Twenty years ago, Greenhut Galleries on Middle Street in Portland held its first Portland Show to celebrate the gallery’s 25th anniversary.
Since then Greenhut has held the show every two years, such that the current exhibition, through May 28, is the 11th Biennial Portland Show.
The first Portland Show featured works by 25 artists. The 11th edition includes art by 46. Seven of them – Thomas Connolly, Linden Frederick, Kathleen Galligan, Tom Hall, Sarah Knock, C. Michael Lewis, and Alec Richardson – were in both the first and the latest.
In fact, Hall and Knock showed very similar works 20 years apart: Hall’s renderings of a row of trees on the Eastern Prom and Knock’s watery reflections of a Casco Bay ferry.
What I wrote in the catalog for the 2002 show is as true today as it was two decades ago: The Portland show shows us “that the landscape of Portland is more than physical appearance. It is the lay of the land for sure, but it is also the built environment, the way the present appropriates the past, the way we live our lives here and the way our predecessors lived theirs.”
Though there were fewer artists in the 2002 exhibition, in some ways there were a few more substantial artists, among them Joel Babb, Alan Bray Marsha Donahue, Connie Hayes, Joseph Nicoletti, Robert Solotaire, and Michael Waterman.
The meat and potatoes of any Portland Show are bound to be pictures of Portland with an emphasis on the red brick peninsula, the waterfront, and the promenades. Streetscapes abound by artists Nancy Morgan Barnes, Chris Beneman, Thomas Connolly, Linden Frederick, Roy Germon, Frank Gregory, C. Michael Lewis, Alison Rector, and Alec Richardson.
The gallery itself is portrayed by both Tom Paiement and Erin McGee Ferrell. Both artists personalize their gallery views – Paiement with references to his past work and Ferrell with handwritten text along the margins. All of the artists in the show contribute comments about what they have created.
The waterfront and the harbor are evoked by artists Sandi Donnelly, Philip Frey, Tom Glover, Sarah Knock, Colin Paige, and Liz Prescott.
Abstractions based on the patterns, textures, and colors of the city are contributed by Tom Flanagan, Celeste June Henriquez, Jenny Scheu, and Alice Spencer.
As with most Maine art shows, there are very few people in the Portland Show. Among my favorites in the exhibition is a dream painting by Holden Willard who portrays himself as a ghostly figure emerging from his studio in Raymond, an Old Port building popping up from behind his cabin. And then there is Richard Wilson’s poetic vignette that depicts him dancing trance-like with the late great journalist-turned-chef Eddie Fitzpatrick. That’s Portland to me.
In a large group show, I have a tendency to look for artists who are doing something a little different. In this case, those artists are Matt Blackwell, Hilary Irons, Shannon Rankin, Willard, and Wilson.
Blackwell’s Portland piece is a crude pressed tin sculpture that depicts a tanker steaming out of Portland Harbor. Irons has created a painting of a dog bowl inspired both by walks in Evergreen Cemetery and Greek vessels. And Rankin, who has left Portland after 20 years to live and work in New Mexico, is represented by a topographical map of Portland hand-cut in patterns that resemble wind and water currents.
The 11th Biennial Portland Show combines the work of the Greenhut stable of artists with invited others. With 46 artists in all, the gallery is full to overflowing (including the office) with images and ideas about what Portland is and can be.
Edgar Allen Beem has been writing about art in Maine since 1978. He also writes The Universal Notebook opinion column.