Carlo Pittore (1943-2005) was both a much-loved artist, art activist and teacher and a somewhat intimidating figure. That’s because he was as passionate about art and honor as any artist who has ever worked in Maine.
As friends are fond of saying, Carlo’s greatest creation was himself. In an all-too-brief life, he transformed himself from Charles J. Stanley, Jewish New Yorker, into Carlo Pittore, a Maine painter with an Italian avatar. Carlo Pittore translates as Carlo the Painter, the name the children of an Italian village gave him.
Had Carlo not died at 62, he would have turned 80 on May 14. To honor the man, his memory and his art, Sarah Bouchard Gallery in rural Woolwich has mounted a moving mini-retrospective, “I Am Still Performing,” (April 8 to May 14). And there is a chance that the long-overdue Maine Masters video portrait of Carlo Pittore will finally be completed.
The Maine Masters series, which includes videos on artists such as Lois Dodd, David Driskell, William Thon and Dahlov Ipcar, is sponsored by the Union of Maine Visual Arts, the artist advocacy group Carlo Pittore co-founded in 1975. The UMVA was instrumental in supporting Maine’s Percent for Art law and its Artist’s Estate Tax Law (which allows artists’ estates to pay taxes with works of art) and in opposing artist entry and jury fees for group shows. Carlo was particularly fierce on this latter score.
Carlo was that rare figure on the Maine art scene, a figurative painter, rarer still a devotee of the nude. In 1987, he founded the Academy of Carlo Pittore in Bowdoinham, drawing and painting from nude models with his students and colleagues in a converted chicken plant.
In 2017, the Carlo Pittore Foundation for the Figurative Arts, which Carlo started to preserve and promote his own art and that of other figurative painters, became the International Artists Manifest, which is run by gallerist Sarah Bouchard.
“I Am Still Performing” features a representative selection of Pittore’s nudes, self-portraits, boxer portraits, collages and mail art pieces as well as one of his masterworks, the 8 x 16 foot “La Buffonera,” a riotous circus of clowns, acrobats, musicians, fire-eaters and trapeze artists, all of whom are the same character.
I was particularly taken by a trio of life-size nudes, two male and one female, posed between wooden studs against a red curtain backdrop as though alive in their own coffins. There was always something flagrant and bawdy about Carlo’s nudes. Carlo was a sensualist whether it was painting flesh, listening to opera or preparing a wine-drenched spaghetti dinner.
Accompanying the works of art is a video loop of Carlo at times laughing wildly at others commenting somberly and quietly about life and death.
The Maine Masters video entitled “Carlo,” which Richard Kane has been working on at least since 2009, is an affectionate portrait of the larger-than-life Pittore. Kane hopes to have it completed by Carlo’s May 14 birthday.
Having seen the rough cut, I can tell you that “Carlo” is an engaging visual profile that uses the artist’s own words and pictures and the words of his friends to conjure the colorful character Carlo became. Among the commenters are former Bureau of Parks & Recreation director and Carlo Pittore Foundation board member Herb Hartman, art critic Carl Little, myself, poet Bob Holman, museum director George Kinghorn, and artists Clarity Haynes and Abby Shahn.
There is also a recurring al fresco dinner party sequence featuring Hartmann, artists Katherine Bradford, Natasha Mayers, Stephen Petroff, Rob Shetterly and Pam Smith and critic Lucy Lippard who drink and dine while discussing Carlo’s life and art. The conversation is so casual and honest that it’s almost as though Carlo had just stepped away from the table for a moment rather than for all eternity.
Edgar Allen Beem has been writing about art in Maine since 1978.