March 11, 2010

Katherine Bradford's summer in Skowhegan

— Katherine Bradford came to Maine in 1968, on the second wave of post-World War II artists migrating to the state.

The first wave came in the 1950s, with the likes of Alex Katz, Lois Dodd and Charles DuBack. The second wave came a generation later, led by Bradford, Abby Shahn and Natasha Mayers.

Back then, Maine had a certain cachet in the art world but wasn't the destination for artists and arts-tourism that it is today.

Bradford came as a young artist trying to find her way in the world. She was attracted to this remarkable place not for its boutique appeal, but for its purity and remoteness.

Maine was a place where an artist could really work, she said, and that's precisely what she did. Along the way, she became one of Maine's best-known contemporary painters with a national reputation.

She has since moved back to her native New York to live most of the year but has maintained the home she bought more than 40 years ago on Mere Point Road in Brunswick.

This summer, for the first time in as long as she can remember, Bradford won't be spending time in Brunswick. Instead, she is entrenched in central Maine as a member of the resident faculty at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture.

It's the first time Bradford has had a formal association with Skowhegan, and she is thrilled with the prospect.

''The faculty is voted on by the Board of Governors, and the board is made up of working artists. So it's a real honor,'' Bradford said during an interview earlier this month at her Portland gallery, Aucocisco.

Sixty-five artists from around the world are enrolled at Skowhegan this summer. The session began June 13, and will run until Aug. 15. Bradford is one of 10 resident and visiting faculty.

Skowhegan received 2,005 applications for the 2009 session, the largest number in its 63-year history. Its acceptance rate is a mere 3 percent.

Bradford won't teach, per se. Instead, she will counsel. Her role is to look at the art made by students and respond.

''What artists really need is feedback,'' she said. ''Being an artist is such a solitary existence. Residencies like Skowhegan give artists the chance to work and then get immediate feedback from other participants.''

Bradford brought several canvases with her as well. Her goal this summer is to paint as much as she can. She will also deliver a lecture as part of the Barbara Lee Artist Lecture Series. Her turn comes up at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Old Dominion Fresco Barn.

The lectures are free and open to the public.

Bradford plans to talk about two 20th-century Maine artists who influenced her -- Marsden Hartley and John Marin.

Hartley was a Maine native who left the state and returned only near the end of his life.

Marin discovered Maine as a young man and came back every year.

Both were deeply influenced by this place, in different ways and for different reasons. She sees parallels between Marin and Hartley and the many artists, such as herself, who have come to Maine in the years since.

Bradford hopes to make the point in her Skowhegan lecture that artists today, if they open up their receptors, can still be influenced by place even if their work does not reflect it directly.

We're a global society, but where we choose to live and work has a profound impact on who we are and how we express ourselves, she says.

She is living proof.

Much of her work these days involves water and community. In many of her paintings, she includes people bathing in groups of three, four, five and six. If not people, she often uses a boat as a metaphor for the human figure.

Her work doesn't jump out and say ''Maine.'' But she would never make the paintings she does if not for her home in Brunswick.

As for her own work at Skowhegan, Bradford is mostly interested in finding a spark and capturing magic.

''If there is one word that people keep repeating that describes the experience there, it's 'intense,' '' she said. ''People say Skowhegan changed their life. I wouldn't mind either -- it being intense or if it changed my life. In fact, I think that prospect is kind of exciting.''

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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