August 28, 2011

Ever the innovator

The art of pioneering York painter Beverly Hallam is examined in a new documentary.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

OGUNQUIT - Beverly Hallam's breathing is labored and her knees are wobbly, but the beloved York County artist is still endowed with verve for life.

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“Tulips on Carpet” is one of Beverly Hallam’s trademark flower paintings.

Images courtesy of Maine Masters

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Artist Beverly Hallam in a 1988 photograph by Christopher Ayers.

MAINE MASTERS FILM SERIES

"BEVERLY HALLAM: ARTIST AS INNOVATOR" is the 11th film in the Maine Masters series. Other artists profiled include Robert Hamilton, William Thon, Dahlov Ipcar, Alan Magee, Harold Garde, Olive Pierce, Clark FitzGerald, Lois Dodd, Stephen Pace and David Larson.

RICHARD KANE, director and producer, said several films are in the works. They include profiles of Fred Woell, David Driskell, Ashley Bryan, Yvonne Jacquette, William Irvine, Cabot Lyford, Emily Nelligan, Joe Fiore and Carlo Pittore.

IN ADDITION TO scheduled screenings across Maine, the films can be seen at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays on MPBN. The network's September schedule includes Harold Garde, Sept. 1; Alan Magee, Sept. 8; and David Larson, Sept. 22.

TO LEARN MORE about the project, visit mainemasters.com.

She showed evidence of her enthusiasm when she showed up for the premiere of the latest film in the Maine Masters project, a documentary film series about important Maine artists. The Ogunquit Museum of American Art screened "Beverly Hallam: Artist as Innovator" on Tuesday night. MPBN broadcast it later in the week, and Blue Hill Public Library shows it at 5 p.m. Monday.

Hallam is a bit short on words these days. At age 88, her voice is weaker than we remember.

But she mustered the energy to greet well-wishers at a reception at the Oguquit museum before the movie, and gladly accepted a bouquet of flowers from museum director Ron Crusan when the lights came up afterward.

"Thank you very much," she said as the audience rose to its feet in applause. "I appreciate every inch of that film."

Directed by Maine filmmaker Richard Kane, the 30-minute movie documents Hallam's remarkable and influential career. Based on interviews with Hallam; Vicki Wright, director of collections and exhibitions at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts; gallerist John Whitney Payson; and art patron and Hallam confidante Mary-Leigh Smart, the movie makes a case for Hallam's role as a pioneer.

She was among the very first to use acrylic paint successfully, and one of the first who mastered the air brush. She's also an accomplished printmaker, and early in her career moved easily among styles.

Hallam's deft handling of the air brush enabled her to make her large, colorful and complex paintings of flowers. Her flower paintings became her best-known body of work, and made her popular with museums and collectors alike.

EVOLVING, ADAPTING

More recently, as her painting skills have diminished with her declining health, Hallam mastered the use of computer graphics. She makes abstract compositions on her monitor, forming and manipulating shapes and infusing her work with splashes of color.

Color has been an important part of her life since childhood. In the movie, Hallam tells interviewer Carl Little that she fell in love with flowers as a youngster when, while walking to school in Lynn, Mass., she cut through a cemetery. All the flowers on the graves delighted her, and she has been enamored of them since.

But it wasn't until she and Smart built a home at Surf Point in York in the mid-1970s that Hallam's flower paintings fully blossomed. Throughout her career until then, Hallam's painting studios were infused with north light, which is least favorable. At York, with a house facing the sea, the late-afternoon western sun draped the home in brilliant sunlight.

By manipulating vertical blinds, Hallam created a maze of interior shadows. She placed her flower arrangements on tables in such a way that the shadows from the blinds as well as reflections from mirrors resulted in a complex compositions. Inspired, she began making her large air-brush paintings.

As part of the new Maine Masters film, Kane incorporated footage from a previous film about Hallam that offered a detailed explanation of her airbrush process. Calvin Kimbrough Jr. made that film, "Beverly Hallam: The Flower Paintings," in 1990 for the Evansville (Ind.) Museum of Art.

Little, a noted Maine art critic and writer, served as co-producer of the Maine Masters film. He interviewed Hallam for the movie, and also spent a great deal of time with her several years ago when he wrote the book "Beverly Hallam: An Odyssey in Art."

Among the many things that impresses him about Hallam and her work is her willingness to reinvent herself and her lack of fear in exploring new ways of making art. Noting that Hallam comes from a family of inventors, Little cited her ingenuity as one of her most enduring and endearing traits.

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