Art is serious business. There’s not much humor involved most of the time. So when you do find an artist like Zack Horn, who possesses a painterly sense of humor, it’s worth taking the time to seek out his work.
I hadn’t been to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath for more than a decade when I got a couple of emails back in July from Horn, who lives in Dorchester, Massachusetts, asking me to please stop by the museum to see his exhibition, “Looking for Winslow Homer.” I promised I’d try without a great deal of confidence that I would. On September 23 I finally saw the show and I’m glad I did.
“Looking for Winslow Homer” (on view until November 27) features paintings, stop action animations and installations that are unexpected, entertaining and wryly humorous. I had expected to see generic Maine seascapes, but Horn’s response to Homer is instead lightly satirical.
Horn’s stop action animation seascapes feature cartoon surf and waves breaking on the two-dimensional shore of art complete with tidal sounds. One animation of Prouts Neck depicts a ledge with surf surging against it. Another is simply a series of regular waves breaking. I was out at Scarborough Beach and Prouts Neck last week and can attest that even in caricature the North Atlantic remains recognizable.
Horn also shows paintings with frames decorated with cocktail umbrellas and lemon wedge lights, references I supposed to the wealthy summer colony that strangles Prouts Neck and Homer’s studio like bittersweet.
“Prout’s Neck is astoundingly beautiful, like a place to measure the sublime,” writes Horn of his summer 2021 pilgrimage in search of the great man’s vision. “But, that clarity only exists now (and truthfully only existed for Winslow Homer) by carefully cropping out the luxurious context.”
For decades, anyone interested enough in Homer to seek out Prouts Neck could ask one of the surviving Homer relatives for admission to the studio where Homer painted from 1883 to 1910. Doris Homer, then the summer colony’s leading realtor, let me in to see the studio several times over the years.
These days, admission to the Homer Studio is provided by the Portland Museum of Art, which purchased the landmark carriage house studio in 2006. To get to the studio, which is locked away within the gated community, one has to take a van from the museum at a cost of $65. Due to the pandemic, the Homer Studio won’t be open again until 2023. So Horn never did get inside Homer’s workspace.
“Looking for Winslow Homer is quixotic,” writes Horn. “There is no real spot that you can stand on that is as austerely elemental as a Winslow Homer painting. You can try Pemaquid Point, two hours north. There, the waves crash with an inhuman intensity. It’s really breathtaking, but you’ll have to make an inconvenient effort to be there alone. The truth is that the best place to find Winslow Homer is in a museum.”
Zach Horn’s Maine Maritime Museum show is not limited to good-natured send-ups of Homer. He also does a nice number on Josef Albers’ “Homage to the Square,” that icon of minimalism. Horn’s homage, however, features a square piece of bread and cheese affixed to a yellow square. Another painting takes the form of a grid of 108 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Horn is also capable of playing it more or less straight as with “Islands,” a 6 by 21 foot coastal panorama that fills the back wall of the gallery. But his primary contribution to art in Maine is to translate the familiar coastal landscape into amusing animations and iconoclastic images.
Edgar Allen Beem has written about art in Maine since 1978. He also writes the weekly Universal Notebook opinion column.