The old fire barn that houses the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in the village of Rockport, Maine, is filled top to bottom with three wonderfully satisfying solo exhibitions between now and September 25. CMCA was on the financial ropes last year and appeared on the verge of collapse, but with new director Suzette McAvoy taking over next month and former curator Bruce Brown stepping out of retirement this summer to hold the curatorial reins, CMCA is looking pretty much like its old self, meaning one of the bright spots of the contemporary art scene in Maine.
Brown has devoted the main floor to Yvonne Jacquette’s Aerials: Paintings, Prints, and Pastels, the Loft Gallery above to Dozier Bell: Momenta – Paintings & Drawings, and the Bruce Brown and Tucker Galleries below to Will Barnet’s Master Printmaker: Selected Prints from Five Decades.
Yvonne Jacquette, of New York and Searsmont, is world famous for her aerial paintings of cities, towns, and countrysides. She first came to Maine in 1963 with her late husband, artist-filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt, to visit artist Alex Katz and his wife Ada in Lincolnville. Two years later, the couple purchased a 70-acre farm in nearby Searsmont as a summer retreat.
The aerial paintings that established Jacquette’s career began in 1974 following a series of cloudscape paintings, painted first from the ground and later from the air. In 1979, she began painting aerial nocturnes as well. Thirty-odd years later, she is the acknowledged mistress of the air, an airborne Impressionist capturing bird’s eye views of everything from Manhattan to Maine towns and rural landscapes.
The diagrammatic, topographical map nature of her subject matter is balanced expertly by her painterly mark making, whether she is working in preliminary pastels, studio oils, or prints. The CMCA exhibition features more than 40 works in a variety of media.
Dozier Bell was born in Lewiston, educated at Smith and the University of Pennsylvania (where she studied with painter Neil Welliver), and lives year-round in Waldoboro. She emerged in Maine and Manhattan in the 1980s on the strength of her dark, mysterious, extremely thoughtful paintings of recollected landscapes, not literal representations of place, but moody conjurings evocative as much of the soul as of the soil.
Bell’s CMCA show, Momenta, features a selection of paintings and drawings from the past decade, most if not all dealing visually and viscerally with visions of East Germany, both places seen and sensed and places seemingly drawn from the collective unconscious. The works range from small, jewel-like paintings to symphonic oils, all realized in a palette of cerebral grays, as though what she and we are seeing is all in the past. Bell also takes radical perspectives, but whether looking from outer space or from atop a wave at sea, her art possesses the feeling of a disembodied spirit drifting over the Earth.
Will Barnet, 99, is the reigning high priest of art in Maine, where he originally painted on the Pemaquid peninsula and now returns each summer to stay at his daughter?s inn at Sebasco Estates. The occasion for his CMCA is the emergence last year of a body of abstract prints executed in the 1950s and 1960s. Barnet is known and celebrated for the poetry of his stylized figurative paintings and prints, examples of which are included in the Rockport show, but the his forays into abstraction are what’s of interest here, especially as the abstract woodcuts, lithographs, etchings and aquatint amplify his figurative work.
“In the late 1940s, I began looking for abstract forms that symbolized the figures I wanted to represent,” Barnet wrote on the occasion of a Leiber Museum show last year. “I concentrated on eliminating illusional representation in favor of a formal approach that gave equal attention to positive and negative space. It was an intense period of searching which led to radical aesthetic solutions. My search was to find forms that belonged to the pure matter of painting itself but which were equivalent to the substance and forces I felt in nature.”
A trio of great reasons to get to Rockport, Maine, before the summer is out.
[Center for Maine Contemporary Art, 162 Russell Avenue, Rockport ME, 207-236-2875.]