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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: December 19, 2017

A newly arrived artist displays assemblages about loss in his Portland debut

Written by: Bob Keyes

Images courtesy of Gregg Harper

Gregg Harper moved to Portland seven months ago, a few years after the death of his wife, Naomi Bradford. They were married on Monhegan, a favorite place, and after Naomi died in 2013, Harper cast her ashes into the Atlantic Ocean. Living in Portland on the edge of the sea keeps them close, he said, and it seems fitting that he would spend his widower years in a place they both loved.

In January, Harper makes his debut on the Portland and Maine art scenes with a solo exhibition, “Prayers & Elegies: Found Narratives, Combinational Artworks by Gregg Harper” at the Union of Maine Visual Artists gallery on Congress Street. An archaeologist, Harper creates multi-layered, three-dimensional pieces that combine his paintings, photographs, cut paper silhouettes, textiles and other objects. Collectively, the work explores loss.

“It’s about loss in general,” Harper said over tea. “It could be the loss of a loved one, or it could be the loss of youth. Loss is a universal feeling.”

The elements he uses to construct his pieces are touchstones for memory and self-reflection, and are things we all use in life to express loss and find balance, he said — physical objects that hold memory, a piece of music or the words in a book. His assemblages are rooted in his interest in archaeology, music and literature, and he constructs them with the intent that they will be read by the viewer, with meanings that are open to interpretation.

He’s also showing work from what he calls the “Broken Vessel Cartomancy Series,” which takes its inspiration from tarot cards and draws on mythological and philosophical perspectives.

As with all of his art, Harper hopes to lead people toward what he calls “expanded thinking and an evolving consciousness.”

In addition to his work as a visual artist, Harper is also a musician. He has released a half-dozen CDs and has begun performing as a singer-songwriter in Portland. He will perform from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 4 at Blue in Portland. The next night, he will be at the UMVA gallery for the opening of his solo art show.

In a short amount of time, Harper has immersed himself in the Portland art scene, joining the Union of Maine Visual Artists and volunteering with the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association. He considers himself semi-retired — his visual art and music keep him active — and comes to Maine with more than two decades of professional art experience as a museum director, curator and gallery owner. He worked as executive director and curator of the Behringer-Crawford Museum in Covington, Kentucky, his home state, and at the Cape Museum of Fine Art in Dennis, Massachusetts.

Harper and his wife co-founded Museo Gallery in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, in 2002. Soon after opening the gallery, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With her diagnosis, he returned to his training as an archaeologist, working as a cultural resource specialist with an environmental consulting company based in Maryland.

Today, in addition to his work as a visual artist and musician, Harper also works as a jeweler. He has a small studio in his apartment in downtown Portland. He chose to live in Maine for this phase of his life because of the state’s importance in his relationship with his late wife. He chose Portland because it’s a great city with an active and welcoming art scene, he said.

“Prayers & Elegies: Found Narratives, Combinational Artworks by Gregg Harper

WHEN: Jan. 1-31, with opening from 5 to 8 p.m. Jan. 5, as part of First Friday Art Walk
WHERE: Union of Maine Visual Artists gallery, Portland Media Center, 516 Congress St., Portland
ALSO: A singer-songwriter, Harper will perform from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Jan. 4, at Blue, 650A Congress St.

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