For this issue we encouraged our contributors to “interview a Maine visual artist and ask the questions you’ve been dying to ask” or even to conduct what we called an “inner view,” a self-interview in which one could answer “the questions you’ve always wanted and/or the ones you have avoided asking yourself.” We received an exciting number of contributions, varied in approach and structure. We hope you find it a very touching look into artists’ lives, work, and thoughts. Often, the interviews reveal as much about the interviewee as they do about the interviewer, and as we discover who chose to interview whom, these pairings reveal friendships.
Poet Stu Kestenbaum reminisces about the iconic scene in The Commitments, in which the leader of the band dreams about being interviewed by an imaginary journalist. Kestenbaum tells us about using this strategy himself, as it allows you “to look at yourself as if you’re someone else” (echoes of Arthur Rimbaud’s “je est un autre”—“I is another”?). When Kestenbaum writes, “You’re a step away from the action and able to look back at it,” his metaphor parallels how visual artists take a few steps back from the canvas in order to see the work with critical distance—stepping not just away but out of oneself, just like what we observe in this issue’s contributions.
Sondra Bogdonoff, who weaves fiber on a loom, and George Mason, who paints, talk about the bi-monthly Zoom calls they’ve been having since the pandemic started and how these regular conversations with “another witness” helped Mason “feel held within a circle of meaning, and accountable to someone” and, as Bogdonoff puts it, “supported and listened [to].” Together, they reflect on the work they produced during this period, taking stock of changes in their art and of the ways in which they faced the many challenges that have beset the world.
Janice L. Moore interviews her “favorite artist,” Harold Garde, and they compare notes about their artistic processes (agonistic for Garde, ludic for Moore), creative drive, materials, studio space, and practice. Surveying Garde’s career, they consider the figurative motif of the chair that sneaked into his abstract work a few decades ago. Garde talks about the tension between abstraction and figuration, about painting alla prima, without drawing first, or rather, to borrow his felicitous expression, “drawing with the brush” and the meaning that it holds for him. They also talk about personal life challenges (aging and illness) and accomplishments.
Nora Tryon pays Sally Stanton a visit, and they discuss the art hanging in her studio. Stanton tells Tryon about her creative process and how her activity as a painter intersects with work as a school librarian and writer—and even with her previous job as a cook. She talks about her sources and the people who inspire her as well as the role intuition plays. She explains how her paintings inhabited by myriad figures are impacted by the outside world and unleash many emotions.
On the occasion of the exhibition ArtFellows: Belfast’s Original Cooperative Gallery, 1980–1997 that took place this fall at Waterfall Arts in Belfast, Alan Crichton and Gianne Conard remember the genesis of the art cooperative. Crichton and Conard ask the original members to think back to their ArtFellows days, to consider their take-aways from this experience and reflect upon the ways in which it continues to inform their present life and work.
A polyphony of voices is also heard in Martha Miller’s The Women of Color Project, a series of portraits she executed daily during Black History Month and Women’s History Month. It becomes clear that selecting a sitter is not unlike choosing someone to interview and that painting a portrait is a dialogue of sorts, the artist connecting with a sitter by interrogating her features. Miller explains that as she strove to capture and convey the voices of forty-six women, she “often felt the presence of each,” while she “listened and learned something powerful” from them.
Claire Millikin’s essay gathers elements from an interview with Joan Braun. The conversation, “a two-way reflection,” layers the interlocutors’ thoughts as they discuss Braun’s palimpsestic photographs and collages. As these images feature time’s patina and the marks of use, Millikin and Braun consider what compels Braun to collect and capture the derelict and the soiled.
Poetry editor Betsy Sholl contributes a poem in which a dialogue of sorts takes place—or rather, as the title suggests, an argument—between the poet and herself. The contrapuntal inner dialogue opposes what Sholl sees on a cheerfully sunny late summer day and what she hears crows say to her, encoded in the rhythms of their calls. The present (of a pleasant walk to the library) is opposed to the past, as “a chorus of bleak thoughts” reminds the poet of horrific events.
On the occasion of the 2021 Belfast Poetry Festival, the words of poets entered in conversation with visual art, and among the participants were Julia Bouwsma and Asata Radcliffe. Three of Radcliffe’s paintings are paired with Bouwsma’s rhapsodic poems evoking ecological disaster. In The Thing about Fire a square blank space opens up in the center of the text, perhaps inviting the reader to insert Radcliffe’s painting. Because of the pairing, we read the sphere as our planet, the washes it is painted with as flames, and the space around it as starry cosmos. In Radcliffe’s Parasitic we see an ovoid shape, suspended in a pitch black background, its warm yellow surface cracked and scaly, punctured by a hole that merges with the environing darkness—indeed, we will “never know what’s inside,” as the poem states in its opening line. This black opening sucks in the viewer’s eye—a true black hole—and, as we keep reading the poem (negotiating the gash at its center), we get engulfed in a dance of invasive and parasitic species and their nefarious effects on the landscape.
Environmental concerns are also central to Ian Trask, who explains to Greg Burns how his choice of materials—trash—aims at bringing awareness about the “untenable cycle” of consumption while also acting as a creative “counterbalancing measure.” As Trask interrogates refuse’s omnipresence, his works are meant to act as “a catalyst for conversation about sustainability and creative reuse.” Despite this potential to address urgent issues, Trask laments that “artists are so undervalued” in society, commenting upon the labor dimension of working as an artist, and talking about his own coping strategies.
Jeane Cohen answers Emilie Stark-Menneg’s questions, discussing theories of consciousness and her own perceptual, sensorial, and emotional engagement with her art. Central is the idea of “imprinting”: for instance, how she is impressed or “struck” by something she sees. The viewer’s attentive looking reveals figurative elements in what at first appears like colorful and gestural abstractions: her paintings are indeed an invitation to slow looking, to getting lost in the materiality of the surface, while meditating on her titles.
Kristin Malin’s landscapes also go beyond the visible: Veronica Cross, who interviewed her fellow artist, writes that they “chart experience beyond the physical peripheries of seeing.” Malin tells Cross about the different places she has worked (urban and rural), her plein air practice, and in particular her painting at night, during a full moon, which she carried on a monthly basis for four years.
If Malin works out-of-doors, Cynthia Winnings, on the other hand, talks to Kenny Cole about her new studio and its impact on her work. Cole asks Winnings about her choice of subject matter, in particular, the prominence of female figures. Perhaps, and not by chance, since she juggles dual—and seasonal—activities of artist and gallerist, she represents the figure of Persephone, whose myth is linked to the cycle of seasons. Just like she combines professional activities—one turned outwards, the other inwards—Winnings combines media, collage and gouache. She explains how found elements feed—or even provoke—her narratives and how paintings “grow out” of small collages, which tend to remain private.
Another artist/gallerist, Cynthia Hyde picks up the challenge of contributing an “inner view” and reflects upon her activity as a form of dialogue with “her” artists, the artwork, and the public, and also, and most importantly, facilitating the dialogue between the works of art and the public. With a revealing choice of words, Hyde stresses that the work must “talk” to its audience and that it “needs to be allowed to speak for itself.” She writes about the motivations for running an art gallery along with the challenges and rewards of such a pursuit and ultimately, the role a gallery and the arts can play in a community.
Two more “inner views” follow Hyde’s. Josh Ferry asks himself questions about handling neglect and self-doubt and about the “stripe paintings” he is currently creating and what they mean for him. Ferry notes how, no matter how simple a painting can be, the artist is always present and how, “it’s impossible to exclude yourself from the work.” Rosalie Paul tries “to dig deep to where the feelings are,” exploring through pastels and poems the absence and the grief left by the death of a child. The redemptive force of art is expressed in “Marsh Doorway,” when Paul talks about “setting up a drawing” and is reminded “of opening into buoyancy and resilience.” Similarly for Sarah Shepley, who explains to Nikki Millonzi how she coped after her husband’s death: for her as well, writing words and creating visual images were “a lifeline.” Shepley recounts how years prior she discovered that art was “a daily companion” in moments of “grief and . . . [of] grace.” She also talks about her forthcoming book, which she sees as a form of “arts ministry” in which she gives voice to her own grief and that of her ancestors and tells Millonzi how her art has been impacted by this work of healing.
Even people who know each other well responded to our call. Tony Owen interviews his wife Pat about her experience living and creating art in Ireland and how that fits in the arc of her life. She considers themes that are both personal and political, how the events in the news find profound personal echoes, how “[s]ome issues never seem to go away,” and how the past ripples into the present as “we use our past to make sense of the present.” That questions lead to more questions is what happens to Tony, who, having finished interviewing Pat, comes up with more of them, this time directed to himself. Judy LaBrasca and Stephen St. John, who have collaborated for several years, answer the same questions about their work habits and preferences, their intended audience and favorite artists.
What better medium than woodcut prints for “Printmaker and Homesteader” Gillyin Gatto, who has been living in the Maine woods since the early seventies. In an interview with Carl Little, Gatto talks about becoming an artist, her favorite tools and materials, the carving process, her sources of inspiration, and her subjects. She describes her living and working environment and her pets, her daily routine, and her work habits. We learn about the down east arts scene and about her current projects.
Perusing this issue, one starts noticing the different rhythms of the conversations/interviews. The one between Elizabeth Starr and Katherine Porter is like witnessing a game of tennis or the swift back-and-forth of a shuttle in a loom. Porter asks short questions (reminiscent of Marcel Proust’s famous “questionnaire”), starting with “What are you about?” and Starr’s answers are similarly spirited and direct, conveying the “wild energy” of nature and art that “has a life of its own.”
David Estey gathers David Dupree’s words as he vividly recounts his fellow painter’s remarkable life, listing the many places where he has lived and his diverse jobs along the way. With such a picaresque life it is not surprising that Dupree’s art cannot, as Estey notes, be categorized, but one thing is sure: his landscapes, a mix of “autobiographical memories and part fantasy,” convey a sense of wonder. They fulfill his desire to make art that is “enjoyable, stimulating, and memorable.” Another self-taught artist, Andre Benoit does an “inner view,” sharing examples of his humorous wooden assemblages. Perhaps because Benoit’s professional career was spent as a physician, he comes up with the surprising—but pertinent!—question of whether the presence of “mold or mildew” in his found materials has ever provoked sensitivities in collectors.
Asked by Titi de Baccarat to introduce herself, Susan deGrandpre explains that she is “a direct carver” who “discover[s] with every cut” and who tries to stay as close as possible to the “edges of the chunk as possible.” Even though she declares herself a self-taught artist, deGrandpre has been carving for a long time. The way she talks about her chosen material betrays a profound relationship—a “deep conversation between the artist and the wood.” Teresa Piccari, in her “normal journalist mode,” interviews another wood sculptor, Jon Moro, for whom the practice of his craft on Saturdays mornings, on “one of [his] most guarded times,” allows him “to . . . recover from the week.”
What if the artist you would like to interview is dead? That is the problem for an art historian like Véronique Plesch, who reflects on the challenges of studying “dead artists,” dreaming of time travel, but who ultimately accepts the blessings of asking them questions. We come full circle with what we read in Kestenbaum’s opening essay, who similarly affirms the importance of asking questions as opposed to having ready-made answers. We must keep asking.
Our issue concludes as we always do, with several reports that bear witness to the vitality of the art scene this fall in Maine. In our Insight/Incite column, Argy Nestor writes about glassblowing at Waterfall Arts, Julia Arredondo and Fannie Ouyang recount the Elm City Small Press Fest that took place on 19 and 20 November that brought together a rich ensemble of printers and printmakers. ARRT! and LumenARRT! report on their activities. The UMVA Portland chapter presents its report and announces the schedule of their exhibits for 2022. We also read about a showing of the latest film in the Maine Masters series, Natasha Mayers: An Un-Still Life.
UMVA members can submit work on the upcoming Spring 2022 theme: As Things Fall Apart: Dystopia or Utopia?
Check out the guidelines here.
Image at top: Maine Arts Journal Winter 2022 cover (Sally Stanton, Knuckle Sandwich, mixed media, 35 x 36 in., 2021).