Greenhut Galleries in Portland began mounting a biennial Portland Show in 2002 to mark its 25th anniversary. The fifth edition of the Portland Show (through December 31) features close to 50 artists who were invited to depict, evoke, respond to, remember, imagine, and abstract the essence of Portland, the biggest little city in the world.
Portland is my birthplace and, as far as I am concerned, it is the center of universe. It has all the benefits of big city without most of the hassles. It has a lively arts scene, an enthusiastic sports scene, lots of young people, a busy harbor, dozens of great restaurants, and proximity to beaches, lakes, rivers, and mountains. I’m not sure why anyone would want to live anywhere else, but then I’m glad they do.
Greenhut is a solid middle-of-the-road gallery, showing neither sidewalk art festival tourist art nor cutting edge art. It specializes in fine quality art objects (mostly paintings) by local and regional artists. The work tends to run between skillful realism and decorative abstraction.
Among the tight realists in the show are Joel Babb, who has painted the handsome 19th century mercantile buildings at the corner of Middle and Exchange; Alison Rector, who contributes a somber oil of converging highway bridges; Robert Van Vranken, who presents a bow window tableau looking out over the sea; and Thomas Connolly, who offers a dusky image of the Middle Street block where Greenhut galleries is located.
Marsha Donahue and Grant Drumheller both paint the U.S. Customs House from the same vantage, the parking garage across Fore St from it. Donahue portrays the granite landmark in watercolors, Drumheller in oil. And Tom Hall evokes another landmark, Monument Square, in romantic Whistler-esque near-abstraction.
Dennis Pinette, well known for his powerful paintings of industrial landscapes, focuses on an installation of pipes at the Portland International Jetport. David Driskell celebrates the familiar urban skyline of the Portland peninsula by painting its brick buildings in bright red encaustic against a too blue sky. And Tom Paiement does a cleverly collaged rendering of a house on Munjoy Hill.
Down on the working waterfront, John Whalley, Sarah Knock, Tina Ingraham, and Jon Imber paint and draw the wharves, piers, warehouses and workboats of the harbor with varying degrees of expressive realism.
Bevin Engman, Kathleen Galligan, and Margaret Lawrence each take the long view, painting panoramic views over water. Engman shows an atmospheric view from the Eastern Promenade. Galligan soars above the islands of Casco Bay. And Lawrence abstracts the far shore in verdant, painterly poetry.
Most of the work in the Portland Show respond to the appearance and the physical reality of Maine’s largest city, some literally, some metaphorically. But there are also a few more imaginative and allegorical takes on the city. One of my favorites is Peyton Higgison’s colorful and cartoony “Wild Woman on a Stroll Down Exchange Street,” an image of shock-haired free spirit and her dog inspired by the hippie culture that predominated in the Old Port back in the 1970s. Then there is Richard Wilson’s cryptic graphite drawing, “Fire and Water,” in which a flaming couple paddle a canoe through stormy seas.
A very entertaining and instructive group show with a coherent theme.
[Greenhut Galleries, 146 Middle St., Portland ME, 207-772-2693.]