I use my sketchbooks as a place to look, study, be present, and free myself up. The pages of the sketchbooks are typically heavy, textured watercolor paper. I work on both the front and back of the page. This means that there are no wrong marks in the sketchbooks, only opportunities to integrate all marks and colors into a finished page and book. No page can be ripped out because there is something on its back which relates to another image. Therefore, the challenge becomes incorporating all marks and all media together.
The pages of my sketchbooks grow over time, ultimately to become a unique book which records visual images I have explored. I sometimes complete one page of a facing dyad and wait until an image which compliments the first is clear to me. An example: two facing pages in my sketchbook are labeled ‘The icons – Katahdin and Monhegan’. The sketch of the lighthouse on Monhegan was completed in July; the sketch of Katahdin was completed in September. For me the two together were a statement about Maine.
I use permanent ink, watercolor, colored pencils, and graphite in the sketchbooks, anything which encourages me to play. Some pages are doodles developed while listening to something in my environment. Some pages are intentional drawings. With the sketchbook, I take the opportunity to center myself, be present in a silent place, and focus on line, form, color, value, and energy. This later informs larger works, not as replicas, but as a way of being present in the work.
I have carried a sketchbook and a pen every day for many years. Frankly, I feel a little lost without them. I prefer pen, because graphite smears when pages rub, so pencils and charcoal are for sketch books that stay in the studio.
And every day, I take out my sketchbook and enter something: a name, address, portrait, landscape, invention, a to-do list, a scribble or a watercolor, a wish, a regret, a collage, a feather or butterfly wing.
My sketchbook is one of my intimate places, where I experiment, dream, observe,think, pretend, be free, fail, shape up, break it all down, remember, and forget. I keep stacks of them, often with an intention to return and dig into ideas that don’t exist anywhere else. Often, I do return to these ideas and they become something else; often the ideas stay right there and never see the light of day again. Any way it goes, each morning it’s keys, change and knife on one side, wallet on the other, with sketchbook and pen in their own pockets. Then I’m ready to face any wicked day.
“Gallimaufry” is a great old 1500’s word meaning, “a confused jumble or medley of things.” Often a stew or hash. My sketchbooks are my gallimaufry: a potato here, chunk of lamb there, carrot, onion, tomato in a sauce, spicy and savory, at least to me.
Alan Crichton and Abby Shahn collaborative sketchbook
This is a collaborative book, a kind of mutual sketchbook that Abby Shahn and I made a few years ago.
She and I describe our process and some thoughts about making this book.
Abby – I think that the thing I like most about this process
…. about making these folded books.. about collaboration … is the way that
one is forced to give up plans… to forget about intentions… because the
other artist will obliterate them with a single stroke.
I’ve made these books with several different artists …
it’s a nice way to visit a friend.
– A brand new open book, open door. Fresh, heavy paper,
accordion-folded and blank, ready for a conversation you can see. No rules.
Start anywhere with anything interesting and send it back, let the book and
friendship build, see what happens. Pages start distant, move towards each
other, then overlap and layer. Always a surprise, from one friend’s hand,
through many postmen’s, to the other. Real play in real time.
Abby – You got a new book coming this way? Hooray!
Al – Great idea! I’ll send a new start with the new year!
Perhaps Maine artists want to look back to Hope’s time when viewing art in a gallery was sometimes more of an ‘event’, like going to a theater. Linking studio practice and tourism is very much what we do here during Maine summers.
Jane Bianco, Curator at the Farnsworth
James Hope (1818/19-1892) was a respected contemporary of painters Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), and others who aggrandized expansive vistas of the American landscape. From 1852, Hope was established as a portraitist and landscape painter with studios in New York City and Castleton, Vermont. Twenty years later he relocated to Watkins Glen, New York, after completing a lucrative painting commission at the popular tourist destination. Its central appeal, a shalestone and sandstone canyon featuring stepped waterfalls and pothole pools was a geologic wonder carved from the wilderness. It drew thousands of visitors after opening as a public attraction in 1863, and also became the inspiration for many of Hope’s paintings during the last two decades of his career.
Hope’s Glen Art Gallery Gallery Card Image courtesy of NPS, Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland
This natural spectacle was described exuberantly as a place “in whose marvelous gorges and splendid cliffs man may read, as scarce anywhere else, the world’s age…pages of history-in-rock, clothed in rare and exquisite ferns and orchids….” In 1872 Hope strategically located his gallery near the entrance to the glen and charged visitors a fee to view his gallery, which he also stocked with souvenirs and stereoptic cards of scenes from the glen made by his photographer son. His account of the gallery included encouragement to linger, as noted in the Descriptive Guide Book of the Watkins Glen:
HOPE’S ART GALLERY
This gallery, built by Captain J. Hope, late of 82 Fifth Avenue, New York, is beautifully lighted and contains a superb collection of more than one hundred of his finest paintings. Here can be seen the leading scenes in Watkins Glen, and its surroundings; also scenes in New England, Virginia, California, Europe, Sic., chief among which are, his celebrated picture of
also his great historical painting of the
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
and many others well known in former New York exhibitions.
Guests can spend many a pleasant hour here, and no visitor to the Glen should fail to see this splendid collection. There is an admission fee of 25 cents to this gallery, as it does not belong to the Glen. A short distance beyond the Gallery is a convenient platform, erected for the use of picnic parties.
By 1882 Hope was supplementing his studio practice, managing “seasonal repairs and ornamental structures of the Glen,” and capitalizing further on this attraction by collaborating with the souvenir business operated by the Glen Mountain House hotel, perched above one of the ravines.
The Hope gallery of idyllic landscape paintings, as introduction to the splendid glen with its steep pathways along and across deep pools and gorges, drew many visitors. They came on foot to experience the slightly dangerous, sublime beauty of the Glen, but unexpectedly would have confronted drama of a different sort upon entering the gallery. Hope’s other spectacle was his series of six-by-twelve-foot panoramas depicting the September 17, 1862 Civil War battles of Antietam. Painted in Hope’s last decade, these sweeping, large-scale views depict with immediacy some of the bloodiest Civil War battles between Union and Confederate forces, showing troop movement and death. His firsthand observations of the battles as a member of the 2nd Vermont Regiment were the essence of a number of smaller paintings as well, including one in the Farnsworth Museum collection, currently on exhibit in Rockland, Maine. It is a reduced-scale version of his panorama aptly named Wasted Gallantry, and depicts the 7th Maine Infantry charging into the line of fire in a futile attempt to eliminate Confederate sharp-shooters. It has been noted that certain of the painter’s graphic details seen in the foreground in this and others of the series correlate with Alexander Gardner’s Civil War photographs documenting combat’s horrific aftermath, namely, the shocking display of soldiers’ mangled corpses.
James Hope (1818/19 -1892) Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862 7th Maine Attacking over the Sunken Road through the Piper Cornfield, after 1862 Oil on canvas 18 7/8 x 35 7/8 inches Farnsworth Art Museum; Gift of Alice Bingham Gorman, 1997.16
The incongruous display of death and beauty within the gallery would have intensified the visitor experience. Twelve years after Hope’s death, a 1904 auction catalogue listing eighty-three of his paintings quoted artists Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt, and Civil War veterans, all who attested to the sensitivity and veracity of Hope’s compositions and their ability to transport:
Hope’s example of making his studio gallery part of an expanded sensation, in particular by way of his commemorative, even confrontational, exhibit, would have incited reaction—provoking, it might be argued, transference of heightened awareness to the landscape on an even grander scale, to be experienced just outside the studio.
The Famous Hope Canvases, Fifth Avenue Art Galleries, preface to auction catalogue, January 22-23, 1904, unpaginated. The catalogue lists 83 canvases, including Hope’s six panoramas (at5 ½ x 12 feet) focusing upon the September 1862 Civil War battles of Antietam.
 Elizabeth Theriault Strum, James Hope: Nineteenth Century American Painter, Masters Thesis, Syracuse University, 1984, (courtesy National Park Service, Antietam National Battlefield), 15-23. The Glen Mountain House, a resort replete with paths along the gorge and bridges spanning its rivers, with vista of cascades, had been opened to upwards of 10,000 tourists during the summer and autumn of 1863 by local newspaper owner Morvalden Ells and landowner, George Freer.
 The panoramas have been conserved by the National Park Service, and are on view at Antietam National Battlefield headquarters’ James Hope Gallery, in Sharpsburg, Maryland.
 Dates of the smaller paintings of battle scenes have not been fixed; Hope may have produced these prior to his large-scale panoramas.
 See Philip Whitman, Long After Battle: James Hope’s ‘Authentic’ Commemoration of Antietam’s Bloody Lane, Masters Thesis, Skidmore College, 2017.
WELCOME! UMVA members and invited artists responded to our request below for our Summer 2017 Maine Arts Journal theme on narrative:
Are the stories in your work, or behind you work, of a personal nature, or are they in the commons? Are they old stories, myths, or topical ones? Or are they topical stories disguised as myths, or old stories that have a contemporary relevance? Are you an abstract painter using coded narratives, or are there stories behind abstract or cryptic works that the public will not know, but might feel or intuit?
With gratitude and wonder we share their stories and images with you on these digital pages. (PLEASE NOTE, most images will open in full size when clicked on).
The MAJ is organized around quarterly themes to which we encourage members to submit. Submission information and guidelines are to be found HERE. Please view the current issue and explore the archived issues that are available through the main menu. We welcome your feedback on current features, proposals for future issues, and your ideas/submissions for upcoming themes. Our new format allows for comments. We hope to hear from you. And we hope you will JOIN the Union of Maine Visual Artists and SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE to receive the MAJ in your inbox each quarter
Maine Arts Journal Editorial Board,
Jeff Ackerman, Alan Crichton, Dan Kany, Natasha Mayers, Jessica McCarthy, Nora Tryon
Lines disappeared and the blue overtook the vision as far as the peripherals would stretch. Sit down. Stand up. Sit again. Stare. Is the vision of your, their, mine and her bodies, intertwined, struggling to grasp and hold some ounces of air- born yet? My mother has photographs of me, which she printed out from Instagram. They are all over her home. All I want is to know what she smells like. What is the white line of clouds the planes leave behind anyways? Are you my mother? Your skin syncs to mine quite nicely, and your pale belly makes me think that the sun doesn’t like you very much. I didn’t want to see her jump, and the color green -the right kind of sappy, muddy forest green, is really hard to mix. I want to put its light in my mouth. No hawks left in my organs. The surgery didn’t help and your face was never that important. One stroke for the chin, scrape away for the bottom lip, to show the shadow. Simple. I too, had children I looked after, forty of them at a time. Passionfruit wont leave my head, I like, too much, how it fills my ears with dance sounds. Get up. Hold five brushes in one hand, watch you grab all the kids on TV. Amy, with her sweaters can say hard sentences, but even her voice sometimes breaks. I cant understand the skin that moves on the screen, too fast and I hold my face, to make sure it is not like them. But it doesn’t feel any different. Now my mother cries louder then all the babies I ever had the chance to hold.
Howard Fonda, “Untitled (the future as seen through the past/stolen,given,owned, not owned, self, not self)”, oil and colored pencil on canvas. 56″x44″, 2017
Attention all painters, all artists!! A great painting show is coming to Portland, Maine July, 2017. Michelle Grabner, artist, writer, curator and Crown Family Professor of Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has curated an amazing exhibition, American Genre: Contemporary Painting opening on July 20 at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art.
Amy Bennett, “Nothing New Under Sun”, 32″x40″, oil on canvas, 2016, photo courtesy of the artist and Richard Heller Gallery
Cultural production runs deep in Maine and genre painting is a symbolic force in our lineage. As an artistic convention, genre is powerful as a chart of history, one that reveals artistic patterns and social, political and cultural American value systems. Fifty painters from around the country will contribute one painting each with a focus on landscape, still life and portraiture. Visitors who come to see the show will have a chance to view a range of painting approaches assembled in one location and for geeky painters, this is a great opportunity to analyze current trends and recognize that genre painting offers a space of common ground. American Genre: Contemporary Painting will provide a varied snapshot of contemporary life and reflect tradition as painting practice now.
Henry Taylor, “Danielle Dean”, acrylic on canvas, 48”x30”, 2012, photography credit: Collection Rosalie Benitez and Jeff Poe, Malibu, CA
Also! Mark your calendars. On September 15, 2017 there will be a symposium to bracket and close the show. American Genre Painting: A One-Day Symposium at the Maine College of Art will begin with a mid-morning keynote lecture by Marie Shurkus, Chair of Academic Studies at MECA, followed by lunch, and afternoon panel discussion moderated by critic, writer, poet and art historian Barry Schwabsky with panelists Sharon Butler, painter and writer of TWO COATS OF PAINT, and Roger White, painter and RISD faculty member. (One or two more panelists TBD) A closing reception will take place at 5:00 in the ICA. This event is free and open to the public.
Dana DeGiulio, “Citizens”, oil on canvas, 25”×19″, 2015
Hope Gangloff, “After Party”, acrylic and collage on paper, 2015
I hope you can make it! My best, Gail Spaien
Opening on Thursday, July 20 from 5:00-8:00pm
Check the website for more details and the list of artists included in the show:
above, Ben Shahn, Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti, 1931-2
Light in the Dark: Art as a Sane Voice in an Insane World
What are your symptoms: sleeplessness, anxiety, panic attacks, vague sense of fear, very specific fears, loss of appetite, uncontrollable sobbing, uncontrollable laughter? We all react differently, but are currently suffering from the same disease. We are deeply affected by world events in the depths of our psyche; the public becomes private. Artists, in a sense, reverse that process, and open up their private realms, their innermost thought processes, and put them on display for public scrutiny.
Bonfire of the Vanities_ 15th Century Florence
The public looks to artists, and artists look to each other, to help make sense of where the self collides with the culture. Culture is the articulation of a society’s values: art can posit, cross-examine, and tests these values to help us understand their true shapes, by finding their outer limits, their outlines.
In this issue we highlight a broad spectrum of artists from the region, and beyond, who, for the most part, have always made art that might serve as a candle to light our way in dark times. It may be that these times make such art even more relevant—we thirst more for work that strikes deeper chords. That does not mean that humor is absent from our survey, but humor is of course serious business.
We are not alone in seeking out an artistic response to political and cultural topics—the latest Whitney Biennial being the most prominent example. Reaction to that show serves as an example of another symptom of our cultural nervous condition. Is it the frayed nerves, the battered psyches, that have conspired to turn, what another year might be just a heated debate, into something that shreds the rules of civil discourse?
The reaction to the Dana Schutz painting, Open Casket, has divided an art culture that seems to all agree that racism is still with us and that it has caused the violent deaths of black lives across the country. Yet reasonable people have entertained the idea that the painting should be removed from the exhibition and even destroyed. I would like to think that both actions would be considered out of bounds in “normal” times. Such demands are something we have only seen in recent years on the far right side of the political spectrum. Even if these ideas were only put forward as a cynical act of self-promotion, it is now out in the world, being debated and taken seriously, as some are now debating other unthinkable proposals, like torture.
The Union of Maine Visual Artists is an arts advocacy group, so such rhetoric hits us hard. We expect, even encourage, artists to be provocative in a culture that values free speech. But that does not mean preaching to the choir, and provoking some hypothetical enemy, some ultra conservative straw man who is not likely to even be a part of the art audience. It means we provoke each other—to think and to act and react—even if it means touching a nerve. We give lip service to this value, so we need to follow through with this standard, even if we are offended and disturbed by an artwork. We share the belief that a fundamental standard of human rights is that it is not my right to curtail your rights; the right of an artist to create and the rights of an institution to display that creation.
The art audience is clearly divided on the merits of the painting, Open Casket. It is fair to question if the piece rises to the gravity of its subject, is it a good painting, and why is anyone, white or black, choosing to make a painting about this thorny subject? It has also raised the question of whether a white person can tell a black story. If we truly believe that we can only speak from our own experience, then much of the history of art and literature would be negated. But most disturbing are the ad hominem attacks on the artist and on the defenders of the artist; they seem a product of the times—more the result of overstressed emotion than the outcome of reasoned analysis.
If the critics of Schutz feel she is lacking in empathy, the irony is that these critics lack empathy for the artistic process. She has been accused of being motivated by “fun and profit,” yet the decision to paint this subject would have to have been the result of serious deliberation. The process of painting it would further subject this conception to scrutiny and self-doubt.
At a certain point in the creation of an artwork, the piece escapes the orbit of artistic control, the artist becomes collaborator, coaxing it into existence. Now complete, it is no longer Schutz’s painting, but ours, and it will take on a life beyond our moment. Does one person’s story belong to them or their group, once it is out in the world? We may look back in ten years and see the painting as part of a temporary phase of culture, a radical chic, re-defined by now unforeseen events. Or it may prove prescient, and speak to the future, and become part of a canon. We can debate this but we don’t get to decide on an outcome now; future perspective may shine light in regions, that are for us, still in shadow.
Jeffrey Ackerman, Al Crichton, Daniel Kany, Natasha Mayers, Jessica McCarthy, Nora Tryon