Narratives: Public and Private”

WELCOME! UMVA members and invited artists responded to our request below for our Summer 2017 Maine Arts Journal theme on narrative:

Are the stories in your work, or behind you work, of a personal nature, or are they in the commons? Are they old stories, myths, or topical ones? Or are they topical stories disguised as myths, or old stories that have a contemporary relevance? Are you an abstract painter using coded narratives, or are there stories behind abstract or cryptic works that the public will not know, but might feel or intuit?

With gratitude and wonder we share their stories and images with you on these digital pages. (PLEASE NOTE, most images will open in full size when clicked on).

The MAJ is organized around quarterly themes to which we encourage members to submit. Submission information and guidelines are to be found HERE. Please view the current issue and explore the archived issues that are available through the main menu.
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Maine Arts Journal Editorial Board,

Jeff Ackerman, Alan Crichton, Dan Kany, Natasha Mayers, Jessica McCarthy, Nora Tryon

Maia Snow

What’s a Painting?

Maia Snow, “Aiahha” oil on canvas, 31″x28″ 2017

Lines disappeared and the blue overtook the vision as far as the peripherals would stretch. Sit down. Stand up. Sit again. Stare. Is the vision of your, their, mine and her bodies, intertwined, struggling to grasp and hold some ounces of air- born yet? My mother has photographs of me, which she printed out from Instagram. They are all over her home. All I want is to know what she smells like. What is the white line of clouds the planes leave behind anyways?  Are you my mother? Your skin syncs to mine quite nicely, and your pale belly makes me think that the sun doesn’t like you very much. I didn’t want to see her jump, and the color green -the right kind of sappy, muddy forest green, is really hard to mix. I want to put its light in my mouth. No hawks left in my organs. The surgery didn’t help and your face was never that important. One stroke for the chin, scrape away for the bottom lip, to show the shadow. Simple. I too, had children I looked after, forty of them at a time. Passionfruit wont leave my head, I like, too much, how it fills my ears with dance sounds. Get up. Hold five brushes in one hand, watch you grab all the kids on TV. Amy, with her sweaters can say hard sentences, but even her voice sometimes breaks. I cant understand the skin that moves on the screen, too fast and I hold my face, to make sure it is not like them. But it doesn’t feel any different. Now my mother cries louder then all the babies I ever had the chance to hold.

Jeffrey Ackerman

True Stories

The centennial anniversary was celebrated this year for one of the most famous modernist artworks that no one alive today has ever seen. I am referring to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, an ordinary urinal turned upside down and signed R. Mutt. The non-existent artwork was never on public display anywhere. It was entered into a non-juried exhibit organized by the Society of Independent Artists, and that is part of the joke; that the artist was free to submit anything. The organizers of the exhibit were not amused, and left the object behind a curtain, out of public view. Alfred Stieglitz got possession of it (no original Duchamp readymades were ever sold), took a famous photograph, and eventually threw it out. The artwork exists entirely as a story (replicas were made in the 1960’s).

Artworks often contain narratives, but the less that a readable narrative is contained within a work, the more the narrative shifts to being about the work. A narrative contained in a work is subject to comparison with the object; interpretations change over time but always refer back to the object. In the presence of the artwork, the viewer is free to accept or reject any narrative told by others and to spin their own. Artworks where the narrative is about the work often require the now ubiquitous wall plaque to tell the story that the work fails to convey and the curatorial interpretation controls the narrative. The interpretations of the Fountain have supplanted the object and are now an intellectual readymade. Would we be able to freshly react to it if it still did exist or would we remain forced into the dialogue created by its defenders?

The narrative, the myth of Fountain, is that the organizers of the show, conservative gatekeepers, rejected the work, perhaps unable to understand this radical gesture. But the Society was a pretty radical group, including Walter Arensberg, Katherine Dreier, Albert Gleizes, John Marin, Walter Pach, Man Ray, and Joseph Stella. These were Duchamp’s friends, supporters and fellow travelers in discovering new possibilities for art. Pach, who organized the 1913 Armory show, introduced Duchamp to Arensberg, who became Duchamp’s most important patron and would eventually collect every existing Duchamp artwork (a small feat, considering the artist’s limited output). Could it be that this avant-garde group simply did not think Duchamp’s stunt was all that clever, or worth muddying their own serious attempts to pull resistant American audiences into the modernist conversation? The legitimacy of modern art was still in question; they did not want the integrity of their work defended by the argument “it is art because I say it is.”

The famous dogma regarding the readymades is that anything an artist calls art, is art. Duchamp’s own corollary to that, less frequently referred to, is that it doesn’t mean the work is any good, and that the audience and posterity will ultimately make that decision, not the artist. The argument for the importance of the readymades is based on the influence they exerted on later artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauchenberg and composer John Cage, and via these artists Duchamp continues to attract a cult- like following. But what did these artists think about the master? Here is Johns in 1968: “The ‘Urinal’ [a famous ‘readymade’ art-work of Marcel Duchamp] signed R. Mutt, is played as an art object, and then as the opposite of a legitimate art object. And it vacillates back and forth. Well perhaps that is a nice thing, but I don’t know. I find Duchampianism a bore. It’s very adolescent. I was very much excited by it when I was a teenager. My tradition is quite different. My conscious tradition is through Constantin Brancusi and Brancusi just strikes me as an infinitely wiser and infinitely more talented, an infinitely stronger figure than Duchamp. I think I could have done my work if Duchamp had not lived. I could not have done my work if Brancusi had not lived.”

The Brancusi myth also relies quite a bit on stories; the rugged, bearded Romanian, platonic-primitive, with friends in high society. But the Duchamp myth puts the story before the artworks, and that is why his following has certain cult- like attributes; the stories need not be true if they answer to the needs of the narrative arc. The Duchamp and Brancusi narratives are facets of the larger narrative of modernism, another true story that is often intricately twined with myth and error or willfully distorted by all manner of bias. It is best that these narratives be seen, not as true or false, but simply as stories, and subject to all of the dramatic enhancements that make a story interesting. We can correct the facts and are free to tell our own versions.

In the heyday of Alfred Barr, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, one man could, and in Barr’s case did, affect the way the story of modern art was told. His modernism creation myth exerted a powerful influence and an equally powerful reaction. It is ridiculous to reject one academic dogma only to replace it with another; but that is what happened, and in some quarters continues till this day.

Every artist, and every art viewer, will eventually construct their own canon, consisting of the artists they are most drawn to. But museum directors and curators continue to control the conversation by deciding what works the public sees. Though MoMA is slow to challenge its own linear interpretation of modernism, museums like the Met and the Whitney, and smaller regional museums, are doing an excellent job at filling out the recent history of art by prominently displaying once neglected artworks. Not only is the viewer left to the task of rating and ranking, they are left to decide if that approach is even necessary.

Archibald Motley, Barbecue, 1934

The Whitney recently had a show of painter Archibald Motley, a black painter who not only was handicapped by race, but had the added misfortune of being a figurative painter in an age of abstraction; his career petered out in the 1950’s and he supported himself painting shower curtain designs. His work speaks for itself, and will continue to, now that he has been inserted into the public view.


Maine viewers were recently treated to the remarkable works of Florine Stettheimer, at the PMA. Those works and many more are now part of a larger show at the New York Jewish Museum. Stettheimer suffered professionally from self-inflicted wounds; she chose to not pursue a public career. Her works have long had a cult following, Warhol was a fan, but she is now experiencing a mainstream moment at a time when there is a great deal of contemporary painting that forms a natural dialogue with her work (Nicole Eisenman and Kerry James Marshall come to mind but there are so many more).

Florine Stettheimer, La Fete a Duchamp, 1917

Stettheimer was part of Duchamp’s social circle and she painted him on a number of occasions. It is in fact a delicious irony that as large as Duchamp still looms in the modernist canon, (with Stettheimer, even now, inhabiting a lower tier) in Stettheimer’s paintings, it is Duchamp cast in a walk- on role. In one such painting, Picnic at Bedford Hills, the women outnumber the men and it is Duchamp doing the cooking, tending the lobster pot, while Stettheimer, her sisters, and sculptor Elie Nadelman wait for lunch. Another painting, La Fete a Duchamp, depicts two stages of the same party, and in one, Duchamp waves from a roadster driven by Francis Picabia.

Florine Stettheimer, Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918

In spite of Duchamp’s misunderstood reputation as being anti-retinal, in 1946, two years after Stettheimer’s death, he helped organize a retrospective at MoMA (he was credited with the role of Guest Director). Duchamp’s public statements were designed to be provocative; in private he admired and befriended a number of painters of all styles. It is noteworthy that the MoMA show was intentionally attempting to secure Stettheimer a place in the canon. But then Jackson Pollack happened and America preferred the cowboy in a trance myth to the cultured urbanite narrative.

Now that artists like Stettheimer, Motley and others are part of the conversation, their stories and the stories surrounding them will be forced into a variety of narratives. But the artworks exist, and they are now on public view. We can spin our own stories out of our encounters with the paintings. Duchamp and his posthumous mythographers no longer control his story. He will now also be remembered as a red haired androgyne, ready to serve lunch to other artists who are paying no attention to him. This does not change the standard narrative, but modifies it and adds color. To be faithful to the Duchampian ethic of destructive renewal would actually mean rejecting the standard narrative, writing a new one. Jasper Johns, in his rejection of Duchampianism, was doing just what the master would have him do.

It is not for us, but for posterity, to decide whether Duchamp gets demoted and Stettheimer promoted. But however the story gets told, we now have vivid full color illustrations provided by Stettheimer. But did Duchamp look like that? I will answer the question the same way Picasso answered the critique of his Gertrude Stein portrait: He will!

American Genre: Contemporary Painting

Howard Fonda, “Untitled (the future as seen through the past/stolen,given,owned, not owned, self, not self)”, oil and colored pencil on canvas. 56″x44″, 2017

Attention all painters, all artists!!  A great painting show is coming to Portland, Maine July, 2017.   Michelle Grabner, artist, writer, curator and Crown Family Professor of Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has curated an amazing exhibition, American Genre: Contemporary Painting opening on July 20 at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art.

Amy Bennett, “Nothing New Under Sun”, 32″x40″, oil on canvas, 2016, photo courtesy of the artist and Richard Heller Gallery

Cultural production runs deep in Maine and genre painting is a symbolic force in our lineage.  As an artistic convention, genre is powerful as a chart of history, one that reveals artistic patterns and social, political and cultural American value systems.  Fifty painters from around the country will contribute one painting each with a focus on landscape, still life and portraiture. Visitors who come to see the show will have a chance to view a range of painting approaches assembled in one location and for geeky painters, this is a great opportunity to analyze current trends and recognize that genre painting offers a space of common ground.   American Genre: Contemporary Painting will provide a varied snapshot of contemporary life and reflect tradition as painting practice now.

Henry Taylor, “Danielle Dean”, acrylic on canvas, 48”x30”, 2012, photography credit: Collection Rosalie Benitez and Jeff Poe, Malibu, CA

Also! Mark your calendars. On September 15, 2017 there will be a symposium to bracket and close the show.  American Genre Painting:  A One-Day Symposium at the Maine College of Art will begin with a mid-morning keynote lecture by Marie Shurkus, Chair of Academic Studies at MECA, followed by lunch, and afternoon panel discussion moderated by critic, writer, poet and art historian Barry Schwabsky with panelists Sharon Butler, painter and writer of TWO COATS OF PAINT, and Roger White, painter and RISD faculty member. (One or two more panelists TBD)  A closing reception will take place at 5:00 in the ICA. This event is free and open to the public.

Dana DeGiulio, “Citizens”, oil on canvas, 25”×19″, 2015
Hope Gangloff, “After Party”, acrylic and collage on paper, 2015

I hope you can make it!  My best, Gail Spaien

Opening on Thursday, July 20 from 5:00-8:00pm

Check the website for more details and the list of artists included in the show:

Laura Dunn: Narrative; Public and Private

For the most part I work intuitively, with no intent of narrative. But sometimes a narrative appears and I find a mantra building within my head. Other times I begin with a mantra that is fleshed out in the work.

This monoprint series was created at a time of turmoil in my life, the turmoil that comes both from my internal world and from the outside world often in equal measure.

Laura Dunn, “Release”, Gelatin Monoprint, 12” x 9”

Emotions spiral up from the gut flowing around, through and out the mind.

My emotions and my intellect are always in conversation.

BALANCE is key.

This series is about that balance and the reconciliation I have come to find in nature.

I have learned that I must catch, capture, reign in and offer up my thoughts and emotions in order to stay grounded.

The offering is given over to nature, is poured out in working the land, observing growth, death and rebirth with reverence.

The offering is consumed by my intellect and sublimated by both action and inaction. The doing and the not doing. Equal in their importance.

Laura Dunn, “Trying to Catch”, Gelatin Monoprint, 12” x 9”

The earth, the garden growing, maturing, dying all feed my center.

LIFE by definition is sacred. Death sacred too.

Laura Dunn, “Finding My Way in the Garden”, Gelatin Monoprint, 12” x 9”
Laura Dunn, “Catch and Release”, Gelatin Monoprint, 12” x 9”

The work in this series centers around the celebration of this sacred dichotomy, and the peace it brings to my soul.

Grace Metzler: Visual Essay

by Emilie Stark-Menneg

With every brushstroke Grace Metzler investigates how humans behave, congregate, love and chill together.

Grace Metzler, “Bathers“, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2016, 11”x14”
Grace Metzler, “Milk House“, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2017, 86″x70”

She often depicts people interacting at what may appear to be a tailgate hootenanny turned mythic ceremony. Supernatural auroras emanate from her work.

Grace Metzler, “Mitts“, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2017, 48″x36”

In Metzler’s “Mitts”, a pair of ubiquitous oven mitts seem to have forgone their domestic duties to lend magical powers to their wearer, whose green skin and camouflage coat suggest she has become a forest.

Grace Metzler, “Make-Out Hole + Runners“, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2016, 84″x103”

Metzler’s “Make-out Hole + Runners”, depicts men jogging through a sparsely-wooded lot. Two identical bonfires rage like burning eyes. The runners appear to be enacting a ritual that might either conjure the sublime or wake the dead. In the lower right corner, a man and a naked woman make-out, which seems to suggest a fairytale or midnight kiss. But elsewhere in the painting, a figure appears to be climbing in or out of a grave. The tension between good and evil, and the magical code that sends us in either direction, lends great poise to Grace’s work, which teeters on the edge of a powerful and yet unpredictable sorcery.

Grace Metzler, “Laundry Day“, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2017, 67″x70”

In one of her most recent works, “Laundry Day”, a woman folds laundry while presumably her husband, who has just returned home, appears in the doorway, mysteriously pointing his hand upward. One wall of the living room is partially covered in depictions of horses and riders, recalling ancient pictographs. The cowboys adorning the wall might represent an accumulation of days, dreams and desires. Perhaps, for this couple, painting has the power to pattern the future, to in effect, bring home the steak dinner, which sits on a tray in the middle of the room. Metzler’s paintings seem to oscillate between portrayals of ordinary gatherings and magic rituals. She simultaneously offers the viewer a snapshot of the everyday and an epic fairytale. That both the TV dinner tray-table and the drying rack are collapsible and that the woman is folding laundry, suggests that the universe can be one thing, expansive and visible, or invisible,

Grace Metzler, “Dancers“, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2017, 12″x16”

mysterious and tucked-away.

Grace Metzler, “Swinger“, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2017, 56″x72”
Grace Metzler, “Games On”, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2016, 68”x72

Brita Holmquist: Notes On Narrative

Vasari wrote that painting was the finest way to communicate. The viewer did not need to be able to read to understand what was being imparted; what lesson was being disclosed.  The viewer could be coerced into being good and go to heaven, or even more exciting, be bad and be eaten and tortured forever by devils in hell. Imbedded in these paintings were a panoply of symbols. Everything from ermine (royalty) to a broken pitcher (loss of virginity) could be read by most viewers. Certainly, the symbols in the churches were there to be acknowledged and obeyed.


Landscape painting was simply the background of the narrative foreground of a pre-Renaissance painting or even a Renaissance one. There is still an inherent feeling that landscape painting is not as rigorous and purposeful as narrative pieces. It is still dismissed as decorative. That space that children leave blank, white paper, between the grass and daisies at the bottom of the page and the sun and clouds of the sky, way up high at the top of the paper.

Portraiture started life as a recognition of the donor, the artist’s benefactor, standing about adoring the Mother and Child in Western art. Then slowly, that portrait became the evidence of a man’ s worth and importance on the worldly stage alone. A portrait meant the sitter had arrived in all his or her splendor of furs and jewels declaring wealth and importance.


Uccello, “Battle of San Romano”

Possessions themselves became subjects to be admired by all: horses, dogs and ships of the line, even prize bulls and cows. They all told the story of the patron’s wealth, without verbal boasting, very tastefully.  Great warriors and potentates had historical paintings of their battles, whether by sea or by land, worked up to be admired as victories or to commemorate sad losses that had been overcome. Think of Lorenzo De Medici’s bedroom with those three huge Paolo Uccello battle scenes of giant blue and pink horses bucking and stomping with their knights brandishing spears on three walls. I cannot imagine any other bedroom so fabulous, even if this  battle- was commissioned by the Salembeni family- but ”acquired” by Lorenzo,  one purchased, two by force!  (The Battle of San Romano was between Florence and Siena.)


Mondrian, “Broadway”
Charles Sillem Lidderdale, The Broken Pitcher

The art work became the treasured object in and of itself, first and foremost as decoration (maybe to remain there to this day). Narration is therefore still important, but now has to be interpreted by experts. This removes it from the common folk and puts a kind of voodoo on it, which remains today. Why are people shy about going into galleries?  They are afraid of being perceived as ignorant, or they feel innately ignorant, because they cannot see the symbols for themselves.  This caused the rise of Art Appreciation and Art Theory classes, and created a new atmosphere in which only the educated are perceived to be able to understand and interpret art. The gallery, the experts, now declare the art ‘s value. Its price, and its beauty, is the only narrative left to us.  

Brita Holmquist

Titi De Baccarat

I do not do politics, but I do practice art. My artistic creation is both poetic and social. I create because I dream. I believe things move only if we dream. But it is not just works of art that create change; change is created by the reflections, questions, and emotions that art arouse.

Titi de Baccarat, “United Nations Organization”, newspaper, fabric , mirror and sponge, 2010, 25”x25”
Titi de Baccarat, “Biafra War”, toys and sponge, plywood and acrylic, 2010, 25”x25”
Titi de Baccarat, “Immigration Is Not a Color”, dust of wood, leather, mattress, mirror and spray paint, 2016, 25”x25”, photo by Kyle Dubay
Titi de Baccarat, “I Saw”, dust of wood, metal and spray paint, 2016, 25”x25”, photo by Kyle Dubay

In this time of globalization that is weakening some of the world’s population, there are more than 60 million refugees in the world. Men, women, and children have fled their countries due to economic crisis or war. Meanwhile, governments cannot find solutions to welcome those fleeing and restore their human dignity. It is in these most critical moments that I create and invent new artistic forms. I create art to challenge, to create awareness, and to stimulate both reflection and dialogue on political and humanitarian issues. My hope, above all, is to touch the hearts of people in a sensitive and emotional manner.

In  Africa, my art described the history of the Black Continent.

Titi de Baccarat, “Kilimanjaro”, bark, wood and metal, 2016, photo by Kyle Dubay
Titi de Baccarat, “1994 (Rwandan Genocide)”, dry paint, nail and acrylic, 2010, 25”x25”
Titi de Baccarat, “Our Trees, Our Lives”, dust of wood and roots of tree and bark, 2016, 27”x39”, photo by Kyle Dubay

I channeled my experiences of democracy, promoting a culture of peace and solidarity, and denouncing armed conflict and war which have claimed millions of lives in Africa.

Titi de Baccarat, “Mvett”, branches of trees, leather, wood, fabric and mirror, 2016, photo by Kyle Dubay

In the USA, my collections of ethnic jewelry and paintings made with various materials—leather, wood, and assorted metals—celebrate the beauty and struggle of peoples around the world standing to face their oppressors.

Titi de Baccarat, “Thanks America”, bark, flag and dust of wood, 2016, photo by Kyle Dubay

My collection of clothing for men and women, inspired by the concept of conjoined twins, consists of 27 designs focused on solidarity and humanity. I experiment with recycled materials, along with a coded language , with the aim of suggesting a more open attitude to the potential of these materials that overflow into our garbage and into our lives.

 Are our lives not considered waste in the eyes of some?

Titi de Baccarat, “Message of Hope During War”, mirror, leather, mattress, dust of wood and acrylic, 2016, 25″x25″, photo by Kyle Dubay

Titi De Baccarat is an artist who possesses many facets ­­ at once: painter, sculptor, jeweler, clothing designer, and writer. Dedicated to justice in a hostile political context, he was forced to flee his country, Gabon, with only the wealth of his artistic ability. He has lived in Portland since February 2015, and is working through his African identity and artistic expertise to contribute to the culture of the city.