March 17, 2010

The life and art of John Marin

By BOB KEYES, Staff Writer

ADDISON — It's easy to understand why the painter John Marin was so smitten with the Down East coast.

After spending many years renting homes and staying at boarding houses from Portland to Stonington, Marin finally settled on a lonely section of the coast, far beyond the bustle of the city or the quiet of Deer Isle.

Marin, who came to Maine nearly every summer from his New Jersey home with wife and child in tow, rented a home in the Cape Split section of Addison in the summer of 1933 and returned the following year. But this time, he stayed at a cottage overlooking Pleasant Bay that he had purchased.

It would become his professional and personal touchstone, and a source of joy, until he died in 1953 at age 82.

Just outside his windows, the sea washed in around the glacial remains. Beyond the rocks, a series of islands lay before him, providing a stunning visual backdrop.

Cape Split offered everything Marin wanted. It was remote and inspirational. It afforded endless opportunities to paint, and also to hunt, fish and get on the water in his boat. Nearby, the Tunk Mountains provided the painter with paths to hike and other scenes to consider.

The cottage – expanded and modernized over the years – is still standing, and on a recent afternoon, filmmaker Michael Maglaras planted himself in an armchair on the porch where Marin painted and sketched.

"Everything I have read about him, everyone I have spoken to who knew Marin, every letter of his that I have read, leave me with two lasting impressions: He was enormously sensitive and intelligent, but he also was a regular guy," Maglaras said.

"Marin was one of the most important painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But the thing that stands out about him is the fact that he had a life. He had a wife. He had a son. He would go to the ballgame, he would boat, he would hike, he would play the piano – and he would paint."

The Connecticut-based independent filmmaker is finishing work on a documentary that he and his wife, Terri Templeton, are making about Marin, his life and his art. Their company, 217 Films, will premiere the movie in December at the Portland Museum of Art, then send it around the independent film circuit before showing it at the end of 2010 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

"John Marin: Let the Paint be Paint!" will tell the personal and professional story of one of America's most influential painters, highlighting his struggles and successes while offering a window into his private world.

Maglaras and his Maine-based film crew shot the movie in June in Waterville at the Colby College Museum of Art, which owns many Marin paintings, and last week at Cape Split.


Marin was an American-born modernist painter who formed many of his artistic sensibilities overseas in Europe. But he found his stride as a painter when he came to Maine in 1914 for the first time, spending his early Maine summers in Phippsburg before exploring the coast in later years.

Marin, who was a key member of Alfred Stieglitz's New York circle of painters, was a decent artist before he discovered Maine. But Maine gave him his identity. He formed his lasting artistic vision and legacy when he beheld the islands of Casco Bay for the first time.

Marin's work is known as lyrical abstraction. His images are based in the landscape and highly recognizable. But he challenged the viewer to see things his way, with loosely defined boundaries. He worked in both oil and watercolor and made significant paintings in each medium.

In the movie, Maglaras appears on screen as a narrator. The voice of Marin comes from local actor John Hickson.

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