November 18, 2012

In The Arts: Three shows: One fascinating, one eloquent, one ambitious

By PHILIP ISAACSON

This is an article about three shows: Two on photography and a third that introduces itself with a photograph -- a very old one.

click image to enlarge

“Amanda,” gelatin silver print by Olive Pierce at Jonathan Frost Gallery in Rockland.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Frost Gallery

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“Boogie Boards,” photograph c-print by Kathie Florsheim, at Jonathan Frost Gallery in Rockland.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Frost Gallery

Additional Photos Below

ON VIEW

"RELEVANT HISTORIES" -- PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRENTON HAMILTON

WHERE: Addison Woolley Gallery, 132 Washington Ave., Portland; 415-4279

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

CLOSES: Dec. 1

 

"WE NEVER SEE ANYTHING CLEARLY" --

JOHN RUSKIN AND LANDSCAPE PAINTING, 1840s-1870s

WHERE: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 9400 College Station, Brunswick; 725-3124

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday (until 8:30 p.m. Thursday); 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

CLOSES: Dec. 1

 

"PHOTOGRAPHY: HERE & THERE -- THE POWER OF THE PARTICULAR"

WHERE: Jonathan Frost Gallery, 21 Winter St., Rockland; 594-0800

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

CLOSES: Dec. 1

My bias in favor of traditionally achieved photographs has nagged at this column for years. Photography as we knew it -- a blend of chemistry, light and glorious skill -- came to an abrupt end when cell phones were taught to take pictures.

My sulk over that phenomenon abides, and I counter by jumping at opportunities to see classic photographs made by masters.

Silver gelatin gets my juices going, and platinum, gum bichromate and cyanotype raise the temperature. Ambrotypes and black-and-white pinholes carry me off the charts.

The blending of such archaic technologies and contemporary vision is endlessly fascinating; history and aesthetics sometime compel one another.

First is "Relevant Histories" by Brenton Hamilton at Addison Woolley Gallery in Portland. I do not find the title relevant to the event, but I find the event as compelling as any gallery show that I have seen this year.

It offers an excursion into the aesthetics that inhabit Hamilton's mind -- not an evening paddle on a still pond -- and into a form of technical virtuosity that blurs its way between photography and painting.

The subject matter will keep you on edge; the vehicle -- variations on an antique medium -- adds to the challenge.

Hamilton's work is for the serious of mind and those who demand durability, not just against physical deterioration (photographs can be fugitive) but also of intensity of purpose. His images will retain their force physically and emotionally.

The procedure begins with photographs of images that Hamilton apprehends from a variety of printed sources -- think Bosch, Durer and the Cranachs.

The photographs are printed in sunlight in multiple washes on surfaces finished with platinum, gum bichromate (chromium), cyanotype (blue) or gum Arabic itself, and then given multiple applications of color.

It is a day-long event. The effect is work that is painterly intense and unique.

The process and subjects mute the presence of photography, but in some form, it lurks in the recesses. You may not be able to identify it, but in musing about the process, the photographic ancestry will appear to you.

In a word, Hamilton's images are fascinating, and they will endure.

The artist offers us his taste for the macabre, for deformation, for impossible coalescence and ambiguities in history and in the history of art in particular. The tower of Babel in his eye is more flirtatious than the descendants of Noah could have imagined.

See this show. It's a rare event. 

THE SHOW that begins with an old photograph is titled "We Never See Anything Clearly," and is at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick.

It was drawn from the museum's collections by two students, Ben Livingston and Ursula Moreno-VanderLaan.

I have rarely turned this column toward student shows, but this event is a small jewel, and is so felicitous in the handsome Becker Gallery that I can't resist it.

It has to do with watercolors and gouache, and little with lenses and film, but suggests photography as a philosophic provocation.

The introduction -- the photograph -- is a mid-19th-century English urban view by the legendary William Henry Fox Talbot.

One of the first photographers entitled to claim the invention of the imprinting of images durably and fixed on paper, Talbot had a pastoral eye. But the device under his control -- a camera -- was capable of recording information in infinitely finer detail than could any artist with brush or pen.

That technical capacity is the nub of the show.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

“Evening Landscape, Late Autumn,” 1861 oil on canvas by Jervis McEntee, at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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“Cloud Spinner” by Brenton Hamilton, at Addison Woolley Gallery in Portland.

Courtesy of Addison Woolley Gallery

click image to enlarge

“Milk Moon (Acadia)” by Jim Nickelson, archival digital print, at Jonathan Frost Gallery in Rockland.

Courtesy of Jonathan Frost Gallery



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