perfect sense: I grew up in black-and-white — newspapers, TV, movies — I love black and white,” he said.
But he also is enamored of Yupo, a synthetic paper that holds super-sharp edges while allowing for manipulation. It is durable, recyclable, waterproof and very smooth.
“It’s so flexible and you use different media on it,” he said, pulling open a color-filled drawer.
And yet, when Estey first returned to the state he grew up in, he also returned for a few years to traditional oil painting and landscapes. Last year, he released his memoir, which paints many a word portrait of family members, people he grew up with and others who have brought him to where he is today. It has been quite a varied journey, so his diverse artistic output — which includes a recent set of self-designed books — seems natural. And so does the Festival of Art’s tapping him as featured artist.
“I’ll also talk about Robert Hamilton, Harold Garde and Alan Magee,” he said of previous years’ featured artists. “I feel really honored to be asked and want it to be a learning experience,” he said.
Estey will have copies of his memoir on hand for purchase and signing after Saturday’s presentation. His work can be seen at Carver Hill Gallery in Rockland and online at davidestey.com.
Wonderful review of Daniel Anselmi’s show by Britta Konau.
Exceptional show of Daniel Anselmi’s work
Carver Hill has opened up their well-lit space with some clever structural changes and interior colours, and Daniel Anselmi’s art appears all the stronger for the gallery giving over its entire space to this exhibition; a delightful surprise for the visitor and a clever way of creating a journey through the paintings, collages, and assemblages on the first floor, towards the Monhegan Island Series of monotypes on the second floor.
The work in the lower gallery feels like the vibrant big brother of the meditative Monhegans, creating an intriguing tension between the two spaces. As well as intricately cut and composed collages, there are energetic collaged paintings that exploit the layering of materials, so that we don’t always discern foreground from background forms, paint from paper. A series of new, larger-scale paintings with collaged elements furthers this sense of a built work; despite the lighter tones they feel weighty, with their blunt muscular cuts and black outlined forms. These are the first works that the viewer encounters on entering the gallery and are a compelling introduction to the show.
Distinct from the lively atmosphere of the main gallery, the intimate room upstairs hosts a contemplative experience. The Monhegan monoprints are given room to breathe on the gallery’s soft brown walls; the blues, yellows and greys of Mr. Anselmi’s palette evoking the place in which they were created. There is something of the sublime in these remarkably elegant works. Enhanced by intuitive curation, the slow time spent with them here somehow references the time taken in their making. DYAN ROSS
Work, dignity, and beauty: Q&A 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:
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.
Carver Hill Gallery was featured in Maine Home & Design in April 2012.
Carver Hill Gallery was featured in Down East Magazine in February of 2009.