August 25, 2013

Art Review: Paintings in the key of Dylan anchor strong lineup at UMMA


Walking into the main gallery of the University of Maine Museum of Art and being greeted by Joanne Freeman's work is like sitting back after a hard day and turning on some great music; on the one hand, it's calm and relaxed, but it also moves.

click image to enlarge

“Surrender” by Emily Trenholm.

Images courtesy UMMA

click image to enlarge

“Rock Row” by Emily Trenholm.

Additional Photos Below



WHERE: University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., Bangor

WHEN: Through Sept. 21

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday

INFO:; 561-3350

Some things transport you by changing the place you are into precisely where you want to be. This is what Freeman's paintings do.

They are significantly-sized elegant white canvases with just a few loops of color: red, blue, teal, purple, yellow and so on.

Each is handsome, but as a group they exude a powerful sense of symphonic calm.

They have the rhythmic feel of Morris Louis, but most resemble Brice Marden's looping canvases from the 1990s.

Freeman directly references musicality in her work. In fact, the strongest piece in the show is titled "Three Chords" -- a direct quote of Bob Dylan.

Considering the work's proximity to Marden, this is a little weird, since one of Marden's best known paintings is "The Dylan Painting" at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Marden was married to Joan Baez's sister and was close to Dylan and other folk artists.)

By referencing Dylan, Freeman is opening the door to references and comparisons. Is she doing a Brice Marden cover? If so, why not? What musician, after all, hasn't covered Dylan? If it's a tribute, then it's an elegant tribute -- whatever the mix of Dylan and Marden and anything else.

Musically, the three-chord thing has meaning on its own. The basic classical music progression of sub-dominant, dominant, tonic (4,5,1 / F,G,C, etc) and rock 'n' roll use these same three chords for the same reason: If you play those three major chords, you hit every note in the major scale and thereby absolutely establish key.

Freeman's use of cool and warm loops on white is like establishing a musical key -- particularly since they are internally-structured abstract works. They might seem loosely improvised, but don't fool yourself: Freeman cuts out guides for the loops and clearly works her colors and textures with a demanding appetite for perfection. She is not after fussy evenness, but the richly-textured and complex subtlety of a master painter.

While they stand strongly as a group, her weaker works prove Freeman doesn't have a simple recipe for success. The pieces with angled edges, for example, feel much stiffer than the ones with only swooping curves. Here again, Freeman seems to be tapping into musical technicalities. After all, distortion (like on Dylan's electric guitar) is a sine wave whose top curves are cut off by a flat ceiling; and Freeman's curtailed forms look just like such electric signals. 

THE WORK of Rachael Agundes and Shawn Downey, on the other hand, is anything but calm.

Their two-person show, "Travel in My Borrowed Lives" -- a title borrowed from poet Donald Axinn -- features large, psychological-expressionism-based narrative paintings that could hardly be further from Freeman's elegant abstraction.

While Agundes and Downey now live in New York City and Boston, it's no surprise they both hail from the West Coast. There has long been a rich movement of psychological expressionism in the Pacific Northwest led by artists such as Gaylen Hansen and the great Gregory Grenon.

While "Travel" features flawed work, it is an expansively important show very different from most anything in Maine: While our state is an art powerhouse, we don't look enough towards the other coast.

Downey -- the better painter of the pair -- focuses on self-secluded survivalist characters at the edge of society where right meets left (think hippies and doomsday preppers).

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

“White” by Joanne Freeman.

click image to enlarge

“Three Chords" by Joanne Freeman.

click image to enlarge

"Sweet Spot” by Joanne Freeman.

click image to enlarge

“The Modernist” by Sean Downey.

click image to enlarge

“iDeath (edibles)” by Sean Downey.

click image to enlarge

“Hiking Bumpass Hell,” by Rachelle Agundes.

click image to enlarge

“Visiting Mt. Lassen” by Rachelle Agundes.


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)



More PPH Blogs