September 19, 2010

In the Arts: Masters of darkness deliver shades of brilliance


The title to the show notwithstanding -- "Old Friends/New Work" -- Tom Hall and Lissa Hunter struck me as an odd combination. Hall is a master of darkness. You grapple for light when you digest one of his paintings. That search gives them their urgency.

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"The Fisherman" by Leo Brooks, at Mars Hall Gallery in Port Clyde

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"Clearcut Sunset 1" by Tom Hall, at June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland

Additional Photos Below




WHERE: June Fitzpatrick Gallery,

22 Congress St., Portland; 699-5083

HOURS: Noon to 5 p.m.

Tuesday to Saturday

CLOSES: Sept. 25


WHERE: The Firehouse, 5 Bristol Road, Damariscotta; 563-6330

HOURS: Noon to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday

CLOSES: Sept. 25


WHERE: Mars Hall Gallery, 621 Port Clyde Road, Tenants Harbor; 372-9996

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday

CLOSES: Oct. 11

Hunter, by long occupation, is a basket maker who has gently tapped the sublime. I have seen examples of her work that were so demure and fragile that they touched my heart. Hall's paintings and Hunter's baskets -- fat bravura strokes versus the delicate intensity of a Swiss watchmaker -- would not relax in company with each other, friendship or not.

These were my thoughts when I first heard of the show at the June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland. My perceptions turned out to be wrong, largely because Hunter appeared as a draftsman-painter and not as an artisan. To jump from a craft in which she had achieved high recognition into the dangerous waters of drawing and painting was cause for speculation.

In any event, the jump was a secure one; Hunter, I have learned, trained as a painter before she began making baskets. Her compositions in this show, although independently achieved, have an attitude that is coincidental to that of Hall's. I think of Hall as elegiac. He reflects on the Shakers, on the old hills along the Saco River, on woodlands that have been clear-cut, on cornfields that have been harvested.

He maintains enough edge to prevent the images from sliding into melancholy; otherwise stated, he uses darkness to displace wistfulness. It is not a matter of balancing between light and darkness; his paintings are not nocturnes. Rather, through the agency of darkness, he comments on the elapse of events with considerable passion. His paintings can be quite remarkable.

Returning to Hunter, here she appears as a commentator on nature -- on stones, leaves, pods, birds and so on. The subjects invite a cordial embrace, but like Hall, she keeps her distance. Birds roosting as day ends merge into coagulated dark masses. Dark flowers have darker leaves in a mottled space. Leaves, stones and pods are offered in articulated muscular form. It is all consequential and, at least in suggestion, dark. The decorative opportunities provided by the subject matter are declined.

To sum things up, here are two intense artists with very little in common other than their individual intensities and inclinations toward darkness. Those ingredients are somehow sufficient. This is an extremely good show.


I now comment on two events -- one is a group show in Damariscotta and the other is a group show in Tenants Harbor. I wandered into both, or perhaps was wafted into them by some favoring wind, and while it wasn't deja vu all over again, their attitudes were almost identical.

The Damariscotta show is at the Firehouse and is called "Fiore Friends." The Tenants Harbor show is at the Mars Hall Gallery and is called "The Drawing Group, DuBack & Company."

I can now report, with some pleasure, that the late Joseph Fiore and Charles DuBack not only knew each other, but had many friends in common. I observe this from the artists represented in each show and from a certain lyrical commonality.

It may be a bit of a stretch to take 20 or 30 established artists and find a common thread, but in all of the work in both shows -- and there are some major figures in each -- there is a generosity, an easy reaching out to the audience.

I note the handsome quarters at the Firehouse. The old spaces have been reconfigured and beautifully presented. Filled with light, works by 20 or more artists hang in congregational respect for one another. That is an odd comment to make, but the sense of commonality is palpable in this show. Perhaps the gallery helped, perhaps it was the gorgeous late summer day, but they were all singing the same soft song.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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"FleurNoire" by Lissa Hunter at June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland

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"River Harmony" by Charles DuBack, at Mars Hall Gallery in Port Clyde

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"Capriccio" by Joseph Fiore, at The Firehouse in Damariscotta

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"Rockland Ruin" by Lois Dodd, at The Firehouse in Damariscotta


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