July 28, 2013

Bob Keyes: Shared sense of humor helps artist get her Bowdoin show

Katherine Bradford has shown her paintings in prestigious places, but always hoped to exhibit in the art museum near her summer home.

BRUNSWICK – For years, Katherine Bradford has invited curators and museum directors to her summer home on Mere Point Road in hopes of landing an exhibition, piquing curiosity or perhaps placing one of her paintings in a collection.

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Katherine Bradford's “Ship in Blue Harbor”

Courtesy of the artist, Aucocisco Galleries and Edward Thorp Gallery

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Katherine Bradford has a summer home in Brunswick near the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Additional Photos Below


WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Through Sept. 1.

WHERE: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 245 Maine St., Brunswick


INFO: 725-3275; bowdoin.edu/art-museum

Mind you, her oil paintings are already in museums in Maine. The Portland Museum of Art just added her painting "Flying Women" to its permanent collection; it's hanging in the Great Hall.

And Bradford has shown her work around Maine, and around the country, for many years. She's won grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and others.

So she is hardly a struggling artist desperate for attention. Indeed, among institutions that collect her work are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum.

But she always coveted a show at Bowdoin College, which is just a few miles from her summer home.

"Every summer, I would invite the curator to my studio. Every summer, I would give the curator lunch and laugh at their jokes," she said. "And then I met Joachim, and he laughed at my jokes."

Joachim Homann is Bowdoin's sharp young curator. He loved what he saw of Bradford's work, particularly her recent water-themed paintings of ocean liners and swimmers, and quickly agreed to a summer show. Fittingly, it is called "August."

It is a perfect complement – in temperament, style and attitude – to the summery feel of the Maurice Prendergast show that Bowdoin is also hosting this summer.

Whereas Prendergast takes an early-20th century perspective on the beach-going culture, Bradford considers similar subjects with the looser, less literal approach of a 21st-century painter.

Both make similar use of color and form, but she is less beholden to tradition and more apt to infuse her work with the risk of abstraction.

Her beach scenes merely suggest human form. Her swimmers dive into infinity. Her Titanic sails on an orange sea, iceberg beckoning.

As she considers her rudimentary "Night Divers," she anticipates the criticism. "I think some people would look at this painting and wonder if I knew what I was doing. It's not a finished kind of skilled painting," she said.

But she was not after elegance. She wanted to suggest what it feels like to dive off a boat or dock in the darkness of night into black water. It's about mood and atmosphere, not technical excellence.

"Sunbathers" shows two people sunning themselves on a beach. One is orange; the other a brownish-green, almost avocado-colored. Homann asked why she chose those colors.

"I wanted diversity," she said with a shrug. They both laughed.

"Joachim can feel the sense of fun and play in my work," Bradford said, relieved.

The painter and curator hit it off instantly. She appreciated his open mind, and he found her work hilarious and comical, but also catastrophic. There's nothing funny about the Titanic, he said.

This is a very small show – fewer than a dozen paintings. It is hung in the museum's Zuckert Seminar Room, a boxy gallery with high ceilings that well accommodates Bradford's large-scale canvases.

There are many small paintings as well. Homann insisted on both, because the range of work speaks to her dexterity as an artist.

"The large canvases with these bold ships are really overwhelming. But then these tiny things are so witty and beautifully thought out," he said.

The talker of the show is a nearly 7-foot-wide canvas called "Ship in Blue Harbor."

It hangs on the gallery's far wall, facing into the main part of the museum so it is visible from the Prendergast galleries. It serves as a magnet that draws people in.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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“Night Divers” by Katherine Bradford

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“Titanic Orange Sea”


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