July 28, 2013

Art review: Bo Bartlett and the mysteries of love

The artist's show at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland commands attention.


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“The Big Day” by Bo Bartlett

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“The Promise” by Bo Bartlett


WHAT: Bo Bartlett: "Love and Other Sacraments"

WHERE: Dowling Walsh Gallery, 365 Main St., Rockland

WHEN: Through Sunday complete, then rehung through August

HOURS: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment; 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday (today only)

INFO: 596-0084; dowlingwalsh.com

While it's only because he sets the bar so high, Bartlett stumbles on this kind of awkwardness -- when a far leg doesn't fit when added after to make a lover seem to lie between the other's legs in "A Brief History of an Afternoon"; when a hand on a lover's arm appears as an unconvincing afterthought in "Oceans," a painting that furthers a sense of theatrical affect with the impossible perspective of the ocean pushing up and under the window like a stage backdrop.

While Bartlett's approach is anchored in narrative painting, he prefers enigma to clarity. Yet compelling enigmas mobilize perplexing ironies, semiotic misfires and intentional incompatibilities rather than leaving dots off i's and crosses off t's. It's not an enigma simply because something is incomplete or doesn't make sense.

But this is Bartlett's narrative aesthetic: It requires a taste for the open-ended. If you see poetics in that, then all the better. And Bartlett's nods to Magritte, Dali and de Chirico succeed in hinting that he is something other than a realist painter.

Bartlett's obsession with his wife adds to the show's creepiness. Despite her model beauty, one of Eby's defining features is a slight black moustache. The pervasiveness of this unsettlingly echoes the narcissistic self-involvement of Frida Kahlo.

This comes full-circle with "The Big Day," in which Eby appears to marry herself – dressed as a bride and then as a female groom in a skirt. It's an interesting painting, what with the two brides in dresses on the cake (veils flowing right to left – like in all of Bartlett's paintings) and the dream-like setting. But it didn't work for Dennis Rodman, and it doesn't work here.

Despite my grievances, "Love and Other Sacraments" is a serious and deeply interesting show.

Bartlett can handle a brush, and he knows how to make a big painting. Plus, this show is on a scale that maybe only Dowling Walsh could pull off in Maine; the gallery, after all, is huge, gorgeous and chock-a-block with noteworthy artists like Alan Magee, Connie Hayes and (now) Eric Hopkins.

While I question Bartlett's heart, I support his subject: What, after all, is a better cause than love?


Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:



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