Philip Barter always had big ambitions for his art. After he discovered the paintings of Marsden Hartley while studying in California, he decided, “I’m going back to Maine to pick up where this guy left off.”

A half-century later, Barter is still making good on the personal pledge. Now 77 and firmly ensconced in the small town of Sullivan in Hancock County, Barter has become the modern-day painter of Maine – a moniker that Hartley bestowed upon himself – with his hopeful and colorful narratives of the Maine landscape and its independent people.

“The most common comment I get about my work is its positive nature,” Barter said. “People will say, ‘I enjoy your painting so much I call it my happy painting.’ That gives me joy. That makes me feel really good, because that’s the object of my painting, to project that joy that I have for Maine and for life.”

Barter is showing a series of new paintings this month at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth, coinciding with the release of a book about his life and career, “Philip Barter: Forever Maine,” written by Maine art critic Carl Little. The gallery will host a reception for Barter from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday. Little and Barter will talk about the book, and Barter will discuss his life in Maine, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Philip Barter

It all goes back to Hartley for Barter, who felt an immediate connection with the Modernist painter when he came across his paintings in the 1960s. He liked Hartley’s bold strokes and colors, and appreciated his geometric and abstracted view of the landscape.

Like Hartley, Barter was born in Maine and went away as a young man, first to Japan, where he served in a surface-to-air missile battalion in Okinawa, and later to California, where he settled after his hitch in the U.S. Army. Unlike Hartley, Barter did not wait until his later years to come home. As soon as Hartley lit Barter’s creative fire, he high-tailed it home to Maine from the West Coast.

He spent many years in Gouldsboro, near the fishing village of Corea, where Hartley spent his final years, and got to know many people who were friendly with Hartley. His interest in Hartley was overwhelming, and it nearly overshadowed his own artistic vision. He painted in the same places Hartley painted and took on similar subjects, most notably Mount Katahdin. Barter wrestled with the mountain, unable to escape Hartley’s shadow.

“The first 10 or 12 years, I couldn’t do it,” he said. “But finally, I found my own image of Katahdin, and from that time, I felt I could do this. But it took 10 or 15 years to do it.”

By then, he and his wife, Priscilla, were raising a family, and Barter put his art to the side while he dug worms, raked clams and worked as a sternman on a lobster boat. When he returned to art full time, he made paintings about his experiences and the people of Maine, and his career flourished. Museums purchased his paintings, and he was featured on Tim Sample’s “Postcards from Maine” segment on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

He remains one of Maine’s most prolific painters, though he considers himself semi-retired.

The new book, he said, is a culmination of his half-century in art. It includes 130 or so images and offers a deep summation of his career and his place in Maine art. “This makes my mark,” he said, and provides a lasting reminder beyond the paintings themselves of his accomplishments.

The exhibition at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art, “Maine Oasis,” includes new work inspired mostly by the blueberry barrens near his Down East home. He’s always thought of Maine as an oasis of sorts and a place of comfort, nourishment and spiritual fulfillment.

“We all have that private place we can go to in times that we need it, to draw from something larger than ourselves,” he said.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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Twitter: pphbkeyes

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