March 11, 2010

Loosening up

BOB KEYES

— By

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Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, May 5, 2009.... Artist Catherine Breer in the studio of her Freeport home.

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Staff Writer

FREEPORT — Catherine Breer's paintings speak of Maine. Rich in color and full of light, they evoke a specific sense of place.

Tulips blooming in the spring.

A classic New England home overlooking a cove.

Rowboats tied to a dock.

Breer, who has translated her paintings into a successful line of calendars and greeting cards marketed through her company annie|catherine, is subtly shifting the focus of her work away from that which is most familiar to something a little more painterly and adventurous.

''I'm trying to loosen up a bit, and I would like to go more abstract,'' said Breer, who opens an exhibition of fresh paintings next month in Freeport's newest art venue, the Wonderful Gallery/Fine Art, slated to open June 6 at 152 Main St.

''Someone called me 'the boat lady' once, and I said to myself, 'I'm never going to paint another boat.' ''

At 44, Breer feels that she is hitting her stride as an artist. She has painted most of her life, and traces her artistic evolution to her childhood growing up in Korea. She would go to sleep with a sketchbook at the side of her bed, and wake up with ideas for drawings.

Her parents were missionaries in Korea, and she spent most of her youth there. Asian art, with its bright colors and high-design sensibilities, influence her at every turn. Her home, which reflects her personality in its decoration, is full of Asian motifs, and her kids joke with her that they sometimes feel they are living in Asia.

Breer earned a degree in art history from Emery University in Atlanta, and attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

She has lived in Freeport since 1995, and shows her work across Maine, including Maine Cottage in Yarmouth, New Era Gallery on Vinalhaven and the Thos. Moser showroom in Freeport. Each fall, she has a solo exhibition at the Freeport Community Library.

The June exhibition at the Wonderful Gallery will be her first solo gallery show.

Breer's new work may surprise longtime fans. Some of her latest paintings feel looser than her earlier work, and tend toward the abstract. Not long ago, she completed a painting with her left hand, just to test herself and to see how it felt. She enjoyed the experiment -- and so did a collector, who bought the painting.

But the best example of her flirt with a new direction may be a gouache-on-paper effort, ''Peaks Castle.'' Over the years, many painters have interpreted the prominent Peaks Island structure. Breer's handling of the subject hints at her effort to loosen up: The roof line is jagged, the windows off-kilter. Tulips in the front of castle grow as tall as the first floor.

It is anything but a literal interpretation of the place. Instead, it represents Breer's feelings and outlook: Happy, vibrant and colorful in exaggerated ways.

The constant in her work is her use of color. Breer is never afraid to experiment with colors, and fills her canvases with shades of greens, blues, reds and yellows.

In ''Bustins Island,'' the color of the water in her cove is turquoise, almost teal. The pine trees are dark green, tending toward black. The roof of a house is red.

Breer will have another painting in the June exhibition that she calls ''Stop Here on Red.'' In it, she shows the familiar traffic sign, with a house in the background on the side of the road. On the porch of the house is a line of laundry, and hanging on the line is a red T-shirt. The painting is clever, cute and funny.

In a painting of spring tulips, she includes a road in the background. The road is blue.

Breer sees her new work as part of her evolution as an artist. She still paints what is familiar, but with a twist.

She's always been fond of architecture, and for many years has made paintings of stately, attractive homes in pretty settings. Breer still delights in those homes, only now she is more interested in how the light plays on the corner of a house, or how the sun shines in a window.

It's less about the house as a whole, and more about the details that give that house its character.

Another example of her new direction: Along with many other artists, Breer is attracted to Portland Head Light. But her painting of the coastal landmark does not include the widely interpreted lighthouse itself. Instead, she based her painting on a winter photo she took of the light-keeper's home, paying close attention to the shadows cast by the sun on the side of the building.

To those familiar with the scene, it's obvious what it is. The colors and the shape of the building, and the general setting, give it away. But her perspective is unique, and inventive. She calls that painting ''Light After the Storm.''

More than anything, Breer's paintings suggest joy and zest.

''I paint what I feel,'' she said. ''If I find myself starting a painting because it's the old style and it feels comfortable, it's not interesting to me. And if it's not interesting to me, then it's not going to be interesting to other people.''

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

bkeyes@pressherald.com

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