Since I began the Events/News and Newsletter pages of the Maine Arts Journal, I have also been marking off spam. Last week I emptied the folder at 2,500 plus entries, and after a weekend off there were 250 more to catch up with! I have seen into a gyre of mind-scrambling proportions. Vast distortions of reality threaten to engulf, enmesh and hobble my time and thoughts as I delete, delete and delete.
I woke up this morning at 2am knowing I would not get back to sleep. There is a war on. A war of words that are being puked out by drunk computers from the mind’s dungeon where writers of propaganda meet and mash up with algorithms and endlessly create fictitious names and accounts, attaching toxic links. Even worse is the some times rational voice that emerges and may find a soft landing in someone’s heart or mind. Earworms, heart strings, viral memes are being bombarded at our inbox. There are ominous rants from Holocaust deniers, men who want to boycott American women and promote third world sex slaves. There are messages in many languages, pages of characters directly from the tower of Babel. Some is computer gibberish, strings of brand names, random sentences and live links. There are awkward translations, broken English, robot English, praising the content of our small Arts Journal Blog site, promising to bookmark us and return. This compliment sounds like a threat.
Yesterday I brought this report to my team and we weighed the options. We decided to terminate the comments feature and cut ourselves free from the entanglement.
At 1800 hours I received this message:
“I took a deep breath and installed the plug-in to disable all comments. It means we lost the good ones from Spring too… I hope it works ok.”
Perhaps I will sleep better now, but I can still hear the distant clicking of keys, like the mandibles of an ant army scuttling over leaf and rock, streaming into my devices. Blocked, for now, by a thin veil of technology but there and just waiting for an opportunity, the slightest slip.
Then, before dawn, this note arrived from a friend.
“Somehow I keep thinking of this lately,” they said. It was a quote from Thucydides, an Athenian historian and general who chronicled the war between Sparta and Athens in the year 411 BC.
“The regular meaning of words changed to fit the state of affairs. Insane risk was now bravery for an ally; careful forethought was cowardice; moderation was considered an excuse for being unmanly; circumspection was an unwillingness to commit; heedless attacks was termed manly behavior, and self-defense was a bland excuse for conspiracy.
The one seeking extreme action was considered trustworthy; anyone who spoke against him was suspicious. If you were a successful conspirator, you were smart; you were clever if you discovered a conspiracy. But if you made provisions against either situation, you risked dividing your party and living in fear of your opponents. It was simply the same whether you stopped someone from doing wrong or you discovered a new opportunity for wrongdoing.” Thucydides
Day is emerging now from night, the half moon setting, and Antares no longer visible. The sun will rise, and day will come. The day will come.
In many ways, that day is already here.
Provincialism (n.) “narrowness of mind or outlook; lack of sophistication” (Collins English Dictionary)
“Provincial” is a tricky word. After all, when we talk about the arts, this might be the term we sense as the other to “urban.” And yet, it would only be balanced if “urban” and, say, “urbane” were blended. “Provincial” carries an inherent sting.
How do we talk about regional or local art communities in a way that acknowledges their identities and their distinctive strengths and weaknesses without the presumed insult of provincialism? This is a huge topic of interest for the artist communities of Maine, but it is a conversation avoided by both sides of the polemic. After all, to look down your nose at your local community with the insult side of provincialism isn’t going to win you many friends – or it could isolate you within your own elitist clique. And to argue for provincialism is, by definition, an argument for ignorance: It’s a losing prospect out of the gate because the overbalanced weight of the word.
Not surprisingly, this problem begins in France. That said, the strands of painting that came to lay the path for American art and Maine painting in particular flowed primarily from France. And our French roots go back to our state’s foundation: Maine, after all, gets its name from a French province.
In the nineteenth century, the cultural map of France was described in two words: Paris and Le Désert – “the desert.” That was it. You were either in the central cultural city of the world (as the French saw Paris) or you were in a cultural wasteland.
And yet France is the place that literally institutionalized local flavor: Champagne is only from the Champagne region – or else it cannot be called “Champagne.” Bordeaux’s famous wines are only from Bordeaux – and so on. And this is regulated and enforced by law. (The same also goes for butters, cheeses, etc.)
We can use terms like “regionalism” and “localism” but there is no balance for the tacit insult of being labeled “provincial.” Nonetheless, underlying this seemingly overdetermined topic is a rich conversation that — due to our own politeness among our arts communities — has been overly overlooked. This issue of the Maine Arts Journal hopes to open the floor for this conversation for the benefit of all.
I see Maine as having one of the best art “brands” in America: How is that distinctive Maine brand good for Maine artists? How is that limiting?
Like New York, Maine has one of the densest and richest art historical traditions (including art stars and major movements etc). To what extent does the sense of place bring the communities together — or not?
Many artists, including a number of the nation’s biggest names, simply work in Maine as a place to find focus. Their work, their conversations, their galleries, their concerns have little to do with Maine. In other words, many artists working in Maine don’t consider themselves “Maine artists.” And if their shared concerns are not artistic, do they have economic, legal or social points in common? Should they?
Local color plays a role for many artists working in Maine, it allows for a metaphor of place where an artist might decide that it is here, “between rock and root” that they will hammer out their visions. Building or participating in a “brand,” after all, helps build bridges of expectation or markets while reaching clearly into recognizable cultural communities populated with real people, peers, colleagues, friends. But does this make them willfully provincial, intentionally branded (in the hot iron sense of the word) to a certain extent with ignorant narrowness?
“Provincial” might roll off the tongue as an easy sneer, but it opens the door to some complex and important conversations about the unity and diversity among the communities of artists working in Maine.
above: Emilie Stark-Menneg, Add Gulls, 2017, 48”x36”, acrylic and oil on canvas
“Regionalism: Maine Art and Artist“
We are pleased to present the Fall 2017 issue “Regionalism: Maine Art and Artist”. A variety of artists and writers respond to the question: Is regionalism possible in a globally- connected environment? What does the term Maine artist mean in today’s art culture and is such a term meaningful at all? From Ed Beem, Marsha Donahue, Lucy Lippard’s words to the art and reflections of William Irvine, Mary Armstrong, Emilie Stark-Menneg and many more, they all explore an in-depth discussion on a sense of place that is both unifying and unique. Marsden Hartley garners more than one mention as an artist who returned to and claimed Maine as his muse.
We received 21 UMVA members’ submissions for this issue, more than any other theme. We look forward to your submissions for the upcoming issues. The Journal themes change quarterly and so there are many opportunities for an artist to find a subject that suits their individual temperament. Check the guidelines for the theme of “Innervisions” for winter 2018 and consider contributing. The Journal includes chapter updates and issues concerning all members, and a UMVA Newsletter for artist opportunities that will be kept updated.
There is a News/Events selection on the menu that includes show listings of members and member-affiliated galleries and non-profit organizations, and includes open calls for art. Check the listings for ongoing updates and to get an idea of how much art there is going on around the state. The Journal is launching its own Facebook page, be sure to “Like” the page to get regular highlights of members art and ideas, excerpts from the Journal, and archives, and updates on current events.
We would like to welcome Kathy Weinberg to the editorial board of the Maine Arts Journal: UMVA Quarterly with her own words:
“I joined the UMVA because of the Journal. I like to communicate through writing and believe in publishing. As “The Fourth Estate” journalism has a high place in our society. Mix journalism with poetry and you get a sense of what the Journal aspires to. The Journal allows a variety of artistic points of view to be seen and is a beautiful showcase/ platform of the art that is, and has been made throughout the region. The Journal offers a forum where the artists voice can be heard and where ideas about art and the artistic life are shared. I feel that being an artist in today’s society is by itself a quietly subversive act that I practice daily and by tending to my projects and visions affect the lives of others around me in this way. “ Kathy Weinberg, 2017
Enjoy this Fall issue with a cup of something warm in this season of change, introspection and added layers,
From the Maine Arts Journal Editorial Board,
Jeff Ackerman, Dan Kany, Natasha Mayers, Jessica McCarthy, Nora Tryon, Kathy Weinberg
The romantic trope of the melancholic, or even crazy, artist distorts the very real tensions the artist experiences when engaging in content at the intersection of the cultural and personal, that zone where the artist lives and thrives. While making art, an artist may be dealing with anxiety, disappointments, insecurity, fear and/or desire, and sometimes a touch of joy and ecstasy. Artists possess the tools to explore what is below the shallow surface of normalcy and this may appear disturbing to those who shy away from having their sensitive nerves pressed.
Art is too often seen as a retreat from the complexities of the world, but it not just a relief from our troubles, or from the global problems, but more a way of taking them on. Art can engage with the darker side of our psyches and the darkness in our culture. We use the word “play” in the context of art but play in this context is very serious, like Hamlet, where everybody is dead at the end.
We choose subject matter we are drawn to for reasons we don’t always understand, and such choices are critical to our exploration of who we are. For the winter issue, we invite artists to participate in an exploration of art as psychic content made visible; an expression of both individual psyche but also the psyche, or soul, of the culture. Does art exorcise our demons or does it just exercise them and take them out for a walk in the sunlight?
We invite UMVA members to submit up to 4 images. Also Include an image list and statement or essay in Word doc. format. Image credit list format: Artist’s Name, “Title of Work”, medium, size, date (optional), photo credit (if not included we assume it is courtesy of the artist).*
Images should be approximately 1000 pixels on short side with total resolution between 500KB to 1.2MB. Image file names must include the artist’s name and the number corresponding to the image list. Put “Innervisions” in the subject line and submit to email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> by December 1st deadline. MAJ will limit the “Members Submit” section to UMVA members who have not been published in the past year.
We are no longer able to accommodate artists’ formatted visual essays, we will lay out text and images submitted using the new guidelines above.
Maine artists and arts community members can become members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists by clicking here <http://umvaonline.org/index.php?page=join> . Membership helps support the UMVA’s advocacy and helps make this Maine Arts Journal: UMVA Quarterly possible. For a free subscription to the MAJ click here <http://umvaonline.org/index.php?page=journal> .This means that a link to this Journal will be mailed to your inbox.
*It is the MAJ’s policy to request and then publish image credits. We will not publish images the submitter does not have the right to publish. However, we leave the question of photo credit to the discretion of the submitter when there is no required photo credit (photo by self, image ownership freely given, copyright with contract, copyright expired, work for hire, etc). This is particular to our article genre we have dubbed “visual essays” In light of our policy and requests, it is to be assumed that any uncredited or unlabeled images are the author’s/submitter’s own images. By submitting to the MAJ, you are acknowledging respect for these policies.
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.
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.
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.
Artists talk to their surroundings, but not in any local language; after all,
artists are forever from away.
Regionalism The term Maine artist and the concept of regionalism are political in the sense that the lines on paper defining these terms are drawn on political maps. It is currently difficult to divorce these topics from the related, bitter cultural divides that are roiling politics, not just in America but across the globe. These conflicts are not new and in fact this archetypal struggle stretches to the birth of human civilization, and is mythologized in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.
Cain was a farmer, a settler, and Abel a herdsman, a nomad. The story illustrates the real world tensions between settlers and nomads. This polarity plays an important and universal role in how cultures develop and evolve. Settlers organize, become specialists, invent and build. Nomads carry ideas on their backs from one settlement to another. Throughout history, culture has thrived in cities and regions that were advanced, well organized, but that also received travelers, traders and immigrants, and sent their own citizens out into the world, for commercial and cultural purposes.
All over the world this divide between urban globalists and rural nativists is turning bitter, hostile and at times violent. It seems ironic that there is an international movement of isolationist, nativists—they are, ironically, involuntary globalists. Art culture is similarly divided between globalists and regionalists, each with legitimate leanings—pride and love of place pitted against curiosity and openness—and many have no problem situating themselves between these compatible sentiments.
The term regionalism came into use to describe the works of artists like Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and John Stuart Curry, whose works were generally set up as the antitheses of European modernism. They celebrated rural and working class America at a time when many urban American artists still looked to Europe, ancient and modern. Study in Paris and then the grand tour of Italy were seen as essential to an artistic education for many Americans, and these pilgrims, in turn, set up a view of America as provincial.
The Painter of Maine Maine’s première regionalist, Marsden Hartley, is a more complicated story, and the works that are considered regionalist came after he established himself as one of America’s most prominent modernists. He made a conscious decision in the 1930’s to become, in his own phrase, thepainter of Maine, and landscape painting is naturally at the core of Hartley’s regional identity. In Maine he found a wild nature, untouched by man, which allowed him to express a religious feeling between melancholy and ecstasy. He possessed a knack for discovering a profound beauty in the barren and desolate.
But despite Hartley’s own desire to be the painter of Maine, I cannot see this work through a regional lens. The Maine works have the same mood and feel as his Alpine or New Mexico landscapes, or in his series on the barren rockscapes of Dogtown in Gloucester, Massachusetts. What Hartley found in Maine or in Dogtown was an isolation and solitude that many artists have found in the anonymity of the city. As with much current Maine landscape painting, the appeal is universally broad and the city dweller may even be more in need of Hartley’s portals to the primal than the rustic. Hartley’s sentiments are universal in the most cosmic sense of that word.
Hartley transformed himself into a regionalist defensively. In the jingoist atmosphere of the 1920’s and 30’s, he was criticized as being too European and too modern. Regionalism was seen as true American painting and the preferred mode was realism rather than the imported mode of abstraction, though the most prominent regional artists look incredibly artificial to our modern eyes (and I imagine they likely did then to those not blinded by ideology). But Hartley was not a reluctant convert, and shared some of the nativist, xenophobic tendencies of the pro-American painting camp. The politics of that day pivoted around themes that sound all too familiar. The rural working-man was mythologized as the true American, as opposed to the urban, Europeanized, effete elites.
For that latter type you can insert Jew, but Jew in this context is not an actual Jew, but a stand in for the foreign born, the financial elites, condescending toward the common man. Hartley’s essays implicitly betray his sympathies for this view, and his letters reveal them more explicitly. He had a well-known love affair with a German officer who died in World War I, and Hartley continued to have a love affair with German culture. In 1933-34, he traveled to Germany, where he saw and admired Nazi pageants and parades, and found common ground in the Nazi idealization of the folk. He linked a New England Anglo Saxon heritage to their German roots. Like the Nazis, Hartley was obsessed with youth and beauty as an expression of racial purity. His homosexuality, rather than mitigate his admiration for the Reich, played into a fascist fixation on masculinity, athleticism and male power. Even his admiration for Native Americans was colored by his viewing them as racially pure; he mentions in a letter how the Indians of Mexico would not go near the mixed race mestizo. This was all played down with his many Jewish friends in New York art circles, but Ettie Stettheimer, sister of painter Florine Stettheimer, stopped inviting him to her salon because of what she described as his admiration for Hitler.
Much of Hartley’s nativist attitude was quite common in New England, and all over America, at that time. He lamented that New England was being ruined by commercialism, and the nouveau riche. Criticizing the nouveau riche is different from criticizing the rich; the poor as well as the wealthy Anglo Saxon might use that term to describe a person of moderate wealth, one or two generations removed from immigrant poverty. Their names might still be foreign as well as their accents. Tending to be proud of their achievement, they might display their wealth to the degree that the Boston Brahmin might hide theirs.
It is in Hartley’s quasi-religious paintings of fisherman and loggers that this bias can be detected, and knowing his leanings does affect how these paintings are currently seen and read. The paintings themselves are often striking, but the brilliant paint-handling cannot be divorced from the subject matter. He indeed elicits a real sympathy for the subjects, but in light of the election and recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, these subjects are once again charged. This interpretation was present in the political moment Hartley’s images were first painted, but fell into the background in the intervening years. Saying this, is not to suggest that we should shy away from viewing the works, but rather that we should fully engage with them, because of—not in spite of—their flaws. Great works are inevitably made by flawed humans and contain flawed ideas, and the tension between Hartley’s authentic mysticism and (what we can now see as his) misguided politics make these paintings worth grappling with.
The heroes of these paintings are presented in a Biblical framework; the working-men are Christ-like, or like Christ’s fishermen disciples, and a fishermen’s dinner is clearly read as a last supper. The routine dangers that the loggers and fishermen grapple with make them suitably heroic subject matter. But these occupations were fading even in Hartley’s day, and today they are a smaller part of the Maine economy, though they play an oversized role in Maine’s myth-fed leading industry; tourism. There is a false note in having such figures stand for the region, and that is especially true now. Van Gogh painted his province’s working folk as he found them: a postman, a doctor, as well as farmers and fishermen. American regionalist sentimentality plays into a lie now current on both sides of the political divide—the mythos of the working class. This term is now antiquated and sexist, suggesting masculine physical labor but excluding, teachers, bank tellers, nurses, and other common, modern occupations. Women, exceedingly rare in Hartley’s work, take on a secondary role when they do appear, and the men are depicted in a style of exaggerated masculinity, as in his depiction of a Hercules in a G-string (Madawaska—Acadian Light-Heavy, 1940). That Hartley shares this quality with Hellenistic sculpture, Michelangelo and Marvel comics does put him in good company, but points out that his men look more like culture than nature.
Provincialism We cannot blame an artist for painting what they love. That Cezanne chooses to paint his mountain is understandable. But Provence cannot claim Cezanne, who, though a Provencal, influenced modernist painting worldwide, not for what he painted but for how he painted it. That sort of promotional language essentially defines the parochial and provincial character of regionalism.
Hartley very consciously honed in on regional subject matter, but went on to make the dubious claim that even his style was native. Maine has no ruined temples from antiquity, no Romanesque or Gothic churches, and no Renaissance paintings—all of the historical components of Hartley’s, or any Western painter’s, style. Hartley claimed that Albert Pinkham Ryder was the source of this native style, Ryder being a fellow New Englander, born in New Bedford. But Ryder moved to New York Cityat agetwenty and painted allegorical scenes from his imagination. It is a stretch for Hartley to claim him for Maine, but that is how regional thinking sours. Pollack also claimed Ryder as an influence, but considered him the only American painter of note and, in his view, the antithesis of regionalism—a painter who broke free of the parochial traits that Pollack bristled against.
I understand Provincialism to be simply the inability, or conscious refusal, to see an artist in the large context of art history. It is usually associated with geographical isolation, physical remoteness, but it is more of a mental construct, a filter through which the world is viewed. As a mental artifice, provincialism is not confined to geography; there is also temporal provincialism, confining oneself to a time period, usually the present one. The allegiance to stylistic ghettos may be the most common provincialism.
Provincials, whether geographically isolated or isolated by their biases, are slow to get news from outside of their borders and may argue about controversies long settled elsewhere. In Maine, abstractionists and conceptualists battle the heirs of Andrew Wyeth and Fairfield Porter—a faint echo of the controversy surrounding the 1960, abstraction-dominated, Whitney Biennial. Provincialisms also overlap and reinforce each other. Sophistication and education do not guard against parochial thinking. And academia is home to some of the most remote outposts in art culture, completely cut off from the common populace, by language and habits of thought.
In addition to the provincialism of the provinces, there is also the provincialism of capitals and powerful nations, the belief that all of the culture the inhabitants require exists within their borders. The New York school, at the height of its prestige and influence, was a very small town. There are more galleries in Maine today than there were in New York in the 1950’s.
The critic Clement Greenberg is a good example of an art capital provincial. As a champion of the New York School, he defended himself against the charge that he was an ideologue by insisting that he was merely an empiricist, and that the best art of his day was flat and abstract. However, he only seemed to consider artists and galleries within walking distance, or a few subway stops. Europe did not seem to exist for Greenberg. He ignored the north European COBRA painters. Established artists such as Picasso, Giacometti and Balthus were considered old news, though they continued to make often remarkable and relevant work until the end of their lives.
Hipness and cool are also provincial traps. This ideology ranks high all that is currently in fashion, and deems it the coolest. By always focusing on the present trend, the hip never seem to notice how cool the old stuff they ridicule or ignore once was. Related to this is Brooklyn provincialism, and all hip neighborhoods across America are being declared the next Brooklyn. It is a secret hid in plain sight that some of the best artists in Brooklyn have been working, in what is now seen as the style of the moment, for several decades.
Art capitals are often where great art can be seen but not necessarily where it is made. Those currently considered the leading artists of the late 19th century, though connected to the Parisian art capital, did their most significant work in Provence (the original province), Brittany and Tahiti. Cezanne, van Gogh and Gauguin define that era for us, yet were largely unknown to their Parisian contemporaries and the leading painters of that period are now mostly unknown. That is not to say that the Provencals knew what great painting was happening in their midst. And who can truly claim van Gogh—the Dutch, Parisians, Provencals—all of them and none of them.
Can Maine claim artists like Marsden Hartley? He painted landscapes in Europe and New Mexico and unscrupulous dealers sold his Bavarian mountainscapes as Maine scenes. Does a border really determine who is a Maine artist? The reputations of local artists loom large in their homelands, yet fall into the middle of the pack outside of those locales.
Hartley’s work and subject matter beg comparison with the Italian painter Mario Sironi, a great painter whose work is not well known in this country or even outside of Italy. Sironi was a fascist and so his reputation further suffers for his being on the losing side of World War II. He depicted poor workers in religious attitudes and his barren cityscapes are unquestionably close in spirit to Hartley’s landscapes. Architecture is a point of pride for the Italians, so the city is a nationalist expression of the genius of Italy. Sironi’s work and politics produce the same equivocal response that one might get from Hartley. Both are great painters whose work deserve to be seen and considered in the context of these thorny issues.
Do Italians need to know more about Hartley? Do Mainers need to consider Sironi? Clearly not, but expanding one’s horizons is never a bad thing. It can correct the biases inherent in a regionalist focus. I would reject regionalism, though not regionalist art. For the artist, subject matter based on their passions is laudable, maybe even necessary. But to view art through a regional filter is provincialism, dragging the work into the small context. I do not have to be a believer to appreciate religious art or gospel music, but I do expect the artist—on some level—to be a believer. Hartley professed a creed that many of us might reject, maybe even strongly, but the power of his belief produced authentic and powerful painting.
In the past, many artists came to Maine to paint the landscape, and I contend that by defining the region did a disservice to artists like Robert Hamilton, who did not make Maine paintings. Today, many artists live here for diverse reasons and work in a wide range of artistic styles. To view this art through any regional filter, is unfair to the artists who see themselves in the larger context. I still get a thrill driving over the Piscataqua River Bridge, but that has nothing to do with how I see art or make art.
—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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
“I was more interested in daily life, less melodramatic human interactions, poems of place, and glimpses of transcendence through ordinary things,” Karie Friedman said of her writing. Waldo County Poet, translator, editor, and founder of a poetry workshop group The Poets’ Table, Karie Friedman died of a sudden illness last week. Along with her two daughters and many friends, we pay our respects and honor her words. Work is in progress to publish her most recent collection of poems.
“Yes, the thought of poems that never got written, that I might have produced when my neurons were moving faster and my passions hotter, does sadden me. What a dope I was not to assert myself, etc. On the other hand, my peripatetic life, with its personal ups and downs and varied roles as a motorcycle tourist, back-to-the-lander, mother, faculty wife, truck dispatcher, landlady, and editor, plus a few others I haven’t mentioned, have fed my writing and continue to do so. Now that I’m underway, coming up on the age of Amy Clampitt when she published The Kingfisher, I’m making a run for it.”Karie Friedman
Catch N. C. Wyeth, Dark Harbor Fishermen, 1945.
Swamped by silver herring,
the dory is so full
it should be sinking,
but there’s no water-
line, no glint or splash
around its hull or those
of other boats nearby.
they float in a black
space that might
be wet or not.
All eyes of men and gulls
focus on the catch,
more luminous than coins.
It is a dreamlike haul
and we’re the dreamers,
hovering above, with a gull’s
eye view, drawn not by hunger
but by the allure of shine,
the amazing prospect
of wading knee-deep in light,
scooping it in a net.
Karie Friedman, 2016
To read more of Karie’s poems, and biography: https://kariefriedman.com/home/
When people talk about tragic events they often start with where they were and what they were doing as if by introducing the mundane back-story one could perform some crude magic and reverse the outcome. What this does is illustrate how our pact with the continuity of things has been ruptured and forever altered.
We follow our trail of breadcrumb memories, back to the time before.
I was on my couch when I heard the election results. The night before I went to bed with the stock market crashing, globally, and an electoral map turning red, like a wound, across the country.
One month later I drove into Manhattan at sunset with my husband. An oppressive, solid, cloudbank was low in the sky. Stopped in a long chain of traffic, we sat while the sun edged through from under the clouds. The city was backlit, darkened, and the low angle of the orange sun made harsh silhouettes out of the rows of cars, metal shells—the shadows between objects were like chasms. Looking to our left, there on the Major Deegan Expressway, Hell’s Gate Bridge was illuminated and glowing against the grey black world around. “An Apocalyptic sunset,” we agreed.
Did I remember then how the morning began when the handle on a full cup of coffee broke just as I handed it to my husband? Or did I remember that later, when all things became signs and portents.
That same night, just before midnight, an old friend had just left after a long dinner. My husband checked his phone because a call came through during the meal. We were sleepy, happy, tipsy—in good spirits. He listened to the message. “Its Simone,” he said and we both looked puzzled, she did not usually contact us. Our relationship to her was with, and through, Paul Oberst—Simone was Paul’s former wife, current friend, partner and collaborator. “She said to call as soon as I got this message,” he said, “is it too late?”
It was too late. We have never called anyone at midnight. But sensing, already, that this was not a usual call, without hesitation, I said no, it was not too late. I never say that. We were less sleepy, less tipsy.
What follows are images, both of us pacing, my husband just holding the phone, not speaking, then sitting down on the edge of the bed, silent and listening to the voice on the other end. “What is it?” I mouthed at him. “The worst,” he mouthed back, and kept listening, his eyes had the same look as on the day he saw the World Trade Center hit by the second plane, and then both towers crumble, from our rooftop, less than a half mile away.
Even then I did not know what I believed the worst to be. A dark road, a deer leaping flashed through my mind. A state of profound ignorance enveloped me. A few moments later I mouthed, “An accident?” now wide-awake and sober. He made one gesture that said it all, a common gesture children use: an extended thumb and forefinger pointed at his temple. It was no accident, and it was irrevocable.
Did I sleep or just lie in bed drifting in fragmented thoughts? The next morning I began to look through my correspondence with Paul, wondering what our last conversations had been, what had we been saying, were there signs? Certainly signs could now be seen in retrospect, signs that were obscured by the light of reason and belief in positive solutions to everyday or unexpected problems. And always, always assuming that despair was not an option.
I began slowly at first, and then methodically, to compile my email exchanges with Paul into a document. Starting at the beginning, following many twists of threads and tangents often several threads at a time. Over the course of hours, then days, I transcribed an 800-page document that spanned four years. My husband has a similar collection. During those years we also regularly shared studio visits and meals where we talked and carried on the conversations in person. Our correspondence covered a range of topics and moods from thoughtful and philosophical to silly, from analytic to bitchy, sometimes gossip, often poetic, ending days before my friend killed himself, and just as I arrived in New York.
What does this number, 800, mean to me in an age where numbers work at cross-purposes—Popular Vote vs. Electoral College? Paul had friends he had known for thirty years, or fifteen, one friend never met him but exchanged a meaningful note that moved her. And then there is his artwork, compiled and filling a measured space in the new studio he was building. His recent video had him measuring a section of beach. Numbers represent a need repeated, like three meals a day, or two aspirin.
To me the numbers meant continuity. Daily, and often several times daily, our emails exchanges became a voice narrating our lives. Paul, being a few years older, often took on a role of older brother, sage advisor and flat-out cheerleader. My correspondence with Paul continues now in my head, some days narrating events, describing an exhibit, something I read, or a fleeting thought. And times all I can say is “Dear Paul,” followed by a long silence, concluding with “Love Kathy.” Sometimes I repeat these lines, over and over, like a mantra.
We do not know what the next four years will bring. Hunter S. Thompson killed himself at the start of the second Bush term; despair set in even when his voice would have been helpful to counter what was to come. Paul’s abrupt departure took some of the light out of the room at a time when we feel dark forces gathering. Will I look back to the events of this time and read them like tea leaves, an oracle, as a prophecy? Whatever is to come, I will always look back on this moment in time as silhouetted by a late fall sunset, not shedding light, but casting darkness and deepening shadow. A time when Hell’s Gate was illuminated.
Letters and fragments
from Paul Oberst to Kathy Weinberg
October 25, 2016
Sure is gorgeous at this moment with this sunrise. I just walked down the drive to appreciate my humongous pile of firewood. I can’t believe I have done that in such order. My peacock tail was in full display as I walked by it and picked up a stray stick to throw in the stove, which is stoked and running at this very moment. Life is good and graceful at this very moment.
Have a lovely day creating and being.
As for success, I was most successful as a child. All I really want and need to do is play like that and all is fine, and I do that at times and am going to work a lot harder at it from now on out. I think our culture is insane and at times I think somehow I am supposed to heal it. That is not possible. I can do a little counseling, I can be a shaman in the studio, and I can hang with my buds tearing it all asunder over a meal and drinks. And you know what. That is mighty fine my dear. Chin up. P
January 25, 2016
I’m caught in these streams of thought that are along the lines of, “Now why is it that this really matters?” I look around and for the most part I have rather efficiently organized my life and creations. Again the question is raised “Why?” It only matters if I am inspired. And I have been so inspired in this life. But I have learned not to avoid this current form of questioning knowing full well that such matters are best penetrated and explored fully.
May 29, 2015
Dear Kathy, You know, no matter how hard one works in an alternative way to one’s nature, the truth of one’s nature always comes through. I have always been drawn to black and to the mysterious. Death has always been fascinating to me. Even though I do banded poles of lovely colors, they suggest passage…passage to what, through what. The answer, LIFE. Back to the mystery, back to black. I take a set of dice and photograph them…dice, game! Light subject! Wrong! Luck. Death. Life.
I swear. It is insane. Kathy, when the dice are blown up…any of the out of focus images, the resulting mist of jet sprayed fine ink is so gorgeous my jaw drops…if only Seurat could have seen this printing…he would have stopped painting.
What a stunning day! Peggy Lee is in the background singing, but I can hardly hear her today. Paulo
May 27, 2015
Art is so damned hard. It is exactly like life. And at times it is so flawlessly graceful. Remember the Barnes Collection tour. Imagine the struggles that went into the creation of all those works. Imagine the struggles to exhibit it all! Sobering. It is like walking this warrior’s path of heart. Not for the faint of heart. But, there is no choice.
May 26 2015
There is a song by Peggy Lee that goes “Is that all there is to—“. And it goes from her childhood up to her mature years and then reflection on life at the very end. Is that all there is to a circus, is that all there is to life, etc. So, Simone and I call such days as today, “A Peggy Lee Day.” … It is irrational, art. IT defies logic. I defy logic.
December 13, 2014
Kathy my dear, one could argue that I am an arrogant son of bitch about my art….and the art of my friends. I just feel that what we are doing is sacred work, pure and simple. As long as it is sacred and speaks to the great and noble longings of humanity and creation, then the art world can kiss my scrawny ass. Their loss…surely not mine because I am making the shit no matter what. Sacred Shit. We make this shit because it brings balance to the world because creation deems it necessary to do so because it is the nature of our nature in resonance with nature.
July 9, 2013
Okay the gardens are now in peak performance…the fireworks of plant blossoms…the Day Lilies and the lavender spiked native Maine flowers and Black Eyed Susan. The Hosta is starting to bloom and so much more. The day lily are over 5 feet tall and each year get taller. The last picture is taken from the enclosed porch above the entrance door. Eventually the garden may all displace me.