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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: January 9, 2018

Meet the painter whose art opens ‘the inner aspects of your soul’

Written by: Bob Keyes

Photos by Bob Delaney

Harry Beskind began painting after he retired as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, a career that lasted 42 years. But in a sense, his painting has only extended his professional work.

A watercolor painter with a sense of humor and a dramatic love of color, Beskind, 85, paints whimsical, fanciful fantasies. He paints in nature — “en plein air,” as the French like to say. And while the final results of those paintings reflect what Beskind sees in his mind, they don’t necessarily reflect the actual scenes — or what we perceive as reality.

He paints squid trees giving birth to squid babies, a fisherman who has worked among gulls so long he begins resembling them, and dancing apple trees.

At left, “Chimera,” watercolor on paper, 14 by 20 inches.

Somewhere along the way, his paintings crossed the boundary from everyday conscious reality to unconscious fantasies.

“In my retirement, I have had in a certain sense, through the art, a continuation of aspects of my career. It’s not the same, but it’s similar in becoming aware that there is more going on in a person’s life than the conscious reality,” he said. “Art expands our awareness of ourselves and the world.”

Beskind, who lives in Yarmouth, will show three dozen of his paintings beginning Wednesday through March 3 at Merill Memorial Library in Yarmouth. There’s a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.

All the work is for sale, and proceeds will benefit the Mercy Oncology at Mercy Hospital in Portland, where Beskind is receiving treatment for leukemia. For the opening, Beskind also has arranged to distribute information to people about cancer care and related issues. “As soon as the word ‘cancer’ comes, the whole world collapses,” he said. “I think it’s important to share information about what to expect, the right questions to ask and things like that.”

Raising money for cancer care isn’t new to Beskind. A year ago, when he was 84, he was the oldest participant in the Pan-Mass Challenge bike ride across Massachusetts, raising $15,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. That’s where he began his treatment four years ago.

“Damariscotta River on Fire One Million Years Ago,” by Harry Beskind, watercolor on paper, 20 by 14 inches.

The first clue that he was sick was the fatigue that he felt after a bike ride in 2014. He had trouble riding up hills. A blood test revealed low white blood cells, platelets and hemoglobin. The diagnosis came soon after: acute myelogenous leukemia. Beskind’s leukemia also had an uncommon genetic mutation, and he was referred to Dana-Farber for an experimental drug treatment that involved weekly, sometimes week-long visits to Boston.

He now receives the drug through Mercy, for which he grateful.

Beskind’s art education consisted mostly of going to museums. When he was a student in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, he spent weekends at the home of the painter Hans Hofmann and was moved by Hofmann’s use of color to express emotions. Later, Beskind became enamored of Wolf Kahn, who studied with Hofmann and also made bold color choices.

He took his first painting class in October 2001 at the former Round Top Center for the Arts in Damariscotta. It happened to be watercolor class, but it could have been any media, Beskind said. For that first class, he was given a radish and told to paint it, not with a brush but with his fingers. He had hoped to paint something about Sept. 11 — and in his own way, he did.

“It didn’t look anything like radishes,” he said, laughing. “I realized in my own painterly way, I was painting something about 9/11.”

That’s when he learned that one of the purposes of art is to give the viewer the opportunity to have different experiences with it. A painting of radishes means something to one person and something else entirely to another person, and both are valid, Beskind said.

When he shows his art, Beskind likes to display a yellow “CAUTION” sign, warning viewers they may have “an unexpected, spontaneous and involuntary experience” that involves memories and fantasies that may be related to prior experiences in life. “In that sense,” his sign says, “these paintings are merely a vehicle to the inner aspects of your soul. Art is a human necessity, not an option. Enjoy!”

Harry Beskind, “Whimsical Watercolors”

WHEN: Opens Wednesday, through March 3; reception 5 to 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Merrill Memorial Library, 215 Main St., Yarmouth
NOTE: Proceeds from sales of artwork in the show will benefit the Oncology Center at Mercy Hospital
VIDEO: To see a video of him talking about his work:

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