Diane Giardi

above: Diane Giardi, “Release”, stoneware & oxides, pit-fired

Diane Giardi, “Molten Lava” stoneware & oxides, pit-fired

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.

Diane Giardi, “Winged Amaranth”, sea grass, raffia, abaca fiber

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.

Diane Giardi, “Text Memories”, Detail 1, Encaustic, ink, thread

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.

Diane Giardi, “Grecian Shadow”, photo

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.”

Diane Giardi, “Light Torso”, photo
Diane Giardi, “Soft Realm”, photo
Diane Giardi, “Light Sculpture”, photo



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)

Diane Giardi, “Ribs of Light”, photo

Even in death there is movement.
The soul kayaks out,
spirit climbs the Stairmaster,
vision hang-glides,
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,
dissolving into
a sacred, intangible world.
Even in death
ethereal ripples.

-Diane Giardi

(from a series of poems I wrote, inspired by New York Times
article headlines)

Cheryl Lichwell

  above: Cheryl Lichwell, “Home”, 12x8x23


How does an artist express doubts, inner thoughts, or wishes?

Cheryl Lichwell, “Friend or Foe”, H 12″ other dimensions variable
Cheryl Lichwell, “Seeking Direction”, 24x24x36

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.

Cheryl Lichwell, “Arrogance”, 14x14x28
Cheryl Lichwell, “Balance”, 15x17x24
Cheryl Lichwell, “Distractions”, H30 other dimensions variable
Cheryl Lichwell, “Past And Present”, 10x12x24
Cheryl Lichwell, “Go Ahead And Take It”, 8x10x30



Cheryl Lichwell, “The Wish”, 12x10x16

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.

Cheryl Lichwell, “Innocence”, 18x18x26

William Irvine on Regionalism

“Hauling In the Fog” oil on canvas, 32 X 36 inches

Maine has its own character, soul if you wish. I felt it the first morning I woke
up in Maine, in an A-frame on Tom Leighton Point in Washington County, lobster
boats droning off shore, gulls crying, the smell of herring bait. A smudge of islands on the horizon. I had arrived from Scotland, and our two souls bonded. It was love at first sight.

As my work developed, it seemed to be formed by those two places: the
white fishermen’s houses of Jonesport and the whitewashed farms of Scotland; the presence of the Atlantic, sometimes moody and turbulent and other times fresh and clean as linen sheets.

“Girl With A Boat”, oil on board, 12X16 inches

So I worked with those visual stimulants, but the depiction of landscape is
never the end intention. For the creative artist it is the vehicle through which he
expresses something more universal, the landscape of the mind, where we all live no matter our physical location.

John Marin’s seascapes are not just about Maine scenery; “The Written Sea”
comes to mind, a favorite of mine. Marsden Hartley’s paintings of Mount Katahdin
are presences that go beyond Maine—they have the grandeur of a Tahitian god or a Greek hero, like Heracles.

So does it matter where we live? I think it does, for each artist finds his
comfort zone, a place he feels connected to. Van Gogh in Provence, Marin in
Addison, de Kooning on Long Island. It is a place that allows us to communicate
with our surroundings. We use the props at hand, be they hills or harbors; in my
case, clouds, islands, and boats. But are they any different from cypress trees, vineyards, and wheat fields? The trail of a lobster boat echoing the horizon is just,
for me, a necessary line in the composition, which strengthens the final expression.

“Heading Out 2” oil on board, 25×35 inches

Artists talk to their surroundings, but not in any local language; after all,
artists are forever from away.


by Mary Armstrong

Tsunami Wave, Oil and Wax on Panel, 24″X72″ 2015-17

—These images of my paintings represent a chronological order and represent the work that I feel is most directly influenced by my time here in Maine. There are other groups of works that deal with other issues and themes—Mary Armstrong, 2017


Summer Song, Oil on Panel, 30″X23″ 1986

I first came to Maine to go to Skowhegan (then a school of Painting and Sculpture) in the summer of 1977. I returned as co-dean (with my husband-to-be Stoney Conley) in 1980 and then as faculty wife (Stoney taught fresco) in 1984-85. How lucky for us. The cosmopolitan nature of Skowhegan set us up, from the beginning, in a community of Maine artists and an International array of visitors that gave us a sense of Maine as a contemporary haven for all kinds of work.


We fell in love with each other and Maine at the same time. We were able to buy a little house on the coast at Georgetown in 1980.

Solitary Tree, Oil on Panel,24″X30″ 1984


For our first few decades we spent summer’s teaching-free months painting in makeshift studios. We lived a very solitary life of work. The only socializing was the occasional visit to Skowhegan for visiting artist’s lectures. Gradually we got to know some of the locals here in Georgetown. But, coming to Maine still means removing from the world, to focus, to work.



Besieged, Oil on Panel, 34″X30″ Oil on Panel, 1987

I think that there are several “Art Scenes” in Maine. We are so lucky to have the great regional museums and art centers, scattered throughout the state, that showcase really good work from artists working in Maine. I think these institutions keep us all on our toes, inspired and challenged.The Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) is especially important for expanding coverage and scouring the state for ambitious talent.


For me, the most interesting statement and question that you pose is: “ Today’s art culture inhabits an international archipelago populated by the educated, well- traveled, and well- read. These like-minded individuals may have more in common with their counterpart’s half way around the globe than with their next-door neighbor. Can a regional style be authentic in this atmosphere, or is it bound to be a willfully naïve affectation?

Dante’s Woods, Oil on Panel, 26″X22″, 1996


I think It’s important to keep an open mind and a raging curiosity about what other artists are doing.  Now, at this later stage, it is just as important for me to make work that closes the distance between where I am, what I think and feel about that, and how paint, as an embodying material, can explore that.


Near Here, Oil and wax on Panel, 22X24″, 2010

There is an important balance between the world and the work. But, ultimately, the deeper wells of inspiration come more and more from simply being….in the light of Maine and my imagination. Perhaps I am willfully naive. If that can be translated into moving with rigorous simplicity, I’ll take it!

Bruised Sky, Oil and Wax on Panel, 22″X24″ 2018

Estuarial, Oil and Wax on Panel, 32″X36″, 2016


Lift Off, Oil and Wax on Panel, 36″X42″ 2016

David C. Driskell

above:                 David Driskell,   Pines Trees, Full Moon, Mixed media,        30” x 24”

David Driskell, Maine Woods, Skowhegan, Watercolor, 8” x 9.75”

Traditionally, Maine has served as a special place where artists, beginning in the 19th century, found solace in an attempt to get away from a busy city life. But I came to Maine to learn and experience the beauty that its landscape and nature offer.   From the time of my first visit to the state in 1953 as a participant at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture until now, I have felt both a physical and spiritual connection to that great tradition here, where artists interact with nature, people, and events, which adds measurably to one’s creative prowess.

David Driskell, Ski Slope, Sunrise, Watercolor, 10.75” x 9”
David Driskell, Lake Front Maine, Watercolor, 9” x 12”

Although my roots are southern (Georgia and North Carolina) and I have lived in different cities from Nashville to Washington, DC, no one place has informed my art more so than the environment and spirit of Maine.

David Driskell, Study for Majestic Pine, Watercolor, 20” x 15”
David Driskell, Still Life With Clams, Watercolor, 12” x 9”
David Driskell, Accent of Autumn, Acrylic and Mixed Media on handmade paper, 42.25” x 30”

Stoney Conley

above: Stoney Conley, Cove North Island Afternoon, watercolor,   11 x 15 in., 2016

So we ask what does Maine mean to you?

Stoney Conley, Cove North, Kayak in Cove, watercolor, 11 x 15 in., 2016, photo S. Conley

I have a personal history with Maine, in 1977 my wife Mary and I met in Maine at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, so Maine has a special history for us. We have spent summers in Maine since 1981. At Skowhegan I was introduced to Fresco, which I painted in for a decade, and taught at Skowhegan for a few summers, my paintings at the time referred to the history and process of fresco. Now for over two decades I have painted the landscape in Maine, a direct response to what I see and experience. But I didn’t always and being in Maine made me observe the natural world closely.

Stoney Conley, Cove South, Afternoon, watercolor, 11 x 15 in., 2016, photo Chris Soldt
Stoney Conley, Cove North, Clouds, watercolor, 11 x 15 in., 2016, photo Chris Soldt







Does it affect your work or does your art have nothing to do with where you live?

Over the 36 years we’ve been coming to Maine it has influenced my work profoundly. Overtime I became a painter of landscape, of water and skies and woods. I intend these works to have a sense of place. The light and color are essential elements in these paintings. Even the months I am not in Maine my time here influences my work, I learned to see nature here, I learned to see here.

Stoney Conley, Vernal Equinox, 2017, acrylic and collage on canvas, 31 x 48 in., photo Chris Soldt

Are you drawn to Maine by some romantic idea, by the landscape?

For a period I painted abstractly but after walking the beach for a decade I painted the sea. It took me ten years to learn how to see it. For the last decade I made collage-paintings of the afternoon light as my studio faces west. I paint trees as a distant horizon, or as a group, or an individual form, investigating the environment around me.

Stoney Conley, New England Sky: Yellow, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 35 in. , photo Chris Soldt

Do you summer here to escape the heat of the city?

Stoney Conley, Cove West, Odyssey Into Dark, watercolor, 11 x 15 in., 2016, photo S. Conley

Although I work in Boston in the winter, I balance that with Maine’s sea breezes,the shade of its trees, a walk in the woods in the summer. I cut a field and plant trees and put down roots like the plants that grow here. I return to the city when the days grow short and the fall semester starts.


Do you feed on the local art culture or does it oppress you, confine you? Is it special, or parochial, or is it, dare I say, provincial.

Stoney Conley, Cove West, Spar Island, watercolor, 11 x 15 in., 2016, photo Chris Soldt

I studied in New York, then Boston and then the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Skowhegan had the broadest range of teachers and students. I find the Maine Museums a rich resource, showing contemporary as well as historical work, when I need a shot of culture. However I find I often stick to my studio and paint from local places. Time feels short; that gives you focus. I’m focused on what’s before me, get it down before it changes, get it down before I’m gone.

Stoney Conley, Northern Sky: Yellow Violet, 2012, acrylic and collage on canvas, 39 x 27 in., photo Chris Soldt

Emilie Stark-Menneg

above:  Emilie Stark-Menneg, Summer in Maine, 2016, 70”x70”, acrylic and oil on canvas

Deep underwater, I scramble to find the cave opening. Once inside the narrow passage, I tug myself along, hand over hand, until the rope ends. As I flail for another line, blue light cuts through the water. I surface, just out of breath, inside the Grotto Azzurra in Capri, Italy, a sea cave that glows ultramarine.

Emilie Stark-Menneg, Dream Team, 2016, 48”x36”, acrylic and oil on canvas
Emilie Stark-Menneg, My Guy’s Smokin’, 2016, 48”x36”, acrylic and oil on canvas

I often think about diving into that luminous cavern when I am painting in my studio in Maine. It helps, that in a shared studio, under the afternoon light, my partner John Bisbee’s forged and welded sculptures, seem to undulate like coral or seaweed. His work feels like an ocean adventure. Walking back into my space, I begin to paint, totally onboard with this dangerous and thrilling expedition into the unknown.

Emilie Stark-Menneg, Add Gulls, 2017, 48”x36”, acrylic and oil on canvas

The painting, “Add Gulls”, depicting a couple of bathers looking out to sea, is one of many of my paintings that seeks to uphold and subvert the romantic allure of the Maine coast. In the background, the vintage wallpaper depicting a port town, peels away, as if to suggest a fleeting relationship to nostalgia. Thanks to the ephemeral qualities of the airbrush, the two figures hover in an uncanny digital haze, adding a fresh look to the ubiquitous Maine swimmers. I included a trompe-l’oeil sticky note, scrawled with the words, “Add Gulls”, as a way of pointing to a perfect Vacationland picture without ever getting there.

Emilie Stark-Menneg, American Popsicle, 2017, 48”x36”, acrylic and oil on canvas

In “American Popsicle” I wanted to create a somewhat traditional snapshot of a group of bathers posing for a summer pic. I discovered the eerie bands of color bisecting the painting by accident; I was laying down background colors, when I realized that the effect was already so surprising that I should stop. Not following through on a plan and responding to the elements as it were, is one of the most exciting aspects of painting, an adrenaline rush, like a wayward voyage on turbulent seas.

Emilie Stark-Menneg, The Birth of Many, 2017, 70”x70”, acrylic and oil on canvas

My painting, “The Birth of Many” is of course a riff on Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”. I thought Venus might have more fun if she was not coasting solo, but rather tailgating aboard her overside clamshell with her posse, some snacks—fresh fish and “All Day IPA”, while adrift in a twinkly Maine cove. This goofy and ineffable group is an ode to my artist friends, particularly those in Fort Andross. Everyday I am inspired by them, knowing that they are each in their glowing caves, diving into strange and glistening waters.

Emilie Stark-Menneg, Fountain One Today, 2017, 28”x28”, acrylic and oil on canvas
Emilie Stark-Menneg, Pineapple Star, 2017, 70”x70”, acrylic, oil and sand on canvas
Emilie Stark-Menneg, The Potlatch, 2016, 70”x105”, acrylic and oil on canvas

Laura Dunn: Narrative; Public and Private

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

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

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

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

My emotions and my intellect are always in conversation.

BALANCE is key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIFE by definition is sacred. Death sacred too.

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

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

Grace Metzler: Visual Essay

by Emilie Stark-Menneg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mysterious and tucked-away.

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

Titi De Baccarat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Minter


Boxes, vessels, holes, jars, and bottles all hold something within. I believe this is where my use of narrative begins.

A wall of Daniel Minter’s paintings, boxes, and assemblages from A Distant Holla’ exhibit at the Abyssinian Meeting House, Portland

Through these common references, I tell my own personal narrative. This thread runs through all of my work. Viewers can then find resonance with these themes that may reflect their own personal stories.

Daniel Minter, “Resistance Faith”

An example of this type of imagery is 3 eggs in a nest, the primary incubator of life. For me it relates a story my father would tell of the guinea hen, from whose nest you could take eggs. However, you must always leave at least 3 in the clutch or she would become agitated and abandon the nest. My father used this as a metaphor for my mother, who raised twelve children. As they grew up, she became increasingly restless as the last of her children were leaving the house.

Daniel Minter, “The Industry”

Objects also become the patterns I use as layers in my work. The ovals within a circle, for me contain the whole of the previous story.  Another element that I use to carry forward a narrative, is the organic shape of the cotton boll with its beautiful natural form painted in the deep earthy red of Georgia clay. It can appear to be just a flower, but for me the image contains the story of the American slave industry and Jim Crow. The imagery can be beautiful while the narrative is painful and difficult. The narrative becomes a mixture of personal and historical.

Daniel Minter
Daniel Minter, Three Mothers

See Dan Kany’s review in the Portland Press Herald

Mirlea Saks


Mirlea Saks

My Scaintings – 3D paintings – wryly celebrate American life from my perspective as an immigrant. They combine painting, sculpture and words (as embedded or accompanying text) with influences from media including advertising, film and graphic novels.

My work is tactile. Often, seeing it isn’t enough; people want to touch it. I encourage this.

All my work suggests narratives that breathe meaning and movement into intuitions which would otherwise remain abstract and static. I encourage viewers to imagine the backstories and possible endings of my narratives. This dynamic sense is reinforced by giving a work multiple parts, often free-standing or bursting out of the usual rectangular confinement. The relative positioning of a work’s parts is very significant for me.

My stories are palimpsests, with layers of alternatives to my preferred narratives. I’m often surprised by being shown a story in one of my works that I hadn’t seen.

Most of my work is non-representational. Stories needn’t be literal.

I don’t see interpreting art as only the audience’s prerogative. Why shouldn’t artists provide leadership in directing audience engagement? I call myself a Directivist. Neither artist nor audience is passive. I seek dialogue, interaction. In film (and comics), words and images work together; similarly, my titles aren’t labels but pointers. My side texts aren’t curatorial notes but narrative doors. I offer you stories that are new, yet (as good stories always are) familiar. The artist leads you along a path. Your discoveries there are your own.

Mirlea Saks, “The American Dream: and lo, they went forth, and built their nation bigly”. 2-piece, acrylic on canvas. 96″ x 72”

My titles almost always come first. I choose a story, then decide how to illustrate it. Rarely do I buy or make a canvas without knowing its purpose. An exception is The American Dream. It was a time when I was feeling sorry for myself and needed a big challenge to take my mind off Me. The initial result, a textured white work called The Blizzard, didn’t satisfy me, so I went deeper and found another story, about my coming to the US from apartheid South Africa and finding that the Land of the Free, too, had problems including excess, class and poverty. Having the images on two canvases suddenly became important, reinforcing the haves/ have-nots split. The size of the work acquired new meaning.

Mirlea Saks, “Rat Race”, 6-piece. acrylic on canvas, 63″ x 77”

Out of the oppressive environment of the overcrowded masses, the darkness of poverty and the freneticism of just coping, the ranks of the less fortunate thin out. Eventually the so-called winners of life’s rat race come to dominate. Here it was critical for me to show the winners as aloof from the hoi polloi elsewhere on the canvas. As a rectangular unit wouldn’t have sufficed,  I consider this piece a Scainting, a term I invented  to describe a hybrid work that was neither a conventional painting in high relief nor a sculpture.

Mixed. Acrylic on board. 42 x 30”

Possessing the basic building blocks of life doesn’t justify complacency. Life demands that simply to exist we exert effort and take responsibility for all facets of our own development. How much have you managed to put together so far?

Mirlea Saks, Serving Suggestion”, acrylic on canvas, 19″ x 19”

The stacked units in Serving Suggestion give concrete substance to an abstraction, in this case food spilling over an implied table. The gold underlay speaks of excess.

Mirlea Saks, “Group Therapy”, acrylic on canvas, 36″ x 40”

Each unit is linked to its neighbor with a continuing motif. The group shares a color, but is it searching for a hero, or is that an outsider trying to conform?

The two-color patterns here are muted so the piece can be seen as a whole without distraction from the individual squares, entitled as they are to their own spaces, and despite the ambiguity suggested by the placement and size of the oddities within.

Visual Essay: Vivien Russe

Vivien Russe

Vivien Russe, “Copernicus and the Beggar”, 2002, acrylic on panel. 10in. x 30in. photo: Jay York


The word Ubuntu, meaning “I am myself because of who we all are”, is a call and a reminder that we, as individuals, are connected to all people, especially in an increasingly globalized world.



Vivien Russe, “The Illuminator” , 2002, acrylic on panel, 32 in. x.36 in. photo: Jay York
Vivien Russe, “Homage to Higgs”, 2013, acrylic on panel, diptych, 10 in. x 20 in. photo: Jay York


What has been a core issue in my own work broadens this concept to “I am myself because we live on Earth” and the responsibility this brings. While we each carry on with our day to day lives, the knowledge that gives us is a much larger context in which  to place ourselves. Information about the smallest of particles to the nature of the universe is now available to most people with the click of a button. The more we know, the heavier the responsibility can weigh.


Vivien Russe, “Owl”, 2011, acrylic on panel, 16 in. x 15 in. photo Jay York
Vivien Russe, “Cranes”, 2011, acrylic on panel, 15in. x 16 in. photo: Jay York


The paintings I’ve chosen here, done since 2002, seek to examine our place in the world, what we depend on for life as we know it, and potential threats to this. While there are no human figures in my work, it is all about being human. While the work is representational, it is abstract in concept. The paintings are asking the viewer to think about these considerations. For example, in the painting Origin, I contemplate the nature of fire: what is its relationship to light and color, its use as a metaphor, and more significantly, its role in the maintenance of life on a micro and macro level?


Vivien Russe, Rinsed, 2005, acrylic on panel, 16in. x 15 in. photo: Jay York
Vivien Russe, “Offering”, 2007, acrylic on panel, diptych, 10 in. x 24 in. photo: Jay York


In the end, I’m shouting out to the world, “Please don’t take this all for granted, it is precious and fragile.”


Vivien Russe, “White Dome in Rain”, 2005, acrylic on panel, diptych, 10 in x 24 in. photo: Jay York

Visual Essay: Matt Blackwell

above: Matt Blackwell, “Devil On a Leash”, oil on canvas,

Visual Essay: Matt Blackwell

As the presidential election ended I was encouraged by several recent exhibitions I saw here in New York City. One of these was the Philip Guston show at Hauser and Wirth in Chelsea, of the satiric and biting drawings of Richard Nixon. Guston’s statement circa early 1970’s, “What kind of artist am I if I’m just changing red to green” struck a nerve with me in these times, and I decided to press on harder with a day to day account of what is unfolding before our eyes. I believe what I see, and I want to bear witness, as it is unprecedented in its dire consequences to our lives and civil liberties. Around the same time, I also saw the Max Beckmann show at the Metropolitan Museum. Beckmann is a personal hero of mine. ( In North Carolina I studied with Walter Barker who was Beckmann’s interpreter and student at Washington University in Saint Louis in the late 1940’s.) I’ve always admired Beckmann’s spirit, showing the rise of fascism in Germany in a sort of mysterious, coded way. His paintings are staged in a theatrical manner, dense , dark and  full of mystery. He lets you know how it felt to be alive in those times, both in 1930’s Germany where he was stripped of his professorship (you can bet Bannon has a plan about this] and while he hid out in Amsterdam through the war. He laid it all out on the line for his work, risking internment and death. There is also a connection between these two as Guston studied briefly with Beckmann, as did many other artists.

Matt Blackwell, “Heed No Blather”,
oil on canvas,

On a more personal note, my father Richard Blackwell fought against the Fascists from  North Africa to Germany in World War II as an enlisted Canadian with the American airborne. I am very lucky to be here as was he to survive. Even as a child, I was a student of the war and how Fascism arises, so who am I not to speak up when I see scare tactics, vilification of immigrants and people of color, as well as the annoying repetition of untruths (outright lies, alternate facts—Fascist tactics) on a daily basis. “If you see something say something”, as they say.

Matt Blackwell, “Border Music”,
acrylic, oil, collage;
70’x40″, 2016

It pains me greatly to see the stripping away of safeguards and civility in our society.   It pains me also to see people seduced by  these liars and con men. There is nothing more that I would like to see than people working and prospering, especially in small towns and rural areas. I grew up in rural Western New York. I spent fifteen years in Maine in the 1970s and 1980’s where I have worked and made work about rural people and their concerns . Factory jobs are simply not coming back. The only way I see economic recovery is through small start-ups given tax breaks and most importantly free education at community colleges and job training programs. I doubt this current administration can get this done. Only imagination, skill and hard work can save local economies.

Matt Blackwell, “Shadow On the Land”, Acrylic, oil m/media on canvas,
2017, 37×61

I have been a teacher at all grade levels for over 25 years now. I currently teach at a community college in Queens. My classroom is full of students from everywhere. They are hard working, hardly ever a prima donna.   I concentrate on fundamentals:   drawing, design, sculpture, painting and some basic art history. My students come from Tibet, Columbia, the Philippines, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Hungary, China, Poland, via Brooklyn and Queens. These kids are respectful, hungry for Knowledge, curious, and focused on their art and their studies. Once they realize their teacher has no other agenda, then they enjoy their efforts, and their interest and skills grow with every lesson. No matter from where they came, they are all American kids. It is an affront to me to see these students characterized as something other than American .They have the he same desires and wishes we all have. So basically I am not having any of this racial purity line. My students are now fearful of their place in America , while two years ago they were not. I owe them to speak up, and to say it is great to be a New Yorker! I wish I could say it was safe to take a road trip and see the country.

Matt Blackwell, “Edge Of the world”,
24’x20”, 2016
Matt Blackwell, “Tours”
oil on canvas,
84″x 76″
Matt Blackwell, “Swamp Rat”,
oil on canvas,

These days, nearly every day there is a new outrage, more lies, more outrage, more stupidity. “ But when the right time comes”, to quote the great musician Bob Marley: ”Why boasteth thyself oh evil men, playing smart but not being clever. If you are a big tree, we are the small axe, sharpened to cut you down, ready to cut you down.” Resist and support each other. We need to look out for each other, if I’m preaching to the choir so be it. We need courage and humor to see us through to a better future.

“Trumpf” [at womens march NYC] cardboard, paper mache, paint;




I don’t want my axe to get dull, so I shift in and out of political subject matter. Some days changing green to red is appropriate.