A title like “Maine Masters of Modernism” – as the display at Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth (by way of Aug. 20) is referred to as – sets up some really higher anticipations. It implies artists at the zenith of their abilities executing some thing revolutionary, iconoclastic and/or at a amount of awe-inspiring proficiency and method. Does “Maine Masters” supply on that assure? Mainly sure, and occasionally no.
A good variety of works assertively existing an excellent, convincing situation for the title. Amid these are Lynne Mapp Drexler’s “Blue Peninsula,” David Driskell’s “Sunset Island Freeport” and numerous paintings by Robert S. Neuman.
Drexler’s significant 1971 oil on canvas, which seizes your focus from its place on a terra cotta-colored wall reverse the front doorway, was painted at a vital turning level in her vocation. That 12 months she and her spouse, fellow painter John Hultberg, obtained a home on Monhegan Island, wherever they escaped from New York each individual summertime and wherever, inevitably, Drexler lived 12 months-round till her dying.
Up to then, her operate was mainly abstract, and “Blue Peninsula” is undoubtedly that. Drexler’s abstraction, nonetheless, was absolutely first, unlike anybody else’s. She would sooner or later be affiliated with the Sample & Decoration motion of the mid-1970s and early 1980s, which took inspiration from so-identified as “feminine” and “decorative” resources this sort of as Moorish, Byzantine and Significantly Japanese wallpapers and textile patterns, however one could also argue an affinity with Gustav Klimt’s pattern-filled canvases.
It is a hypnotic tour-de-pressure of colour, ovoid styles and wavy lines, and you can not just take your eyes off it. But the wavy traces (as well as the title) also presage a stylistic change toward the synthesis of abstraction and representation that would determine her later operate. By her death in 1999, her paintings would plainly, if even now abstractly, recommend the art colony’s woods, shoreline and individuals.
David Driskell, at the moment the subject of a outstanding retrospective at the Portland Museum of Art, was famous for his depictions of pine trees. If there was any concern that Driskell was a Maine master of modernism, the PMA’s exhibition definitively puts it to rest. “Sunset Island,” with its skillful layering of colour and otherworldly spirituality, is absolutely a pretty fantastic specimen of this do the job.
Neuman’s pieces change out to be a revelation. A native Idahoan of Swedish and German extraction who examined with, between other folks, German Expressionists Max Beckmann and Willi Baumeister, he was affected by a assorted panoply of fellow artists. These involved many he encountered throughout his peripatetic life: California modernists these types of as Richard Diebenkorn, Spanish painter Antoni Tàpies and Italian artist Alberto Burri, to name a several. But his color sense and some of his symbolist compositions also have clear ties to Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.
Not remarkably, the seven operates on exhibit, executed in between 1961 and 2007, include a whole lot of floor. Moss has juxtaposed “Mirage” (1977) and “Winter Storm Schoodic” (2001). The only consistencies involving them are their dazzling Pop color palette and largeness of scale. In any other case, “Mirage” is analytical, just about mathematical in its calculation and its meticulously calibrated assembly of geometric sorts. In this feeling, it is like Klee, but far more demanding. But by the time Neuman approached “Schoodic,” the wildness of Maine’s coastline had driven him to ebullient, almost feral abstraction.
Another intriguing pairing is Neuman’s “Homage to Stravinsky” (1971) and “Lame Deer Study” (2002). The former is all geometry – mostly circles and half circles – but composed like Kandinsky’s theoretical Bauhaus-period of time works to recreate the dynamic musical motion of a Stravinsky symphony. Conversely, “Lame Deer” was a collection that came about right after a visit to a Indigenous American reservation in Montana. Teepee designs, rendered just about like primitive petroglyphs, are not challenging to discern. But they float by summary fields of slim, splotchy colour that offer them no floor to land on – evidently a political reference to the injustices European white men perpetrated on them, forcing Indigenous Individuals to be what he identified as “people frequently in flight.”
That is the finest joy of “Maine Masters” – observing how artists developed and morphed above time, although retaining signature sensibilities. Will Barnet begins with geometric abstraction in “Untitled, 1954-1959” and proceeds to the flat-planed representational pictures of people today, cats and crows with which we most affiliate him (“The Crows I” from 1996, a image of his granddaughter, is especially emblematic). But we see that he never ever dropped his adherence to grids, triangles, circles and rectangles as underlying organizational constructions of his compositions.
Stephen Speed is represented by 3 undated performs that toggle involving the Abstract Expressionism he absorbed from his instructor Hans Hofmann and the figural is effective of rural everyday living whose design and style reveals the affect of his mate Milton Avery. A portray like “Jerusalem Artichokes” appears to be to stroll a slender line between abstraction and representation. The via-line listed here is a really like of pure, undiluted pigment.
All of these works live up to the title in just one way or an additional. As do a pair of etchings by John Marin and Henry Kallem’s “28th Avenue Bottles” (nevertheless his “Psychedelic Raft Monhegan Island,” although unquestionably iconoclastic, is fewer interesting).
But there are some puzzling inclusions. Geraldine Tam’s “Rosa Rugosa” and “Lupines” are unquestionably pretty and masterful in their illustration of these plant sorts. Still it is hard to discern from the accuracy of her botanical reportage what can make them modernist. If just about anything, they are even more meticulously specific and unromanticized than those of Pierre-Joseph Redouté, the painter and botanist whose patron, Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, named him her official artist.
The identical goes for Charles Woodbury’s “Looking South from Perkins Cove” (1910). However his work was certainly expressive in a way that was significantly less academic, Woodbury was fundamentally a painter of impressionistic maritime scenes. It feels like a small little bit of a stretch to call his art modernism. It is kind of like contacting J.M.W. Turner or Winslow Homer, as forward-contemplating as they were for their time, contemporary masters. We can only do this if we broaden that expression in a way that appears at odds with truth. This does not in the the very least lower the natural beauty of the portray, which is rather moving.
There are also a couple of is effective that are simply uninteresting and whose winnowing might have designed a much more persistently impressive impact on the viewer. But this is a slight quibble. In general, the exhibition proves nonetheless yet again that Maine was a major locus of artistic ferment in The us.
Jorge S. Arango has penned about art, layout and architecture for above 35 many years. He lives in Portland. He can be attained at: [email protected]
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