Monday, July 20, 2009

Frog Pond

Walking around the rim of the pond tonight I counted 9 frogs. Now and then I heard a vrump and a ribbit that gave away the presence of other frogs under the rocks.

Is there a Maine aesthetic that can be sussed out, even in the work of artists who live far away? Were they born here? Did they spend time at Skowhegan, or simply dip a toe in the waters of some summer camp at Pemadumcook Lake? I think the experience of place is indelibly imprinted in an artist’s work no matter how far she may roam. And I don’t believe you have to be born here to be inoculated with the germ.

The giveaway in an artist’s work could be the green-orange matrix operative in his paintings. It could be the love of water, because you’ll never die of thirst in Maine. It could be the certain light that inhabits Alex Katz’s paintings. It could be that it’s always landscape bound. We have more landscape here than anything else, and so even abstraction, for instance the complexity of line in Fred Lynch and Anna Hepler’s drawings, is derived from the confusion of natural phenomena that we see around us every day. If you’ve read this far, I’d really like to know your thoughts on the subject, and whether there are other operative motivations than landscape.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Landscape art is not a zzzzzzzzz

Landscape remains one of the great subjects of art even though it’s no longer thought relevant to paint a scene of what’s seen. The artist for whom landscape is inspiration has to actively enter the dialogue with other forms of contemporary art than painting. Hamish Fulton takes long walks. Christo and Jeanne Claude stage installations in significant places like Central Park and Berlin. Environmental interventions (eco-ventions)are the preferred way of calling attention to the abuses contributing to global warming.

Yet it remains true that for us as visual artists, the only way to give lasting expression to our feelings about the landscape is through the visual formalities of drawing and painting. So now instead of painting scenes, we paint paintings based on what we’ve done. Process is product. Nancy Manter is a case in point. Her process is to make marks not on paper or on canvas but in the landscape itself, and then to photograph the marks. Andy Goldsworthy has done this for many years, but Manter does not stop at photo-documentation. She uses the photographs as a matrix for some very sophisticated imagery developed with distemper and collage on dibond aluminum panels. Ice, mud and water are the canvases in which she incises gestural abstractions; the collaged and painted extrapolations appear to be as un-programmed as the natural world itself, but the visual choices she has made are calculated to make us notice that world afresh.

Out on Moody Mountain this weekend I was momentarily mesmerized by the sough of the wind in the trees. It had some of the effect of looking at a Manter painting, with the difference that wind is up there in the air, whereas a Manter painting is like feeling the rush and slip of water over mud.

The exhibition remains on view at Waterfall Arts in Belfast through August 28.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Some Portland Elements

A man calls to the sea and the sea answers. A man’s voice sends out messages and the sea responds. The sea responds with a force all out of proportion to the songs of the man. The sea is an uncontrollable force, with a song of its own that would drown any human voice, except that the man’s voice has doubled and tripled over on itself and can still be heard in the troughs of the waves. I thought of Shackleton and his men on the South Georgia Sea. I thought of the voice of God sounding over the darkness of the deep. I thought of the Hindu concept of vac, akin to the Greek concept of logos, and I thought, “in the beginning was the Word.” The next day I went to the Portland Observatory, heard the story of the great Portland conflagration of 1866 and looked out from the observatory deck toward the sea hidden by a fog that moved across the landscape as though it were smoke from a dying fire.

The man who daily calls forth the sea is Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay. His video The Same Problem is currently on view at MECA. The Portland Observatory is located on Congress Street on Munjoy Hill and offers tours to the very top.

Photo from the observatory deck by Sean Flaim.