April 14, 2013

Author Q & A: Very Truly Yours

Carl Little's new book showcases the stunning realism of the art of Joel Babb.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Carl Little is known for his books that profile the work of Maine artists.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Carl Little


6 to 8 p.m. June 14, Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress St.; 775-6148

6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 21, Northeast Harbor Library, 1 Joy Road; 276-3333


His latest subject, Joel Babb, began coming to Maine in 1971, but is just as well known for urban landscapes painted in places such as Boston and Rome as he is for scenes from the Maine woods.

Babb's mastery of a landscape's details, often garnered from the top of a skyscraper or during a helicopter ride, endows his paintings with the kind of realism that makes you feel as if you could walk right into the canvas.

His major works have included stunningly detailed panoramas from the top of the John Hancock Tower in Boston's Back Bay as well as beautiful, true-to-life representations of the woods and streams near his Maine studio in East Sumner. Babb's "subjects" in Maine have included the Schoodic Peninsula, Otter Cliffs, Eggemoggin Reach and Baxter State Park.

Babb has also painted physicians in Boston hospitals, and even tackled a "historical painting" of the first successful kidney transplant.

Little's book, "Nature and Culture: The Art of Joel Babb" (University Press of New England, $50), includes words from the artist as well as short essays from Christopher Crosman, founding curator of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; scientist and author Bernd Heinrich; and novelist Anita Shreve.

Little, 58, lives in Somesville on Mount Desert Island. When he's not hanging out with Maine artists, he works as the director of communications and marketing for the Maine Community Foundation. He recently chatted with the Maine Sunday Telegram about his latest book. 

Q: What was it about Joel Babb's body of work that intrigued you?

A: I think it's the precision of his realism. It's remarkable. I say in my little acknowledgements in the book that he really taught me how to see, and I mean that seriously. You look at a landscape and you pick out things, and there's sort of a process to that, and he just takes that to the nth degree with the way he considers either a cityscape or one of those great deep interior Maine views.

There's emotion there because he's responding to the landscape, but there's also this great, almost scientific response in the way that he treats it. He talks a lot about perspective and the optics of color. It's really amazing to sit down and talk to him. He knows so much about his art. 

Q: I took the book around to show my colleagues. Those Boston paintings are incredible.

A: I think we all respond to realism. Some people go, "Oh, it looks like a photograph," but it's so much more than that.

When you talk to Joel about a particular painting, there's always a story behind it. There's also always some license that he's taken with the landscape. It's not pure reproduction. It's much more than that. So many circumstances come into play when he's doing a particular painting -- the mood, the season, his emotional wherewithal.

The one called "The Hounds of Spring," which is one of his great Maine interior pieces: He had a site picked out for it, and then when the season changed it no longer worked, so he went elsewhere to find something similar. It's a very careful process.

That said, he also has done a lot of commissions over the years, and one of the wonderful parts of working on this book was, I spent the better part of a day in Boston and Cambridge with Joel, and my son too, and we walked around and visited some of his commissions in the banks and at the Harvard Medical Library and other places. It was great, because in a few places, we were kind of taken into inner sanctums where the public doesn't really get to go for some of these pieces.

(Continued on page 2)

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