The Afterlife of Art

When painter Carlo Pittore died in 2005 at the age of 62, he left behind a lifetime of art in his Bowdoinham, Maine, studio. Artists naturally want their art to live on after them, but the fate of most posthumous art is […]

By Edgar Allen Beem

May 07 2009

Pittore self-portrait

Self-Portrait, Open Mouth Series. By Carlo Pittore. 9″ X 12″. 1980. Pencil and Ink on Paper.

When painter Carlo Pittore died in 2005 at the age of 62, he left behind a lifetime of art in his Bowdoinham, Maine, studio. Artists naturally want their art to live on after them, but the fate of most posthumous art is to be packed away, scattered to the four winds, or even disposed of. Fortunately, Carlo, a consummate artist, activist, and teacher, was well-loved in the Maine art world, so his estate has been more well cared for than most.

The Carlo Pittore Foundation for the Figurative Arts has been busy in the four years since Carlo’s passing with the exacting tasks of inventorying, documenting, moving, and storing some 1,000 paintings and 50,000 drawings and sketches. Now, in an effort to find good homes for Carlo’s art, the Carlo Pittore Foundation is preparing to sell some of it.

On May 16, the foundation is holding a gala Carlo Pittore auction at 51 Deering St. in Portland. Cocktails at 6, live auction at 7. There will be two oportunities to preview the work, on Friday, May 15, from 5 to 7 and on Saturday, May 16, from 1 to 3. A handsome auction catalogue (suggested donation $15) has been printed. Online, proxy, and telephone bidding is welcome, as well. The foundation requests an RSVP (503-686-4621 or in order to get a head count as the auction is being held in the board member’s home. The proceeds from the auction will further the work of the Carlo Pittore Foundation, which, in addition to preserving and promoting Carlo’s work, is to support “a living community of artists” through juried exhibitions and grants to individual artists.

I was blessed to count Carlo Pittore as a close friend. Over the years, out of the goodness of his heart, he created watercolor sketches of all three of my daughters. I plan to be there on May 16 in hopes of giving something back by purchasing a little something. These are not times conducive to the sale of contemporary art, however, and Carlo’s work has always been a difficult sell, so I dearly hope that discerning buyers with more means than mine will turn out in droves to take advantage of this auction opportunity.

Carlo Pittore was born Charles Stanley in 1943. He took his new name in the 1970s after living and painting in Monticello, Italy, where the local children called him Carlo Pittore (Charles the Painter). After establishing himself in New York as one of the pioneers of the international mail art scene, Carlo settled in rural Bowdoinham, first in a yurt, subsequently in a studio apartment fashioned from a former chicken processing barn.

While he was perfectly capable of producing the naturalistic landscapes (a few of which are included in the auction) that are the coin of the realm in the Maine art world, Carlo was a thoroughgoing humanist devoted to the human figure. He drew and painted just about everyone he knew, which was thousands of people. His nudes and portraits are very much like the man himself — bold, boisterous even, frank, sensuous, and uncompromising.

The works in the May 16 auction include representative samples from distinctive categories of Carlo’s oeuvre, among them paintings of boxers, carnival performers, modern takes on classical paintings, portraits, self-portraits, nudes, landscapes, mail art, and his comic drawings. I have my eye on a whimsical pen and ink drawing of an artist sketching a nude on a pedestal. The estimated values run from a couple of hundred dollars for drawings to as much as $12,000 with most oils in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.

Had Carlo had the success of a Lucian Freud or an Alex Katz, his figurative paintings would have been snapped up long ago, but as he struggled all his life to make his art and to make ends meet, he left behind an estate populated by hundreds of intimate and expressive portraits, self-portraits, and nudes. My worry is that much of Carlo’s art will prove too powerfully personal to appeal to collectors beyond his wide circle of friends. But then that may well be enough. And if there are collectors out there as bold and fearless as Carlo Pittore was as a painter, let’s hope they show up in Portland on the evening of the 16th.

[Carlo Pittore Foundation for the Figurative Arts, PO Box 613, Brunswick, ME 04011, 503-686-4621.]