Right now, there’s an interesting phenomenon on the Maine art scene: three shows by people who came to their art after careers in nonartistic fields, several exhibited in spaces not on the usual art radar. A fourth is the work of a trained artist who, nevertheless, has had other careers.

The title “Between Now and Then” at the York Public Library (through Aug. 30), implies a span of time between past and present. For Linda Gerson, a psychotherapist who began taking art classes over two decades ago in Boston before moving to Wells (where she continued studies at Maine College of Art under the late Janet Manyan), it implies what transpired in her shift from representation to abstraction, but also the growth and self-discovery that can occur during the psychoanalytic process.

In fact, Gerson sees synchronies between her two practices, principally that they are both about adding and subtracting in some way. In her art, this has to do with the physical accretion or removal of her materials (acrylic, ink, charcoal, graphite, pastel, collage) on the picture plane according to whatever state and/or mood she is experiencing at a given moment.

But psychology also has its additive and subtractive qualities – layers of ego and defensive coping structures being peeled away, for example, and the self-awareness and confidence that flood into those voids as understanding (of ourselves and the nature of reality) begins to dawn, eventually “adding” richness and nuance to life.

Linda Gerson, “Always Spring” Photo courtesy of the artist

I first saw Gerson’s work two years ago at the Maine Jewish Museum and commented on its reference to landscape, as well as her sense of lyricism. In this show, there are some that still hew more closely to landscape. But the movement toward abstraction, whether partial or total, has added more depth to her work. “Abstract Rocks,” for instance, is exactly that. But we can also read the subject as purely nonobjective forms in space. The woods are discernible in the optimistic larger format “Always Spring,” but her strokes are loose enough to allow the simple perception of pure color and line.

Linda Gerson, “Excavating a Life” Photo courtesy of the artist

Many represent ways in which she works through thoughts or feelings. A collage like “Excavating a Life” is pure abstraction. Made during a friend’s dying process, it is a beautiful picture that palpably alludes to her conflicted state. It seems torn between loss (a variety of black voids), sweetness (a palette of rosy pinks and peaches), mercurial emotions (in black lines that loop up and down and fracture areas of the wood panel), and perhaps even a touch of magical thinking in a snippet of print that reads “Fairywill.”


Throughout, Gerson exhibits a lovely Matissean sense of color.


Jorge Peña, whose namesake show is in the ground-level gallery of the Maine State House in Augusta (through Aug. 31), spent years as an entomologist before trading insect biology for brushes and paint. My first encounter with Peña’s work was in Wiscasset, where he lives and where he curated an exhibition at the Maine Art Gallery in 2021. In that show, he exhibited several of his “Chiribiquete” paintings, which referenced his ancestral Colombian connection to the 17,000-square-mile tropical rainforest national park in the south of the country. These paintings were chockfull of a personal symbology that drew on both the topography of the park and the ancient cultures that dwelled there.

Jorge Peña, “Our Forest, Our Land” Photo courtesy of the artist

A few of these are here, as are landscapes such as “Our Forest, Our Land,” which show the influence of one of his teachers, John Lorence. But, oh my, how far Peña has traveled in two years! First off, like the other painters reviewed here, he has drifted more emphatically toward abstraction, but often retains a semblance of landscape in his works.

What is immediately noticeable is his confidence with strong color. If he were living in turn-of-the-century Paris, he would have been called a Fauve. Like that genre’s works, intense color explodes off the walls at us. Peña also clearly relishes the materiality of paint, which is applied luxuriantly, to the extent that we can feel its corporeality simply by looking at it.

Jorge Peña, “Chiribiquete 2” Photo courtesy of the artist

This benefits all the works, whether abstract or representational. The most impressive to me is “Chiribiquete 2.” Painted in a kind of trance triggered by a reaction to a picture he saw of people burning the Amazon near the national park, it’s all furious gesture and layer upon thicker layer of blues, greens, terra cotta, orange, white, gold and silver. We can’t make out the subject matter definitively, but we can feel the consuming heat and force of the fire. The metallics are comments on the loss of something precious. It’s an extraordinary, hypnotic canvas.


This sort of overpowering energetic vibration continues in more representational paintings too, such as “Anchoring Our Roots,” an image of a tree trunk and its roots, all rendered in deep purple, lavender, pink, green, yellow, blue and other colors. The densest concentration of these is in the roots, which conveys a sense of life-giving energy rising into the trunk from the ground. The paintings are, in a word, sumptuous. They’re well worth a visit to the State House.


After working as an interventional radiology tech in various countries, Portsmouth-based Carson Jackson, the son of a Cuban refugee, switched careers to pursue a lifelong dream of drawing and painting. A quick review of his online gallery reveals an artist who dabbled in diverse styles – domestic island scenes, animal paintings in a sort of Leroy Neiman manner – before arriving at his current and indisputably strongest series. His show, “Dance of the Untamed,” is at Beavis Frank Gallery in Kittery Point (through Oct. 31), which he helped renovate and open on the residential property of painter Tim Beavis, who died in 2019.

Clockwise from top left, “Dance of the Untamed #1,” “#4,” “#3,” and “#2” Photo courtesy of Eric Snyder for Beavis Frank Gallery

These works were influenced by time spent in the Outer Banks, where Jackson encountered Corolla wild horses, descendants of colonial Spanish mustangs brought there 500 years ago. Romantic, sepia-toned images of these animals by Tony Stromberg and Roberto Dutesco (the latter horses from Sable Island in Nova Scotia) spawned a collecting rage in the 1990s. Beautiful as they were, they came to feel slickly commercial.

Jackson’s new paintings tap into something much more essential (and, I think, lasting) about the resilience and power of these elegant beasts. To him, they represent the larger quest for freedom of all beings (animal and otherwise) and the many forces – societal, economic, cultural, environmental – that constrain our achievement of it.

Jackson sees these muscular equine spirits as metaphors for the robustness and perseverance of his Cuban antecedents, many who, in Castro’s revolution, suffered torture, dangerous escapes to exile, difficulties starting over in foreign lands, and more.


Like Susan Rothenberg’s early horse paintings, which also captured something primal about the animal’s beauty and power, Jackson’s toggle between representation and abstraction. But he intriguingly pushes this tension between the two further through his palette (yellow acrylics and pastels mixed with charcoal), highly textural applications of mottled color, and a contrast between those painterly grounds and graphic black lines of varying thicknesses.

Carson Jackson, “Dance of the Untamed #8” Photo courtesy of Eric Snyder for Beavis Frank Gallery

The horses (and occasional rider, as in the stunning “#8”) recall the prehistoric animals scrawled on the walls of caves in France’s Ardèche, northern Spain, the Libyan desert and Indonesia – basically line drawings that are sometimes filled in but, more often than not, limned deftly with quick, confidently wielded charcoal. These exist within fields of firey yellows and the emotional expressiveness of Jackson’s strokes, transmitting a kind of fierceness embodied in universal qualities of passion, will and strength.

A few of the paintings combine all these elements – hot palette, expressiveness, line – without overt figuration. We can make out the faintest tracing of a horse’s head at the center of “#7,” as well as barely discernible horse parts limned in white within a gray square. But mostly, the painting is composed of window-like forms that hint at portals to other dimensions. Can freedom lie beyond them? Touches of gold indicate a kind of divine or revered aspect that harks to the use of gold in religious iconography of Constantinople or medieval Europe.


Lastly there is “Eye Poke,” an exhibition of work by Mark Little, a Brunswick-based artist, at Ocean House Gallery in South Portland (at least through Aug. 18). Little has been a practicing artist for many years. But he has also worked as an art restorer and framer, helped manage a macrobiotic retail store, ran a 40-acre horse farm, restored and varnished yachts for 20 years and is currently also a coffee roaster.

Mark Little, “Tool” Photo courtesy of Ocean House Gallery

These other pursuits were driven by economic need and artistic existential concerns as much as by escaping the isolation of laboring alone in a studio. He uses mostly the construction fiber board called Homasote. This gives his quirky shaped pieces a kind of scrappy materiality that fits well with the title of the show. He often cuts an irregular shape, then cuts this into smaller bits, paints them in earthy organic colors (ochre, gray, pale yellow, sky or slate blue, black), then puzzles them back together, sometimes raising sections up from the surface to give them dimensionality. “Tool” and “Fan Dance” are wonderful examples.


This show, however, also displays smaller works that are square and collaged over with fabric and marine canvas (of which he had quite a store from his boat work). Like Gerson’s art, he describes his technique as “an additive process.” Unlike Gerson, however, not much is subtracted.

Mark Little, “Shingles” Photo courtesy of Ocean House Gallery

My favorite pieces are the Homasote constructions for their texture, tactile quality (enhanced by the frayed lines of their cuts) and the naturalness of the palette. But I also love those that don’t respect the boundaries of their square panels (“Shingles”). Rather, the fabrics he collages onto them stick out beyond them, making them feel a little messy and free. In all of them there is a lot of layering, both of fabrics and of paint and charcoal stick patterns. The body as a whole feels insouciant and prankish in the best of senses.

Some cloud-shaped pieces repurposed from other cut-up works and heavily varnished are less interesting. They lose the materiality that makes the other work so approachable, and the gloss makes them look too Pop. And more figurative pieces, such as the one featuring house forms that hangs in the window, are a bit too conventionally whimsical. Abstraction contributes a lot to the wry nonchalance of Little’s oeuvre. When that element goes missing in favor of more representation, it can border on cute.

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

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