Gary Green, “Michael ‘Spider Sanders’ (Pure Hell), Georgie Day (The Miamis) at the CBGB’s Jukebox, c. 1977” Photo courtesy of the artist

“When Midnight Comes Around: New York City 1976-1986” and “Sara Crisp: New Work 2023,” two shows at the Maine Jewish Museum (both through Feb. 24), have nothing in common on the surface. But both deal, at a more subliminal dimension, with the passing of time.

In “Midnight,” photographer Gary Green, who is an associate professor of art at Colby College, chronicles the early punk rock scene in New York, where he studied photography, worked as a photo assistant and, at night, shot the denizens of legendary music haunts like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.

Green’s love of punk music naturally impelled him toward these clubs, but he was able to parlay his passion into paid work at magazines such as New York Rocker, Downbeat, Interview and, later, Details before it became a slick – and less interesting – Condé Nast glossy. He also did album covers for some artists, including Joe Jackson, Marshall Crenshaw, rockabilly singer Robert Gordon (who later headlined the punk group Tuff Darts) and David Johansen of the proto-punk band the New York Dolls.

Gary Green, “David Johansen outside Max’s Kansas City, 1977” Photo courtesy of the artist

His style was straightforward. Green shot subjects head-on, using either a Nikon Nikkormat 35mm camera with flash or, for the square-format images, a Rolleiflex or Hasselblad camera incorporating one artificial light source. Both approaches impart the frankness of Éugene Atget, the French photographer Green acknowledges as one of his heroes.

Green doesn’t overcomplicate these compositions. They are essentially point-and-shoot images that, he says, are aiming “for the truth of the moment.” He doesn’t want “the viewer to be thinking how I did something or why.” Yet the viewer is always complicit, whether consciously or not and, depending on their knowledge of this seminal music moment, creates their own narrative.

I arrived in New York in the middle of this time period. So, for me, these portraits are layered with memories. Instantly they summoned up those loud locales – the cigarette smoke, the leather jackets, the “Flash Dance” ripped clothing, the lampposts plastered with club bills. The subjects look rail thin and innocent, despite some of the rebellious, snarling demeanor cultivated by the punk scene.


A peach-faced David Byrne looks like a doe in the headlights in Green’s portrait of the Talking Heads. The bomber-jacketed Michael “Spider” Sanders, percussionist of the first Black punk band Pure Hell, shoots the photographer a bored, bad-ass glare over his sunglasses. Green also has a keen eye for the details – hair, clothes, shades, etc. – of punk culture. We can’t help how one woman’s blonde hairdo mimics the lines of the cat lady tattoo she shows off on her arm. Another club-goer, a woman with a close-cropped shag, sits in a pew-like seat smoking in her elbow-length cocktail gloves and a boa.

Gary Green, “Anonymous woman at CBGB’s, c. 1978” Photo courtesy of the artist

Some of the images have a formal sense of composition, such as Joe Jackson sitting at a table with a drink, which reminded me of the Brassaï’s 1920s-30s photographs of Montmartre clubs in Paris. Other portraits, such as that of John Cale, the Welshman who founded the Velvet Underground, have the contemplative, slightly wistful look of Yousuf Karsh’s subjects (without the staged background sets).

But more than anything, what comes across is the penumbra of a vanished era. These images were taken on the brink of the AIDS epidemic and, soon after, the economic collapse that plunged the Greenwich Village and Lower East Side club scenes into dissipation and darkness. Many of the pictures telegraph this feeling of foreboding and fatal imminence. Indeed, a few of these subjects are gone – Ronnie Spector, who died last year, and Sanders, who passed from pancreatic cancer in 2002, for example.

Gary Green, “Ronnie Spector, New York City, 1983” Photo courtesy of the artist

In this way, this body of work connects to others that have interested Green, such as spare, unpeopled landscapes or shop windows seemingly taken before or after closing time. Green acknowledges the innate melancholy of this approach. “Photography can’t help but be historic, and I am very aware of this,” he says. “Photography is always about death in some way: a moment that no longer exists, a past friendship, a person no longer alive, etc.”


There’s something about the 6-by-6-inch paintings of Sara Crisp that are irresistibly intimate. They immediately remind us – because of their circular formats – of mandala paintings. But their minute scale makes them precious, and I mean that in the best sense of the term – jewel-like and exuding a delicacy akin to Persian miniatures.


This scale also allows us to take in a surprising amount of texture and detail without being overwhelmed. Crisp works with encaustic, which allows her to lay down thin layer upon thin layer, embedding consecutive strata with flower petals, insects, grasses, mica and decorative patterns. The wax medium has a translucence that renders each layer misty and look as if they’re floating on her surfaces.

Untitled works by Sara Crisp on display at the Maine Jewish Museum. Photo courtesy of the Maine Jewish Museum

There is also an intimation of transformation and passing time (here she intersects with Green) that feels quietly, softly melancholic, except that Crisp sees this as an eternal process, a way that the spirit of the materials continues on through infinite permutations. Since she grows much of what she embeds in her encaustics and forages others, these, combined with the organic medium of beeswax (encaustic), transmit a sense of nature and its cycles – perpetually sprouting, growing, drying out and decaying, then sprouting again. This gives her materials a preserved-in-amber countenance that adds to the aura of the passage of time.

It is not as though all of this evaporates when Crisp works in a larger format. But it certainly dissipates to some extent, shifting the focus to other kinds of materiality that do not have this sense of constancy through time. For instance, larger works on board are more interesting for the obsessiveness of their circle of drilled holes (hundreds of them). We become aware of a certain labor intensiveness that implies (and telegraphs) more human process and effort than abstract qualities that are more transcendent and ethereal. This can counter the meditative sensibility that makes the small works so alluring.

Untitled works by Sara Crisp. Photo courtesy of the Maine Jewish Museum

Occasionally, Crisp’s work can come into very close encounter with the purely decorative, especially when it displays decorative patterns that, for example, recall trellises, lace, window grates or garden railings. And when these are combined with sunnier palettes (oranges and golds), they can feel pretty in the manner of Islamic tilework. Generally, too, these decorative patterns feel less so in the smaller works, adding to their “precious” quality. In the larger works they feel more obviously decorative, perhaps merely because they are more obvious, both graphically and compositionally.

On the other hand, when Crisp indulges the moodier extremes of the color spectrum, her work can have immense depth that evokes the dark emptiness of space. Their cosmic allusions intensify the contemplative nature of the void and the unknown, imparting a whiff of mystery and profundity.

Both shows capture something about the ephemerality of all things.

Jorge S. Arango has written about art, design and architecture for over 35 years. He lives in Portland. He can be reached at:

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