From the paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux to Kenny Cole’s 2019 series on the death of Jamal Khashoggi, artists have portrayed the world around them. While the medium, the focus, and the formal approach may differ, the need for personal expression remains—and it has perhaps become even stronger during a pandemic.
What have Maine artists been doing during this time of social isolation? The Mid Coast Salon, a monthly discussion group of two dozen artists of diverse disciplines and styles, began almost three years ago to share their love for and commitment to making art. Salon members have stayed together virtually through Zoom. Now, they come together physically with a new show that attests to their belief that Art Matters at the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery, 516 Congress Street in Portland.
Art Matters is a simple, but compelling statement. For over 30,000 years, humankind has used visual imagery to narrate, translate, and explore the world within and around us. Artists are often at the forefront of progress, giving shape to contemporary culture and leading us beyond our own perceptions. The sixteen artists presenting in this show do not represent any shared philosophy other than a deep commitment to making art. Rather, they are individuals who bring individual perspectives to this time and this place.
The artists each have an average of eight feet of wall space in the gallery; there will be 50–60 pieces in the show, which will include ceramics, drawing, painting, and photography. Here is a sampling of the artists and their work:
Carol Sloane lives and works in Rockland, Maine.
The drawings in this exhibit mark a specific period in Carol’s personal emotional diary: January and February 2020. They began as a meditation on immigration, a rumination on separation and aloneness. “I was listening to the first impeachment hearings of Donald J. Trump as I worked on this series, and I was riveted by the making of history that was coming over the radio. Two streams of despair became entangled in the drawings: personal and intimate loss and societal and cultural loss. I felt a great sense of shock and isolation as the society that I personally held as a constant was demonstrably devalued and discarded by so many supposedly smart people. My drawings are an effort to process these feelings, to demonstrate social emptiness and the universal yearning to restore my moral community.”
Ed Nadeau, a native of Maine and Associate Professor of Art at UMaine Orono, researches the history, manufacture, and use of traditional art materials—substrates, gessoes, oil paints, temperas, and waxes—along with current advancements of new technologies and materials that can be adapted for artists’ uses.
For these paintings, Ed describes his process as “similar to that of a fiction writer in that my paintings are not always authentic depictions of actual people or places, but interpretations of ideas or events that develop over a period of time. To that end, they are an amalgam of childhood memories, artistic influences, current events, and social commentary, revealed in narrative imagery.”
Kenny Cole started his career in New York, where he was confronted with a burgeoning neo-expressionist art scene in the East Village. His work adopted an edgy, graphic, second-wave graffiti-like sensibility. He moved to Maine in 1994, and has continued to exhibit in alternative spaces, helped organize political art actions with the Union of Maine Visual Artists, and served ten years on the board of directors at Waterfall Arts in Belfast.
The work represented in this exhibit, from the series Guardians, started as experimentation with the medium of sumi ink. Kenny was interested in simplifying the subject matter to concentrate on allowing ink to find its own form and shape.
“The bald eagle is a motif that I have rendered often . . . while clearly a loaded political symbol, could also be what it really just is, a wild creature. I was hoping that this work might help me decompress a bit after an intense period of following the near-daily political upheavals occurring in the U.S. Though I was unable to allow myself to go full nature, my degree of restraint enabled me to experience the medium of ink and rice paper in a way that allowed its properties to inform the work in a strong way.”
Leslie Woods, from Montville, ME, who often draws on the energy of sport, presents work inspired by the risks that sports figures like Billy Jean King and LeBron James have taken to change society. “Olice, Oh Lease on Life led to strong memories of my childhood. Adding collage, I next painted Henrico County (VA) Built Its Dump around the Black Kids’ School because sometimes artists are compelled to mirror the truth.”
Liv Kristin Robinson, a fine-art photographer who lives in Belfast, ME, shares images from her En Route Series, which she began in 2004 during a period of frequent bus and train trips to NYC. In her words, “unable to read or write while traveling, I began to see a compelling, marginal landscape streaming by that revealed a new perspective on how we live our lives. These new images made in late 2019 on my last visit to NYC represent a last glimpse of this City’s supply hubs just before the pandemic was about to close in and change it forever.”
Russell Kahn is an art educator currently living in Kayenta, Arizona, where he is teaching and creating artwork on the Navajo Reservation. “Think globally, act locally” is a motto that Russell lives by with his art. For Russell, “art is the mortar for anything that we build whether in reality or in our minds. Art has always been a reflection of who and what we are as humans.”
Most of his focus has been on drawing, pastels, printmaking, and ceramics. With the latter two in mind, Russell has been exploring the possibilities of the sgraffito technique in clay, and this is the work you will see in this exhibit. The images are mostly homages to artists from the past, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and José Guadalupe Posada, as well as Russell’s mom, Yona Kahn, who loved frequenting the museums in NYC, especially when there was a van Gogh show.
Other artists represented in the exhibit are Andrea Assael, Bob Richardson, David Estey, Fredrick Kuhn, Greg Burns, Harold Garde, Kris Engman, Jack Silverio, Lesia Sochor, and Michael Corden. The full statements and bios of all the artists will be available in the gallery. It is clear from this exhibit that art truly does matter, and it makes a difference not only to the artists but also to those who are fortunate enough to witness the work of the members of this salon. The works stand on their own, in this time, in this place, and beyond, but the written words these artists share with the viewer are not only illuminating but are intimate and moving in their own right.
This exhibit was originally planned for last year, but because of the pandemic, it will take place 29 June–30 July at the Media Center in Portland. Please check with the Media Center for hours, as schedules are still evolving. The opening is scheduled for Friday, 2 July 2021.