In truth, there is nothing I want for nor anything I want for Christmas this year other than to have my three daughters home for the holidays, but a few days ago I found myself wandering around Portland on errands and stopped in at a couple of art galleries. I would have stopped at more, but one or two were between shows and it was late morning so some were not open yet. No matter, I got plenty of gift ideas at Greenhut Galleries in the Old Port.
Buying art for someone else is risky business. Hard to know tastes. Too expensive to make mistakes. So here is a Christmas wish list of art I’d love to have from Above and Below, Greenhut’s annual Maine invitational show (through January 2). Above and Below features works by 48 artists, most from the Greenhut stable, some invited specifically for the year-end holiday show, all oriented more of less vertically. The organizing theme is vertical perspective.
Most of the art my lovely wife Carolyn and I own is by artist friends — Dozier Bell, Katherine Bradford, Alfred Chadbourn, Howard Clifford, Matt Donahue, Stephen Etnier, Charlie Hewitt, Tom Higgins, Eric Hopkins, Chris Huntington, Janice Kasper, Frederick Lynch, Paul Maddrell, William Manning, Matthew Pierce O’Donnell, Abby Shahn. Once college tuitions and loans are all paid off, we would love to acquire something by several other friends — Alan Bray, Lois Dodd, DeWitt Hardy, Alison Hildreth, Joseph Nicoletti, and Michael Waterman chief among them. As it happens, there is a perfect Alan Bray in the Greenhut show.
Alan Bray is a magical realist who brings an element of mystery to closely observed Maine landscapes. “Flood” is a blue-gray tone poem, a casein on panel evocation of flooded woods in which the above and below theme is carried out by tree trunks and their reflections so that at first glance it is hard to know which way is up. Painters from away tend to paint the obvious natural beauty of the Maine landscape, while native Maine artists like Alan Bray tend to internalize it and express it in surprising new ways. You can buy me “Flood” for a mere $13,000.
For just $8,500 you could pick me up “Fishing Huts,” a sketchy little oil on panel by Lois Dodd. I guess the slightly elevated point of view satisfies the thematic requirement, but what Lois Dodd does as well as anyone is to make poetry of the ordinary, as she does here with a row of ice fishing shanties.
Closer to my own price range at $1,600, you can give serious consideration to “Above the Mason-Dixon Line,” a wintry watercolor by Marguerite Robichaux, an artist who divides her time between Maine’s mountainous Carrabassett Valley and her native Louisiana.
Two the most affordable works in the Greenhut show are also by native Mainers. Richard Wilson possesses a genius for dark, dreamlike social dramas and “Local Celebrity” is a beaut. Wilson’s little graphite drawing ($800) depicts an underwater gathering of people in a swimming pool, the young woman of the title having floated up to the surface where she treads water above their heads. And Jennifer Gardner contributes a trio of small untitled acrylic and thread pattern abstractions ($550 each) that are wondrous little objects, like Agnes Martin minimalism in silk.
Greenhut is also featuring a large geometric painting in acrylic on raw canvas by Ken Greenleaf, better known as a sculptor and art critic. Just 13 thick black lines describing irregular quadrilaterals with a vaguely architectural feel, Greenleaf’s brute force painting is $3,500. Not sure I’d have room or nerve enough for it, but Greenleaf is showing a series of these new paintings and drawings (through December 26) just around the corner at Aucocisco Galleries. One of muscular little drawings (at around $600) with its assertive presence would make a daring present.
[Greenhut Galleries, 146 Middle St., Portland ME, 888-772-2693. Aucocisco Galleries, 89 Exchange St., Portland ME, 207-775-2222]