We asked you to send us your sketchbooks, to share who you are, and how you got here. This issue of the Maine Arts Journal: UMVA Quarterly is full of the wisdom (and secrets) of 35 artists.
Many of you have shared pages from past and present sketchbooks, with both images and words, observed or imagined things, old ideas and experimental new ones, intimate wishes and regrets, rants, dreams, scribbles, portraits, life drawings, and landscapes. They are private, fresh, original, visionary.
Sketching, whether you have continued it or not, is an early, beloved, essential practice that helps form who you are. It’s how one learns to see both the thing and the spaces between, where abstraction is born. It’s where you play with an idea, experiment, create a storehouse of images to draw on, or record a scene. The sketchbook is an uncensored place to store or reveal your secrets, where you let your feelings come to the surface and recognize them on the page in front of you. There you can witness your progress, with growing awareness and confidence, the journey from first observations to finished work.
Some of us don’t take the time to sketch anymore, drawing directly on our canvases in hopes of retaining some of the spontaneity of our sketches. Some artists’ directions have led them away from the figurative, others find joy when drawing from life or in front of a subject. Some sketchbooks resemble journals, full of notes and quotes, lists and revelations.
We thank you for what you have taught us and for your trust.
We hope this issue of the Maine Arts Journal will re-ignite your passion for drawing and encourage you to pull out your old sketchbooks to see who you were and are now.
And now to the issue—Enjoy!
From the editors, Dan Kany, Natasha Mayers, Jessica Myer, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg, and Betsy Sholl (poetry editor)
QUICK INTRODUCTION TO THE WINTER ISSUE
The inspiration for the SKETCHBOOK theme came from a CMCA exhibit, First Traces, in 2008, curated by Britta Konau, for which the CMCA has kindly provided the curatorial statement and images.
Our Featured Artists include Michael Boardman, Richard Iammarino, Judy LaBrasca,Stephen Petroff, Lewis Rossingol, Nikki Schumann, and Jeff Woodbury.
In our Members’ Showcase we welcome 22 UMVA member submissions (the most ever!), all sharing their art and stories: Kay Carter, Alan Crichton (and Crichton/Shahn sketchbook), Valera Crofoot, David Estey, Emma Geiger, Ellen Hodgkin, Nina Jerome, Suzanna Lasker, Lin Lisberger, Anne McGurk, Janice Moore, Leonard Meiselman, Wendy Newbold-Patterson, Don Mallow, Mark Nelsen, Marcus Parsons, Brian Reeves, Claire Seidl, Pam Smith, Bonnie Spiegel, Mary Becker Weiss, and Amy Peters Wood.
—Regular contributor Ed Beem compiles an extensive history of Portland murals. —Sarah Bouchard shares the horrors of having her work destroyed.
—Ari Solotoff, Esq. of Bernstein Shur provides some legal advice to Maine artists. —Tom Burkhardt’s installation at CMCA prompts an essay by Michael Torlen. —Poetry by Elizabeth Tibbetts and Kifah Abdulla is introduced by Betsy Sholl. —Our Insight/Incite feature is by Jason Morgan, Cony High School art teacher who works with New Mainers.
We have an exceptionally rich trove of UMVA features in this issue. Robert Shetterly, our inspired UMVA President for more than 20 years, is stepping down, and it seems a fitting moment to thank him publicly and remind us all what important work the UMVA is continuing to do.
–We have some work by old time UMVA members (Stephen Petroff, Carlo Pittore, Abby Shahn, Pat Owen, Pam Smith) because they drew together, incubated ideas, and made manifestos on the pages next to their drawings
—William Hessian, the new president of the UMVA, writes a letter to members and introduces the new Board members. —ARRT! and LumenARRT! share their most recent work. –-Maine Masters launches the upcoming film about Rob Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth. — Shetterly writes a stirring, not-to-be-missed piece about the current exhibit of his entire portrait series at Syracuse University. –UMVA sends out a fundraising letter. —UMVA Portland chapter lists its upcoming exhibitions. –UMVA sends out a state-wide call to artists to submit work to The Way Life Is – Maine Working Families And Communities. —UMVA Lewiston/Auburn issues a chapter report. —UMVA Archives is a new feature, a selection by Pat and Tony Owens, which includes their letter from Ireland
Look to the “submit” page for our SPRING issue’s theme invitation and guidelines for SANCTUARY.
We look forward to seeing what you are making and what you are doing.
From the editors, Dan Kany, Natasha Mayers, Jessica McCarthy, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg, and Betsy Sholl (poetry editor)
Without question, Sarah Bouchard’s story recounting the
destruction of her sculpture is disheartening.
There is a natural feeling of injustice when something of value has been
damaged, in this case irreversibly. Whether
faced with physical damage to a piece of art or infringement of one’s
intellectual property rights, what remedies exist for artists? Where can a creative artist in Maine go to
find legal help? What rights are at
stake and how can they be enforced? Questions
like these are surfacing with greater frequency as Maine’s arts and
entertainment sector continues to grow and evolve.
Every artist’s situation is unique and highly dependent
on the nature of their creative discipline and the particular stage of their career. Within the visual arts, music, photography,
filmmaking, and the literary professions, there are entire industries devoted
to administering and optimizing an artist’s creative output. Art galleries, music publishers, record
labels, stock photo agencies, movie studios and literary publishers have
invested in developing the in-house expertise to help artists navigate the
commercial and legal world. As a result,
many creatives share the proceeds from their work as consideration for
outsourcing business and legal functions.
At the same time, many artists wish to remain independent,
or need assistance navigating issues that are specific to their artistic
goals. Alternatively, the costs of
working within an established structure may outweigh the benefits. Like many regions across the country, Maine
does not have formal access to pro bono legal aid for the arts, which is
limited to larger cities, such as Boston, New York, or Nashville. Maine, however, is a special place for its
size because of the widespread appreciation for the arts among Mainers. As a result, a number of lawyers within the Maine
bar have become well-acquainted with the types of questions that commonly arise
for artists, including the benefits of copyright registration, the process for
enforcing intellectual property rights, and approaches to negotiating contracts
involving creative work.
The list of names is not necessarily long, but the
experience exists and can be found at many Maine firms. In addition to my own practice, I would be
pleased to provide a list of names of others who have become familiar with this
unique and rewarding area of the law.
Just the idea that an individual would intentionally destroy
a large work of art — even taking the parts and disposing of them — is
It is also troubling that there were not sufficient legal or professional resources for the artist to develop an appropriately robust response. From there, the ultimate outcome failed the artist in terms of justice.
These are very serious issues. It is upsetting to bear
witness to a criminal episode with such an unsatisfying outcome. It is positive
that Ms. Bouchard has found she can move on and relate her story so eloquently,
but it’s not enough. This should never happen again! It is concerning that Volunteer
Lawyers for the Arts has disbanded, so the Editorial Board is asking that you
email us or post here in the comments section if you know of legal resources or
attorneys who have skills in areas such as VARA (Visual Artists Rights Act of
1990), copyright, destruction of property (i.e. art), First Amendment (free
speech), or other topics relating specifically to the visual arts. If we get a
sufficient response, we will add it to the MAJ. Thank you.
The Artists’ Rapid Response Team! is a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, and receives additional help from the Broad Reach Fund at the Maine Community Foundation. ARRT! works to give a visual voice to progressive organizations, schools and community groups to educate, confront, or to start a conversation about issues of importance.
ARRTists are UMVA members who communicate with organizations, listen to their goals, research their issues, and design images to visually express the essence of their message. It is an open group, always welcoming new members!
Below are some of the projects from this last quarter of 2018, including some shots of banners put to use by organizations throughout the state.
One project of the Restorative Justice Institute is working with a group of men who are incarcerated at Maine State Prison to improve the culture and potential for healing inside the Prison. ARRT! will be working with them in the coming month. The banner above was just completed in December.
The banner above was created for Portland’s Homeless Persons Annual Memorial Vigil On the Winter Solstice. The group states that:
The Longest Night of Homelessness is an event that belongs to the full community. This banner honors the event and the people we’ve lost.
Often groups will join ARRT! to paint the images with the help of ARRTists. At times they become so involved that they keep returning to work on other issues or work in their own communities to create images for change.
The Heart of Biddeford banner supports their mission highlighting the immigrant history of the city and the current focus on inclusion, equity and justice.
Maine AllCare works to educate Maine citizens and bring healthcare to all Mainers.
LumenARRT! is a branch of the Artists Rapid Response Team! that uses large-scale video projection to call attention to the work of progressive non-profits and highlight issues of concern to the people of Maine.
After 7 years at Cony High School in Augusta, Maine, I have seen many images in sketchbooks and studio projects that give unique perspectives into students’ personal lives. These images open discussions that go beyond technical skills and knowledge. It’s the humanistic side of teaching that helps to foster them and helps us to carefully listen. In the last five to six years, Middle Eastern refugee students have arrived in Augusta, which has helped globalize our classrooms and given a perspective on life beyond Maine, of students who have endured upheaval of their families’ lives beyond what we can imagine. Luckily I had two advisees who helped me navigate my understanding of Iraqi culture and customs, as well as the Muslim religion.
There were many opportunities to have these conversations with students whose families had to escape from war and terrorism in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, as well as families from Puerto Rico who suffered from the hands of Hurricane Maria.
My first insight came from a Syrian refugee brother and sister who migrated from Arizona to Augusta. Their lives shaped a story of hardship and sadness. They asked for a sketchbook for their talented older sister. Not only had the brother and sister proved themselves to be motivated and expressive art students in their own right, but it became apparent that it ran in their family. I was excited to see their sister’s work which they shared a few days later.
“Art is the gateway to help immerse English Language Learners (ELL) into the regular classrooms”, stated Helen Renko from Cony High School Guidance Department.
I support this statement. The “gateway” is in the form of a universal, visual language, which provides opportunities to learn about refugee students and their background– from the displacement from their homeland to arrival in Augusta, Maine. Their verbal language skills varied from limited conversation to a well-developed grasp of English. But most of the conversations and expressions came through their artwork.
Their pride and identity with their home country came through often in student sketchbook assignments. Iraqi and Syrian flags appeared frequently, along with drawings or symbols about their families left behind in the brutal wars and conflicts. In “I Am From”, a poetry/collage project, the aforementioned brother and sister poured out their emotions through few English words and images of a small boy washed ashore (Aylan Kurdi). This photographic image, sketched and photocopied from his sketchbook, is burned into our global mind.
A personal connection to these horrible tragedies in the conflicts in Iraq and Syrian Civil War becomes less about news we read or listen to in a desensitized way and more about the students in my own classroom that have been affected directly, who tell their stories of unspeakable deaths in their families and the severe beatings of neighbors.
The Resiliency Project is an idea that was spurred by my refugee students and students who have faced, or still face, adversity, but still arrive at school every day, participating and coping in a teenager’s daily life.
Despite experiencing the most extreme adverse conditions, refugee students have a very respectful demeanor and exude an excitement to be in a safe and accepting place.
The Resiliency Project’s intent is to put a face on our school community and develop sensitivity to these adverse conditions which refugee students and families have endured, and students who suffer from mental conditions that sometimes make the most mundane challenges monumental. To create a community identity for groups of people that may not have understood or heard their stories, a project was designed and developed by Susan Bickford from University of Maine and Maine College of Art, with the focus on the collaborative process between the subject, photographer, student artists, and the audience. Collaboration for the Resiliency Project began with refugee student volunteers and Doug Van Kampen, a local professional photographer from Brunswick who is “married into” our Cony community. He volunteered his time to this project that just recently made its first gallery debut in November, in the Harlow Gallery exhibition, Immigration: Home Lost, Home Found.
This past November four students joined me on a project with Artists’ Rapid Response Team! (ARRT!), a non-profit organization that collaborates on social-political issues such as immigration, to create a banner for Harlow Gallery’s Immigration: Home Lost, Home Found exhibition. The design process, led by Natasha Mayers and the team of ARRTists, explored the theme of “home lost, home found”. Two students, Rafeef and Zeina Ahmed, told their story of displacement and travels from one temporary home to another, to their settling in their new home of Augusta, Maine. Stories of escape from violence and oppression, and leaving family produced visual images of destruction of their homelands and the rebirth of a new life in the United States. One question Natasha posed was, “What did you carry with you when you left your home?” Answers ranged from the clothes on their back to a family heirloom– a teapot and cups. This process was powerful as these images appeared in their work, along with destroyed buildings, a bridge, and Maine’s Capitol. From start to finish, Zeina held fast to the ARRT! process and finished the banner. It hangs with pride in the Harlow Gallery.
This fall, I was able to visit an exhibition of Bassam Khabieh’s work at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He is a Syrian photojournalist who has captured the last 7 years of the Syrian Civil War and multiple acts of cruelty against humankind on the sensor of his camera. This exhibit brought my experience together, teaching a new course (UMA/ Cony dual-enrollment digital photography) and working with refugee students, telling stories first hand through the power of visual imagery. This re-sensitized me to situations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Puerto Rico. I felt I needed to share Bassam’s work with the Augusta community to help visually reinforce the stories that our own community has been sharing for years.
In hindsight, I feel honored and privileged to have had the experience of working with refugee students (“New Mainers”, as the Capital Area New Mainers Project refers to our new families), and sharing conversations through broken English and the common language of visual art. It has helped me expand my cultural understanding of a culture so often under attack. We share many beliefs in common, and we must take care of each other with love and respect no matter our misunderstanding and construed truths. This is what art and art education continue to teach me everyday.
By Jason Morgan, Cony High School Art Department Head and ASD Art Coordinator
Pat and I have been pouring over early (very early) UMVA newsletters. This ephemera goes back to 1975 and UMVA’s first issue. What struck us was, not how much has changed, but how much has stayed the same. The struggle goes on. Artists continue to look for recognition, believing their work is of personal and or social importance. Bureaucracies control not only the purse strings, but how the artists must represent themselves in order to be taken seriously. Nothing much has changed.
Pat and I moved from Maine to the west of Ireland 12 years ago. We made the decision to shake our lives up, to turn things upside down, to get out of the comfort zone. We knew Ireland to be a country rich in artistic legacy, a country that supports the arts and its artists. The move turned out to be challenging, but it was the challenge we ultimately sought, a new horizon, but the closer you to get to that line, the more familiar things become.
For the past 4 years now we have curated exhibitions for a May Day festival here in Dingle (Feile na Bealtaine). Last year’s show was titled ‘AGE+less’. It was in response to the concept of ageism. We chose artists using a wide spectrum of age, from 10 years to approximately 80 years. We hoped those viewing the exhibition would find the art more important than the age of those who created it. We are currently looking to this year’s festival and incorporating an issue affecting Ireland today: homelessness. It is hoped that we, as artists can add our voices to a growing public outcry. But can art fix the problem? Can art change things socially for the better, or will it all remain the same?
In January 1990, 28 years ago,the UMVA mounted an exhibition in Portland entitled ‘Artists for the Homeless’ organized by Natasha Mayers. We vividly remember the exhibition, not so much because of our participation (we had a piece on Congress Street) but because of the controversy that followed. A few landlords whose buildings housed some of the art, removed the work that they deemed inappropriate, vulgar or distasteful. Because the artists were not told in advance of this action, the ‘shit’ hit the proverbial fan! The outcry rang across the pages of the Casco Bay Weekly and the Portland Press Herald…Censorship! Natasha Mayers believed that the topic of homelessness was a ‘non-controversial’ issue, the public thought otherwise. It ended with four of the artists’ works being removed. Today in America the word censorship is masked in new terminology: ‘Fake News’.
At present here in Ireland, there are roughly 4000 people homeless. Lots of talk and protest from arts groups, but the problem still looms large. Will art change it? Can art be the great influencer?
Back in July of this year we attended the opening of an exhibition in Galway, ‘The Art of Protest’. It showed works by artists who were influenced by political and or societal problems in Ireland. The works were graphic and in-your-face acts of passive protest. On one wall was a large color photograph of an older woman of indeterminate age. She was depicted in an orange prison jumpsuit. She sat in a comfortable looking chair in a room filled with books. The juxtaposition of the prison jumpsuit and the dignified room she sat in was striking. A little later during drinks at the reception, there she was… the woman in the orange prison suit! We discovered that she protested the refueling of American war planes at Shannon Airport. She did this by gaining access to the runway and throwing a brick at a US military transport plane. This got her 3 months and a new orange prison jumpsuit, compliments of the Irish Government. This was her drama, this was her art of protest. The military still refuels at Shannon Airport on their way to the Middle East, and the woman in the picture holds dear her orange prison jumpsuit. It is her personal talisman.
Will art ever be able to change societies’ problems? Can art influence those who refuse to look or be influenced? As artists we work for the most part in isolation. Those of us that create socio/political works, do so in the hopes that change will come about in some small way because of what we make, because of what we put forward. We hope that the art will express more than the sum of our parts and not become that jumpsuit, a personal orange talisman. We hope that what we create as artists will nudge us all forward, just a little, to a horizon. If that comes about, we might just drag along a few disbelievers.
Post script; In March of 1990 the UMVA issued a special news letter. It dealt solely with censorship and the NEA. The National Endowment for the Arts was being attacked by forces on the right for granting monies to arts organizations that purportedly were organizing pornographic exhibitions. They demanded the NEA be shut down and or suppressed. At stake was freedom of expression in general, whether it be the visual arts, or printed material. The NEA was seen as a threat to the American way of life. Arts organizations across America fought back. We continue to do so.
Tony and Pat Owen Live and Create in Co. Kerry, Ireland. Still Mainers in Our Soul.
Relentless flooding is the new normal. Hurricanes ravage the land, and rivers overflow, destroying property and infrastructure, killing people, wild animals, and livestock. Our government’s response through FEMA is a reactive one. We spend billions of dollars after the fact, but very little on preparation and prevention. The reality is, our climate has changed. Indeed, Hurricane Florence is the most recent devastating storm to hit the southern states, bringing winds and unprecedented quantities of water—in some places over 40 inches of rain. The floodwaters rise and rivers pour out, turning hundreds of square miles of America into a flood plain.
After the 2016 election, in “This Post-Election Pain Is Good, At Least for Art” (New York, November 14, 2016), Jerry Saltz wrote, “Trump’s victory is a crucible of possibility for a new generation, who will do what artists have always done in times like these: go back to work.” In Saltz’s imaginings of what might manifest from this “crucible of possibility,” he opines, “I can imagine the typical arty gestures of sparseness art giving way to another kind of organization, marked by extremes of gesture, things more homemade,unpredictable, vulnerable, bizarre.” This brings us to Tom Burckhardt’s Studio Flood, most recently on view at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland, Maine.
Studio Flood, comprised of brown corrugated cardboard and black paint, was a walk-in re-creation of a dimly lit studio, roughly 18’ x 24’, positioned at an angle in a large, rectangular exhibition space at CMCA. Ominous black shapes, like sharks’ fins, protruded from cardboard overhead, painted with black swirls, indicating water. The open windows revealed inverted buildings, trees,and upturned light sources.
Viewers entered a space that was literally and figuratively upside down. We walked on the “ceiling” and saw the corners of black canvases above our heads floating on a plane referencing the indifferent floodwater’s invasion. Black canvases filled upside down racks. The surface beneath our feet looked like the 19th century tin ceilings embossed with squares, so common in New York artists’ lofts. Tools and paint cans, postcards and brushes, books and a human skull, all deftly made of cardboard, sat on shelves or hung on the walls, upside down.
Studio Flood was disorienting. It was like walking into a cartoon or a fun house. Because we human beings are accustomed to viewing the world by standing on a ground plane and noticing spaces and objects converging away from us, Studio Flood’s inverted artist’s studio was confusing. Our brains wanted to get it right, according to all of our experiences, but the existential reality did not permit it. Here we have the crux of Burckhardt’s work—just as Studio Flood is upside down, so is the world. We expected everything to be familiar, the way it used to be, but it wasn’t.
The meanings of Burckhardt’s Studio Flood arise in its “crucible of possibilities,” its capacity to function as a complex metaphor. Studio Flood is at once personal and universal, humorous, and visually surprising; it is created with low-tech materials found in the unglamorous shipping world—cardboard, utility knives, hot glue, and black paint. It is a comment on the importance and value of labor and skill in an art world that favors deskilling. At the same time, Burckhardt’s project seems absurd, and as Saltz says about imagined art after Trump, “homemade, unpredictable, vulnerable, bizarre.”
Burckhardt’s installation is also a reflection on and about the origins and meanings of art and artists. When all the canvases are black as in Studio Flood, references to Art about Art, Ad Reinhardt, Malevich, Stella, and even Goya’s black paintings come to mind. “Is Painting Dead?” is also at issue. The black rectangles, in their horizontal and vertical, geometric grid-based form, may represent culture in collision with the fluid, organic, impersonal, floodwaters of nature. There is also a sense in which the black canvases signify, not only the flooded circumstance, but also the increasing threat of the death of painting and by extension, the death of art.
Burckhardt witnessed the flooded studios and damaged artwork in New York City during Hurricane Sandy, and knew many artists and galleries that lost valuable work. He became increasingly concerned about the planet’s ecological disasters. In response, he turned to personal experiences rather than attempt to express his concern in some obvious political critique. Nevertheless, Studio Floodis a political critique, its content prima facie evidence of our planet’s dire condition.
We bear witness to terrifying evidence of global warming in Burckhardt’s installation. Any of the natural elements—floods, fires, tornadoes, or mudslides—have the potential to destroy the evidence of an artist’s life. In our historical moment, the precarious status of our planet’s environment and upside down world are real and present dangers. The planet is getting warmer and with it comes all the hazards of an environment gone wacky. Everything is upside down, from politics to climate change.
According to an article in the Washington Post, on Wednesday, June 20,2018, President Trump ended an eight-year-old policy to protect the oceans. The policy, established under President Obama, responded to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a vivid reminder of the planet’s vulnerable marine environment. Plastic waste is piling up after China made a decision to stop accepting it from other nations. The ice in the Antarctic region is melting faster than scientists predicted.
Burckhardt’s Studio Flood resides at the nexus of the deadly serious and the strange. He willfully undermines his substantial skill, invites the dangerous and the destructive into the conversation, and pulls apart the Art question. His work challenges our perceptions and assumptions about art and the world. Is this project a painting, sculpture, installation, performance, or are we witnessing absurd theatricality? Is it a joke, subversive or serious? Perhaps, all of the above.
Although the ultimate meaning of Studio Flood and its black canvases is up to the viewer, Burckhardt has said, “If the floating canvases symbolize the endlessly advertised ‘end of painting,’ the flood seems to answer, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’”
By creatively confronting the monsters that artists face, and making his own fear and anxiety his subject matter, he consumed the energy of the “enemy” and used it for his own creative purpose. In Studio Flood, Burckhardt also addressed pressing and timely political and global crises—universal monsters that all humans on our planet earth are facing. Burckhardt’s Studio Flood is prophetic and could not be timelier.
Tom Burckhardt’s Studio Flood was on view at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockland, Maine, from June 9 to October 7, 2018. Both Pierogi Gallery in New York in fall 2017 and The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, Kerala, India, in 2016 exhibited iterations of Studio Flood.
About the Author:
I am a painter, printmaker, and writer, Professor Emeritus of Purchase College, State University New York, where I taught painting/drawing in the School of Art+Design. In 2015, I moved to Maine where I maintain a studio and live in Westbrook. I am currently writing a book about painting, drawing, and perception.
For quite a few years, I’ve been teaching a class called “Sketchbooks: Cultivating a Daily Practice”. The students who take this class are invariably interesting people. Each one has a particular reason for signing up, often including a desire to start drawing, or to get back to it, to make a daily practice, to find community. The class is a great place to share strategies. Some people are lucky to draw the way children do: naturally, uncritically, and all the time. The rest of us need strategies to get started and to keep going.
The thing that helps me most is to have my sketchbook handy: to keep it out where I’ll see it, and to have one in my bag or my pocket. Also, it helps to keep the tools simple: a pen or pencil and a small box with four watercolors. I use cyan, lemon yellow, a pinkish red, and ultramarine. From those, I can mix most colors, and I use a brush with water in the handle.
I’ve used sketchbooks as a journal, a place to take notes, a place to plan things, for lists, a place to work out design problems, and to help me figure out what I think, but the most important function for me is to experience something by drawing it.
When I was asked to write something for this issue, I looked at all of the sketchbooks in my studio. The earliest ones are from the 1980’s. That was when I lived in Portland on the end of the Western Promenade that overlooks the Fore River. I was amazed by the sunsets I saw there, so I did a series of paintings in my sketchbook, trying to capture the colors and cloud shapes as they changed. The view changed so fast that I had to find ways to simplify what I noticed, just so I could get something down. That was when I started to think about how different types of noticing require different tools and different kinds of drawings are suited to different kinds of noticing. For instance, if I have a pencil, I look for the kinds of things a pencil can do, and I look at the subject as if it were already a pencil drawing. If I’m using color, rather than looking at things as I know they are, I try to see areas of flat color, as if they were already in a painting.
Those sunset drawings are mixed in with figure drawings and studies of all kinds of things: our dog, the garden, bottle caps, people and birds on the beach, cloud shapes, geometric patterns and designs for things I wanted to make. Every thing is mixed up. The books are not strictly chronological. Sometimes I stopped in the middle of something and the next page is from years later. Still, looking at them reminds me of what it was like when I was drawing and concerned with those things. Actually, I’ve changed, but not that much, I think I’ll go back to some of the projects that stalled.
Most of the figure drawings in those years were done with a group at USM. Edie Tucker organized it and kept it going over many years. One time, when the model didn’t show up, she stepped in to pose for us in her street clothes. The drawings from that day are some of my favorites.
My husband, Jeff Kellar, and I moved to Falmouth just before my daughter, Anna, was born. We moved to a house where we each could have a studio. Our system was that the one who had the less pressing deadline got to play with Anna.
Making art with her affected my own drawings. Sometimes, when she was little, she drew along side me. One time, I asked her why she’d made our driveway look blue. She answered that it was blue. I looked again, and it did look bluish. I’d made it gray because I knew it was asphalt. When she was very young, one and two, she liked drawing in my sketchbook. I found some of my drawings followed by several of her colorful scribbles. When she began to talk, she’d tell me what to caption the drawings. Those are a lot of fun to read now.
She’s all grown up and doesn’t draw all the time anymore, but she still keeps a travel sketchbook, because she likes the kind of slow noticing that doing a drawing allows. She’s had some interesting interactions with people who want to know, for instance, why she’s spending the time to draw something they pass everyday and have never thought of stopping to look at… until they see her drawing of it.
I have older sketchbooks somewhere, probably in a box labeled “older sketchbooks”. I remember doing a drawing from my art school dorm room window of the view looking over the Philadelphia roof tops toward the giant electrified Schmidt’s Beer sign. I loved the shapes of the wooden water tanks silhouetted again the night sky. And I also remember, years later, tearing it out of the book because it didn’t capture the scene the way I still remembered it. I’m sorry for the streak of perfectionism that caused me to do it, because now both the scene and the drawing of it are vague memories.
My most recent sketchbooks include the assignments I give to my students. One of my favorites to do is a sound map. The prompt is to listen for one minute with eyes closed to everything that you can hear. Then to make a diagram of the sounds with yourself in the center. Another assignment is to pick a favorite object to draw all week. Each week has a different focus, a material to experiment with, a subject, or a point of view. I use the same exercises and assignments every semester because, although the questions are always the same, the answers are always different.
UMVA-LA has had an exciting few months! Our Annual Harvest Masquerade Ball was wonderful as always and the new owners of the Agora Grand Event Center offered a magnificent venue. We have hope that this event will continue to grow and be a staple for the community’s October events.
Many of us finished up the Art Walk LA season and are now planning For The Love Of Art event on Saturday February 9th. Follow us on FB to keep updated.
The Sunday Indie Market is still happening but has moved indoors for the winter. It is held at Quiet City Books and Bear Bones Brewery on the third Sunday of the month from 12-4pm. Soon the Curio will be an added venue, and we are excited for them to join our community.
UMVA-LA is now curating the Art and Ale window at Gritty’s in Auburn. This month is a winter wonderland theme by UMVA-LA chapter artists. For submissions email firstname.lastname@example.org
We are in the process of evaluating our capacity, what we want to continue doing, and what is not important to our mission, as well as sustainable without burnout for the current organizers. We are still holding monthly meetings on the first Wednesday of the month, but are also using the meetings as a way of sharing experiences, how we balance art, work, life, family, etc. It has been wonderful learning from one another and growing as a community of artists supporting one another. We believe this is an important and vital part of our work: honoring ourselves while we work to create, grow, support, and sustain our own artist community!
Highlighting the creative processes by exhibiting artists’ first drafts, thoughts, and inspirations, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) presented an exhibition of sketchbooks titled First Traces, curated by Britta Konau from October 31 – December 20, 2008. The term “sketchbook” remained loosely defined, as these initial expressions can take the form of maquettes, sketches, digital files, set-ups, etc., and may not even be visual at all. Work did not have to be in book format, and selected artists were invited to also exhibit completed artwork alongside their “sketches.”
“This exhibition presents a unique opportunity to learn about artists’ creative processes. It illuminates the journey many artists make from first observations and initial ideas to finished artworks. The focus is not on material process, but rather on mental process as it can be traced visually and verbally. When artists first explore ideas for future projects or quickly record a scene they encounter, some of the freshest, most uncensored work evolves. This exhibition of first conceptions represents 86 visual artists, craft artists, furniture and jewelry makers, and other creative people working in a wide range of media from traditional sketchbooks to digital drawings. The artists have generously agreed to allow visitors to glimpse these first traces of inspiration; in fact, many sketchbooks may be handled and perused by visitors.” (Britta Konau)
Artists included: Susan Amons, Josefina Auslender, Dyan Berk, Nina Bohlen, Rush Brown, Sam Cady, Cole Caswell, Peter Chamberlain, Kate Cheney Chappell, Megan Chase, Avy Claire, Kenny Cole, Maury Colton, Stoney Conley, Alan Crichton, Rebecca Daugherty, Cynthia Davis, Scott Davis, Lois Dodd, Charles DuBack, Evelyn Dunphy, Ingrid Ellison, David Estey, Joshua Ferry, Blair Folts, Nancy Freeman, Samuel Gelber, Shelia Geoffrion, Jessica George, Gregory Miguel Gomez, Susan Groce, Naushon Hale, Katherine Harman Harding, Connie Hayes, Jennifer Hodges, Frances Hodsdon, Gail Hollenbeck, Emily Hopkins, Matt Hutton, Phyllis Janto, Pamela Johnson, Marcy Kagan, Jeff Kellar, Mark Kelly, Sarah Knock, Anne Krinsky, Judith Krischik, Nick Lamia, Frederick Lynch, Alan Magee, William B. Martin, Phil McBride, Ed Nadeau, Tim Nihoff, Clyde Paton, Kit Pike, Victoria Pittman, Carlo Pittore, Amy Pollien, Jill Poyourow, Peter Precourt, Svetlana Prudovskaya, Abbie Read, Beverly Rhoads, Marguerite Robichaux, Bill Ronalds, Björn Runquist, Abby Sadauckas, Kris Sader, Lee Silverton, Owen F. Smith, Mara Sprafkin, Mike Stiler, Cheryle St Onge, Barbara Sullivan, Gwendolyn Tatro, Walter Tisdale,Lynn Travis, Jacques Vesery, Patricia Wheeler, Lucy White, Deborah Winship, Nancy Wissemann-Widrig, Henry Wolyniec, Victoria Woollen-Danner, and SharonYates.
There are no exceptions: without independence there can be no art.
The history of art tells us that all powerful artists broke with the past, and with their contemporaries, and created independently. Giotto broke with Cimabue and the Byzantine tradition and developed space. Michelangelo broke with classical norms, and created the anxiety forehead of a troubled David, in an otherwise ideal form. Caravaggio forsook the ideal of light, and worked his honest realism in the shadowy world of darks.
Cezanne said it: ‘If you admire me, do not imitate me’.
It is 1984 and I cannot pretend that I understand the contemporary art, in a world that is so diverse, so multifaceted, so large; one must make pronouncements with trepidation, and humility, and the knowledge that sloganeering is not adequate to art, nor are definitions that were useful previously. And then, who can really care about the opinions of a relatively undistinguished and youthful painter? Can my opinions really be pertinent, or provocative to the art minds of our day?
When I think of independence in art, I have several responses. Firstly, for me, independence is the pursuit of every artist. It is not a static concept, but a movement, like the verb of a painting. Independence is the process of becoming free of illusions, clichés, habits, routines, mundanities, formulas, gimmicks; of becoming free of history, the present and the future; of developing the courage and the conviction to advance in art areas that have been forsaken, overlooked, or neglected.
You may have heard a little song I composed a few years ago called” ‘There are only two seasons in Maine, Winter and the Fourth of July’, this sums up my view on independence (July 4th) in that everything that is NOT a celebration of freedom, of independence, is boring, snowbound, frigid, cold, unmovable, dead – like freezing grey skies of winter in Maine.
Secondly, for me, Painting is my art of independence. Although Painting is a long-standing and universal cultural tradition, it is still original and fresh – or can be. It is not the dead or outmoded art form that one hears about in our Post Modern Age, although a lot of painting today is dead or outmoded. For those who say that the tradition is antiquated, or used up, that the system of painting is irrelevant to our age, I can only respond with the example of my life, where I pursue painting not unaware of its limitations – it has always had limitations – but in hopes of my achieving a breakthrough, that will allow me to experience, exuberantly, my own independence, and afford me the opportunity of revitalizing, and enhancing this existence.
For me Painting is making love. It is not like making love, but it is making love.
Painting is emotional, instinctive, inspiring, and life enhancing. It is my raison d’etre, my backbone, and it provides me with the courage, and the will, to pursue forcefully. However slim the ‘hope’ of making eternal love to the universe.
Painting has strengthened my eyes, my mind, my coordination, my resolution for living and although I am already at an age when it would have been to my advantage to have achieved some forceful original vision, that I have not, has not overwhelmed me with discouragement.
Thirdly, painting is painting, and I am now independent in terms of pursuing painting for itself. There is no carrot outstretched in front of me. I am not seeking approval, fame, or fortune. I am pursuing powerful painting for its own sake.
My reward in painting is painting. I am, I can say, blessed, in that I have found what best motivates me. I am happily wedded to painting, in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, and this UNION and this satisfaction provides me with the sustaining faith – of my eventual triumph, or, to carry the metaphor to its conclusion, that this UNION will produce, will give birth, will create.
Fourthly, I am able to sustain this tenuous hope, this belief in true creativity, because I am independent from reality and accountability. The belief in the realization of the impossible dream is difficult to relate, as any unrequited lover can tell you; but does any unrequited lover cease to love the loved one, even when spurned? Love is made of the finest stuff and is not based on preconceptions of reward, the convictions of success, or making this dead art of painting come alive, it is based on independence from experience, and on the transcending power of dream. It is the source of all art.
The external facts of encouragement are really non-existent. The world we live in is almost wholly commercial and run by philistine bourgeois interests, for profit. One sustains the writing of poetry, or pursues a disavowing lover because one hopes and believes against all odds, because the pursuit of this impossibility defies all sadness, and all the loneliness that is forever threatening to engulf all. The independent act of pursuing love must be the most beautiful, most sublime activity known to human kind. The joy of this pursuit, the very joy of life. Of course it is much easier to follow an action when guaranteed of success. How functional! How business-like! But this is not the situation in art.
Art is that game where there is no winning/losing, no profit no loss. Art is its own reward, it is a pursuit, and it is the sustenance of dream and the faith of achievement. Art is the independent religion; each artist the Independent Priest of Independence.The true believer is rewarded with the possibility of wholeness, health, happiness, and eternal life.
In an age when fashion and commercial interests have so overwhelmed the art world, the example of Michelangelo is still instructive.The great Michelangelo was not motivated by money or fame, but by the greatest motivating factor, in art, the quest to become free, and independent from loneliness and solitude. It is an ironic situation for one who labors long hours alone. When Michelangelo took his chisel and threw it at his marble sculpture of MOSES, he did so because Moses would not respond to him. Indeed, he had failed. Moses did not speak. And yet, didn’t God create the world because he was alone? If the art of poetry, sculpture, and painting cannot free one from solitude, the suggestion that it can and will, remain as the promise. And what one surely achieves from art and in the pursuit of art, is independence.
And so, in this spirit of independence, I salute my comrades-in-arms, and I look forward to the day in the future, when we will be united and in celebration on Mount Parnassus.
The entirety of Carlo’s estate is now being cared for by International Artists Manifest (IAM), a non-profit organization founded with the mission to ‘Remember the Artist.’ IAM takes on the collections of under-represented artists to ensure their work is cared for, preserved and made relevant for future generations. http://www.iammanifest.org. IAM encourages anyone who is interested in keeping current on happenings with the organization, or specifically with Carlo’s work to sign up for our mailing list.
The following three poems are by Elizabeth Tibbetts, from her new book, Say What You Can,to be published by Deerbrook Editions, Spring 2019. Elizabeth grew up in Camden and has worked as a nurse for many years. Her poetry is rich, in observation, stunning sensual detail, and the connections she makes between detail and insight, as when she describes the swifts going down a chimney as if they had been inhaled by the past. Tibbetts’ poems are also rich in feeling, in both celebration and grief, and in her respect for the people she has worked with as a visiting nurse.
These poems are more finished than what we normally think of as a sketch, but when I read of those swifts as “dark and feather-light as soot in the blue evening sky,” or as circling in a whirlpool, then funneling down that chimney, I imagine her outside with a notebook, writing down what exactly she sees with her accurate and wonder-filled eyes.
Each morning, in all weather, they gather
in the high white pines along the back line
and watch the window. And when she flickers
in the reflected trees they call loudly
until the porch door scrapes open and she
appears bearing a pan of crusts, cores, scraps
of fat, all but potato peels, which they
won’t eat. She tosses the orts to the lawn,
inspects the day, then caws the waiting flock
down: six crows, black and lit as the jet beads
in the box on her bureau. Each morning
she counts what is left of her backyard birds
(one pair of cardinals, chickadees, a mix
of finches, robins, summer’s ruby-throat,
and winter’s rare sweep of hungry waxwings
filling bare trees) now that weather’s fickle,
old fields and forests gone, and time has thinned
thick flocks to a trickle of song. She’s not
heard the rustle and cheep of nesting swifts
inside the cold stovepipe since she was young.
Once, she saw, heard, a swirl (was it bats?)—no,
it was swifts, dark and feather-light as soot
in the blue evening sky—arrive, circle,
whirlpool, then funnel by the hundreds
into a tall thin brick chimney. She thought
she’d watched broad day be inhaled by the past.
Now, if someone else would feed these crows, there
are things, yes, and birds, she would go back for.
Ghazal for the Winter Solstice
We approach the solstice, and daylight narrows
into an alleyway between the fortress walls of dawn and dusk.
A skin of ice granulates across the broad lake
where we swam rock to rock in a lavish season.
Those days I was as full of myself as a pomegranate
extravagantly packed with sacs of seeds and juice.
Now I wait for the blank page of snow-covered field
and the story written by turkey and fox, rabbit and deer.
Even at midday, the sun hangs just above the tree-line
and washes the lawn with thin light. Shadows come into season.
When it seemed there was little left but ice and bones,
I dreamed a river, blue-black moving water, from some unbidden source.
Wind rises in a cold breath between the lines—listen
it hisses. And it whistles through the crack beneath the door.
Kifah has translated his poem H.O.M.E. into English from the Arabic. In English it shows the influence of the ghazal, a Persian poetic form, which involves couplets that repeat the same word at the end of each couplet. You can hear the influence of that pattern here as the word “home” recurs, moving from the most intimate and micro experiences to the largest possible embrace, as exile teaches the poet to see home everywhere and to develop a generous spirit. And then, of course, there’s the beauty of the script in Arabic and the beauty of his drawings.
H. O. M. E.
My mother’s womb
Her breasts, her lap
Her heart was my home
My father’s arms
His perfumed skin
Was my home
My childhood hometown
Where orchards were full
Of vines, pomegranate
Apricot, quince, fig
Date-Palm and lemon tree
Was my home
Soon I grew
An old divination predicted
My long departure
A rotten bunker in fierce war
Was my home
In a big desert
Where I was astray
I found myself without a shelter
My body was my home
A perilous journey left me
In a prison of war
Its walls were dank
I learned not to lose freedom
I defeated nightmares
My mind was a free bird
Dreams rose from ashes
I dreamt of a home
Its surroundings a garden
A size of the sky
My imagination grows
My soul is mystified
Wherever I go I find home
The wind is my home
It takes me onward
The cloud is my home
I ramble in a blue dome
My home is petals of marigold
Words of a poem are my home
Sixty-two years of travel,
Escape, prison, exile,
Migration and refuge
I found a home in the
Last station of a tortuous route
It contains: my dreams, hope
Play, and love
A home full of peace
The blue sky and the blue ocean
Meet beyond its Windows
My home is Portland
قلبها كان لي وطن.
جلده المعطر بالأريج
كان لي وطن.
والتين وَالنَّخْل وشجر الليمون
كانت لي وطن
حين كبرت، عرّافة
تنبأت سفري الطويل
ملجأ عفن في حرب ضروس
كان لي وطن.
في صحراء على مدِّ البصر
وجدت نفسي بدون ملجأ
جسدي كان لي وطن.
في رحلة محفوفة بالمخاطر
في سجن حرب
خلف جدرانه الرطبة العفنة الصدئة
تعلَّمت أن لا أفقد لحن الحرية
دحرت وكسّرت مخالب كوابيس شرسة
خيالي كان طائرا حرا
وأحلامي أزهرت من رماد
حدوده حديقة بعرض السماء.
حيثما أذهب، أجد وطنا
تتنزه في قبة زرقاء
تكون لي وطن
تكون لي وطن
تكون لي وطن.
اثنان وستون عاما من
الترحال والهروب والسجن
والنفي والهجرة واللجوء
بعد رحلة عذاب،
محطة أخيرة، أمارس فيها
طقوس فرحي وأحلامي
وطن مليء بالسلام
السماء والبحر يلتقيان
Kifah Abdulla is a poet, artist, writer and teacher born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. He published his first book of poetry ( Dead Still Dream ) in 2016. He is the Arabic calligraphy instructor at MECA, Arabic instructor at SMCC and Language Exchange. Kifah is involved in many cultural and artistic projects in Portland and other places in Maine: a member of Portland Public Art Committee, a member of WMPG which broadcasts his monthly show ( Words and Music ), and the founder of the International Arabic Language Festival in Portland. Kifah lives and works in Portland.
The first snow of the season fell on a Saturday evening, December 10th, 2017. The weather was mild, and it was an easy and eagerly awaited start to the coming winter.
That night, I received images of SELF TCELFER (pronounced “self self-er”), an outdoor sculpture I had created that summer for a seaside installation at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. The piece was now situated amongst trees in a land-trust managed forest as part of an alternative arts event in rural Maine. Although the event had taken place in the fall, the work had remained installed so images could be taken after the first snow.
Our family had just finished a celebratory meal of vegetarian meatballs and pasta with garlic bread (heavy on the garlic) to mark what would have been my father’s 67th birthday. The snowfall felt like an acknowledgment of his passing. The images of my work, situated within woods my father would have walked during his time at college, in the small town where he and my mother fell in love, felt like the completion of yet another circle. Life expanding outward and then circling back to pull us in under the same sky.
Two days earlier, I had met with the director of a small museum to discuss placing SELF TCELFER on their grounds for a two-year period. It would be my first long-term placement of a work at a museum, and my first significant commitment outside the state of Maine.
In order to feel confident about situating the work outdoors for a full two-year period, I needed to transport the piece back to my home studio, to study it through the winter and make any necessary alterations before its journey to the museum in August of 2018.
On December 11th, the day after the first snowfall, I made arrangements to move the work, scheduling a 26-foot truck, and coordinating with the curator to wrangle interns to assist with takedown. SELF TCELFER was a large work, comprised of seven 7’ x 7’ modular panels that could be joined together to form an open-ended octagon. I hired an engineer to help design the work so that two people could easily transport it without compromising the presence of the fully-installed piece. The surface was sculpted from mirrored Mylar, bent and formed to create psychedelic reflections that moved and breathed with the wind.
There is no simple way to describe the work and investment that went into creating the piece. Anyone who makes anything as part of a core practice will understand. I can rattle off the numbers – the monetary cost of making the work, and talk about the grants I wrote (and won) to help fund the piece. I can tally up the hours spent envisioning the piece, researching, sketching, creating mock-ups, and then designing and constructing the work.
What are more difficult to quantify are the moments and expanses of time that imbued the work with deeper meaning and greater significance. Watching my daughter walk across sheets of mirrored Mylar outdoors on our deck on a gorgeous summer day, looking down into the Mylar to see a crystal clear reflection of the sky, and then seeing herself bending that perfect reflection into fractal-like manipulations of sky, trees, cloud and flesh. That is harder to account for.
Or the time my daughter, my mother and I spent crouched around panel after panel, hammering hundreds of tiny nails into the surface, working together to ensure the aluminum sheeting wouldn’t buckle, cut anyone, or shift out of alignment with the frame. A multi-generational investment peppered with laughter, frustration and sore muscles in the strangest places. Or the effort my best friend of 30 years expended, driving eight hours to help with the installation, arriving to find me in those final hours of working 18+ hour days for weeks with no clear idea of how the hell we were actually going to transport the piece without damaging it. How she figured it out. A crazy, impossible scenario that worked. Brilliantly.
The path of creation and those unquantifiable moments give the work a meaning and value beyond any number on a sheet of paper. The knowledge that the work would travel, as originally intended, actually finding a new home and marking my first significant placement in a museum. The physical incarnation of a concept that had been slowly and carefully mined from serious, long work tuning in to that quiet inner voice and coaxing it to speak louder and louder until something worth making emerged. The soul investment.
It was Saturday, December 16th when I received the phone call. I was driving to attend my daughter’s winter dance recital. A cold, wind-whipped rain was making it difficult to drive. The curator of the alternative arts event where SELF TCELFER was situated, a phenomenal friend and my first gallery mentor, was on the other end of the line. She was concerned. She had something important to tell me, and thought I should pull over. I did.
At first, I had a hard time understanding what she was saying. She couldn’t get the words out clearly without choking into a mix of speech and incomprehensible sound. SELF TCELFER had been destroyed. It was gone. I remember sitting in the car, dressed up (which annoyed me), staring out the window at a Burger King sign as the wipers continued to shift water around the windshield. I watched the lights as they played off the streaks left behind. Trails. I kind of blipped out into shock and disbelief.
“What do you mean?” I remember saying. It was clear that the curator couldn’t quite comprehend what had happened, herself. An individual who should have known better had taken it upon himself to take his tractor, attach it to SELF TCELFER, and drag the sculpture out through the woods to a clearing where he then broke it apart, took the pieces home and subsequently destroyed them, dumping all remnants at the local recycling center where they were then pulverized. The destruction began on December 11th, the day after the first snow. The curator was not notified until days later. By the time I learned of any of it, the work was literally non-existent.
In the moment, I couldn’t feel the gravity of the destruction. I was blocked. I went logical. I remember I kept asking about materials. They were valuable. Thousands of dollars. No. Nothing. Gone. “But … I can use those materials, even if they’re partially destroyed,” I kept saying. No. Nothing. Gone.
I spent much of that initial phone call wanting to comfort the curator. She was so clearly in a state of shock. She felt responsible, even though it was not her fault. This was an incomprehensible act. I remember saying I would have to press charges against the man, simply because of the cost of materials. I recall mentioning that it was supposed to go on to a museum. My first long-term placement.
I got off the phone and drove to my daughter’s concert. I sat, stunned, as girls in elf costumes danced to something. And then watched my daughter … her beautiful lines and evolving ability in dance. I watched. I did not cry. I was numb and grateful to be amidst a crowd of strangers, all focused straight ahead.
At this point, I have to be very careful of what is communicated in print. As part of the settlement I came to with the man who should have known better (TMWSHKB), I cannot reference him or the details in any way that “an intelligent person” might be able to figure out his identity. So, some details will remain tucked away.
I spoke with the curator regularly. I cancelled the truck and she notified the interns (scheduled for December 18th, two days after I received the call). And I drank. Wine. Whiskey. More wine. More whiskey. I was admittedly a wreck.
I moved through a series of motions each day. I put down the wine and whiskey, for the most part, and returned to yoga. I sought out a counselor. I called around to see if anyone could recommend a good lawyer. I spoke with a few close confidants to try to make sense of the senseless. Violence. It felt violent. And I was raw.
With the help of the curator, I filed a police report in the local town. She gave a lengthy statement. I submitted a statement. The police did no notable follow-up investigative work (the man had admitted, in print, to destroying the work), but weeks later I received a letter stating there was insufficient evidence to charge TMWSHKB with a crime.
I hired a lawyer. I remember sitting outside “the British store” in Freeport on a freezing cold bench, talking to my new lawyer via cell phone, just before Christmas, while my daughter shopped inside. I recall trying to explain what had happened. Like every other person I would tell the story to, I found myself having to reiterate that he would not be able to make sense of what had happened, that logic just didn’t apply. Don’t bother. Just accept the facts we have and help me. Please. Can you help me?
He agreed to take the case on contingency. He was an insurance lawyer (try finding a lawyer for the arts in Maine). He wanted to argue the case as if I had left my car in the woods and someone had destroyed it. He wanted to go after the insurance companies. Conceptually and emotionally, this was incredibly difficult for me to take in. I told him about the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), established in 1990, which essentially makes it a federal crime to destroy a work of art. He hadn’t heard of it. He said he would look into it. I found myself feeling further depleted.
We spent hours conversing. Going over the details. I was sensitive to the hundreds of dollars each conversation cost. He reached out to TMWSHKB to no avail. He contacted insurance companies. I waited. Stewed. I had a meeting with the director of the small museum who was anticipating receiving SELF TCELFER in August. I tried to pitch the idea of another work for their grounds. She wanted SELF TCELFER.
I figured out the finances I would need to remake the work in time to study it through the winter so I would not lose the museum opportunity. My lawyer shared that figure with TMWSHKB. Nothing.
I lost the museum opportunity.
By this time, I felt the continuous physical presence of a vast, dark emptiness growing inside me. It could have swallowed up planets. It was like an inner galaxy of pain and longing. I shit you not. And, it was swallowing me. Each day.
My lawyer was very clear that I should discuss the case with no one, not even my fiancé. So, as this galaxy attempted to absorb me, I needed to remain silent. I managed this most of the time, but found (like anything repressed) the story shoving itself out of me at inopportune times. Once the first few words were spoken, I was on an hour-long descent. Usually, the listeners were stunned. Confused. Again, I would have to explain that logic should be discarded. There simply was none. “Was the work offensive?” people would ask.
I am grateful for every person who witnessed my movement through this time without deciding to forever walk away. I was admittedly unhealthy. Emotionally rocked. Mentally rough.
I stopped making work.
Well … I did make one small 7” diameter mirrored Mylar puzzle that TMWSHKB’s lawyer attempted to cite as proof that my studio practice hadn’t suffered. I have finished no other work since the destruction. My heart constricts and it becomes hard to breathe just thinking about this.
I let my first lawyer go when the insurance path appeared fruitless and found another, a woman with experience in copyright law and a basic familiarity with VARA. I went through the story again. And again. We embarked on a legal process that felt disgusting. Difficult. I wanted to take the case to federal court. To set a precedent for other artists. I wanted to win, on principle. Every other person wanted me to focus on finances.
The gallery season began. As the co-director and curator of the Corey Daniels Gallery, I am enmeshed in the business of art, regardless of my own productivity. Once the season began, my inability to produce new work became even more painful. My winter (usually intense studio time) had passed without a single new work. Now, summer arrived with nothing of my own to show or sell. The previous year, half of my income came from the sale of my own work. Not this year.
In August of 2018, I agreed to a mediation session with TMWSHKB, his lawyer, his lawyer’s assistant and three insurance company representatives. It seemed TMWSHKB’s lawyer liked the idea of going after the insurance companies, as well. We convened in a tiny conference room that barely fit the table we were seated around, let alone seven or eight additional bodies. One insurance representative was projected on a large screen at the end of the table, joining us via Skype.
TMWSHKB’s lawyer was slick. Measured. Sharp. My lawyer was comparatively not. A bit scattered. She had made it clear she was not a litigator. I wish I had understood the implications of what that meant at the time. In her opening remarks, she read from a series of notes she had taken while we chatted, ten minutes earlier. As I sat beside her, in a room with TMWSHKB for the first time, surrounded by people in pressed suits with shuttered souls, I felt mortified by how my voice was represented.
I had fucked up. I should have sat down with my lawyer, in person, before this moment. (We had never met face-to-face.) I should have listened to myself every time a tiny red flag went up during our phone conversations. I should have been more strategic about vetting people, instead of just choosing the only lawyer in Maine who seemed to have any visual arts experience. I had settled. And now, I would have to settle. There was no way I could bring this to trial.
Essentially, mediation was a series of negotiations that revolved around a set of numbers written on a tiny slip of paper. These numbers shifted dramatically depending on who was suggesting them. We went back and forth, each side situated in separate rooms, with a very kind mediator moving between. The mediator opened our first private conversation by telling me how much he liked the work, and that he was sorry to hear of its destruction. I broke into tears.
After four hours, it became quite clear we were not going to reach the figure I felt comfortable walking away with. It was also clear I did not have the legal representation I would need to win my case. I had spent nine months in the throes of this experience, and it was eroding something within me. Before turning down their final offer, and steeling myself for one to two years of additional legal battles, taking the case to trial, I asked to clear the room and “phone a friend.” I called my fiancé. He had witnessed the process up close, day in and day out, whether I was openly talking about it, or not.
“Take the offer,” he said. “You need to heal. It’s time.”
I did. I thought about my daughter, with two more years of high school left before she heads off to college. Those two years would be spent with me enmeshed in a legal battle? No. I thought of my son, at home for just a short time before striking out on his own. Did I want to be caught up in this shit during the last months he’d still be living at home? No.
I took the offer.
I demanded a formal apology. I also demanded the right to write about the experience. Sadly, it did not help to see TMWSHKB stand there, with his lawyer and assistant, hands wringing, saying he wished he could turn back time. I wish it had. But, it didn’t.
Weeks would follow with more ups and downs. Problems with the settlement agreement. Bullshit loop holes and issues TMWSHKB’s lawyer needed cleared before we could proceed, including bringing in third parties and requiring releases from people who weren’t even present at the mediation.
So. Much. Bullshit.
I received a settlement check and paid my lawyers October 2018. A celebration would have seemed misplaced. I have yet to make work, but on December 11th, I intend to start.
I hold my sketchbooks near and dear as they’ve always been a safe and solitary place to play, like the swing set in a nearby park when no one else is there.
These images are from two sketchbooks filled more than thirty years apart. The black and white thumbnail sketches date back to when our three boys were very young. I had scarce time to paint or work but I would find a moment here or there to honor a little scene from family life, a small event that at the time seemed big.
I rarely did anything more with these small abbreviated sketches. Just making them felt like enough.
These days I have more time to make an observation and to freely follow wherever it leads.
I use my sketchbook to study an idea or a technique, to practice and play with it.
As an example, I’ve long admired the artistry and whimsy found in Kantha embroidery. Referring to small and indistinct images found on the web, I’ve filled pages with animals, people, flowers, and festive train cars, all the while knowing that my colored pencil stitches, however obsessive, can’t touch what had originally been stitched with endless patience in another time and place.
Similarly, while taking in the fantastical strokes and dabs of Vincent Van Gogh, I’ve practiced my own versions of similar mark making. My current sketchbooks have provided a place to explore art and artistry all around me, and then to spend time alone on the swing set.
My good friends Carl and David Little just published a handsome new book entitled Paintings of Portland (Down East Books $29.95) which details the many ways the city has been seen and painted by artists over the centuries. Here I propose a little corollary essay about paintings on Portland.
The bustle and busyness of Maine’s biggest little city can, like any lively urban environment, overwhelm the senses with stimuli, which is why every once in a while I like to slow down and have a look for the overlooked. Cheap point-and-shoot camera in hand, I make a deliberate attempt to pay attention to what’s going on in my native city.
Portland’s two best murals were erased a few years ago. The mural in Tommy’s Park at Middle and Exchange and the blueprint mural a few blocks away at 48 Free were trompe l’oeil masterpieces, products of the 1980s, which were the height of Portland’s artistic activity.
Designed by Chris Denison, C. Michael Lewis and architect Winton Scott and painted in 1985 by Denison, Lewis, Toni Wolf, Josephine Mussomeli, Matt Blackwell, Greg Chesaux, Wesley Stevens, Don Thayer, Art Cross and Donna Bachle, the Tommy’s Park mural was entitled Palazzo di Tomasino and recreated a marble façade of the 1868 post office that once occupied the Post Office Park site.
The Tommy’s Park mural had a cousin just a few blocks away at 48 Free St. that also became a local landmark. Painted in 1986 by Chris Denison, C. Michael Lewis, Toni Wolf, Josephine Mussomeli, Steven Priestly, and Bertelle Brookings and repainted in 2002 by Denison, Priestley, Wolf, Chris Hayes, Karen Sarfaty and Scott Kern, the Free St. mural pretended to be a blueprint applied to the entire side of the building, the blueprint peeling away to reveal the actual building.
The blank walls of Tommy’s Park and 48 Free St. beg to be painted again. The owners of 80 Exchange St. have, in fact, commissioned Will Sears to paint an abstract mural on the iconic space. Chris Dennison was one of the jurors. C. Michael Lewis was one of three finalists. Public art, of course, is often temporary. At least three other murals have succumbed to development and renovation in downtown Portland in recent years. The Greetings from PORTLAND postcard mural on the backside of the Asylum night club was painted by Mike Rich and a posse of other graffiti artists, but it was lost when the Asylum built a swanky new venue.
Murals often celebrate the past and the passage of time. Just so the mural Tony Taylor and Ken Tacka painted in Congress Square across from Portland Museum of Art in 1997. The mural presented a bifurcated view of how the corner of High and Congress looked in the 1920s and 1950s, but it was lost in 2013 when the Eastland Hotel was renovated. Congress Square now features a verdant floral mural by Tessa Greene O’Brien.
A mural created by taggers Koi and Turdl on the side of Joe’s Smoke Shop on Longfellow Square was an exercise in self-reference, consisting as it did along the Avon St. side of the popular convenience store, of the artists’ orange signatures over a black and white rendering of Joe’s and its immediate environs. The mural was demolished along with the iconic smoke shop in 2015 to make way for a new high-rise building.
One painted paean to Portland past that has survived is the 2008 Ocean Gateway Parking Garage mural by Elizabeth M. Burke and Rebecca Pease. Based on a c.1910 postcard view of Portland Harbor, the mural covers what would have been a huge blank wall with monotone images of sailing ships.
Public art is rarely placed in wealthy neighborhoods, so it should come as no surprise that the richest collection of murals in Portland is in one of the city’s poorest sections.
Bayside, bounded roughly by Washington Ave., Cumberland Ave., Forest Ave. and Marginal Way, is a neighborhood once dominated by junk yards and public housing. Today Bayside is in transition as artists, entrepreneurs and foodies help gentrify the once blighted area. Public art projects are everywhere in Bayside.
In 2004, the East Bayside Mural Project brought San Francisco muralist Andrew Schoultz to Portland to work with kids of the Kennedy Park public housing project to create a mural on the maintenance building at Bayside Park on Fox St. Schoultz’s own mural, which deals with logging and the destruction of the environment, is still on the wall. The World We Are From and the World We Are Making mural that Schoultz did with the local kids, many of whom were from Africa, is gone now, painted over by a Portland Mural Initiative mural, an abstract landscape schematic by Andrea Sulzer.
Portland Mural Initiative, started in 2015 by Will Sears and Tessa Greene O’Brien, has given a new generation of artists a chance to make their marks in Bayside, where there are now abstract murals by Sears, O’Brien, Sulzer and Jenny McGee Dougherty, a band playing by John Knight and a coastal landscape by Greta Van Campen. The murals enliven the dead spaces along the East Bayside Trail.
My favorite PMI mural is the ideographic abstraction by Dougherty on the side of the CrossFit Beacon gym. When I was there the other day I noticed that an anonymous street artist had added a thought to Dougherty’s imagery, “Let the world change you and you can change the world.” Not a bad way to be defaced.
Down an alley from the East Bayside Trail I also spotted a gorgeous white lily and a spotted salamander behind chain-link fences topped with barbed wire and razor-wire. I had to ask around to discover that these unexpected images were painted by designer and muralist Jared Goulette.
The crown jewel of Bayside public art is the East Bayside Community Mosaic Mural that wraps around two sides of the Coffee By Design building at the corner of Fox and Anderson.
The Bayside mosaic was created in 2016 by Muhsana Ali, a Philadelphia-born artist now based in Senegal. Ali was invited to Portland by University of Southern Maine social work professor Paula Gerstenblatt to work with local people in a project designed to foster community and celebrate cultural diversity. The intricate swirl of glass and ceramic tile expresses its theme of “voices of the community” in the objects and images contributed by more than 500 local people. Public art created by the public is a refreshing idea.
In Maine there is often a bit of tension when artists from away are awarded commissions, exhibitions and other opportunities that might benefit local artists. Perhaps the most painful missed opportunity to promote local creativity occurred in 2008 when the Maine Center for Creativity commissioned London-based Venezuelan artist Jaime Gili to paint 16 oil storage tanks in South Portland (visible from Portland so I figure they count as painting on Portland).
The Art All Around project was advertised as “the world’s largest public painting” with 260,000 square feet of surfaced covered with Gili’s abstract designs which read like Suprematism Meets Corporate America. What a shame not to have celebrated Maine talent at such a scale.
Oh well, there is plenty of public art by local artists in Portland as it is. One of my recently discovered favorites is the wall of poppies artist Patrick Corrigan painted on the outside of his Hanover St. studio. Corrigan also teamed up with Jenny Gardiner on the elegant swan and rushes mural that graces the rear of Speedwell projects out at Woodfords Corner. The swans are based on a ceramic tile design by English artist-illustrator Walter Crane (1845-1915).
Speedwell’s parking lot wall also features a floral mural by Mexican artist Pam Chevez. Both Speedwell murals are within sight of Artist and Craftsman Supply where the side street parking lot wall is emblazoned with a jazzy geometric aerosol abstraction by Ryan Adams.
When you go looking for art in the urban environment, you sensitize yourself to the hand-made and start seeing paintings everywhere, in graffiti, advertising, signs and murals.
The meaning of the imagery is not always obvious, but, like tags and tattoos, the intention of street art is clear. Whether it asserts individuality, community, identity, political concern or just decoration, the primary function of public art is to call attention to itself.
[Edgar Allen Beem has been writing about art in Maine since 1978 and looking at it even longer.]
On the morning of December 22nd, in the spirit of celebrating light at the winter solstice, a small crew of UMVA Portland members prepared and painted the walls of the UMVA Gallery at the Portland Media Center. The group included Gregg Harper, Jen Joaquin, Arthur Nichols, Janice Moore, William Hessian and John Ripton. A new color idea was added. To attract attention to the spaces in the Gallery, the front window corner (to the left from the outside), the middle hallway wall on the left, and the back wall in the interior room were painted “museum red.” Cream-colored lettering reading “The Union of Maine Visual Artists presents …[exhibit title]…” will now be pressed on the middle hallway wall and, if the artists/curators wish, in the corner walls of the front window, these walls now painted museum red. The new color draws eyes inward to the Gallery. See photographs below. The UMVA Gallery will be opening the New Year and 2019 booked season of gallery shows with photographers Jesse MacDonald (Gray) and Jules Mogul (Orono), mounting their first show in Portland at the UMVA Gallery: “The Passage of Time.” UMVA Portland welcomes these talented young photographers as they launch promising artistic careers!
UMVA Portland Gallery 516 Congress St
2019 Exhibition Schedule
January – Passages of Time: Jules Mogul and Jesse MacDonald
February – The Way Life Is: Maine Working Families and Communities, Group Exhibit Curated by John Ripton
March – Ours is a Life of Lights and Shadows – Semi-Curated Open UMVA Show – Harper/Hessian
April – Title TBA: Bob Riemann and Rabee Kiwan
May – Into the Nation: Norajean Ferris
June – First UMVA Open Members’ Show
July – Go Figure: Group Show with Joaquin, Rose, Wade, Kelly
August – Julia Durgee”s Illustrations and Paint-cations
September – Visible Discourse from Maine’s Western Foothills: Group show with Schneider, Arcadipone, Best, Millonzi
October – Imposition & Yielding: Travail en Cire – Group Show with Tracy, Strout, Deutsch
November – Second UMVA Open Members’ Show
December – Holiday Event
STATE-WIDE CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
The Way Life Is – Maine Working Families And Communities
is an exhibit planned for February 2019 at the UMVA Gallery on Congress Street in Portland. Two- and three-dimensional work of any media (paintings, wood block prints, photographs,sculptures, fabric, etc.) will be considered for exhibition. Artists around Maine, from Kittery to Fort Kent and from Rangeley to Eastport, are encouraged to submit up to three pieces (see submission requirements below) to this juried exhibit (juror TBA soon). Artists are asked to respond to the curator’s statement:
Maine is often seen as two states. There are coastal communities dependent on wealthy summer residents and several million tourists. Amidst the extraordinary wealth often found on its coast, though, there is another Maine. Most Maine people, from the Atlantic to the interior, are involved in wage employment that provides the production and services on which all of us in the state depend.
Across Maine hard-working people are employed in logging, factories, construction, fishing, agriculture, restaurants, area supermarkets, area nursing homes and clinics, hospitals, automobile gas-and-repair stations and more. Periods of unemployment and underemployment are common since these enterprises are especially vulnerable to national and global markets and government policies. Substandard housing is common. Many children qualify for subsidized school lunches and opiate-addiction affects hundreds of young people. College education and training for the trades are often out of reach.
Even in Maine’s larger towns and cities it remains difficult for many people to find living-wage work. While abandoned factory buildings are repurposed as apartments and condominiums, restaurants and breweries, and farmers’ markets and art galleries, these investments create relatively few long-term good-paying jobs. Less money in the hands of wage-earners to drive and improve the economic vitality of Maine communities threatens a way of life.
“The Way Life Is” is an opportunity for artists throughout Maine to produce critical work addressing the loss of many living-wage jobs and the lagging recovery from the Great Recession (2008-2012) that continues to make it extremely difficult for most Maine people to achieve their full potential. In our efforts and work we must also find ways to celebrate their lives and work, revealing the dignity of people and families making a living and producing culture despite the challenges.
Thoughtful, provocative and respectful portrayals of “The Way Life Is” provides a positive message and becomes part of an essential and vital popular platform for progressive political voices and forces dedicated to making policy changes that benefit all Maine’s people. In trying times, artists are called to play a constructive role for social change. – – John Ripton, Curator
Submit up to three images of work in any medium (images must be 1500 pixels on the smaller side) by January 4 (2019) at midnight.
Label the images with title, artist name, medium/a, dimensions, year, price or NFS (eg. paleolithic workplace/Fred Flintstone/ gelatin silver photographic print/18”x24” framed/2018
NFS – or price in $). Please enter labels in the space for naming the image.
Send an artist bio (up to 250 word-processed words) with the images to be included in a binder for the visitors to the exhibit .
Submit an artist statement (no more than 150 word-processed words) to be included in an exhibit binder as well.
Artists will be notified of selections by January 14. The exhibition will open on February 1 and close on February 22. Delivery of selected works of art with paper copies (8.5×11 paper size) of artist bio and statement to the UMVA Gallery, 516 Congress Street in Portland will be Jan. 26,10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Artists must pick up art on Feb. 23, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Money is not an easy thing for me to ask for. But if the UMVA is going to carry on doing all the important things we do (see below) we need you to JOIN or RENEW your MEMBERSHIP today. Go to www.umvaonline.org and you’ll see the JOIN/RENEW
button at the bottom of the page. Or mail your check for our sliding scale membership ($45 to $25), whatever you can afford, to: UMVA, c/o Jackie Bennett, Treasurer, PO Box 51, Walpole, ME
I’m also announcing that we have a NEW PRESIDENT. I was the head of the UMVA for more than 20 years; Thankfully, WILLIAM HESSIAN has stepped in to lead us. He has got everything it takes: energy, ideas, creativity, attitude…. and youth! He has been a remarkable member of the board and has led the Portland Chapter for quite a while now. I will stay on the board as Emeritus and lend my experience wherever it is needed.
The UMVA has been connecting, supporting, and inspiring Maine artists since 1975. The time has come for Maine’s longest running grassroots arts organization to ask for help.
The great American playwright, Arthur Miller, said, “… the job of the artist is to remind people of what they have chosen to forget.”
I don’t know of another arts organization in the state that takes that quote more seriously than the UMVA. Our mission is to remind people of their essential humanity, their obligations to community, and the beneficence of beauty. And, particularly today, we remind people that truth remains the central aspiration of the artist.
Here are some of our ongoing projects and programs:
The Maine Arts Journal: UMVA Quarterly has produced one spectacular issue after another every quarter. There is no other visual or editorial art journal like it in the state in terms of ambition or quality. And subscriptions are free! But it costs US to keep it going. So PLEASE RENEW or JOIN to keep the Maine Arts Journal going.
The Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!) has produced hundreds of banners and posters for an enormous range of causes and events, giving those causes immediate visual identification and support. Enthusiastic UMVA members paint the banners and can always use more help.
LumenARRT! has delighted and informed thousands of passersby with their nighttime urban projections on urgent topics ranging from Climate Change to Immigration. Some of their work has become interactive so that audiences can become part of the projections. Their savvy social media presence extends their work to a national audience.
The Maine Masters Project has released three new, award winning documentaries in the past few years on Jon Imber, Ashley Bryan and Fred Woell. They have been shown at film festivals, major museums, and theaters all over the US and in many places around the world. New members get a free streaming.
The two UMVA chapters in Portland and Lewiston/Auburn are going strong. The successful UMVA Gallery on Congress St. has already planned exhibits for the entirety of 2019. Money is needed for rent and curator stipends.
We want two things from you. First, we want you to join us. BECOME A MEMBER. Bring your energy and ideas to these projects. Second we hope you will give an additional donation. The UMVA is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit so your gift is tax deductible.
We do a lot, but we could do a lot more with your help because we are you. Thank you,
I am proud and honored to be named the interim President of the Union of Maine Visual Artists. President Robert Shetterly‘s skilled leadership and excellence in the position has been a huge inspiration to me and my work within the UMVA. I hold this place temporarily until Rob wishes to retake the position, or until another interested party is voted in. I have been continuously inspired by the board members of the UMVA, and I am passionate about continuing to grow the UMVA across the state. My role over the last four years on the board has been to re-establish the Portland branch of the UMVA; and to establish a UMVA Gallery on Congress Street in Portland. With the help of many incredible artists and uncountable efforts those goals are well underway. One of the conditions under which I would accept the interim President role was for the board to consider my list of potential board members, all of whom have been crucial parts of the success of the Portland Chapter. I am excited to announce that Janice Moore, John Ripton and Gregg Harper have been accepted and announced as new UMVA Board Members. In addition, artist David Estey, whose work proceeds him, has also been nominated to the board of the UMVA and I am very honored and excited to have him on the board as well. The current board members: Natasha Mayers (Vice President), Jackie Bennett (Treasurer), Richard Kane (Secretary), Mary Laury, and Cynthia Hyde, have all done incredible work for artists in this state. With the current board members combined with the four new ones, I am confident that the UMVA will continue to grow and thrive towards the goals of the mission statement:
The UMVA mission is to uphold the dignity of artists and to support a vital contemporary Maine arts community. UMVA members value what can be achieved through collective efforts. The UMVA encourages the ideal of art as a spiritual and aesthetic communication beyond commerce.
Robert Shetterly, political artist and former president of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, and his project, Americans Who Tell the Truth: Models of Courageous Citizenship have become the subject of the latest episode in the Maine Masters film series directed by Richard Kane. The film is entitled Our Children’s Future.
The film project was launched November 27, 2018 to document events surrounding the first time that Shetterly’s full collection of 238 portraits was displayed in public. The exhibit, running through December 14, 2018, is sponsored by Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship Tanner Lecture series. The November 29th lecture was comprised of a panel which included Shetterly and two of his subjects: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, of Flint, Michigan, the whistle blower who sounded the alarm about the high presence of lead in Flint’s drinking water; and Richard Bowen who blew the whistle on Citibank’s fraudulent subprime mortgage practices that helped lead to the US financial crisis of 2008.
According to film director Kane, “One of Rob’s greatest contributions is how he models what Americans can do now to effect change. He gives us the confidence to act. People don’t have to stand by while the climate wreaks havoc on our planet.”
The film will bring new and wider attention to the importance of speaking truth to power, to have the courage to build a society where all people are respected, where hatred is rejected, where embracing diversity is the source of our strength.
Rob quotes Frederick Douglass, one of his first portraits:
“Find out what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them.”
This is the principle, the principle of moral courage, that runs throughout the struggle against slavery, against racism, for women’s rights, for workers rights, for indigenous rights, against child labor, for gender rights, for environmental rights. It is our common humanity, our common dignity that will bring us together to fight for the rights and survival of all species.
The film is slated to be completed Winter 2020. We will be raising the money through January 2019 and will continue shooting throughout the year. If we are able to raise the funds quickly, the film is slated to be completed and in wide distribution six months before the 2020 presidential election.
If you are able to support this project financially, please send your tax deductible contribution to:
Before coming to Syracuse University for the opening of the Americans Who Tell the Truth portrait exhibit, a number of people asked me what it was going to feel like to see all the portraits at once.
In retrospect, this question seems like asking a thirteen year old how it will feel to be married, or a medical student how it will feel to save a life. Until the thing actually happens you can’t know.
There is no precise reference point for an unexperienced event. I speculated anyway and said I’m sure it will be overwhelming…. whatever that means. I assumed I would feel pride, the relief of completion, and be excited to bask in the recognition of a large visible project. To answer without having had the experience is in a way surreal, at least unreal. Turns out, to have this experience was also surreal.
When someone asks you to predict how a future event will feel, neither the person asking nor the one being questioned knows what is really being asked. In this case, I could not have imagined the cumulative effect of all the portraits. No one close to this project perceived that the collected portraits had taken on a life of their own, established relationships and aesthetics of their own, discovered a voice which was no longer mine at all, but theirs. Only they knew what kind of community and culture they were; only they knew what, together, they could say, could stand for. Realizing this reinforces something I have said all through the process of painting, that I was a medium for each portrait, another way for the subject to speak. But what I had not realized is that they have been building for seventeen years a collective voice that could never have been predicted until they were permitted to congregate in the same place at the same time.
I think of them stacked in my basement all these years. Small groups of them — tribes, hunting parties — making forays to schools, libraries, and churches — quartets, octets, choruses — not yet knowing they had been hired to form a symphony. Only they could know, as each new portrait joined their ranks, what was building.
When I first walked into the vast gallery space of Panasci Lounge at Syracuse University and saw them all, I was stunned. The sound of their chorus was deafening. I couldn’t hear it or describe it because I was not expecting a sound. I expected a sensation I could describe in words. I had expected, glibly, to be overwhelmed, but not confused, disoriented, unable to respond, unable to recognize what presence I was in. I was not expecting the roar of their silent voices, an accumulated goodness far greater than my own — in fact, incompatible with me. I thought of John Keats’ poem On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer where he describes his awe at reading Homer for the first time:
…felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific …
That awe and this awe was not I did this, it was They did this. As though I had merely cracked open a door and let all this boisterous crowd into the room, onto the stage. They had been waiting a long time.
Bill Ayers has described the portraits as paintings of citizens who inhabit a country that does not yet exist. And Bill anoints me as the cartographer of that country. His observation is flattering and maybe partly true — that country does not yet exist. But, the portraits themselves intuit a mapping wisdom far beyond mine. They have been making camp one by one in my basement as agents of a government in exile, a culture of justice in exile. They know their own geography as surely as birds in migration.
I see myself as an assembly line worker cutting out jigsaw puzzle pieces, each piece an eccentric personality, a different arrangement of male and female hollows and knobs which lock them together. But I was never privy to how they would all fit together, the mosaic they would make.
In another respect I see the entire collection as a great spreading tree. A tree of life, a tree of justice, which, strangely required 238 seeds to grow it. The first seeds to germinate were Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Chief Joseph, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams and Harriet Tubman. Harriet continues her offer to lead us all, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, one by one, out of our own enslavement. She’s the cartographer, not I. She knows where the borders are; she knows when to tell you you can breathe free.
But the tree! Growing there in Panasci Lounge. All upward thrust and encompassing embrace, sheltering, challenging, joyous,courageous, demanding. Climb it! Hug it! Go out on a limb. Venture out on quests. Return for sustenance.
The portrait exhibit is the epitome of the First Amendment— the right of people peaceably to assemble. Look how peaceful they are! How every face shines with integrity and determination. Consider how long they have been waiting for you to notice them, to take stock, to engage them in conversation. This congregation is not without bickering, like a flock of starlings, but they know the tree shelters them all.
Many people have supported and encouraged the long gestation of this project — with suggestions, love, money and important criticisms. All of us were blind though to what it was becoming. Maybe that’s true because what it was becoming was not an ideology but a work of art, not the art of each portrait but the combined art of the whole. Perhaps, one could say the portraits were like cicadas which spend 17 years in the dark underground as pupae, then emerge simultaneously, crawl up the tree, create the tree as they climb, flex inside their chitinous shells, step free and begin to buzz. That was the sound I heard?
I’m sure some people who see the exhibit ask, “Who did this? It’s obsessive. Over the top. Didn’t he know when to stop?” Upon walking into Panasci Lounge, those were my words too. The obsessiveness is like that of many outsider artists who are propelled not by ego or profit, but by a mysterious internal necessity. Seventeen years ago when I painted the first portrait I was 55 years old. Not the same person I am now. And at each ‘now,’ not the same person I was or was to become. So, I’m quite right in saying it was not me who painted the portraits. Someone related, certainly, but how exactly? That may sound coy, but I don’t mean it to be. I look at the portraits and feel an odd distance, as though they may have happened when I was asleep, painted by a dream self. Dream-painted while sleep-walking. Whoever did it, he’s a better person than I.
When I say, “…he’s a better person than I,” I mean that. Reminds me of a time when I was sixteen, I think, and on a beach on Nantucket in August. A business executive, a close friend of my father’s, swam out too far in the rough surf and couldn’t get back; we saw him waving for help. If he had been calling, his shouts were swallowed in the crashing of the waves. I was the only one there capable of helping. I swam out and brought him in. I remember none of the details except that, once back onshore, I wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to be thanked or praised. I walked down the beach and sat by myself. I felt, rightly, that it was not me, not my conscious self or ego, who may have saved a man’s life. Rather, a value was working through me at that moment and it was responsible.
When I began painting, I was both the boy on the beach and the drowning man, a man drowning in the dishonesty of his own country and needing to rescue himself. I played both parts in the same way a person plays both parts in a dream. The boy sets out to save the drowning man. The boy doesn’t have to swim, though, but paint like crazy. Every time he stops painting, the man slips under the waves.
The night before the opening of the exhibit, I visited the space late at night. All but a few of the portraits had been hung. A student, a senior, a young woman named Sabrina, and I talked. She was walking around reading the quotes on the portraits and told me she intended to read them all. And then she kept saying, “This is insane, this is insane, this is ….”
I thought, yes, it is. It is also the most sane thing I could think to do in an insane world. Every portrait has saved my life.
Reading a poem aloud is publication. Stapling a few drawings and poems together, and handing out the results to strangers in Tompkins Square Park is publication.
Working out the project of creation as it spreads through the pages of a sketchbook is publication.
People who’ve concluded that my apparent inactivity is evidence of a lack of ambition have sadly not had access to the great range of my publications. At some point, I may decide to swamp everyone under the table with the terrible plethora of my publishings, most of which have been announced or made manifest in sketchbooks.
For good deeds as a pre-schooler, I might be given as reward a ream of typing (drawing) paper. One of the greatest epiphanies of my childhood was the discovery of my father’s stapler. This enabled me to make and publish my first books.
By the time I was a teenager, I had found that bound books of blank paper could be bought. Intellectual problems and issues of teenagerism introduced complications.
When working in a bound book, is it desirable to maintain the illusion of bookish perfection? Is it acceptable to make revisions in a bound book? My work with my sketchbooks solved this blockage. All my life, I had thought of books as finished creations. Books had to end before they could be published or bound.
Now I knew books might be created as I “went forward.” And, sketching and the workings of my mind could be part of the subject matter of a book.
This sort of thinking quickly led to one-of-a-kind books and prototypes of wide range and variety. For instance, for years now, poet Gary Lawless has been researching Christian saints’ relics, primarily in Europe, with the idea, maybe, of making poetry. At some point, he asked me to begin assembling a book of imagined relics and reliquaries. I add pages to it whenever I get new ideas.(See sketches 5 & 6.)
My grandmother, poet Mary Billings, always inspired me with her creation of scrapbooks. Typically using advertising catalogues, she would glue in poems, pictures, and prayers. I have for years been making my own scrapbooks, painting pictures of the things I want to save. (See sketch 13)
In the Free Box of the Old Books store, I found a bound college thesis. I painted black acrylic over all the pages of text. I spent three weeks writing poetry to fit all the new black pages, and six weeks painting these new words and“illustrating” the poetry with abstract versions of Poussin’s paintings and the landscapes from Medieval religious paintings. (See sketches 9 & 12.) Sketch12 excerpts a poem in which I honor the children of local artists, as carriers-on of culture. (Painter Thomas Cornell’s son is a philosopher, named for Poussin; my own grandson is named for the Renaissance painter Raphael.)
As a lonely youth in Bowdoinham, I spent many nights in imagined conversation with artists and poets whom I admired or hoped someday to meet. In this, I thought to prepare for the life I envisioned for myself. One long night,I was visited by Henry Miller, who brought wine. (See sketch 3 — from my sketchbook “Nightingale and Gods.” When I am alone with myself, thinking about Fang, the spiritual shrine-maker, I call him “Nightingale.” He is a current nighttime conversationalist.)
Portland UMVA has had a great summer of gallery shows including its 2018 summer members’ show in July, painter/mixed media artist Matt Demers’ fabulous exhibition of new abstract paintings titled “Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me” in August, and the always engaging Addison Woolley collective of visual artists in September.
In October, artist and curator Janice L. Moore will present a juried show of various media titled “Some Reliable Truths About Chairs.” Robyn Holman, retired art curator, Atrium Art Gallery at USM’s Lewiston Campus will assist Janice as a guest juror. The exhibit promises to be a provocative encounter with “chairs” on many levels. It opens October 5th and runs through November 3rd. The artists’ reception will be Friday, October 5th, 5-8 p.m.
The “UMVA Fall Members’ Open Exhibition” opens on Friday, November 9th,with an artists’ reception at 5-7 p.m. The show runs through Friday, December 7th, with a closing artists’ reception at 5-8 p.m. All UMVA members are encouraged to participate by sending jpeg images to email@example.com by midnight October 21st. Curator Gregg Harper notes that “Artworks in most media (except performance and installation) will be accepted. Though there is room in the front window to exhibit 2 or 3-free-standing sculptures (enter early), because of Fire Code regulations at the Portland Media Center, sculpture will have to be wall-mounted or small enough to be exhibited on a plinth against the gallery wall (bring your own plinth if you can). Artists may submit one 2D piece 16”x 20” or larger or up to two 2D pieces that are each smaller than 16”x 20”.” With submissions provide Title, Date, Medium, Size and Selling Price (if applicable). Also, on the drop-off day (Saturday, November 3, Noon – 4 p.m.) bring an Artist Statement and/or Bio that includes an image of your submitted work, which will be included in the exhibition deskbook.
The UMVA 2018 Holiday Art Sale will be held 11 a.m – 5 p.m. on December 15th and 16th at the UMVA Gallery at Portland Media Center. All members are welcome to apply for participation, though there is limited space. More information will be emailed to UMVA members several weeks prior to the show. Participation will based on the order in which application requests are made and will be open until the space is filled (there is room for approximately 15 members).
UMVA Portland has already accepted several shows for the upcoming 2019 year. These include “Ours is a Life of Lights and Shadows,” organized for March by Gregg Harper and William Hessian; “Go Figure,” a group show in July with painters Jen Joaquin, Roland Salazar Rose and Jim Kelly with photographer Dave Wade; an as yet untitled show by artist Julia Durgee in August; “Visible Discourse from Maine’s Western Foothills,” a group show of artists Schneider, Arcadipone, Best and Millonzi; and “Imposition & Yielding: Travail en Cire,” a group show with artists Ann Tracy, Anne Strout and Ann Deutsch in October. The two UMVA members’ exhibitions are planned for June and November with the Holiday Art Sale in December. Applications for other months are being accepted for consideration at the October UMVA Portland meeting on October 15th. All artists are welcome to apply by visiting the UMVA Portland webpage and downloading, preparing. and returning an application form. You can also contact Gregg Harper for an application at firstname.lastname@example.org
Among other projects being considered by UMVA Portland include updating the website, possible collaboration with PMC on shows related to the gallery and painting the back wall of the gallery to bring attention to the back room.
The images created by ARRTists become vibrant components of communities throughout the state and over time find many uses, often framing important messages and bringing groups together. As a project of the UMVA, ARRT! creates images for progressive non-profits throughout the state, and on occasion, for special requests for out-of-Maine organizations. ARRT! provides a visual voice for groups which need assistance getting their messages out. The photos featured below offer a glimpse into the vibrant lives the images live and what they offer to Maine citizens.
ARRT! banners, placards and props can often be found at Whitefield Maine’s Fourth of July parade.
Much of ARRT!’s work consists of large original hand-painted banners, but new media and applications are popping up all the time. All of ARRT’s work is done in collaboration, with the belief and proven practice, that our best work emerges through our shared skills, ideas and the lively process of group critique we have developed. See more at www.arrteam.org
LumenARRT! is a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!). Working through the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA), LumenARRT! creates video projections illuminating messages, like electronic graffiti, to bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice.
LumenARRT’s projection on 6/29/18 was in front of Susan Collins’ office in support of the “Keep Families Together” rally the next day.
CLICK on the animation below to see a video of the actual projection:
Our projection on Sept. 7th, Friday Art Walk in Portland, featured a Codfish Funeral with the IDEAL MAINE SOCIAL AID AND SANCTUARY BAND! We started about 7:30 PM on Congress Street, using our new MOVING projection system, in support of the global mobilization and Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice Rally the next day at Lincoln Park in Portland.
CLICK on image below to see a short video of the Codfish Funeral including dancing in the streets!
UMVA-LA has had a wonderful summer season starting with our annual exhibit “Pride: What brings pride to your life?” at Kimball Street Studio. This exhibit included works from artists who take pride in what they do.
We also enjoyed sharing works with our community, through heading up and assisting Build Maine in having Internationally-recognized artist, Arlin Graff, create an amazingly beautiful huge mural of a zebra on the side of the Centerville Parking lot. The meaning behind the Zebra is “Community”. Zebras are rarely alone and live and work in community. It represents the coming together of the growing immigrant community with a community of mostly white natives. It is the beginning of our hopes to have more large-scale displays of public art.
Our recent UMVA-LA meetings have had inspiring artist talks, Kate Katomski spoke about her current projects around historic mining, and Sheri Withers Hollenbeck about her community arts projects. Grayling Cunningham hosted the last talk with an interactive discussion about balancing art, work, home, family, and life. It was wonderful sharing with one another and all who attended benefited from the open discussion. We will be changing our meeting format to include important topics and conversation on a bi-monthly basis. Our next meeting will be held at The Studio located at 291 Lisbon street where guest speaker Alex Hood will share her journey as an artist and programming and opportunities at Bates College’s Olin Arts Center.
The Sunday Indie Market, sponsored by the Downtown Lewiston Arts District and UMVA-LA., has been gathering artists, artisans, culinarians, musicians, and vintage dealers for the only market of its kind in the Lewiston-Auburn area. On the 3rd Sunday of every month, we are outdoors in Lewiston’s Dufresne Plaza, on downtown Lisbon Street across from the courthouse. November through April, we are indoors at The Curio Art & Alehouse, 110 Lisbon Street. https://www.facebook.com/SundayindiemarketLewiston/
Upcoming Events: 3rd Annual Harvest Masquerade Ball is scheduled for Saturday October 20th 8pm-12am at the Agora Grand Event Center, formerly St. Patrick’s Church. This is our biggest fundraiser of the year that continues to grow and become something special. We have DJ Alex Merrill again playing amazing tunes and we are hoping to add some live music, Halloween inspired art, tours of the crypt, a photo booth, costume contests (costume contest details are below) and a silent horror film on the giant projection screen.
FB Event Page https://www.facebook.com/events/2221760614734719/