The loss of a beloved grandmother, father and then my young husband of 38, brought my art to its focus on spirit and the concept of the physical body as primarily the shell/wrapping for the soul. As a ceramist in graduate school, the stoneware sculptures I created appeared almost as layered, peeling armatures left behind. The clay bodies, heavily textured and pit-fired, were singed in large brick kilns constructed by hand, outdoors, and filled with wood, sawdust and oxides. With daily firings, I believe I spent three years smelling like I just came from a barbecue, wherever I went. Working in handmade fiber as well, as in “Winged Amaranth”, these lighter structures of abaca, cotton, and seagrass, seem to be lifted upward as if just releasing the energy within.
Enjoying the texture, translucency and opaque qualities of another medium-encaustics, I spent a great deal of time exploring and creating works that were layered and often combined with other materials. In “Text Memories”, a largescale work, 6 ft. x 5 ft. 6” x 1.5”, I sewed 12 encaustic squares on canvas that contained circles with the repetition of names of important people in my life.
Writing in script each name 200 times in the circle created a particular textural surface. The writing itself was a contemplation/meditation on that person and my feelings for them.
Working as a hospice volunteer for over 20 years has given me experience knowing others, aside from loved ones, through the dying process, and their loved ones, through the grief process. I have witnessed the joy that can also be alive along with the sorrow – the connection and appreciation of all that is still there throughout and until the end.
Living with full awareness of death is important to me, as in the biblical line “Remember man that you are dust and onto dust you shall return”. And to be ready, as Ram Dass narrates so beautifully, “I’ve learned to relax my hold on this body, to rest in life – as a wonderful Saint put it – like a bird resting on a dry branch, ready to fly away.”
My new work deals with light and its’ reflections, often on everyday objects. Streaming sun and its’ shadows creates sculptures and imagery that draws me into its’ focusing ability and ethereal qualities. I am now chasing the light and continuing to explore.
“Even in Death Mobility”
(New York Times Headline, Oct. 25th, 2011)
Even in death there is movement.
The soul kayaks out,
spirit climbs the Stairmaster,
perception, reception, bungee-jumps,
senses dance, a final drum song.
Even in death, action
Forces transpire, take hold, transform,
The heart still stirring,
brain still carrying
remains of vitality,
now transmitting, dematerializing,
a sacred, intangible world.
Even in death
(from a series of poems I wrote, inspired by New York Times
HELP FUND A FILM ABOUT LONGTIME UMVA ACTIVIST/ARTIST, NATASHA MAYERS!
Click on the above image to see the film trailer for “Natasha Mayers: An Un-still Life” and even if you can’t donate, please share!
Now, more than ever, people want to see truthful, creative role models like Natasha Mayers, who is known as the “best activist artist” in Maine and who Senator George Mitchell called a “state treasure.”
The film about Natasha Mayers shows what’s possible when the power of art touches hearts and minds and brings people together. The video will take this message to inspire a wider audience to apply those values to bring meaning and beauty to their own lives…and get active!
How does an artist express doubts, inner thoughts, or wishes?
At first glance my ceramic sculpture may look mythical. I have chosen to use both animals and people to express emotions that we all may share.
The inner stories we create about how we protect ourselves, deal with inner dialogue or hide our fears, are sometimes better revealed through an animal’s sense of preservation, such as a rabbit’s wariness, or the solemn contemplation of a chimp.
I find it comforting to know that others share my fascination with the inner workings of humanity. What drives us to behave the way we do? This question is what motivates my work.
The UMVA Portland Chapter is preparing its 2018 calendar. Applications for shows are still available, though there are only 3 or 4 months left open. Please contact John Ripton at firstname.lastname@example.org for an application and list of exhibit guidelines. If you wish to be considered for the 2018 calendar, please prepare and submit an application by October 15th. UMVA Gallery accepts and considers applications at any time during the year. Submissions are reviewed and decisions made in one or two months.
The July members’ show was very successful – approximately 60 member artists submitted work. More is expected for the November show, titled “Memories.” Contact UMVA curator Ann Tracy (email@example.com) for guidelines for the November show. The submissions are due October 9th.
UMVA members supported the search for new flooring at CTN (Community Television Network). CTN is changing their name to Portland Media Center, so watch for new signage. Members also contributed to CTN’s telethon on September 22nd and 23rd with members Jim Kelly and Roland Salazar Rose painting live on cable and donating their work to televised auction. Members Janice Moore and Matt Devers designed a new banner. It now hangs in the window of CTN. Mark Barnette developed a permanent panel briefly explaining UMVA’s purpose to be installed in the Gallery.
The Addison-Woolley exhibit will run through October 27th. It is a wonderful show of photography and art. Visit the show at the UMVA Gallery at 516 Congress St. in Portland. Check out David Wade’s photos in slide show below of opening night.
UMVA Portland Chapter invites any and all members to join them in discussion and decision-making every third Monday of the month, 6-8 p.m. The next meeting is October 17th. The principal agenda item is determining the 2018 calendar for the Portland UMVA Gallery.
Politics does not stop at the museum or gallery door, neither should it be dictated by commissions or commissioners. Diego Rivera said as much when he refused to remove an image of Vladimir Lenin in a mural he created in Rockefeller Center in 1932. The mural projected a hopeful future where humans reached across social class lines and used technology to benefit all humankind. It is a message that resonates loudly in the world of American politics today. Rivera’s mural, however, was chiseled from the wall in 1934 at the orders of the art patron and business tycoon John D. Rockefeller.
“I don’t think anyone can separate art from politics,” asserts contemporary Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei. “The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention,” he explains.*
Everyone, including artists, are enmeshed in the politics of economic and social injustice and environmental calamities. Artists can no more escape these realities than any other human being. Because all means of expression and communication evolve from relationships with others – family, community and wider national and global societies – personal creative expression is profoundly shaped by social forces. Thus an individual artist’s experience, as with all human experience, depends very significantly on class background, education and other social agency.
Freedom of expression has been an ongoing struggle throughout history. When discussing the history and demise of the Bauhaus School (1919-33), Artnet Magazine associate editor Ben Davis writes, “Art cannot afford to turn away from history.”** According to Davis, the idealistic and leftist leaders and teachers in the Bauhaus of Germany’s Wiemar Republic, failed to directly confront the historical circumstances and class divisions that the Nazis successfully exploited. When the Nazi regime came to power in 1933, it closed the Bauhaus. Hitler declared all modernist art “degenerate.”
Nazi denunciation of modernist art was a direct assault on intellectual and creative production, a pretext for cleansing culture of the questions, criticisms and visions art expresses. Purification of culture – we must remember – is the first step toward purification of blood. “The Nazis burnt Picassos, Dalís, Ernsts, Klees, Légers and Mirós years before they built Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Birkenau,” Yara Zgheib points out.***
Today, democratic culture is under direct attack in the United States and throughout much of the world. Though paintings, books or other works of art have not been publicly burned or destroyed in mass rallies, an assault on culture is nevertheless underway. “Alternative facts,” “fake news” and the nationalist appeals of the “alt-right” are part of the ongoing attack on the “liberal media.” And, as government relaxes regulation on media corporations, nationalist media is poised to extend its reach and influence. Already Sinclair, the largest broadcast media company, plans to expand its politically conservative programming beyond the quarter of the nation’s household it now reaches. Combined with the proliferation of right-wing social media and widespread reactionary radio talk-show hosts, nationalist and nativist voices are now engaged in an aggressive attempt to fashion headlines and gain ground in the daily news coverage.
The emergence of branding in national politics is another crucial concern for artists. The most abject form of advertising, branding seeks to establish loyalty among it followers. As such, it seeks to displace critical inquiry and scientific evidence, to undermine competing voices. Message repetition, subliminal messaging and soundbites are key tactics in both commercial and political branding strategy. Branding also carries connotations of marking for ownership, as commonly practiced in the livestock industry. It is, of course, a genuinely ominous development for democratic politics. When branding becomes political strategy, when symbols and words evoke political loyalty, the shadow of doubt engulfs all forms of criticism. Reality can be stood on its head. Social and moral chaos may ensue.
Artists in every media are quite familiar with the technical elements involved in eliciting human response – to color, to sound, to motion, to image, to words. We know the power of symbols. Because we work in these currencies, we have a social role and responsibility to keep a dynamic and critical culture alive.
If we do not elevate our criticism of socioeconomic inequalities and environmental deregulation at this moment of national and global existential crises, then a new culture with fewer critical voices may evolve very quickly.
Do not allow isolation, indifference, fear, lassitude or social class overwhelm our critical creative voices.
We must be politically conscious and remain engaged in the world. In words often attributed to the indefatigable philosopher, writer and activist Rosa Luxemburg, “The most revolutionary thing one can do is always to proclaim loudly what is happening” ****
*(Liang Luo, The Avant-Garde and the Popular in Modern China, University of Michigan Press, 2014, p. 226)
Marsden Hartley, Mount Katahdin Autumn No. 1, oil on panel
In some skewed kind of logic, regional art of Maine could be argued around to where art is sometimes defined as Maine. Take for instance Marsden Hartley (fig.1) or John Marin’s (fig.2) work. With Marin’s extraordinary coastal Maine watercolors I find it hard to identify him with few other places more than Maine, even though he certainly painted other places, as did Hartley.
When one says regional art of Maine, what comes to mind? Andrew Wyeth (fig.3), certainly, but beyond that, it would depend on your depth of understanding and taste and would probably be subjective, based on your experience and education. But how does Maine fit within the definition of regionalism?
‘Regionalism’ as an actual movement, as defined by Wikipedia, was an American realist modern movement popular from 1930-1935 “that included paintings, murals, lithographs and illustrations depicting realistic scenes of rural and small-town America…Regionalist art in general was in a relatively conservative and traditional style that appealed to popular American sensibilities, while strictly opposing the perceived domination of French art.”
As a result, when in art school in the sixties, the words “regional art” were delivered derisively to mean pedestrian art. Teachers would say about an artist that they were only a regional artist, meaning not to be taken seriously or given much weight, or even trite. By the time I graduated, I said, “Oh my god, I’ve got to avoid at all costs being regional.”
But regional as a damning label began to lose validity as I came to know regions in the world that represented a standard in art; the Barbizon woods where Parisian landscape painters painted en plein air, Provence en Aix where Cezanne made the light and shapes recognizable, Cuzco with its golden Peruvian art, Benin in Africa known for some of the earliest sculpture, and many more of which I came to be aware by education and travel. The denouement was when I walked into the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC as a young art student and saw that the signature painting in a show of Luminist Hudson River painters was Frederick Church’s painting of Katahdin from Millinocket Lake (fig.6). All I have mentioned were important and historic places and the art from them defined and was defined by the region. One not only pictured a style but a quality of work from each place. How does the region inform the quality? Is it by some level of familiarity or brand that we assume a certain quality? Do artists come to Maine to seek out a certain brand, thereby assuming that quality goes with it?
Talking with a couple of artists about regionalism recently, one said that she felt the people that come to paint the Maine we so jealously guard as our own seemed like interlopers after a bit of the Maine panache. Take for instance the number of plein air workshops that have sprung up along the coast in the last few years, often even taught by visitors. You have to wonder if people are being attracted by some greater global connectivity, such as the internet, advertising our mystique.
It may be true that the internet connectivity has begun to draw more artists to the region but artists have been beating a path to Maine for over a century and a half, ever since Frederick Church came to Maine in the mid 1800’s. In fact artists with their tools were the original visual reporters of these regions, be it the unexplored West or Maine’s rugged coast and interior. Connectivity may have enhanced the allure of our region but there is plenty of evidence that it was well established before the internet. Even if the sales and promotion often exists in an urban setting like New York, that does not take away from the regional nature of the art. That is why I see Maine as an identifiable region, as is Rockport, Massachusetts, for its community of seaport painters, or Abiquiu, New Mexico as interpreted through the eyes of Georgia O’Keeffe.
The region defines the art defines the region. So I return to the question, does the region inform the quality and how much does familiarity influence our judgment of quality? Some work begs the question, but regionalism can sometimes carry the day. I remember the great, groundbreaking show at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC of Black folk art from across the South back in 1978. Some of the artists went on to be international sensations but it was the region that carried all the artists on its tide. Authenticity can count for a lot; a sense of truth and integrity in the work or the power of a regional brand.
And sometimes an artist lands exactly where they are supposed to be, a kind of magic coupling of the level of inspiration of a region with the artist’s particular sensibility. What would Marin have been without the Maine coast, or Fairfield Porter (fig.4) or Stephen Etnier (fig.5) without Maine light, or Hartley without Katahdin?
Or Hartley without Stieglitz? When Hartley wanted to revive his flagging career and reestablish himself as “the painter of Maine” Stieglitz mounted a solo show of his work at Gallery 291 in New York City in 1909, including images of Katahdin, and thereby located his work of Maine before an international art audience. So without the connectivity to a larger audience, would we even know regionalism?
Ultimately the connection to an urban sales and exhibition venue is crucial to our connectivity to outlying regions, and even though it has been enhanced greatly by the advent of the internet, the “connectivity” is the catalyst, the vehicle, whether in the mid 1800’s when Luminist paintings of Mt. Desert, Maine were put before the Rockefellers or in 1913 when George Bellows (fig.7) began
summering on Monhegan and returned to New York City, or when Alex Katz (fig.8) came to study at the Skowhegan School in 1950 and brought his en plein air visions of Maine back to his native Brooklyn, N.Y., or when Stephen Pace (fig.9) showed his light coastal Maine paintings in New York.
But how does this connectivity really affect the quality and character of work from this region? Aren’t we just as likely to produce regionally substandard or trite work or does Maine really have an edge, a distinctive look, where the landscape serves the artist and, even if the artist has only passable skills, will produce work of distinct appeal and quality?
I have a gallery in North Light Gallery of mostly emerging artists who paint this region. The region is the subject, but the artists are not necessarily from this region. Andrew Wyeth did not start as a Maine regional painter but came to embrace this region after being raised and schooled in Pennsylvania, but he will forever define a quality of Maine painting; a reduced palette and emotional austerity typical of the Maine farmlands and coast.
Which brings me back to the question, how is perception of a region changed in the world view by painters who are not from that region adopting it and bringing their sensibility to it? Would any painter who did not have a deep relationship with Maine have painted Christina crawling through the field? Having grown up here I am mostly preoccupied with rocks (fig.10), as many of my friends would tell you, but is that what a visiting artist would relate to? Maine is a known region, because it is familiar, because it has been made familiar and because it continues to draw artists because of where it is. But seen through the eyes of those who are not from Maine we are often shown a different interpretation of a familiar theme. Was Wyeth’s attraction to Christina in the field really influenced by his childhood farm environment in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania? Have visiting artists, because of their earlier influences, perhaps shown the world a different place than we as natives might have?
After five years running this gallery, one day I suddenly saw with awful clarity, brought back from art school days, that I was running a regional gallery. I began to understand from that day forward what value regionalism has and to embrace it. I began to see how the region has a strong brand and how that gives every artist that paints here a leg up. But, regardless of the brand, I can look at a painting of the north of Maine by Philip Barter(fig.11), a prolific painter of the Maine landscape, and see an arrangement of colors and shapes similar to what I saw in an Arthur Dove at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. many years ago, and know that I am looking at greatness and quality, whether it is Maine or not.
If a work of art is good, it doesn’t matter where it was painted or by whom. Oftentimes the tide of regionalism can raise an artist with real potential into the mainstream that we might never have noticed otherwise. Once in the mainstream that label may drop away, but it might also end up defining what we see. As an example, Linden Frederick paints Belfast, Maine (fig.12), a town I spent many years of my childhood in as my grandparents were there, and though he paints a unique and authentic view of that place, it is very different from the memories I have from my childhood, though just as true. His regional view is very different from mine and he has redefined the region with his truth. I always worry about falling into the “regional” label trap and then failing to recognize and to support some of the true talent around us, regardless of where the artists are from. Linden Frederick is a master and has taken the language of our region and established it with a global audience. In the end all of us from this region may have been buoyed up by those master artists who have ventured here, painted their truth and connected us to the rest of the world.
The Artists Rapid Response Team! is a project of the Union of Maine Visual Artists. Members of ARRT! are UMVA members and activist artists who work to provide visuals for progressive groups throughout Maine, seeking to add a visual voice to help carry their messages far and wide. The following images are recently completed banners. Click on them to expand images.
The slideshow below gives a glimpse of the July 4th 2017 parade in Whitefield Maine, titled “Liar Liar Pants on Fire!” Artist Natasha Mayers has organized a community Independence Day Parade in her hometown of Whitefield for decades. Many of the props, banners and constructions in this year’s parade were created by ARRT!
LumenARRT! is a project of the Artists Rapid Response Team (ARRT!). We work through the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) to advocate for artists and further the work of progressive non-profits in the state of Maine. Our video projections create a visual voice for these organizations and like electronic graffiti, bring awareness to issues of social, political and environmental justice.
LumenARRT! participated in the River Jam Fringe Fest in Biddeford Friday, September 15 with a projection of “Warming of the Gulf of Maine” video-mapped on the facade of the Marble Block on Main St. Festival goers of all ages also joined in the draw-your-own-comments/electronic graffiti using “Tagtools” and shadow puppets projected around the corner on a Franklin St wall.
Click on images below to see a short video of the project.
9/22 —Tag tools interactive projection on Mechanics Hall celebrated the Community Television Network and highlighted their annual fundraiser, UMVA Gallery renovations and transformation to becoming the “Portland Media Center” 516 Congress St.
10/6 — First Year anniversary of opening of the LGBTQ Equality Community Center: LumenARRT! will be projecting interviews (with sound) on shapes in the Plaza, as well as some interactive components on Mechanics Hall, 511 Congress St, Portland.
above: Jo Ann Bianchi, “Egg on your Face”, acrylic on canvas, 24”x24”, 2017
Jo Ann Bianchi
My recent seasonal move to Maine was for the cool summer climate, its geographical remoteness, its earthy scenic lure, and the dynamic artistic pulse of Portland.
My creative inspiration and expression comes as a visceral response to an ever changing geopolitical climate as seen through social and mass media.
Janice L. Moore
Regionalism for a painter has an established meaning: it’s painting what an artist lives with, in, and around. I’ve lived and painted in Maine most of my life. My work is specific to my experience here. I’m interested in what’s real and particular about us; namely in the landscapes of our Maine work that speak directly of who we are and how we got here.
Maine is my context; it’s not negated because I’ve lived and worked in other locations.
Neither is my connection negated because I’m exposed to a wider culture or other influences and art forms. These influences will be filtered through my experience as a painter grounded in Maine. My portrayal of place is in direct response to an increasingly homogenous popular culture dominated by national brands and franchised box-stores. My connection to place helps me find reliable truth in the face of the barrage of “alternative truth” and selective reality.
I love Maine other than the prolonged winters and short summers. We get to experience the fullness of 4 seasons. We have diversity of landscape from the coast to mountains to the rolling hills of Aroostook County. It would be abnormal to my mind not to be influenced by where you live. An art teacher told me once to paint what you love. I love my home state of Maine.
Regionalism is absolutely relevant within the US because the attitudes and values of the people around you reflect the landscape/cityscape and the local industries. In Maine, I am living on the edge of wilderness. It is a cold, mountainous and rocky country where the summer plants grow like a jungle. A certain type of person chooses this place as their home. They must be people who love the wilderness, who see the sublime in the landscape around them, who rejoice in the ferocity of the environment.
above: John Ripton, “Executive Meeting”, Photograph – Inkjet on Archival Paper, 12”X16”
A wall is a wall until it is art, or until it is torn down, as happened with this colorful street mural (above) on a wall in Portland. I gave the photograph an ironic title to express the tension that often exists between street art and commercial interests. This is a universal phenomenon and truth in our cosmopolitan world.
Rauschenberg painted brooms and goats. Duchamp exhibited a standard manufactured urinal and a bottle rack as art. Ai Weiwei suspended 886 stools at the Venice Art Biennale 2013. In this photograph an anonymous Biddeford tattoo artist uses an electric needle to paint an anonymous man’s flesh.
One of the first conscious acts in human evolution is applying our hands and minds to shape physical materials. To our existential peril we forget that artifice engages humans with their environment for survival. Here in a room in a former textile mill above the Saco River a violin-maker hears notes that will travel around the world and may one day awaken humankind to the music of forests and minerals.
This group of Portland teenage musicians on Congress Street are influenced by various strands of American and world music including American punk rock and scream-style music as well as traditional Irish ballads. The young female vocalist appropriates the winged boots of the Greek god Hermes and the drummer experiments with a towel on his snare drums as the young Ringo Starr once did.
What Maine Means to Me as an Artist
My husband and I moved here from
California to Maine twenty years ago
to be near family and to experience seasons
Especially winter. We love winters in Maine,
all of winter with its storms, heaps of snow, slow
melts and, yes, the ice.
My husband writes dramas and I draw memory
pictures during gray winter days
Something in the soul needs something to
endure – it is winter for us.
My focus as an artist is the Maine landscape, studying the interior woods or small islands in the midday light. On location I observe and paint the high contrast of light, the shadows and the forms it creates in nature. My work is representational but not literal. I paint with the intent is to compose form and spatial depth, combined with personal imprint.
above: David Wade, “Sumi”, archival pigment print, 16 x 21″, 2012
What Maine Means To Me
I think every artist is influenced by their environment and choose to be where they feel most inspired and free to create. Maine’s empty open spaces and shorelines do that for me… I like to work alone with my camera, with no fixed preconceptions, and let the natural landscape talk to me and tell me what to do… Maine is one of those perfect places to escape to and leave behind all the noise and confusion of daily existence …
The energy of the landscape at the shore’s edge where the water, air and land all meet is extremely powerful and primal territory, and it calls me…
It is where I can stand at the edge of creation and look upon it in awe… where I can recharge my batteries, make my art, and refresh my soul…
I find that being in Maine definitely influences my art. It gives me a chance in this rapidly changing world to stop and reflect on the human experience, while being nourished by its peaceful yet powerful surroundings.
I have been on an amazing journey spent with women artists who I have created and co-created with to make our environment open enough to express deepest longings. We strive to know what is going on in the world, we respond to it, we delve into making art to reveal our authentic selves. We ask the questions of what we need in our daily lives to grow our art. So I would say that innovation or provincial is a matter of the artist’s personnel perspective. Nature will never fail the human experience unless we rob it of it’s resources.
Through our art we can advance ideals of living free and equal, of always having clean water, air and food for everyone; as well as freedom of expression.
I am a Maine artist, loving the land, the sea, the freedom; grateful each and every day for all that Maine offers.
My artistic focus, however, is often miles away from here. Much of my art is about daily struggles, human connections and global issues that confront us all. I usually paint the challenges that face us in our complex world. Working alone in a rural studio, sometimes, it is just too much!!
Then I re-center myself by painting Maine trees, Maine waters, Maine skies. Thank you, dear Maine. You give me the strength to carry on.
I identify as a Maine artist because this is where I am from, and where I have decided to make my home and earn a living. My family has been here for generations: they worked in logging, agriculture, and in Maine’s once-thriving mills and factories. My art is informed and influenced by this history, and I consider it to be a continuation and expression of this living narrative.
I understand there is a long history of art tied to the landscape of the Maine coast, but I grew up in central Maine, and many of my childhood experiences revolved around trips to remote areas up north on lakes and streams. That said, I sometimes have a hard time relating to much of the coastal landscape paintings I see saturating local galleries because they do not speak to the Maine I know. That’s not to say these are not valid expressions of Maine’s beauty. But I do worry that their pervasiveness, and the tendency of the market to cater to what most easily sells to tourists, might limit other expressions out there, and it may be the only Maine most people will ever know.
This submission contains excerpts from my solo exhibition The Gravity of Place, which utilized historic Maine photographs in collage to depict various industries and labor that once thrived in Maine.
I have lived in or visited every state except Alaska, as well as traveled in 52 countries – including Peru, Australia, Russia, Bolivia and Nepal. Everywhere I go, I absorb the local culture, and tastes of it inevitably appear in my artwork. Portland, Maine has rubbed off on me artistically by inspiring and encouraging me to be more spontaneous, abstract, whimsical, courageous and not so oriented or driven toward academic perfection. I am grateful for this particular inspiration, as I am extremely appreciative of other influences, for example Islamic Art, from the several months I lived in Pakistan, and visited India and Turkey.