I had always considered the art, and the life, of Meg Chase and Freddy LaFage to be a microcosm within a macrocosm, parts of a complex structure that contains their family-run restaurant, art gallery, and family farm. They also belong to another macrocosm, the world of painters and of artists. I often wondered if they made a distinction between the two.
Anyone who has visited mid-coast Maine may have found themselves at Chase’s Daily for a meal or a look at the art in the Perimeter Gallery that occupies the back space and the walls of this family-run restaurant. Meg Chase and Freddy LaFage both show their paintings and spend their days and seasons in this farm-to-table aesthetic environment. Where does one begin and the other end? That depends on how we look at the details.
Both Meg and Freddy make paintings that refer back to their daily life, and to the materials they work with, oil and color. A viewer can simultaneously apprehend the surface and the subject. The German word for image is bild and their paintings feel built; made with layers, the adjective “buttery” applies. It is because of paint that their images exist.
The two painters share their thoughts on their work and their paintings:
Meg Chase – Macro/Micro
K.W. Do you consider yourself a painter or an artist?
M.C. I am a painter and I am a farmer. The seasonal shift of my attention and the stops, starts, and new beginnings inherent in the disruptions, inform my identity. Do I farm to paint? Or paint to farm? I am not quixotic, or romantic, or an artist.
Beginning again is the refrain in my studio and returning doggedly to familiar subject matter is the prop of my practice. There is so much more there. Not unlike how with each passing year on the farm my sense of wonder at all I can’t fathom is built on the foundation of time and experience, just so in the studio. Painting some flowers from memory is an entrance into the infinite. Designing flowers in my “summer studio”—the field—is a fast and apt extension of my painting practice and thrilling, as it is ephemeral.
The gravity of making an object, a painting, is slow and weighty in comparison. So much harder and beset with doubts, the moments of fluency and unselfconscious virtuosity while painting feel more like the season-long achievements on the farm than the more “painterly” moments of floral design. While one is not completely immaterial to the other, my farming and painting lives do not coalesce under the title of “artist” and become one.
I think people like the idea of the synergy of my two work lives. The content of my paintings seems a pleasing reflection of the immersion in my farm life. I don’t mind. Life is long and in its fullness there is space for both.
Freddy LaFage – Holistic?
K.W. Do you consider yourself a painter first or an artist? Discuss what this distinction means to you and how it shows in your work.
F.L. I’d say probably a painter first. I have been doing it for so long my creative process is cast in painting terms. There is so much to consider when making a painting: form, color, composition, shape, space, physicality, speed, etc… One must work hard to have everything operating simultaneously in a painting. When I make an installation or sculpture I still think in these terms applying them to whatever the medium. Due to the importance of color in my work I doubt anyone seeing one of my installations would be surprised I was a painter.
K.W. Most painters/artists do not talk about their day jobs but you have a work/living situation with the farm, restaurant and gallery that seems holistic. Could you talk about that continuum and how it emerges and disappears in your paintings.
F.L. Well, we do talk a lot about the big picture. And, in some sense I think you’re right, it is holistic. We enjoy the different facets of creating a space, a business, making and presenting art, and raising a family all in the same building. Holistic implies balance, though, and that is an entirely different matter. Everyone struggles to find balance and we are certainly no exception.
For better or worse, we remain intricately involved in all aspects of the continuum. Maintaining a studio practice amongst everything is definitely the hard part. We have succeeded to a degree by evolving expectations. In the twenty years Chase’s has been open, my relationship with making work has changed immensely. Coming out of school I was consumed with painting and worked in the studio almost every day. As I became more involved with the business, the gallery, and raising a family, the studio became a real sanctuary, but one I visited much less frequently. As a result, my work became somewhat disjointed, a consequence of the long gaps in studio time. Things I was working on before a gap are often abandoned when I return. Ultimately, I embraced this pattern and have jumped around stylistically quite a bit. The less studio time I have, the more I value it. I am much more determined to enjoy myself when I am there and more likely to follow my impulses wherever they may lead.
One of the main benefits of our situation is showing in our own gallery. We show at Perimeter every three years. There is no angst about when and where the next show will be. While Perimeter does not give us huge exposure, it has worked well for us so far. Deadlines are hugely important to me.
K.W. Discuss the presence of your everyday life that appears in your work.
F.L. After long studio absences I turn to perceptual painting as a way to re-engage with the language. I’m drawn to mundane, ordinary objects that have a personal resonance. It is a relief to focus on something simple, familiar. A pile of butter on the restaurant counter, empty beer cans in the studio, and silent kitchen utensils all fit well into that category. I want to capture them, but I want them to transcend in some way. I think in terms of the “individual” versus the “universal” as a way in. Can they both exist simultaneously in a painting? Is it possible to express something about humanity in a still life painting? It sounds ridiculous to try, but I think it can happen. It’s hard to articulate and these ideas seem to wilt for me under close observation. But I think of Gorky’s portraits of his mother. She is always present and is depicted with such care, but the paintings communicate something much more profound than just her likeness. He accesses something universal about the human condition: love, admiration, sacrifice. She becomes an icon.
Giorgio Morandi’s still lives are another example. For me, his paintings are miraculous. He paints the same bottles over and over again. There are slightly different arrangements, perhaps different a light or palette. The point is after looking at these very simple paintings for a while, the bottles begin to transcend their ordinariness and become metaphors for all kinds of different relationships on a human scale. They have the beautiful quiet power. And they are just bottles!
For me painting becomes interesting when the motif is a door into a more resonant emotional experience.
Image at top: Freddy Lafage, Salted, oil on panel, 15 ¾ x 17 ¾ in., 2019.