July 3, 2011

In The Arts: Show strikes fine balance between Maine history and art


(Continued from page 1)

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“A Moment” by Richard Wilson, graphite on tinted paper, 2010, at June Fitzpatrick

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“Five Islands Ice Cream Parlor” by William Zorach, watercolor on paper, 1940, at the Portland Museum of Art.

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WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square. 775-6148

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; until 9 p.m. Friday

CLOSES: Sept. 11



WHERE: June Fitzpatrick Gallery at MECA, 522 Congress St., Portland. 699-5083

HOURS: Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday

CLOSES: July 16


WHERE: Art House, 61 Pleasant St., Portland. 221-3443

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday

CLOSES: July 30

It's not entirely tongue in cheek. There's enough in these low-toned drawings to sustain a minimal level of prurience. Satire and mild salaciousness are the hallmarks of one branch of Wilson's work in this show.

In other branches, animals take over a nightclub, figures that would be rejected by Saint Anthony swarm, seances flourish, and all in the dimmest light. As a satirist, the artist is brilliantly idiosyncratic.

The watercolor-silverpoints of Pat Hardy treat of the supine female nude. The figure is offered for its classical allusions and the plastic opportunities it presents. There are no sly references, but the work is intensely passionate. It displays a love of nuance and serenity, and an exultation of the ability to define form with enchanting economy. For a love of art as such, these small works are moments of high passion.

There are three drawings in the show by Michael Waterman. Like Wilson, Waterman is a local perennial, but unlike Wilson, his work is seldom seen. I cannot put a label on it, but sense the existence in it of a personal world and of an assumption by the artist of a responsibility for that world's security.

The images in this show can be seen as macabre events in Waterman's domain. They can also be seen as achievements in the world of the grotesque, an off-centered but much honored branch of the arts. I never doubt the passion of Waterman.

Two early ink drawings by Leonard Baskin make their way as grace points in this event. One, a tiny exquisite tondo of two dogs, exemplifies his virtuosity with the pen; the other, "Two Boys," is Baskin in one of his most skeptical moments. It is an intensely felt work by an eminent artist.

Ten or so drawings -- largely pencil and pastel -- by Thomas Cornell make up the balance of the show. I have disavowed an inclination to art history, but I am aware of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), and have heard his name used in concert with Cornell from time to time.

I mention this because of the singular position Cornell holds in contemporary art. His elegant manner, the clarity and order of his work and the precision of his draftsmanship are embracingly classical, and tie him to Ingres and ultimately back to Poussin. Cornell's subject matter can be sumptuous, but his translation is steadied by logic and, as I have said, order.

This can be most easily seen in his graphite portraits of David Becker and Gracchus Babeuf, and more pictorially in "Studies for the Four Ages." The intention in Becker and Babeuf appears to be a precursor to the remaining works by Cornell in this show.


Going to Art House in Portland is, in itself, a treat. Tucked away in its tiny courtyard, its thimble-sized gallery will hold essays that are too highly pitched for more formidable galleries to handle. Its shows can be more interesting than persuasive, but that's fine.

All of this does not apply to the paintings of Neill Ewing-Wegmann now at the gallery. Ewing-Wegmann's extensive show at the Salt Exchange last year was a key to the larger establishment. The Art House show continues the pulse of that event.

Its title, "Industrial Breakdown," sets the stage for an exposition of modern-day ruins. In his images, our industrial dinosaurs (a term borrowed from the painter) exhaust their last energies.

They are not the America-at-work declaration of a century ago, but rather rusted polluters, working until they stop working. Their ineluctable demise is expressed as much in out-of-the-can color as in complex geometric excursions.

Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 46 years. He can be contacted at:



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Additional Photos

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“Rock, Georgetown, Maine,” gelatin silver print by Paul Strand, at the Portland Museum of Art.

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“The Grind” by Neill Ewing-Wegmann, acrylic and marker on canvas and paper, at Art House.


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