YORK — These art buddies gather once a month to critique their work, talk about art, look at other people’s art and engage in the time-tried ritual of male bonding: They drink beer.
This month, they also show their work in an unlikely group show titled “Night Out” at the George Marshall Store Gallery in York.
The exhibition, on view through Nov. 17, features the paintings and sculpture of Tom Flanagan, Michael Boardman, Roy Germon and Jeff Woodbury. All live in greater Portland, all have regular day jobs, all are busy with family obligations that include raising kids, and all are working artists.
Each has a studio in his home, and each carves out time in a busy schedule full of commitments to make art.
And as often as they can – usually once a month – they get together to talk about their work or just to hang out and do what guys do.
Gallery director Mary Harding hatched the idea for the exhibition when the others all showed up in support of Germon when he had a solo show at the George Marshall Store Gallery in fall 2011.
Collectively, they were introduced to her as “the art dads.”
“I was just so impressed with their commitment to each other and the commitment each of them makes to his own work,” said Harding, who visited with each separately to select work for this show. “It’s really hard to find time to be an artist when you have a job and family. The ability to balance their art careers with their daily life is commendable.”
As it so often does with guys, this friendship started with a beer. Or maybe two.
They found themselves at a Portland gallery of a mutual friend. The gallery closed for the evening and the lights went out, but the conversation continued at a nearby bar.
Germon, who works at Greenhut Galleries in Portland and lives in Portland, remembers that evening well. “We just started talking about art, about painting and about the show that we had seen. I think we all found it kind of nice to be hanging out with like-minded guys who had similar interests and who had opinions about art, and often strong opinions.”
That was about five years ago. The group continues strong with the same core friends. It’s an informal affiliation. They try to get together for most First Fridays in Portland, usually with a specific destination in mind. But there are no parameters. They’ll often do studio visits and help each other prepare for shows.
Flanagan, a self-employed carpenter from Yarmouth, cherishes nights out with his buddies.
“Any serious artist who has arranged their life so they can do this work is also working completely alone. That is sort of required. So it’s nice to have a network of supportive people who are willing to tell you what they really think. It takes some time to build up that sort of trust, but we have been hanging out for a long time now,” he said.
Boardman, a graphic artist, illustrator and painter from North Yarmouth, appreciates the diversity of opinions and styles of work that each brings to the conversation and friendship. They certainly are not in lock-step with one another. Woodbury is a conceptual artist. Germon makes landscape paintings in oil. Flanagan is an abstract painter who takes his cues from jazz.
Boardman works mostly in watercolors, making beautiful scenes from his favorite places around Maine, including Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park. When not painting for himself, he makes natural history illustrations for commerical use.
Hanging out with guys who make dissimilar work but are similarly motivated is enormously helpful, because it helps each find common ground. They talk about shared struggles, frustrations and successes.
“No matter what we do when we get together, we always talk about what we are up to with our work. Sketchbooks are always being passed around. We give each other feedback on the work, and we talk about the business end of things. We talk about dealing with galleries and all the different problems you can have with making art a business and finding time in your life for art and being successful while also supporting your family,” Boardman said.
Woodbury, whose day job involves creating litigation graphics for courtroom trials, said the monthly gathering with his buddies is his best opportunity to talk seriously about art, whether it’s about their own work, each other’s work or a show they have seen. He called the process somewhere between a college studio critique, which can be brutal, and a drinking session with friends.
The discussions may sound serious to an eavesdropper – and they are on a certain level – but they’re laced with humor and fun.
“We can be honest with each other without insulting each other and without stroking each other. We take feedback from each other with respect. It’s just a treat to be able to get together with other guys, who also have no time, and talk about art,” said Woodbury, who lives in South Portland.
“We’ll shoot out opinions from the hip in order to have our opinions tested. It’s not judging. It’s a way to clarify your thinking.”
When Harding proposed to this show to the group, they wondered if she might be making a mistake. Yes, they share a friendship and bonds, but their work is very different. That aesthetic diversity appealed to Harding, because it demonstrated how similarly motivated individuals who live parallel lives can approach their practice from such different perspectives.
She sees each as a point on a compass.
“They are linked by their friendship and their mutual respect,” she said. “These guys are busy. They’re in the thick of it with baseball games and soccer games and getting the kids to school. I think that other side, that family side, is very important. It fuels their work and informs their work, and that’s what they have in common.”
Indeed, inevitably, the art conversations always turns to family. To a man, these guys all credit their spouses for supporting their art and their friendship. And because they are all fathers, they help each other with child-rearing tips and advice.
“Oh, yeah, we talk about parenting. We absolutely do,” said Boardman. “It comes up, and we joke about getting a pass from our spouses to go out for the evening. It’s all a negotiation. We have supportive wives. They understand. My wife is an artist too, so she gets it. But we’re all juggling. Getting out is hard. It really is.”
This show proves the effort is worth it.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: