Cove Street Arts in Portland is as close to a museum as a commercial art gallery gets in Maine.
With 8,000 square feet of exhibition space in at least six different galleries, Cove Street regularly features four exhibitions at a time. The gallery currently has a pair of group shows in addition to a solo show of paintings by modernist Maurice Freedman (1904-1985) and a show of travel photographs entitled “Worldwide.”
“Kindred” (through Sept. 4) is a three-artist exhibition featuring works by local artists Alison Hildreth, Lissa Hunter, and Tom Hall. “Here and There” (through Sept. 11) is a show curated by painter David Row and featuring 16 artists who show and make work both “Here” (Maine) and “There” (New York).
Take all four shows together and you’ve got a visual experience to rival the Portland Museum of Art.
“Kindred” speaks to an aesthetic kinship, based physically on a shared palette of somber blacks and browns and a shared sense of mystery grounded in the Maine experience.
It is night. It is long ago. The world is an island. Monhegan. Vinalhaven. Hall conjures the dark essence of the man-made world in landscapes reduced to roofscapes and horizons. There is a brooding beauty to this two-dimensional world.
Hildreth gazes into the heavens and paints the track of stars and the great celestial rent in the fabric of the universe. Her vertical paintings and drawings read like ancient maps and scrolls.
Hunter creates artifacts of a strange, timeless, surreal world. A collection of fantasy brushes such as “Brush Brush,” an ur-brush of bark and goat hair in which each bristle is itself a brush. Little votive bowls and nests. Charcoal drawings of birds in flight and crows perched on a stack of bowls. A whole wall of non-functional spoons.
“Nothing less than our shared humanity,” Hunter says, “can be seen in a simple spoon.”
“Here and There” is a conversation among friends and colleagues. It takes place in a city. It’s the 20th century. Modernism and minimalist. Geometry and geography.
Dozier Bell (Waldoboro) is the only artist who might have been in both “Kindred” and “Here and There,” her acrylic-on-linen “Oculus, Smoke” evoking the same sense of heaven and history that Hildreth, Hall, and Hunter have in their art. Otherwise, it’s all about urban complexity.
Row’s (Portland’s Cushing Island) own shaped abstractions converse about structure, color, and form with pieces by Ken Greenleaf (Waldoboro), Winston Roeth (Waldoboro), Peter Soriano (Penobscot), and Don Voisine (born in Fort Kent), the common language being various accents of minimalism.
Cecily Kahn (Friendship), David Kapp (Friendship), Nancy Manter (Bass Harbor), Stephen Maine (Camden/Rockport area), Gelah Penn (ditto), and Claire Seidl (Rangeley) share aesthetic experiences of the fragmented in paintings and assemblages that celebrate the torn, the peeled, the layered and the textured. More of an expressionist vocabulary.
Charlie Hewitt (Yarmouth) flies a neon angel through the city, while William Conlon (Great Diamond Island) shows one of his Day-Glo “21 Floors” abstractions created for elevator floor landings in Syracuse, New York.
Finally, Katherine Bradford (Brunswick) provides figurative relief with her iconic swimmers, primal beings who seem to have emerged from the ooze and the canvas animated by colored lights that speak to Yvonne Jacquette’s (Searsmont) aerial abstraction of the colored lights of a highway or airport.
Artists have moved back and forth between Maine and New York for over a hundred years. I can think of a dozen more artists who might have been included in “Here and There,” but Row’s selection is thoughtful and instructive, connecting some of the state’s best resident artists to their NYC colleagues and providing discoveries for viewers, artists who have rarely if ever shown in Maine despite sojourns here. There.
Edgar Allen Beem has written about art in Maine since 1978.