Lincoln Perry, “Is Paris Burning?” 2016-17, oil on canvas Photo by Daniel Kany

George Marshall bought the John Hancock warehouse and wharf on the York River in 1867. He then built the George Marshall Store where he sold wood, coal and general merchandise. His family maintained the property until 1954. It now belongs to the Old York Historical Society. Since 1996, Mary Harding has been the director of the George Marshall Store Gallery, now one of Maine’s leading venues for contemporary art.

Harding typically mounts a show of paintings in the front gallery and pairs it with sculptural works, and then produces separate (but often related) shows in the small river-facing gallery upstairs and the wharf-level spaces.

Harding’s current 2019 slate of shows once again fits this model. And it is an excellent model, allowing her to curate a broad range and large number of works into the classic space.

The current crop includes a show of works by Craig Hood, Lincoln Perry and Derrick Te Paske in the front galleries, an installation of Noriko Sakanishi’s wall sculptures in the upstairs space and an ode to the Ogunquit community mainstay, painter and watercolorist DeWitt Hardy, featuring works by Ken Fellows, Bill Paarlberg and Russel Whitten in the wharf-level gallery.

Sakanishi’s minimalist systems works first appear as paintings pretending to be wall sculptures. A second look brings them into focus as objects – minimalist dark gray/green wall boxes featuring sculptural elements such as balls and Art Deco-style keystonelike elements in olive, brick, ochre and sap roosting on the boxes with systems logic: one element, then two, three, four. Sakanishi’s work is emphatically unique and yet it connects with the discourses of painting, minimalist sculpture and the common-enough Art Deco architecture of regional fire stations and municipal buildings built around the 1930s. Sakanishi’s reductive elegance is undeniable.

Noriko Sakanishi, “Situations,” 2014, acrylic and mixed media Photo by Daniel Kany

Hardings’ watercolor ode to DeWitt Hardy is brilliantly upbeat. Hardy was a tremendous presence in Maine, but became harder to see locally as the region’s default art mode shifted from watercolor and landscape toward contemporary painting. And yet modes of drawing – which include watercolor for the right reasons – have been making the case for connecting contemporary art to practices that were long accepted regionally as the overly overlooked standard stuff.

Whitten’s two snow scenes are the standouts of the watercolors (we can feel the snow depth on our steps more than any coldness, and this is brilliant), but as a gathered group, it’s satisfyingly excellent. Fellows’ purple band of clouds in “Stonington, ME” just might be the best passage of painting in the show.

Craig Hood, “Between Storms,” 2019, oil on panel Photo by Daniel Kany

And yet this exhibition features many excellent paintings. Craig Hood’s reductive landscapes could fit almost anywhere. They reveal skill, patience and sophistication with extraordinary elegance but in such a pared-down style that most any viewer can find it easily along their own terms. Hood’s “Lonza Field #2” is a 2018 oil on panel landscape: a bowled woody landscape featuring a path into the woods under an idyllic blue sky. However soft it appears at a distance, Hood’s style connects to contemporary concerns: It could be scraped over a screen, or well-executed and then knife-pulled like a Gerhard Richter. Hood clearly has the chops to draw as well as he wants and execute the oil at an even higher level. His simplifying the scene makes the work approachable and yet isn’t about self-humbling. Hood puts his braininess to work to help find a recognizable essence and tilt us away from specifics. From a viewer’s standpoint, this is a very welcome bit of bridge-building, particularly from such a brainy painter.

Te Paske’s turned-wood sculptures make for an excellent match both with Hood’s and Perry’s representational paintings, but also, indirectly, with Sakanishi’s sophisticated objects. Te Paske connects with Hood through regular surface rhythms, Sakanishi through extraordinary texture, and Perry through notions of content, many of which are playfully sexualized. Some of Te Paske’s turned-wood works take on the sculptural history of Chinese ceramics, others make whimsical gestures towards Western sexuality (the sperm-form covered vessel is hilarious on several levels) and others play into notions of bondage that cross Asian and Western cultures.

But it is Perry whose extraordinarily well-painted figurative works lead the way. Perry’s paintings of the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – are powerful reminders of what is possible in the 19th-century painterly modes that include realism, metaphor, legible iconographies and seemingly “passe” notions of discourse. From his watercolor studies for these paintings – which are at the gallery, so please ask to see them if they aren’t on view (they include much of the best painting in Maine at this moment) – we see how Perry struggled with discourse-related details such as the pose of the model in “Fire – Erin.” At first, my one disappointment with the work was Perry’s choice of such a stiff pose for “Erin,” yet when I saw the watercolor studies with the models striking classical poses, it all came together: It was only after he tried contrapposto and more seemingly confident poses that Perry settled on the stiffly frontal pose for fire: She is a plate of steel, and we feel that.

Perry’s “Air – Alicia” is a study in coquetry. The blonde figure prances across the screen, only partially clothed and twisting her top toward us. A pair of male figures beyond and below her try to look up her skirt. Her sexuality, however, is her own, and any of their efforts – successful or not – only demean them, not her. She is Life. They are bystanders.

Perry’s “Is Paris Burning?” is a 48-by-60-inch oil depicting a bizarre scene of mannequins – which we assume are in a Paris boutique window – watching Notre Dame burn. It’s a wild scene that combines the content of the mannequin-soaked Surrealist Hans Bellmer with Matisse and (oh, let’s just say) The Walking Dead. What makes the work particularly remarkable is Perry’s use of the aesthetic of 1930s figure styles, colors and mural-scaled composition. Perry can paint. His watercolor studies are some of the best watercolors in New England produced in the past 30 years. And his paintings have probably the best figurative surfaces painted in recent memory. Perry has a historical eye, but he’s one of the most talented contemporary painters working in Maine.

Harding’s new crop of shows at George Marshall Store Gallery will undoubtedly be one of the best of the 2019 season.


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