September 10, 2015
by Tevlin Schuetz
link to original article
Island Artist Pushes Boundaries of Perception
In his studio loft overlooking Long Cove on Deer Isle, artist Jeffery Becton is getting used to having more room. He recently moved into the space after working in a smaller studio in his Deer Isle home for years, he said during an August 17 interview with Island Ad-Vantages.
The change has come at the right time because Becton has begun to produce larger works of art, he said, in which the visual compositions contained can change, depending upon the viewer’s perspective and distance from the art work.
“Being able to engage the work at different scales creates a more encompassing experience,” Becton said.
He specializes in crafting digital photomontages, or images in which multiple scenes and visual elements are layered through the use of computer software. In Becton’s case, the components are derived most often from photographs of landscapes and interiors of old buildings. The results are surreal in nature, where the subject matter not only seems to conflict, but also dimensions themselves are pushed and pulled; however, the images are usually inviting and even calming to the viewer, as the natural land- and seascapes soften and even mingle with the aging and worn interiors of antique homes.
This piece, titled Ephemera, exemplifies Becton’s blending of landscapes and sea views with building interiors. Photo courtesy of Courthouse Gallery
Becton has been a pioneer in his use of new imaging technology in art, but he hasn’t done so out of any desire to achieve the status of being ground-breaking for its own sake. Rather, he is guided by a need to push the boundaries of his own vision of surreality, and advancements in technology and multimedia have allowed him greater means through which to explore such possibilities.
Becton’s work and artistic journey are the subject of a new book from independent publisher Marshall Wilkes in Ellsworth titled Jeffery Becton: The Farthest House, written by Maine author Carl Little. The book includes additional perspectives by art writer and novelist Deborah Weisgall, Bates College Museum of Art director Dan Mills and art critic Peter Plagens, and features a visual cornucopia of images, revealing Becton’s evolution from photographer to creator of photomontages.
“I feel my way into a picture,” Becton said. He doesn’t set out to create a specific image but instead arrives at a complete work through experimentation and instinct, adding layers and pushing ideas as far as they will go.
“It keeps getting better, or it’s done,” Becton said, and he strives to create work that resonates and evokes an emotional response.
Becton attended Yale University during the 1970s, studying history as an undergraduate before completing a graphic design program at Yale School of Art, he said. He was never interested in pursuing graphic design as a career, however; he was just interested in creating pictures.
“[Graphic design] seemed the best way to get the education I needed,” he said.
He picked up photography and discovered he had a knack for finding visual compositions in his surroundings, and under the tutelage of Alvin Eisenman, Becton developed a keen interest in the technological side of art, assisting Eisenman in setting the type on Yale’s mainframe computer in 1974. While he pursued black and white photography after completing his formal education, his interest in computers grew as the technology advanced. He lauded the release of the first Mac computer by Apple in the early 1980s for its visually user-friendly interface, but printers were of the daisy wheel variety at that time, Becton said.
But Becton embraced even those crude technologies and as laser jet printers were developed and became available, he was invigorated by new possibilities.
“I never saw it as a threat,” he recalled, while others did: “A whole large group of photographers had lost their way.”
As a photographer, he had been used to creating work that had to “hold its own” among large paintings in group shows, he said, so as large-format printers were developed, his work co-evolved with the technology.
Becton moved to the Island in 1978, he said, and the natural, rugged surroundings and the effects of distance and water on perception have only furthered his eagerness to blend images into surreality. “I haven’t been a straight photographer since I started using Photoshop,” he said, which he quickly began to use creatively, well beyond the limits of touching up photographs. He employs the precision tools of photography and image-editing software to create visual ambiguity, he said, where the viewers of his work easily arrive at their own interpretations.
“I’m careful not to lead anyone too far down any given path. It’s not satisfying emotionally to have the question answered for you,” he said.
Becton has been more recently drawn to clouds, which “are landscapes of their own,” he said, and he has also been enthralled by complex surfaces, such as the hull of a wrecked ship—with all of its peeling layers of paint over bubbling spots of rust and growths of barnacles, both living and dead.
His work has been shown in many exhibitions and featured in national and international publications. It can also be found in private and museum collections, such as those of Bates College of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum and Portland Museum of Art, to name a few.
His work was recently exhibited at Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth. For more information call 667-6611, or visit courthousegallery.com. Check the publisher’s website at marshallwilkes.com for upcoming speaking engagements by Becton.
August 17, 2014
by Daniel Kany
link to original article
Art Review: Heliker exhibition displays brilliance of painter whose work transcends
It’s time for John Heliker to take his place among Maine’s greats.
In John Heliker’s 1985 painting, “Clamdigger with Dog,” a man facing to the right looks over his right shoulder toward a black dog sitting behind him so that his face points at us. Behind him, below soft purple hills in the distance, a thick ribbon of cerulean water sets the straight horizon line at its far shore. A tall boxy red building looms on the right of the composition, turning back the left-to-right flow of the man, the water and the dog to create a surprisingly energized circuit. But the narrative doesn’t quite dominate: Two-thirds of the image is sky which, despite the clouds, refuses to be gray. It’s a Baroque dance of swirling blues and whites. It is impasto. It is strokes of color. It is the triumph of painting.
If it weren’t for the prosaic Maine scene below it, the sky could be from the Italian paintings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Francesco Guardi that Heliker so often visited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
But figures are cues to most narratives, so we can’t help but come back to our clamdigger. And, whereas painters usually focus on faces and hands to describe their figures, Heliker has backed off these key points. The barely legible face is too immaterial to reveal any psychology or narrative. What does stand out about the figure, however, is how he is painted. Heliker’s drawing with the brush appears as short and clear black staccato strokes. They are decisive marks despite being reworked: The left shoulder was taken out and the upper arm dropped even though the forearm wasn’t moved; and the lines for the right arm have been similarly adjusted to add weight and dimensionality. Heliker makes no effort to hide these changes, giving the impression he wants us to follow his thought process.
John Heliker, Clamdigger with Dog,” 1985. Photos courtesy of Courthouse Gallery.
We come to realize the clam basket needed to be set at its strange, jutting angle to counter the otherwise too-strong gaze line from the dog’s nose to the figure. That we can see the mountains behind the red building reveals the building was brought in late as a compositional solution. Reworked patches also indicate the man was originally facing to the right and wearing a bigger hat.
While painting fans have been fascinated for centuries by “pentimenti” (traces of painted-over changes), it was only about 100 years ago that such changes became part and parcel of the content of the work.
TWith its obviously reworked solid lines, Heliker’s drawing with the brush borrows from Cubism, but his compositional approach draws from Henri Matisse, particularly his penchant for leaving out specifics and making figures no more important than any other structural element. Whatever sources his inspiration channeled when Heliker painted and repainted the canvas, it’s hard not to see Matisse, Pablo Picasso and their shared inspiration, Paul Cézanne, in “Clamdigger with Dog.”
Heliker, who died in 2000 at age 91, might have been the best and brainiest Maine painter who has not yet been fully discovered by the Maine audience. “John Heliker: Paintings from the Cranberry Island Years” at the Courthouse Gallery is a show that makes a compelling case for Mainers to take notice.
Heliker was born in New York and taught at Columbia University for many years, but he came to think of his sea captain’s house on Great Cranberry Island both as his personal and artistic home.
Heliker’s Maine work features startlingly sophisticated mark-making with an unexpectedly light touch. It removes the elements of color from the brilliant staccato strokes so that they inform – but don’t rely on – each other. But while his work can be categorized as coastal Maine painting, it is undoubtedly engaged more with the culture of painting than with description or local storytelling. The result, oddly, is a sort of cultural classicism in local color – a combination that does much to elevate both the art history of Maine and Heliker’s place within it.
Heliker was no minor painter. He had a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968. He won a Prix de Rome and a Guggenheim, among many other prestigious awards. His works are owned by the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney and dozens of the most significant museums across America. But like so many great Maine artists, he worked here but then showed his work in New York. (Heliker had 18 solo shows at Kraushaar Gallery between 1945 and 1995.)
The 20 works on view at the Courthouse Gallery range from sizable figure scenes to smaller landscapes, intimate Nabi-like interiors with what appear to be Odilon Redon-inspired floral bouquets and even some exquisite drawings. (The quality of his drawings begs for a museum show.)
“Study of a Boy Shucking Clams” is a small but particularly revealing canvas. While it connects Heliker directly with the structural draftsmanship of Cézanne and Matisse, it is a testament to Heliker’s dedication to open form. Whereas Cézanne’s famous male figure “The Bather” (1885-87) is a clear precedent for Heliker’s “Boy,” Cézanne’s closed drawing shapes cut the figure off completely from its background. Heliker’s figure is constructed by lines that imply shapes rather than closing them in.
Heliker’s colors can therefore flow more freely into each other, allowing him more flexibility in relating the figure to the ground. Despite their improvised appearance, the black-lined, open-form drawing in Heliker’s paintings is actually the result of a rigorous process of composition completely at odds with the spontaneous chaos of Abstract Expressionism. The multiple lines echo Matisse (and to a large extent, Alberto Giacometti) not only in look, but in their serious search for the proper shape, form and structure.
Heliker generally worked in the studio from memory. This allowed him to stay closer to his sensibilities and painterly inspirations, and it keeps his art focused on painting rather than the description of specific scenes. This means that any changes we see are not in the service of accuracy but of good painting.
These images have the look of Cranberry Island but their standards are those of art history, which makes them more universal and might explain their broader audience. Heliker’s New York friends were composers and artists, including Arshile Gorky, John Cage and Philip Guston, and yet his artistic soul remained in Maine. It’s time that Maine claimed Heliker as one of our very best and brightest.
Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. Contact him at: email@example.com
August 8, 2014
by Franklin Einspruch
link to original article
Fuse Visual Arts Review: The Paintings of John Heliker — Ripe for Rediscovery
“A teacher affects eternity,” wrote Henry Adams. “He can never tell where his influence stops.” This sentiment is worth contemplating when regarding the exhibition of John Heliker’s works at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth, Maine. Someone hurrying through it on their way to the next item in the busy summer event schedule Downeast might assume them to be a modern New Englander’s repurposed Post-Impressionism. This would be a dual crime. First, it would cheat these lovely paintings of the time they need to unfold in the eye. Second, it would slight the reputation of a man who had put thousands of artists on the proper path over the course of four decades as one of New York City’s most beloved art instructors.
There is a thorny problem at the core of art pedagogy: no one who has been at it for a while thinks that art can be taught. You can teach art techniques to anyone. John Ruskin noted in The Elements of Drawing that “I have never yet, in the experiments I have made, met with a person who could not learn to draw at all.” You can teach the basics of good form and how to see the world clearly to anyone with a bit of knack for them already. But the rest of the matter, how to do something worthwhile with your aesthetic powers, is out of the teacher’s hands. A few students are redwoods, some are rose bushes, and most are dandelions. All the teacher can do is provide sunshine and water and a temporary space in the academic hothouse.
John Heliker, Detail of “Sketch of a Young Clamdigger,” 1990.
That said, Heliker radiated spectacular weather. One of his students was Jed Perl, who is currently the only living art critic whose work I study rather than merely read. Perl recalls that “his intelligence was in equal parts exacting and poetic. I will not forget the many mornings I spent with him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We would sit in front of a Poussin or a wall of Corots and talk about everything under the sun. The meandering conversations seemed somehow related to the paintings, although in ways I could not explain beyond knowing that it felt good to talk about things that mattered while looking at paintings we loved.”
Anyone with a sense for such things will recognize this as a description of the real deal.
The circumstances behind the work in John Heliker: Paintings from the Cranberry Years bear some explanation. While born in Yonkers, he had fond memories of trips to New England dating back to his teenage years in the ’20s. He spent 1949 at the American Academy in Rome, sharing a studio with Philip Guston, with whom he became friends. A 1951 Guggenheim fellowship allowed him to draw and paint on the Amalfi Coast, and he continued to return to Europe until homesickness set in and he bought a property on Great Cranberry Island on the Maine coast in 1958. He continued to teach at Columbia until 1974 (he started there in ’47), helped found the New York Studio School after his retirement, and then taught in the MFA program at Parsons. But Great Cranberry became his refuge, as well as his happy domicile with the painter Robert LaHotan, for the rest of his long life.
By the late ’50s Heliker completed a (sort of) round trip from social realism to biomorphic surrealism to abstraction to painterly figuration. Heliker, after all, had the kind of figure-centered art education that one has to go to some trouble to find nowadays, and moreover had received it at the Art Students League when George Bridgman was teaching there. Bridgman taught a conception of human anatomy as a sequence of three-dimensional solids that would have appealed to the son of a stonemason like Heliker. Thorough practice of the Bridgman method – his instruction books are still available if you’d like to try it – leads to a confident, even breezy handling of the figure that is in evidence in a sketchbook on display in the exhibition.
But Heliker arrived at his figuration having sampled surrealism at its height in the ‘40s and abstraction at its height in the ‘50s, and having befriended a circle of New York artistic innovators including Merce Cunningham and John Cage. Thus the works he produced on Great Cranberry, despite that some of them could fairly be called New England genre scenes, possess enormous sophistication, a profound contemplation about the nature of art that joins sensitivity, training, and erudition in a manner that hardly anyone calling himself an artist today can match.
Sketch of a Young Clamdigger from 1990 is likely called that because he worked it up from a figure in the aforementioned sketchbook. The title notwithstanding it is as resolved as any other painting in the show. Nevertheless it retains an informality that is entirely the product of a behind-the-scenes fight of which you can witness traces in the passages of scraped and wiped-away paint. That is to say, there is nothing informal about it except the result. Lines describing the figure and the landscape elements seem to have arrived there by way of a hundred corrections, with a trail of erasures, such as the ones in the lit side of the clamdigger’s shirt and in his stern face, left in their wake. It occurs to me from looking at this painting how much the process recalls that of Alberto Giaccometti, at least as reported by James Lord, in the production and adjustment of lines to make the work coalesce. Giaccometti of course could never hope to use color like this: mauve earth and cobalt sky constrained within a narrow range of saturation and value that imbues the palette with a mysterious tone.
By then Heliker was 81 years old, but he had been painting at this high level consistently for thirty years. Bouquet of Flowers in the Corner from 1963 shows all the same pieces in place, the evocative colors and the courageous search for the line. And again, despite the evident struggle, the paint has the freshness and softness of a good pastel. Heliker, by some alchemy that frankly baffles me, is able to give an evening quality to the light in scenes that are clearly taking place during the day. It has something to do with the coolness of the hues, but it isn’t only that.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is Clamdigger with Dog from 1985. It is a large piece for Heliker, five feet high. Most of it is devoted to an atmosphere that one sometimes sees in Maine in which neither the blue sky nor the fog prevails. A man seated on the ground looks over his shoulder to see a purple-brown silhouette of a pooch, at once comical and mystical, regarding him in return. The figure and the dog interlock with a red boatshed and an orange toolbox on the grass, forming an ABAB rhyme scheme across the turquoise waters and the violet landscape in the distance. The lines that hold it all together are lively and deft. John Heliker is ripe for rediscovery, and getting his work in front of your eyes is eminently worth a trip to Ellsworth.
Franklin Einspruch‘s work spans a wide range of traditional and digital media. While maintaining a studio practice as a painter, he is active in art criticism and comics, and has long experience in Web-based publishing. His seventeenth solo exhibition will take place at Ohio State University, Lima in Februrary 2014. He has completed artist residencies at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts (Paros, GR), Stock 20 (Taichung, TW), the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation (Cranberry Isles, ME), and the Morris Graves Foundation (Loleta, CA). He contributes regularly to Art in America and the New Criterion, and produces one of the longest-running blogs about visual art, Artblog.net. He publishes under the imprint New Modern Press, whose first title is Comics as Poetry.
July 7, 2013
by Daniel Kany
link to original article
Art Review: Bruno, Belasco and Page Work Well Together
Since it opened in 2006, the Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth has occupied an 1838 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The gallery has now expanded into its companion building, the old registry.
A show of paintings by Colin Page hangs in the main gallery. I reviewed his recent show at Greenhut Galleries in Portland, and together, that show and the one at Courthouse Gallery present Page as an unusually prolific and multifaceted painter.
I was particularly drawn to a pair of his unusual paintings.
"Howard's Garden" is an effervescently disheveled composition of a Maine house whose front yard is piled with a jazzy collection of colorful stuff: Fencing, flowers and cast-off household bric-a-brac. It's a deceptively complex composition turning on a series of tall posts rising through the midst of the mayhem.
Howard's Garden, by Colin Page
Despite its sparky color, spatial development is the ultimate force in "Howard's Garden," and it takes the form of a cascade flowing down and toward the viewer.
Rather than domestic flotsam and jetsam, the dynamic elements of Page's "Under Repair" are the orange and blue stands used to shore up the dry-docked boat (also in a yard).
Hanging in the companion gallery are Judy Belasco's Maine coastal scenes bathed in quiet morning silver mist.
Belasco's works echo the scale and converging horizon perspective of Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), whose salt marsh scenes marked a high point of American painting. Belasco's paintings are surprisingly free of angst despite their dedication to detail and brushwork precision.
Her work hangs comfortably in the quirky (but handsome) space above wainscoting and amongst Greek Revival windows -- in a room bereft of parallel lines. (I imagine the building's eccentricities don't make installing shows particularly easy.)
In contrast, the new space just opened in the registry building features even floors and a long, flat wall. It's a nice combination of historic Maine and upscale gallery sophistication, and it breathes.
The first show in the annex showcases abstract paintings by Ragna Bruno. It's an unusual show for Maine insofar as it follows a mode of dry surface material abstraction usually associated with postwar European artists such as Alberto Burri (Italy, 1915-1995).
Bruno's paintings tend to be 4-foot squares of grid-oriented imagery in a dry, understated and earthy palette, almost like pastels age-faded to the brink of white.
"Blue Composition" reads like a simplified schematic of an envelope centered on the square canvas with its flap opened toward the left side of the canvas. This sense of unfurling backwards sustains the sense of nostalgia -- shared experience and love long ago -- that wistfully holds the show together.
Bruno's "Pompeii" looks to the ancient, frescoed city -- buried and then unearthed -- with a sense of emotional archeology.
The artist's music-oriented works echo this sense as well. Rather than scores still to be played, they feel like memories, now more texture than tune.
On one hand, "Musical Composition 2" looks like an ancient, desiccated version of Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie-Woogie" excavated from Pompeii, but because it pulses tonally rather than optically, it feels more like Edgard Varese than Duke Ellington.
By presenting the canvas as a complete thing -- found, rediscovered or remembered -- Bruno's work cuts to the quick of abstraction.
Whereas landscape painting is predicated by a sense of place, abstraction stipulates the physical presence of a painting.
While this might not ring out as a eureka moment for most readers, it matters that when Bruno presents music, for example, we see it as a complete system -- a structure, a gestalt or a whole.
Conversely, Page's landscapes turn on the extent to which the act of painting asserts its own presence. Each of his canvases proffers the question about how important the rendered trees or rocks are (i.e., illusion) compared to the strokes and physicality of the paint.
For Page, the answer changes from painting to painting. Not so with Bruno. The paintings and their self-aware systems and structures refuse to fold into the illusion of representational space. When imagery takes form (like in her small case in "Winter Trees"), it does so in a receding whisper.
There is mystery, but Bruno keeps it for herself, like cherished old love letters. We see this in the barely perceptible backwards writing on the surface of the painting in Spanish, and often starting with "solo" -- alone.
While you might think of Da Vinci or a libretto to be read from the other side, I saw reverse archeology, and quickly let them go as someone else's otherworldly and plaintively personal letters.
While most of my favorite abstract painting in Maine bristles with a vital edge (Mark Wethli, Ken Greenleaf, Thomas Flanagan, Garry Mitchell and Cassie Jones among them), Bruno's work dovetails elegantly with traditional Maine painting. It is quiet, atmospheric and contemplative. It's a broken romanticism wrapped in bittersweet knowledge rather than lusty sublime.
When I saw William Irvine's most recent paintings at Courthouse, I felt a place for Bruno as a Maine painter.
Irvine's newest paintings work harder than ever to clearly present the structural geometry underlying works like Bruno's. His "Lighthouse," for example, features a blue rectangle shooting straight across the image, playing the part of sea horizon before it shoots straight up towards the sky -- echoing the edge and form of the painting. It's beautiful as well as brilliant.
There is a great deal of excellent art now on view at Courthouse Gallery. And taken together, the shows by Belasco, Bruno and Page comprise a particularly interesting trio.
Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Café de Artistes, by Anthony Anderson
link to original article
Courthouse opens season with John Neville and Stephen Pace
Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth kicks off their 2013 season with two exhibitions, “John Neville: The Tales of Hall’s Harbour” which highlights Neville’s hand-pulled Intaglio prints, and “Stephen Pace: Maine” which highlights his oil paintings of Maine using his abstract expressionist overtones.
A native of Nova Scotia, Neville was born in Hall’s Harbor, on the Bay of Fundy, to a family of boat builders and fisherman. He grew up drawing, fishing, and listening to the tales of the men and women in the villages around him. There were stories about bootlegging, bad luck, record catches, rivalries, and drunken husbands, and in 1972, he began printmaking, using these stories as the basis for his rich pictorial language. Neville’s Intaglio prints, which are etched on copper plates, then hand inked and pulled in the traditional manner, are evocative of a way of life that has, in Neville’s words, “gone the same was as the wooden lobster trap.” But though his subject matter is nostalgic, Neville’s clean graphic representations are clearly contemporary. Neville began painting in oils (he is best known for his bold palette and abstract perspective), when he stopped making etchings over twenty years ago due to a reaction to the chemicals. Since Neville no longer produces etchings, the prints included in this exhibition represent some his last in this media, making these exceptional prints even more collectible.
Stephen Pace (1918-2010) became a prominent member of the New York group of abstract expressionist painters beginning in the 1950s. His work, hailed by the New York Times for its “highly sophisticated use of color and joyous compositions,” was included in most of the Whitney annuals and at the artist-run invitations at the Stable Galley. In the 1953 Whitney Annual Exhibition of Sculpture and Works on Paper, Pace’s large watercolor was prominently hung between works by Franz Kline and Hans Hoffman and was signaled out for enthusiastic comment in Art News by Hennery McBride, who referred to the “elegant outpouring” of his paint. Beginning in the late 1950s Pace spent summer in Maine and eventually bought a home in Stonington so he could divide his time between New York City and Maine. Pace went on to paint figuratively using abstract expressionist overtones combined with subject matter from his childhood, which was spent on a farm in rural Indiana; the Maine coast with it’s working waterfront; nudes and horses. A selection of Pace’s Maine oil paintings are included in this exhibition.
Also on view in the gallery’s newly renovated annex are stainless steel sculptures by Stephen Porter, whose minimalist approach favors abstract, non-literal forms based on geometric shapes. He credits primitive art as a major influence as well as Brancusi, David Smith, and Henry Moore, among others. Porter grew up in a family of artists. His father, Eliot Porter, was a noted photographer and the brother of painter Fairfield Porter. Porter now lives in Searsmont, and maintains a studio there year round. The exhibitions will show through June 23. Courthouse Gallery Fine Art is located at 6 Court St., Ellsworth. For more information call 667-6611 or visit courthousegallery.com
Café de Artistes, by Anthony Anderson
link to original article
Courthouse Gallery showing latest Philip Frey + Small Works
Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth presents new paintings by Sullivan artist Philip Frey through December 24. Frey created the work on Great Cranberry Isle this past August during his residency at The Heliker-LaHotan Foundation as one of only 21 artists awarded a 2012 residency.
In his artist statement Frey wrote “As the days shifted and drifted from sun rise, to fog, to sunset, to misty coolness, to full sun, clouds, my obvious focus became the world right out my studio and as well as the space within it. Change became my muse. The current show at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art is the fruit of that experience and labor.” The residency consist of small groups of artists, who come together for two or three-week residencies where they can work uninterrupted in the studios once used by John Heliker and Robert LaHotan. Frey’s work also was recently highlighted in the autumn issue of The Gettysburg Review, which is published by Gettysburg College and recognized as one of the country’s premier literary journals.
Just in time for Christmas shopping, Courthouse Gallery Fine Art is also hosting a “Small Works 2012 Show” through December 24. Twenty gallery artists will participate and three guest artists have been invited to show, including Lise Becu—animal or human, her sensual, sparse stone carvings evoke a mythical world, both ancient and modern; Mark Bell—his fine porcelain vessels, are delicately thrown and fired with bright, rich glazes; Cynde Clark—her bold, nature inspired necklace designs are made from semi precious stones and fine silver. Participating Artists include Judy Belasco, Ragna Bruno, Tom Curry, Gregory Dunham, June Grey, Philip Frey, Harold Garde, Paul Hannon, William Irvine, Rosie Moore, Emily Muir, Ed Nadeau, Andy Newman, John Neville, Linda Packard, Colin Page, Robert Shillady, Jessica Stammen, Alison Rector, David Vickery
Courthouse Gallery Fine Art exhibits contemporary painting, sculpture, and photography by artists living in Maine and is located at 6 Court Street in Ellsworth. The gallery is open through Dec. 24 and reopens in May 2013. For more information call 667-6611 or visit www.courthousegallery.com
December 22, 2010
by Aislinn Sarnacki
Courthouse Gallery Fine Art has announced the launch of a YouTube channel, an online video platform that will increase exposure of their artists.
“We’ve never seen any other gallery do this,” said gallery manager Jeff Dreher, who is in charge of the YouTube project. “As far as I know, we are the first one in the area.”
The channel now includes talks by a dozen artists who exhibited at the gallery over the summer: Harold Garde, Vivian Beer, Mark Kindschi, Jesse Salisbury, Kazumi Hoshino, Mark Bell, Tom Curry, Ed Nadeau, Clin Page, Judy Belasco, Philip Frey and David Graeme.
Dreher and Courthouse Gallery co-owner Karin Wilkes envisioned a video database at the beginning of the summer, and Dreher started taping Wednesday Night Artist Talks. He began by posting the videos on their website, www.courthousegallery.com.
“A lot of people are interested in artists, but can’t make it to the artist talks, where they can actually hear about the artists’ process and inspiration,” he said.
Dreher graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in new media and has been working at the gallery for the past five years. He starts each of the videos with a slide show of artwork from the exhibit and then launches right into the artist talk. Standing to the side with his HD Cannon video camera, he captures the artist’s speech and the question-and-answer session of the talk.
Though the gallery has hosted art talks for years, this summer was its first time hosting regular Wednesday Night Art Talks, many of which were exhibit openings, too. The typical turnout was about 15 people, but for Maine painters Philip Frey and Tom Curry art talks, the gallery didn’t have enough seating for the 30-40 people who attended.
It takes Dreher about three days to edit the videos with Final Cut on his Mac. Since he wants viewers to have an authentic experience of the talk, he doesn’t cut much out. Some of the videos are nearly an hour long.
The gallery rotates exhibits every three or four weeks. Next year, Dreher hopes to post the videos before the end of each exhibit to inspire people to visit the gallery before the work is taken down. He also hopes to acquire a microphone to improve the videos’ sound quality.
“We hope that this is going to really take off,” he said.
As is common for Maine galleries, Courthouse will be closed from Christmas to late April. But you can still call or email gallery owners Karin and Michael Wilkes for an appointment to view or purchase artwork during the winter.
December 30, 2010
by Aislinn Sarnacki
Ellsworth’s Courthouse Gallery to showcase Maine art at international fair
Ellsworth gallery owners embrace a chance to manage the estate of William and Emily Muir, prolific artists whose substantial contributons continue to impress
Three years ago, Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth owners Karin and Michael Wilkes were on vacation in Florida and stumbled upon Art Palm Beach, an annual, international art fair. The Ellsworth couple mingled with artists, collectors and curators as they viewed contemporary art from around the world.
This year, they’ve decided to be the only Maine gallery displaying art at the fair from Jan. 20-24 in Palm Beach, Fla.
“These fairs are a huge trend for galleries who are in the outlying areas like us,” Karin Wilkes said. “This time of year, we don’t really have an art season; it’s over pretty much in October in this part of the state anyway.”
Art Palm Beach has become one of the most influential contemporary art fairs on Florida’s coast. The 2011 fair will gather 75 of the world’s most prestigious galleries, representing 1,200 artists, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. Courthouse Gallery will occupy Booth 612.
The Wilkeses plans to highlight their “Abstract Expressionism: 1950s and 1960s” exhibition featuring Harold Garde, Stephen Pace and George Wardlaw, which was displayed at their gallery in September and received a lot of interest in Maine.
“We also want to bring some of our best Maine contemporary artists,” Karin Wilkes said.
They also will showcase an array of contemporary Maine painters and sculptors, including David Graeme Baker, George Bayliss, Kazumi Hoshino, John Neville, Stephen Porter, Jesse Salisbury, Cynthia Stroud and John Walker.
“It’s pretty cool to be the only Maine gallery there, and we’re definitely bringing some Maine work that says ‘Maine,’” Karen Wilkes said.
Within their collection, they have “Steve Banding Lobsters,” a 40-inch-by-72-inch abstract painting of lobstermen banding lobsters by Stephen Pace, and “Tree Length,” a new, 68-inch-wide painting by David Graeme Baker, of three children playing in front of tree-length logs.
The fair accepts galleries that have experience in representing and promoting artists through group exhibitions, one-person shows and publications involving extensive research into the artists’ backgrounds.
“Courthouse has a long history of representing living artists as well as deceased artists,” said Lee Ann Lester, Art Palm Beach owner and manager. “They have an incredibly high caliber of artists that they represent.”
Though many Maine artists have participated in the fair over the years, Lester doesn’t remember a Maine gallery ever participating until this year. This year there will be exhibitors from Paris; New York City; London; Tel Aviv; Heusden aan de Maas, the Netherlands; Barcelona; and Moscow.
“Fairs have become an extension of the commercial galleries to collectors, museums, curators and the press,” Lester said. “They’ve really become not only a cultural icon to the city, but they perform a function for greater art education and understanding of the public, because you can see a thousand works of art, selected works by top galleries, all at one time.”
Last year, Art Palm Beach had a record attendance of approximately 20,000 people in six days. The fair features all forms of art, including painting, fine art glass, sculpture, video and photography, and also offers an extensive lecture and panel series from art world experts.
“To have your artwork in front of 20,000 people — I’m not sure how many people come through our door in the summer, but that’s a lot of people,” Karin Wilkes said.
She and her husband will drive a trailer of art down to the show a week before it starts, and their assistant director, Jeff Dreher, will follow by plane a week later.
“We’ve been wanting to try [to participate in the fair] for a long time,” Karin Wilkes said. “With the economy and everything, it wasn’t a good time. But there had been a lot of good signs: the recent holiday season, the stock market, the tax incentives — hopefully, people will see that as a reason to purchase art.”
Karin Wilkes read reviews that recent art fairs in Miami and Chicago were successful.
“The audience is a select audience going to it because they like art. You have a targeted market,” she said. “They say you have a year’s worth of traffic in four days, so we’re hoping we’ll have some success.”
Abstract expressionist painter Harold Garde, who spends his winters in Florida and summers in Belfast, will be at the fair with his family. And Courthouse Gallery sculptor Cynthia Stroud also will be at the fair, since she will be participating in a boccie tournament in the area.
Suzette McAvoy, director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport, also will attend the show.
“I think we’re just at the point that we want to give it a try,” Karin Wilkes said.
Jesse Salisbury at the Farnsworth
Farnsworth Art Museum: Four in Maine: Site Specific
Kazumi Hoshino, Jesse Salisbury, Warren Seelig, and Aaron T. Stephan
April 17-December 2010
Artist's Reception: Live at Night at the Farnsworth
Friday, April 16, 7-8pm
Courthouse Gallery Fine Art is pleased to announce that Maine sculptor Jesse Salisbury will be featured in an annual exhibit at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. The exhibit, "Four in Maine: Site Specific," opens with an artist's reception on April 16, and runs through December 2010. You can read more about Salisbury's work in a feature written by Maine art critic Carl Little in the 2010 April art issue of Maine Home and Design Maine.
We are also pleased to announce that Courthouse Gallery Fine Art will represent sculptor Kazumi Hoshino, who will also be featured in the Farnsworth exhibit.
Two of Salisbury's mammoth granite sculptures will be on display at the Farnsworth. This is a very exciting opportunity for both artists, and a testament to their fine work and artistry. We hope you will join us at the Farnsworth reception. Courthouse Gallery will provide hors d'oeuvres.
October 18, 2009
compiled by Bob Keyes
Artist Stephen Pace Selects Courthouse Gallery for Work
Artist Stephen Pace recently selected Courthouse Gallery Fine Art to represent his work in Maine.
Pace artwork at the gallery includes oil paintings, drawings and watercolors with subjects such as Maine scenes, abstracts, horses and nudes.
Gallery owners Karin and Michael Wilkes met Pace and his wife Pam in 2007 when they hosted a farewell-to-Maine exhibition for the artist. The Paces, who spent summers on Deer Isle, left their Maine home to live in his home state of Indiana.
Pace became a prominent member of the New York group of abstract expressionist painters in the 1950s, and he became friends with Franz Kline, one of the leading abstract expressionists. His paintings are included in many prominent private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and National Museum of Art.
Pace first came to Maine in the early 1950s with a small group of artists. After that initial visit, the Paces frequented the state and finally bought a house in Stonington in the 1970s.
The gallery at 6 Court St., Ellsworth, is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Call 667-6611 or visit www.courthousegallery.com.
Dec 6, 2009
compiled by Bob Keyes
Massacusetts Art Association Honors Maine Artist Dunham
Gregory Dunham has received several awards for work he created for his one-man show at the Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in 2008.
Dunham received three awards from the Rockport Art Association in Massachusetts, one in each of its first three 2009 summer exhibitions:
"Swim Beach Skiffs, Monhegan" was awarded the Lydia & Chester Roberts Award for an outstanding traditional work of art in the first Rockport Art Association exhibition.
"Up for Repairs, Gloucester Marine Railway" won the Amee B. Davis Memorial Award in the second exhibition.
"Fish Beach, Monhegan" received the John F. & Margaret Kieran Award for landscape painting in the third exhibition.
Bangor Daily News
September 26, 2009
by John Holyoke
Ellsworth Gallery to Feature Hennessey Works
When Tom Hennessey stands at art show receptions and talks with interested patrons, the same question eventually crops up.
“Invariably, somebody will say, ‘How long did it take you to do that painting?’” the Hampden writer and artist said. “And right off, I say, ‘All my life.’ That’s the honest answer.”
Hennessey’s sporting art flows from the mind and imagination of a man who has spent his entire life enjoying traditional Maine outdoor pursuits.
Whether a scene of anglers sharing an Atlantic salmon pool, a hunter waiting with his dog for a flight of ducks to get within shotgun range, or a wily deer bounding away from his would-be demise, Hennessey’s art has long resonated with Mainers and those “from away.”
From Oct. 1 until Oct. 30, the Courthouse Gallery of Fine Art in Ellsworth will stage “The Hennessey Collection,” a show that will feature samples of the longtime Bangor Daily News writer and artist’s work. An artist’s reception will be held on Oct. 4 from 4-6 p.m. at the Court Street gallery.
Included in the show will be about 30 graphite and pen and ink drawings, 15 small watercolor paintings and some larger watercolors.
Karin Wilkes, the co-owner of Courthouse Gallery of Fine Art, said Hennessey’s work appeals to a broad audience.
“There aren’t many figures like him in the Maine landscape, that reach the audience he reaches,” Wilkes said.
And Wilkes said that Hennessey’s paintings are accessible to those who might not even know they’re art lovers.
“The nice thing about Tom’s work is, you don’t have to know anything about art to know that you like it,” Wilkes said. “[His work] has a nostalgia for a lot of people, especially if you’ve hunted and fished around Maine.”
Hennessey said he had long considered painting some small watercolors — 5 x 8 inches or 6 x 9 — and a suggestion from Wilkes gave him the impetus to do so. They later decided to add some drawings, many of which appeared in national sporting magazines.
Both Wilkes and Hennessey said showing the smaller paintings and drawings made economic sense as well.
“His bigger watercolors are an investment and not attainable for everybody,” Wilkes said, pointing out that the small watercolors and drawings are much less expensive. “[This show] is a perfect thing for this economy, a perfect thing for a gift for your outdoorsman or woman.”
Hennessey said offering more affordable paintings was one reason painting small watercolors appealed to him.
“I’ve had something like that in my mind for awhile because a lot of guys say to me, “I’d like to have one of your paintings, but I can’t afford it,’” Hennessey said.
The 72-year-old artist and Hampden resident said he’s been drawing since childhood, but never thought much about painting until the early 1960s.
“I was working at the NEWS as an apprentice in the composing room for 37 bucks a week and my wife was a beautician,” Hennessey recounted. “She came home one day and had been at the Bangor House or something and the Bangor Art Society had an art show in the lobby and the corridor.
“She said, ‘They’re selling those paintings down there. You can do that.’ So I went down there and looked and said, ‘Yeah … I can do that,’” he said.
Hennessey went out and bought some watercolor paper, paint and brushes, and ever since, He has been “doing that” … and doing it very well.
He didn’t realize quite how well he was doing it until a few years later, however. That’s when a friend, Dr. Frank Gilley, was heading to New York City and asked Hennessey for a couple of paintings that he could take to a gallery.
Gilley took those paintings to the Crossroads of Sport gallery, and the director was impressed.
Hennessey’s career was about to get a huge boost.
“Crossroads of Sport was like Carnegie Hall,” Hennessey said. “That was the gallery of sporting art.”
Not long after, the director wrote Hennessey a letter.
“He said, ‘I can sell your paintings,’ I think for $150, and that was like $5,000 now,” Hennessey recalls. “That was 1964, something like that. [The director wrote] ‘Send me five more watercolors.’ I ripped them off real fast. That’s the way it went.”
Hennessey says he never planned on becoming an artist — “Things just fell into place” — but his growing reputation as an artist opened doors he never imagined.
He has traveled around the world because of his painting, doing commission work for patrons who wanted a Hennessey-painted version of their own special outdoor places.
“I often think, if it hadn’t been for painting, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met. It all came through painting,” he said.
That’s not to say that the journey has been without its pitfalls.
Hennessey may have quit painting altogether after an incident early in his career. Only a well-timed trip to the Bangor dump changed his mind.
While working on a fishing scene, Hennessey became frustrated when the paint ran together on the water he’d been laboring to get just right.
“I took everything and just drove it into a metal trash can, the brushes, the paint, everything,” Hennessey said.
The next day, he headed to the dump to dispose of his painting supplies.
Luckily, it was a very windy day.
What happened next, even Hennessey can’t believe.
“I was turning to get back in [to his car after dumping the brushes and paint] and a piece of paper came rolling across the dump. This was unbelievable. It slapped right up against the side window on my station wagon.
“It was a reproduction or something of a watercolor painting done by Gordon Grant. He was a famous marine painter,” Hennessey said. “It was water. It showed how he painted that water. And I could see what he did.”
Hennessey quickly got out of his car and retrieved his brushes and paint, vowing to try again.
While Hennessey resorts to his stock answer when art reception attendees ask him how long it took him to complete a certain painting, he’s not shy about explaining the inspiration that fuels his work.
“I just paint what I do,” Hennessey said. “I can’t imagine sitting down and painting a flower pot or something like that. When I’m out fishing or hunting or just out around with the dog, I’ll see something, something will happen, and that will inspire it.”
And for more than 40 years, the artistic byproduct of Hennessey’s trips afield have inspired sporting art fans around the world.
Not that the accolades and art show openings are what drives Hennessey, of course.
“I would paint even if I never sold a painting, because art is its own reward,” Hennessey said. “Doing it is rewarding whether anybody wants it or not.”
September 8, 2009
by Jessica Bloch
Keepers of the Legacy
Ellsworth gallery owners embrace a chance to manage the estate of William and Emily Muir, prolific artists whose substantial contributons continue to impress
Last Christmas, Karin Wilkes’ husband, Michael, gave her a present that made her smile. It was an autobiography of artist Emily Muir, who together with her husband and fellow artist William Muir lived for decades in Stonington and became ensconced in life on the Deer Isle peninsula.
Karin Wilkes never met Emily Muir, who survived her husband by nearly 40 years and died in 2003 at the age of 99. But as the owners of the Courthouse Gallery Fine Arts in Ellsworth, the Wilkeses had been interested in the Muirs for some time.
So Karin Wilkes started reading “The Time of My Life,” published by the Island Institute in Rockland. Wilkes found herself drawn into the Muirs’ story.
“She was such a vibrant, contemporary-looking woman. They have a love story,” Wilkes said. “They were a couple. We had been interested in the Muirs before, and we actually went to an auction and bid on a piece but the price went too high for us.”
A few months later, Carl Little of the Maine Community Foundation came calling.
Little, a well-known Maine arts writer who serves as the foundation’s director of communications and marketing, was wondering if the Wilkeses would be willing to manage the Muirs’ estate, which had been in a gallery in southern Maine the last three years without one sale.
The Wilkeses jumped at the chance, and their first show of the work, “Emily & Bill: The Muir Estate,” went on display at their gallery last month.
The collection numbers hundreds of paintings, sculptures and drawings — so many that the Wilkeses built a shelving system in a storage room in one of the buildings on the Courthouse property.
So far, seven pieces have sold.
“We’re having good success to start with,” Karin Wilkes said. “People know who [the Muirs] are and are familiar with the work and excited to see some on the market.”
That was the reaction Little and MaineCF, also located in Ellsworth, were hoping the work would have. Emily Muir had left the estate to the foundation, establishing the Emily and William Muir Community Fund, which seeks to promote community-based efforts in the Penobscot Bay area. Sales from the estate go toward the fund.
“The Courthouse Gallery seemed to us to be the perfect partner for handling the Muir estate,” Little said. “They are committed to the art and have the capacity to manage and promote it.”
All of the work is for sale with the exception of William Muir’s sculptures, which are slated to go to museums. Not all of the pieces are signed or dated, but the Courthouse Gallery created an estate stamp to verify the source of each piece.
The Muirs settled in Stonington in 1939. They painted (Emily in oils, both in watercolor), sculpted (William did large-scale work, Emily did smaller pieces), designed homes (Emily is said to have worked on more than 40 homes in the area) and created mosaics (Emily again).
“Emily dabbled in everything, the ceramics, the architecture, the painting, watercolors, oils,” Karin Wilkes said. “One of her best-known works is the beautiful mosaic in the entryway of the Farnsworth Art Museum.”
They became active in island life and beyond. They helped the internationally known Haystack Mountain School of Crafts find a home base in Deer Isle. Emily Muir was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve on a presidential council on the arts. She was the first woman to do so.
Although the Courthouse exhibit reveals the breadth of the work, the variety of which is familiar to those who have seen it in Maine, William Muir is recalled primarily as a sculptor while Emily Muir was known for her paintings.
In fact, William Muir had a national reputation as a sculptor. In 1953 alone, Karin Wilkes said, his sculpture was displayed in shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy, the Detroit Institute and at Bowdoin, Colby and Dartmouth colleges in Maine and New Hampshire.
Yet the estate collection includes many of his watercolors, most of which were painted during the couple’s travels outside of Maine, such as his “Old Faithful,” and sketches, such as a series of drawings of daily life at the Brunswick Naval Air Station.
And Emily Muir may have painted extensively, but the estate also contains some of her small ceramic sculptures.
The Emily Muir paintings in the estate are of interior scenes and landscapes and portraits of daily life. She painted typical Maine scenes as in “Getting Bait Aboard,” a loosely constructed image of men loading a lobster boat, and quirky Maine scenes such as “Stonington Christmas Parade” in which a line of adults and children, including one child dressed as a goose, seems to wait in anticipation of the big winter event. In the background of the parade painting is what appears to be William Muir’s real-life stonecutter monument in Stonington.
Emily Muir seemed to love color, using oranges and purples not often seen in Maine landscapes. William Muir played with different woods and textures. Both were considered naturalists at the time.
Emily Muir’s oils are also remarkable for their take on cubism, as in “Island Off Stonington” with its faceted rocks and fractured ocean.
Although this is the Courthouse’s first full-scale show of the Muirs’ work, some appeared earlier this summer in other shows, or have been on display in other places in the gallery. The rest of the work will provide fodder for future shows. Wilkes envisions an exhibit of the Muirs’ Gauguin-esque tropical island scenes for later this year.
Aside from the practical matter of the Courthouse Gallery having the space and ability to host the Muirs’ estate, it seems appropriate that the work is in a gallery owned and operated by a Hancock County couple active on the Maine scene.
“It’s nice to see these loving couples in the art world, because so much of our perception of the artist is the [loner],” Karin Wilkes said of the Muirs. “They were together, they were prolific, and they supported each other’s art.”