York Public Library Talk

York Public Library – Kevin S. Freeman Paintings

I like being in my studio, mostly. I like being alone for hours to move paint around on a rectangle. When I look around, at the world in general, I know that I am very privileged. The daily news continuously reminds us of the horrors others endure without end. Humanity has a very dark side. Other than being informed, I have been spared. How could this be?

So, I paint with my heart as much as I can. I paint with my soul. I often wish these were the only two brushes I had. But they are not enough. They cannot express, as a duo, the depth of expression I reach for. Hence I complicate things with intellect, gesture, contrast and ego. Occasionally, I have small breakthroughs but understand I am mostly a singularity. Nonetheless, I am encouraged by the possibility of invention, making something from nothing, in a process that allows me great freedom of spirit.

This show has given me the opportunity to share with others the results of my attempts of expression. Of what it means to be alive, with two hands and a few tubes of paint. It all seems so petty in a way. The world, my small world, is such a miracle laden marvel in spite of the darkness. Nature is far beyond my comprehension. Shifting, shimmering light creates splendid forms as bird calls and breezes drift my spirit into awe.

The following video was recorded by my son, Nathaniel Noton-Freeman at the York Public Library on May 16, 2017. This was at the opening of Kevin Freeman Paintings. You can find the text of the talk below.

Kevin Freeman Paintings will be on view for the rest of June 2017. Find hours here: York Public Library.

Thanks to everyone for coming tonight!

I would especially like to thank Janice Plourde for inviting me to have this show and for her help in putting it all together.

And thank you Anastasia Martens for helping install the work. Your keen eye is much appreciated.

And thank you to my wife Sandra, for helping to get all this work together and helping with the installation and encouraging me in life and my dreams.

And thanks to the art committee and the York Public Library staff for being so helpful and friendly.

I created this slideshow to include drawings and photos and some additional paintings which are a very integral to my process.

I don’t spend much time talking about art. Mostly, I just paint and draw and grab my camera when going out for a walk.

But as my art school friends will attest, back in the day we had plenty to talk about. Art, artists, art history, critics, critiques, instructors motives, fellow students…it all consumed us. One of my favorite quotes, discovered back then and still is was from the art historian Kenneth Clarke, “Modern art is a vast and expensive joke.”

My roommates and I loved how this contradicted the serious assumptions of art which was espoused by our instructors.

Even before the ties of academia had been cut I had no problem dispelling the theories and dogmas that were imposed upon me.

Through it all, I have felt that art is a celebration of the individual, first. Each artist creates according to their own inspiration and necessities.

For me, the most significant aspect of being a painter is that I have an opportunity to express my uniqueness. We don’t come into this world with a manual listing our uniquenesses. As humans, we carry many similarities, physically and behaviorally. As children we mostly try to hide our differences and are terrified at not being like everyone else.

Successfully expressing my being on a two dimensional surface with color can be complicated and on the other hand it can be so simple. And what does success mean anyways? Ego, insecurity and self doubt all coalesce with confidence and audacity, and a desire to portray myself in my truest form.  And through this practice I have arrived exactly here, at the York Public Library.

This is the first time my paintings have been seen in such a public venue for which I am excited and very grateful.

The loftiest idea I have is that I might create something that others recognize as valid to them, and with all humbleness, that my efforts may benefit their lives in a good way. But I am at the mercy of the powers of the universe and my imagination.

The process of painting becomes melded with my spirituality. It occasionally becomes entirely vital to my life and from it, I am left with a deeper understanding of what it means to be alive. Whether pretty or ugly, and whether others desire it or discard it I am making an honest attempt at being me.

The process of painting, for me, means cultivating an open mind, clearing thoughts away and being at one with a pallet full of paint. This process is a practice like mediation. I strive for mindfulness and the grace of irony while completely intrigued at the process and potential.

I often begin a painting by embracing the unknown. I am so compelled by making a new discovery that I will risk everything. The bigger the risk the bigger the gain. But what am I trying to gain? As I stumble along through life I so stumble along in paint. Dreaming of the ultimate combination of form and color. Reaching out with each loaded brush full of paint as if finally, this mark will do the trick.

Confidence and insecurity alternate frequently as I search deeper into my being. I try to find a way in. Into myself and into the painting. I grasp at any hint, relinquishing thoughts, scolding myself for being rational, scraping off something that would otherwise be just right and finally imagining the painting an extension of my existence and painting out everything that is not real to me.

My spiritual appetite has always been significant. I became a lay student of theosophy and developed a strong attraction to Buddhism. Naively, at first I tried to shake away my ego. I imagined living in a remote cell as a hermit or in a monastery, somewhere in Tibet. There I would surely cut to the chase and become enlightened. Well, that hasn’t happened.

I read books of timeless wisdom such as the EChing and the Tao Te Ching.

In Chapter 2, line 6 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists of taking no action and practices the teaching that uses no words.”

NO ACTION how can this be, what does it mean. How can you be alive and take no actions??

I love Loa Tzu… he is such a prankster, yet he gives us insights to the way. He tells us if we search for enlightenment we will never find it. But if we don’t search, it is ours.

I aspired to adopt this philosophy into life and painting. The Tao is packed with ironies.

Here is another great one…

Again by Loa Tzu…

Rid yourself of desires in order to observe their secrets;

But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe their manifestations.

I interpreted all this to mean that if I could be in harmony with myself, I would be also with the universe. I would have no causal effect but exist in divine ubiquity. Nothing positive, nothing negative, perhaps perfection or enlightenment. I practiced this in the studio and still do.

I am inspired by nature. Actually, awe inspired. Have you ever tried looking at the world as a flat plane? Have you ever gone into the woods and forgot that you are looking at objects? At trees, rocks, foliage, branches, moss? And just look at the light…let your mind go.

Everything will flatten out into a two dimensional plane. Forget about the objects, just let go. Everything becomes colors. It is awesome. And when you use this method of perception in painting everything becomes color relationships. Everything is dependent on everything else.

You need to remember to switch your brain back when you begin walking as this two dimensional vision will provide no depth perception.

This way of looking at things is amazing. Everyplace is a great masterpiece just waiting to be painted. Large and ambitious paintings. Nature and observation is so inspiring and it was pretty much the foundation for painting until Jackson Pollack famously said, “I am nature.”

Until he said this people mostly painted external stimuli. Pollack came along and said, I am changing all that. And he did. In the 20th century painting changed forever.

I love this. A huge door opened for the self and its relevance. At the same time a new technique was born for applying paint. Just throw it.

Some of my paintings are inspired by looking inside, others looking outside. I truly love the landscape. Others by emotional impulses such as tragedy. One of the paintings in this show, called “Friends Forever,” was a meditation on gratitude for the many friends I have. It just kind of created itself, as I watched.

I am so grateful for the many friendships I still have from art school. My friends and I shared an experience and can relate to each other in a very unique way. And through this group, which has grown to include many others I am continuously inspired and encouraged.

Creativity led by the imagination is available to us all. We each have different approaches and different results and I believe that is what makes art, at any level, so compelling.

Again, thank you all for coming and for the wonderful support. If anyone has questions I will try to answer.

 

 

 

Kevin S. Freeman Paintings – at York Public Library

Painting

Kevin S. Freeman paintings at the York Public Library

About a month ago I was contacted by Janice Plourde from the York Public Library and asked if I would like to have a show. After a day of thinking about it and not being able to think of any reason not to, I agreed. As I began to put together a body of work I began to really like the idea. A library is not a gallery or museum but the York Public Library is many things. Not only does the library loan books but it has many rooms to serve the town including Selectmen, Planning Board and numerous committees. They have visiting authors, historians, movie night and exhibits of artists among other things. It is a very busy place.

So my selection process of paintings began. I decided to focus on the last several years as there seemed to be a continuity. A lot of my creative time includes drawings and watercolors which I excluded because I didn’t have time to make worthy presentations. I scrambled to make as many frames as possible. I am not a frame maker. This became very apparent but did I really need to prove it to myself? Yup, and unless I was going to drop off about 50 paintings to a frame shop this was my destiny.

I made mostly floater type frames from white pine. As the install date got closer I used some lattice which I painted to frame the three larger (60″ x 48″) paintings. I am a skeptic of framing paintings but cannot resist in some situations. At one level, I like the painting to hold its own, be self sufficient and proud as a singularity. At other times there is nothing as magical as a frame. Somehow they just contain contents like nothing else.

The install date came upon me like the sun bursting out through clouds. I began driving carloads of paintings to the library and leaning them against the walls on a Saturday. I counted around 80, assuming I had enough, happy there were plenty more, just in case. On Monday morning, my wife Sandra and I met art committee chair Janice Plourde and committee member Anastasia Martens to begin putting up the paintings.

There are some prime spaces near the front doors and foyer. They were very suitable for the largest paintings I had with the exception of a large open wall toward the back. For this space I intended a (9′ x4′) triptych. As Sandra busied herself cataloging the paintings Janice, Anastasia and I began putting up the paintings. Their enthusiasm was energizing. We put up and took down and moved paintings around for about 3 hours. At the end, everything felt just right. I was so grateful to have so much help. Thank you Sandra, Janice and Anastasia!

Kevin S. Freeman Paintings

Kevin S. Freeman paintings at the York Public Library

Pricing the paintings was not necessary. The library has no requirements to sell nor do they receive a commission. Ultimately, however, I really would like my paintings to find homes -other than my own. We began the arduous process of putting a price on a painting. This part of the process seems so surreal. My process is spiritual and giving. Selling a painting is similar to the religious aspect of spirituality.  I do not like religion in general because of it’s necessity of money. Things become murky. I am not sure about my true intentions. Some of my paintings ring a clear chord, directly to my soul. How can you put a price on this? This is not simple to justify and I am still conflicted. None the less, we put prices on many of the paintings.

The show is up for the months of May and June. There will be an opening on Tuesday, May 16, 5-6:30. All 52 paintings are labeled. Although titles are few, each painting has a number.  Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you!

 

 

 

Don Stone

As my high school years came to a close it wasn’t obvious what I would do for the rest of my life. I was able to draw and really enjoyed it. I graduated a half year early from York High School and moved from my parents home to an apartment in Ogunquit, Maine. I worked part time at the Old Village Inn for Fred and Alf and spent the winter painting and getting a feel for what it was like to live without the influence of my parents.

Sometime in the spring I ventured down Shore Road in Ogunquit with my mother to numerous galleries. She suggested I go to art school. This trip was meant to present me with what the life of an artist would be like.

The most significant stop was at the gallery of Don Stone. Don was a painter of landscape and still lives. He was very proficient and I was taken by his skills and personality. After a short discussion he found I was in consideration of attending Portland School of Art (MECA) and that I was a local who was connected to the community.

Monhegan Island oil painting White Head

This was painted before I attended Maine College of Art in 1980. I was the guest of Don Stone at his home on Monhegan Island, off the Maine coast.

He asked if it would be possible for me to take him to places that he could paint and could I get permission to go into some old barns or persons properties of who I might know. I jumped at the chance. Throughout the summer of 1978 Don set up his watercolors next to me in barns, under apple trees and on the Marginal Way. I had never tried to paint outside and could barely stumble along. However, as I watched over Don’s shoulder I was mesmerized.

After I left Don’s studio, that day, with my mother, I visited another studio. I remember walking into a kitchen/gallery and there was an older gentleman sitting at a table, his wife at the stove. He was eating spaghetti with only a scant amount of sauce. He scolded me when I told him I might like to become a painter. He asked how would I like to be like him when I was old? Never enough to eat, always cold. I kept my thoughts to myself. Although I truly felt sorry for him I knew I would never be like him.

Don was so supportive of my work. Always offering suggestions in a gentle and kind way but mostly leading by example. His depictions of waves and surf were daunting. He liked to take me up into his studio and show me setups he was working on. One was of a mannequin in a yellow oil slicker. He said he was painting a cover for a magazine and the subject was fisherman.

His egg tempera paintings were finely detailed and composed by a method he called “big shapes.” He gave me some audio tapes on his methods of painting and I listened intently. As our connection deepened he invited me to a workshop he hosted annually on Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. The dates conflicted with my first days of art school. I would miss the first week. I remember awkwardly calling the registrar Eudolia Gross and asking if it would be ok if I did not attend the first week of school, I was so excited!

Eudolia agreed that I could go and I was Don’s guest for two weeks on Mohegan Island. We left Ogunquit and drove together up route one in his Subaru. It was packed with all sorts of painting supplies. We stopped in Thomaston for coffee…he seemed to know everyone. It was a bright September post summer day. I recall getting on the mail boat from Tenents Harbor in short sleeves, bearing against the wind on the front deck as we headed into the broad ocean and cold Atlantic sea spray.

Mailboat to Monhegan Island

Mailboat to Monhegan Island (2007)

Upon landing there was an old truck and a happy Islander waiting for Don. We threw our stuff onto a makeshift platform on the back of the truck and watched it rumble up the gravel hill to someplace unknown to me. Don was greeted by many people and I was enthralled to be in such a mystical place.

Don told me of his friends, the fisherman and how he painted them and how we were invited to a party where it was likely we would see Jamie Wyeth. We walked up the hill and if my memory serves me his home was about in the center of the island. Gray shingles, large. He told me a painter named Shoemaker had lived there previously. We got settled in and soon went down to the general store. Don ordered a cup of coffee and practically poured a cup of sugar into it. We sat at a table with many others. He joked about not liking his coffee sweet, that’s why he would never stir it.

Kevin Freeman watercolor, Monhegan Island, Maine

This is a watercolor painted in 1979 near the Stanley family bait shack. Over the years a mouse brazenly nibbled into the left side.

Don picked up some other food items and a case of Budweiser beer. He carried the beer up the hill and back to his home on his shoulder, I carried the smaller bags. At the house we sat back, relaxed and talked while sipping on cold beer. I was 18. We would be joined by Don’s wife Linda in a few days and then the workshop would begin. The next morning Don took me out to explore the south side of the island. We set up our easels and painted. And then we went back to the fishing village and painted more.

Monhegan was amazing. I loved everything about it. That afternoon Don told me we needed more beer. More beer? I had drank only one or two, how could this be, I couldn’t imagine! Don explained to me he really enjoyed beer and that his indulgence was at the expense of no one. This explanation seemed practical to someone with little experience in this regard.

Kevin Freeman at Monhegan Island

Standing with Don’s wife, Linda, while checking out the painting prospects.

Kevin Freeman on Monhegan Island, drawing

Making sure the world is plumb 🙂

The workshop guests began arriving and Don greeted many of them down at the dock as they got off the mailboat. They all stayed at the Monhegan Inn. Daily, as a group, we all headed off, following Don to his favorite locations. The group of men and women were mostly retired or soon to be. They were very friendly and everyone shared the awe of being on Mohegan. We would paint until one or two in the afternoon and then re- assemble on the porch of the Mohegan Inn for a critique around five-ish. There were cocktails and lots of suggestions but mostly people were bidding on the watercolor paintings Don had done during the day.

The island adventure was epic for me. Don was so kind and generous and so full of knowledge about the island and he was such an able painter. So many people admired him including me.

Don sold all his watercolors during the workshop. Mine were in a portfolio which I gathered up and sailed back to the main land with Linda’s mom. She drove me to Ogunquit and took me out to lunch at Barnacle Billy’s. Within a day or two I began art school.

At Portland School of Art we started by painting the contents of an open box turned facing us. We arranged objects within the box and were allowed to make our impressions with a pallet knife only. It was so different than the glamour that Don had offered. He would suggest always mixing a little sienna under the eves, people like it better, he would say with a smile. I was so grateful to Don for taking me to Monhegan.

Don Stone

Me standing beside Don Stone in his Monhegan Island, Maine studio, August 6, 2007

Throughout art school I would drop in on Don. He had an old Martin guitar that he would pull from the attic for me to play. He was a banjo player. I would strum a few chords with him in his living room as Linda busied herself making us snacks. My path was diverging from his. When he asked what I was doing it was hard for me to explain. One day as we sat there discussing the philosophy of art and life he suggested I never do what he did. He told me he sold out and that his paintings would never go beyond a certain place.

At the time I was reading Van Gogh’s letters to Theo and was learning the difficulties some had pursuing a creative life. But Don had 3 homes, beautiful paintings, and a large group of admirers. Still, his words resonated with me. And they have stuck with me.

Don brought me into his world and opened the door for me. He shared with me the superficial and the real. I left Don’s world as my other influences coaxed me to larger aspirations. His kind mentoring was an inspiration and left an indelible impression on me.

Don passed away on March 12, 2015. He was 85 years old. Rest in Peace, Don and thank you.

 

 

 

 

Studio Retreat

This winter is a vivid reminder of winters when I was growing up in York, Maine. An endless accumulation of snow. Of course as a kid it meant skiing and snowmobiling. As an adult with a very long driveway and partly low pitched roof it means something else. Although I am a huge admirer of nature I will concede this much snow is a challenge.

Only today have I got back outdoors on snowshoes. The snow is more settled now and I only sink down about 8-10 inches. Previously, I would go down to my knees and my snowshoes would act like a shovel requiring me to lift not only my legs but the snow, kick it aside and place my foot back down into the powder for more. There seemed to be about 2-3 feet of snow in the woods today.

deer, white tail, birds, sunflower

White tail deer at the bird feeder

I was happy to be outside. We have four deer who stay close to the house. They have been raiding the bird feeder and nibbling the branches of our dear rhododendrons as well as burning bush and whatever else will provide calories. On today’s walk I was especially interested in where the deer were congregating. It is difficult for them to get through the snow so they are moving as little as possible, using mostly the same paths.

riverSnowBranch

Photo of the Josias River with snow, tree and branch

With the frigid temperatures hovering below 10°F my studio has been like a freezer. Although it is very small I am yet to insulate the walls and ceiling. I bought some insulation last summer but painted rather than installed. Necessity has dictated that I move into the house. So I have modified my pursuits to drawing. I love to work with ink and pads. Currently I am using 11″x 14″ paper and Higgins Ink.

drawing

Drawings in progress on kitchen table on a cold winter day

I have been working in isolation and posting some drawings on Facebook. My interest is to find something that feels true. As I work I try to eliminate encumbrances or ideas. My goal is to always get closer to the pureness of my existence. Obviously the constraints are paper, pen and my all to active brain. But in spite of the obstacles I have a fascination that my aspirations are achievable.

The Idea of a Creative Life

Way back, since I was a little kid, I wanted to be creative. I remember watching a movie on Thomas Alva Edison when I was about 8. I was so inspired, after the movie I ran down into our basement where my dad had a long work bench and many tools. There I stood, trembling with inspiration, not having the slightest idea of what to do.

Now, here I sit at my kitchen table on a cold January morning trying not to drink my coffee too quickly so I don’t have to get up and pour more. My head is full of wonder. Full of great mysterious questions as I see the birds dart across the window and land concisely on the bird feeder.

The snow has laid down gently over the landscape like a slightly wrinkled sheet upon which blue shadows move with clock like precision. Time has brought me here. I have made decisions along the way. I am grateful to have had choices. Creativity is my calling, making something with meaning from something else.

Someplace along the way I developed this notion to look deeper inside, celebrate my uniqueness. When I drag a loaded brush across the canvas it is me that is being dragged by my own hand into a place where I want to be. At it’s best, this place is always unknown to me and yet familiar.

My quest has always been to go to the heart of the matter. Often I am compelled to discard idiosyncrasies, dogmas and disavow acquired skills. My heart is full of joy that I bring back to the studio after long walks in the woods. Nature is my mentor and I pray that we always walk hand in hand.

I cannot imagine a life without cadmium yellow, the ever present white rectangle, a new brush every so often and one or two friends with open eyes and open heart. To paint, for me, is to unfold greater mysteries and share.

Stick Pile Down by the River

I am very curious about sticks and the way they fall off trees and how they decay. I hoped to make this pile as natural looking as possible, with no preconceived ideas. I am looking forward to watching this pile evolve and finally decay back into the earth.

The below photo was taken a few weeks after the above video was created.

stick pile in woods

Stick Pile, January 5, 2015

Stick piles after Blizzard Juno

Stick piles after Blizzard Juno

Stick pile after Blizzard Juno

Stick pile after Blizzard Juno

Summer

Kevin Freeman, painting outdoors in the Maine summer

Kevin Freeman, painting outdoors in the Maine summer

When you live in Maine you look forward to summer all winter and spring. Alternately, when one feels a cool drift of air, even in the middle of summer, one is reminded of fall and even winter. I cannot help it. Today, however, is perfect and I will take refuge here, for now. The temps are in the mid to high 70°s F and it is dry and absolutely gorgeous.

I like best to be outside —painting in plein air. Since early spring I have found it much more seductive to be searching inside, waiting patiently for discoveries. Neglecting the outside world, so full of richness and mysteries has not been easy.

What is it that I am hoping to find in my paintings? It could be anything. Something that surprises me. Mostly, something that I didn’t know. As I move paint across the canvas I watch the entire canvas, seeing how the whole is affected or if it isn’t. I listen to my inner voice, “try red there, try burnt umber and cerulean over there, just not too much cerulean.” From this, another part of my brain accepts these ramblings or denies them. “Yes'” I think to myself, a little orange will be just right down there but I will flip the canvas or grab another one off the floor. If I can just get past the point of conscious decisions maybe I can make some progress…

There are as many approaches to painting as there are painters. By painters I mean people who use canvas, board or surface and paint to express anything. I love paint and canvas and I love to apply colors to surfaces. I am looking for something spectacular. Something that is epic and something that has never been seen.

I spend many hours on this adventure. Not knowing what I am doing but quite confident it is a worthy cause. Painting is an expansion of my being. My soul flourishes here, as I am free. I am free? Well, of course not. As I paint my mind reels with images of great artists paintings, essays, tweets, instagram images, newly found inspirations and of course my brushes come between my wanting open mindedness and the canvas. I am paralyzed, overwhelmed with insecurities and self prescibed encumberances. Yet somehow, in spite of this, I become lifted into determination and hopefulness. Yes, if I can knock down these thoughts and be honest and let creativity open up, my process will abound.

I am most comfortable in a state of unknowing. Where my paint is mixed and my brushes flow intuitively, where I wake up after 2 or 3 hours not knowing where I am or who painted these pictures all about me. But that doesn’t happen. Rather, I walk on a tight rope, hoping to experience the feeling of falling but managing to balance just long enough to avoid it.

Paintings come. They come from no place and everyplace at the same time and I move on. Not being too giddy as the result isn’t as desirable as the process. The process calls me as the rippling waters call the fisherman. Maybe today there will be a great fish and at the very least I will have tried.

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Click on image for Gallery

 

Sigmar Polke to Richard Estes and Between

This spring I have had the opportunity to see two very diverse approaches to art.

Although I feel good art is a unique attempt at expression, I feel particularly insecure in my understanding of Polke and Estes.

I went to the Polke retrospective at MOMA in April. (Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010) My wife, Sandra and I kind of walked into the exhibition without know anything about Polke. It is difficult for me to understand how I have missed knowing anything about him, but it is true. The entrance to the exhibit featured a line drawing of a face. It looked less than naive and slightly better than reductive. My first thought was it was a joke. Surely, this drawing had no place at MOMA.

Arriving at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City

Arriving at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City

I somewhat reluctantly and naively walked into the exhibit and found more works that didn’t fit my ideas of art. I immediately realized I was being challenged and in a big way. Polke stole my attention. This show was transformative for me. It was massive and each gallery full of new approaches to questions.

Seeing the dates on the paintings I couldn’t get over how this aspect of art has breezed by me. He grabbed my attention and then my imagination. I had never felt more liberated in regards to my own art. And then, happily, mused at how easy it would be to apply his questioning and throw convention in your face skills to my own efforts at self expression.

Returning to my studio I cut shapes and glued things and didn’t ask too much. My approach to my new inspiration was simple and without clutter in my brain. But I kept returning to the work I had left before seeing the Polke show. My drawings are dear to me and I love making marks. I love painting on canvas with bright vibrant hues. I questioned my own legacy and why do I care. What is really important, I wondered.

I had also reunited with a fellow student from my painting class of ’83 at Portland School of Art (now MECA). Brooke Nixon and I exchanged works we have been working on via Facebook. Her images are vibrant and colorful. Her working methods seem very similar to mine and our results are what you might expect from two classmates who shared many of the same instructors, not worlds apart.

Our third year professor is having a show at Greenhut Galleries in Portland, Maine. I went to the show a few days ago. I went with some trepidation as my two most intimate art buddies, who were also in the class of ’83, don’t care and don’t care much, respectively for our once mentor. As I drove up the Maine Turnpike their disdain was resonating in my brain. I knew I had to clear their influence if I wanted to have a worthy experience.

I often wonder how or why I respond to some art and not all art. Often I am disappointed that I do not like a work more than I do. Especially that of a friend or acquaintance. For example, one of my above mentioned buddies and I recently went to a John Laurent retrospective at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. I knew John. He was the first person who encouraged me to pursue a life in art. Later, as an art student, I had seen a show of his a Baridoff Galleries which I enjoyed very much.

When we came into the main gallery at OMAA I was not rattled, stirred, impassioned, head over heels or even inspired. I really wanted to be. I kept looking for reasons. And there were some but they seemed far between. The next gallery offered a few glimpses into how his works could ascend to the next level of greatness but didn’t seem to get there. I felt sad and kept searching but nothing reached out and really grabbed me the way a really great painter might.

I became retrospective and thought of my own work. Was it mighty? Why did I value great art over mediocrity? Why would I think something is great? How influenced was I by the building in which it was hung? And what about Polke? Did John Laurant know about Polke?

John Laurant told me the last time he saw Marsden Hartley was on Congress Street in Portland. John was with his father, Robert and Marsden was a few steps ahead of them. His father yelled, “Hey Marsden.”

John then told me Marsden was nearly deaf from syphilis and couldn’t hear his father. Finally Robert got Hartley’s attention and they had a brief conversation. John could not recall the conversation but he was the only person I have know to know Marsden Hartley, who in my world is a true giant.


I came into Greenhut Gallery, up the granite steps and through the door, left. This was my first visit to the gallery. Ed Douglas, New Works was in the back gallery. I perused the featured artists in the front gallery but was mostly interested in the work of my teacher. I had previewed the work on the Greenhut Gallery website and was familiar with many of the images before I arrived.

Entering Ed’s show, I slowly looked, as memories of Ed critiquing my work mingled with images he created. The gallery was small, the paintings were small. The gallery felt cramped and awkward. I wished the space was twice as large but the paintings didn’t demand distance. Rather I had to move in close to make sense of the subjects. His compositions didn’t challenge the art world. They embraced formalities and coalesced Cezzane and Matisse. One of the paintings incorporated a Richard Diebenkorn background.

I absorbed the paintings, looking for reasons to like them. I noticed Ed used techniques he discouraged us from using. He outlined figures with gestural blacks and grays. He glazed colors here and there. I commended him in my mind for breaking his own rules. I felt stuffy in the small room as I stood before each painting, etching them into my mind. I was satisfied that each painting worked in the way he taught us to understand painting.

Every aspect of the surface being critical to the entire painting. I concede in most of the paintings this was true. I didn’t understand how I didn’t feel this when he cut a head off from a figure in mid forehead.

_KSF9612

Ed Douglas, New Works, Greenhut Galleries, 2014

One of the gallery assistants was friendly. He talked about how Ed references Mattise and pointed to one painting that was a take on Egon Schiele and asked if I noticed. It was one of the paintings afore mentioned with the head cut off at the top of the canvas. It was painted in large flat shapes of solid color reminding me nothing of Schiele.

The assistant, Roy Germon, who I think was also a framer, offered to show me his own paintings. They were vibrant and gestural, the compositions offered a sort of tug of war. I liked them right away. He then offered to show me some of Glenn Rennel’s painting in storage. Glenn was another instructor at PSA, I enthusiastically accepted. We went into a back room where he pulled from shelves many of Glenn’s paintings. There was a calm beauty about them with a sort of tint that one may find through colored glasses.

I made my way back to Ed’s paintings for a final view. I then left the gallery, down the granite steps and walked a half block up Middle Street to a parking ticket on my car. My meter had only just ran out. The first two quarters I put in did not register. The next three provided me with 45 minutes of ticket free parking. Looking at the time on my phone, I had been in the gallery for 50 minutes.

I drove up to the Portland Museum of Art from Greenhut. I was interested to see anything at this point and art was compelling me. I paid the $17 admission fee to see the Richard Estes show at PMA. I knew nothing about Estes before the show. I walked into a display of realism. I am not a fan of realism and really had no expectations, except I might not like the work.

I quickly became visually engaged. The selection of details in the paintings was intriguing. The colors were vibrant. Some of the paintings were very large and well composed. They didn’t reach out and grab my soul but they did reach out. I couldn’t deny they drew me to them and a dialogue began. Many of the paintings were a maze of layers that made visual sense amid what seemed could have been mass kayos. The skill required to paint these paintings was obviously exceptional. There was also a void, it was perhaps everything else that had been left out, the sounds and smell of the air, the wind at night in NYC and forests of Maine.

I was excited to see these paintings. They were testimony to the commitment of ones personal direction. There is a deeply cultivated display of organization which seems sensical. I respected the show and the painter. I thought my $17 was well spent.

Reflecting back to Polke I thought how bizarre. Both painters have such a prominence in the world of art yet as different as can be. I cannot resolve in my mind how they are similar. How they both can be artists in a conventional sense. They are extremes. And someplace in between is Ed Douglas and John Laurant.

Click here for a Boston Globe review of the Polke show at MOMA

 

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Spring?

OMG…finally some spring like weather. I was able to draw outdoors today and was somewhat comfortable! This winter has hung on and hung on. Today, however, the temperature down at the river was in the high 30°s Fahrenheit!
 

I need not go far to draw, just down in my backyard. There is a wonderful river that runs along my property. The melting snow added to it’s depth and robust current as I whisked my graphite pencil over the surface of paper. It was picture perfect although my dexterity left me wanting.

I realized again how difficult it is to draw and embraced the effort that it takes to get something good. Initially, I went into my studio to paint but wasn’t inspired, so I took my drawing easel, a pad of paper and some pencils out into the woods.

The woods are an infinite cosm of visual splendor. My pencil could never be sharp enough to document the detail. It is apparent that edit, scratch, erase, scribe, doodle are all valuable skills to the draftsman want-to be, yet never enough.

In the end, what I am left with is an expression of what I have seen and how I feel about it. Always hopeful am I that the drawings convey excitement.

Down by the riverside...

Down by the riverside…

Jon Imber’s Left Hand

Jon Imber’s Left Hand   –   a Review by Kevin Freeman

John Imber, Self Portrait

John Imber, Self Portrait

I am often grateful for social media – especially today. A few weeks ago I followed a link on Facebook asking for financial help on the completion of a film on an artist with Maine connections.

I landed on Maine Masters and was immediately taken with a video teaser about Jon Imber. John is living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and continues to paint. The disease has limited his dexterity, and will eventually cause his demise.

I was so intrigued by the story, I sent links to friends and looked for more info. As luck would have it, a few weeks later I saw another post on Facebook for a screening of the film on Sunday, March 23, 2014. It was finished and to be shown at the Portland Museum of Art as part of the Maine Jewish Film Festival. It was also going to be screened on Wednesday, March 26, at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.

Sunday didn’t work out, but Wednesday did. My wife Sandra and I drove up to the Salt screening room on Congress Street in Portland, Maine. The documentary started at 6 pm. There were about 20 others in the small, red-walled, red-ceilinged, red-floored and red-curtained theatre.

As I ascertained from the teaser, Jon Imber is a unique person. He is a secure, sincere and dedicated artist who knows his life will be cut short; yet his spry wit and twinkling eye defy our uneasiness.

Richard Kane has directed a rare glimpse into a most often personal space, creating art.  He has presented us with a vibrant and celebratory account of a man who understands his days are few. It is further enhanced by Imber’s character and his astounding love of being alive. We realize some would curl up and succumb to the prospect of the dire diagnosis. Jon’s wife, Jill Hoy, has a significant presence in the documentary. She is Jon’s primary support and his fellow painter. They talk and discuss, flip canvases and clean brushes as though they are one mind.

Jon Imber’s Left Hand draws a loosely-crafted portrait of a painter who has a similar style. I watched in amazement as Jon brushed bold vibrant strokes onto a canvas with a brush gripped by will. His body moves from side to side, shoulders tilting in order to make his otherwise hanging hands move. All the while he jokes with uncanny wit. Friends, family, and business associates abundantly flow in and out of the screen, all endeared to Jon.

There is little acting if any; everything is real. The paintings, the relationship of husband and wife, and the view into their personal space were captivating. The weight of Jon’s disease is understated, and it is difficult to come to terms with whether his ALS is a detriment or a gift.

Jon Imber’s inability to attend to brush strokes as he so craftily did for so long is disturbing, yet we become liberated by his fortitude, grace and humor. The darkness of the situation is somehow erased, exposing the white of the page barely leaving smudges.

It is hard to imagine, with so many physical impediments, how he moves on in a happy- go-lucky way, shaping his misgivings into blessings and drawing the viewer into a net of admiration.

There is no doubt, in my mind, a paradox to Richard Kane’s view into the life of Jon Imber. When the camera stops rolling and the guests leave, a man with a terrible disease is left to cope with his mortality. On the other hand, we see, he has painted his way into immortality.

Jon was a graduate student at BU under Philip Guston and later taught drawing at Harvard. He has spent a lifetime creating and teaching art. I am grateful to have had this glimpse into his life at such a sensitive time.