We’ve heard for years that painting is dead.
Not so fast.
The early-summer season at Maine museums is full of what should be terrific art exhibitions spotlighting some of Maine’s best known and most accomplished painters. There are other exhibitions as well, including a major examination of Shaker objects and lifestyle, a focus on art and jazz and a deep examination of sculptor Bernard Langlais.
On May 22, the Portland Museum of Art opens a comprehensive exhibition of paintings by super-realist Richard Estes, who lives on Mount Desert Island. It’s the first major Estes show in the United States since the Portland museum hosted one in 1991, said Jessica May, the museum’s curator of contemporary and modern art. It will feature about 50 paintings from New York, Maine and Europe.
On May 24, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport opens a 10-year retrospective of work by the late Jon Imber. He spent much of his time in Stonington and died this spring after a short battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. The CMCA show includes about two dozen of his favorite abstract paintings from the last decade of his life. In York County, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art shows a collection of paintings and works on paper by John Laurent, the esteemed Seacoast artist who died in 2005.
Here are details on those exhibitions and other upcoming art offerings at museums across Maine.
“RICHARD ESTES’ REALISM,” May 22 to Sept. 7, Portland Museum of Art
There are several things you should know about Richard Estes. First, he is the artist most responsible for the category of painting known as photorealism. His paintings are so precise that many casual viewers mistake them as photographs.
The exhibition makes a case that Estes is not merely a talented technician and handler of paint but a visionary with an eye for melding light, reflection and perspective.
After a stroll through the PMA galleries, viewers may conclude that Estes’ paintings do not look like photographs, but the other way around. “The photographs look like Richard Estes paintings,” said co-curator Patterson Sims, who assembled this show with May.
The canvases mirror like the glass buildings that Estes portrays. The stainless steel subway cars sparkle. As sunlight bounces off the ocean, one senses the movement of the boat that creates wake and foam.
Estes photographs his subjects, whether urban buildings or coastal landscapes, in painstaking detail and uses those photos as a tool in executing his paintings. He was born in 1932 and was part of the first generation of Americans that had access to easy-to-use cameras.
He began his career as an ad-agency artist in New York, moving east from Illinois after getting his education at the Art Institute of Chicago, using his drawing skills to sketch storyboards and paste-ups.
He lives in Maine, in a beautiful house on Mount Desert Island that he bought in the 1970s, thanks to his early-career sales. He also has an apartment in Manhattan that overlooks Central Park.
The Portland exhibition traces his career from the 1960s to the present, with New York scenes and landscapes of Mount Katahdin and Acadia National Park. There are several paintings from Europe and portraits as well.
He is 82 – his birthday was this week – and is probably the most famous painter working in Maine today. He also is famously shy, though he plans to attend the opening at the museum.
“He has virtually no role in the art world,” said Sims, who has known Estes 40 years. “But he’s a sweet man and actually a very social person.”
From Portland, “Richard Estes’ Realism” moves to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., where it opens in October.