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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: February 11, 2019

Art of late Rockland couple, who never painted for show, on display at UNE

Written by: Bob Keyes

Time is running short to see one of the most interesting and revealing art exhibitions in Maine this winter. “Partners in Art, Partners in Life: John David Ellis & Joan Beauregard” is on view though March 10 at the Art Gallery at the Portland campus of the University of New England.

The husband-and-wife painting tandem lived in Maine after moving from New York around 1980. They met at the Art Students League in New York and painted together thereafter, maintaining separate studios in their home, until their deaths. Beauregard died in 2009, and Ellis died in 2015.

What made this art couple unique is they never made an effort to show their paintings. Ellis had an elite education, with a bachelor’s degree from Williams College and law degree from Harvard University. But he loathed law, said Donna McNeil, executive director of the Rockland-based Ellis-Beauregard Foundation. “He couldn’t stand it, so he immediately began painting and investing in the stock market. That’s how he made his money,” she said. “He had a small amount of family money, but amassed a fortune that he built himself through very aggressive trading on the market.”

He had a few exhibitions early in his painting career, but retreated from the commercial market. Beauregard followed a similar path.

They both painted entirely from their heart and soul, without regard to the art market or popular trends, McNeil said. That gives viewers the chance to see art that was made purely for the purpose of its creation and without any ulterior motive or commercial influence. That’s rare in today’s world, she said.

Left to their own desires, both artists made work that aimed for a spiritual connection.

“They didn’t show their work because they didn’t have to. They didn’t have the need to be famous or known. But they were both serious practitioners, who worked hard at their craft every single day. A lot of people are hobby painters. That was not Joan and David. They were serious artists, and that can be seen in this work,” McNeil said.

The first floor at the UNE gallery is dedicated to Ellis’ work, which is mostly about the relationship between color and line. He painted with hard edges and dominant colors. It’s highly abstract, and Kandinksy’s influence seems obvious in his use of color and form.

In 1982, he hinted about the meaning behind his work. “To say that this is a religious exercise seems to me obvious, although such a fact is very seldom discussed today. Faith and hope are the foundations of my work. The mystery of the half light is my inspiration.”

Beauregard’s work is on the second floor of the Portland gallery. She painted with more expressionist style, used tertiary colors and a soft approach. She coined a name for her personal movement: semiotic abstraction, which spoke to her interest in the use of signs and symbols, which often appear in her work. Her paintings also were influenced by her interest in Buddhism. She once said her paintings were conceived in contemplation, and the act of making art was a “means of putting one foot in front of the other on the road to enlightenment.”

The exhibition has been up since early November. Gallery director Amanda Skinner said visitors have been fascinated by the differences between the paintings of the two artists and curious how they influenced each other. They’ve also observed how apt the paintings feel in the modernist gallery, which opened in the 1970s.

The Ellis-Beauregard Foundation owns all of the couple’s artwork, which is rare – and a result of the couple’s decision not to sell their work. The foundation supports Maine artists with residencies and grants.

“Partners in Art, Partners in Life: John David Ellis and Joan Beauregard”

WHEN: Through March 10; noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday; noon to 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Art Gallery at UNE, 716 Stevens Ave., Portland
INFO: une.edu/artgallery or ellis-beauregardfoundation.com

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