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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: May 14, 2014

Summer Art Preview: New shows opening in Portland, Rockport and Ogunquit

Written by: Bob Keyes
A piece from “RICHARD ESTES’ REALISM,” on exhibit May 22 to Sept. 7, Portland Museum of Art.

A piece from “RICHARD ESTES’ REALISM,” on exhibit May 22 to Sept. 7, Portland Museum of Art.

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.


“JON IMBER: FORCE OF NATURE,” May 24 to July 6, Center for Maine Contemporary Art, Rockport
Imber’s story is the saddest story in Maine art in some time. Less than two years after feeling discomfort in his painting arm, Imber died this spring from ALS. This show was scheduled before his death, and he had input into the paintings and how they are displayed, said Suzette McAvoy, gallery director.
“We all were so hoping that Jon would be able to be here to attend the opening. Unfortunately, he isn’t,” McAvoy said, “But he is here in spirit. That is the beautiful thing, His work lives on.”
“Force of Nature” features about two dozen abstract paintings from the last decade of his life, including a few that have never been shown, McAvoy said.
“They are all from what Jon called his favorites, things that he felt were some of his best work,” she said.
In addition, CMCA is showing “Four Painters: Hannah Bureau, Elizabeth Hoy, Robin Reynolds and Jay Wu,” all of whom were students of Imber in Stonington, where he lived much of the year with his wife, Jill Hoy.
“JOHN LAURENT,” through June 22, Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Laurent was born into art. His father, the sculptor Robert Laurent, was a founder of the Ogunquit art colony. John grew up in his father’s shadow, but made his own way in art and became one of Maine’s most beloved modern painters. He died in April 2005.
The show at Ogunquit is the first retrospective in many years, said museum director Ron Crusan, and features a lot of early work.
Visitors also should take the time to check out the refurbished sculpture gardens outside, including several restored wood sculptures by Langlais.
“THE SHAKERS: FROM MOUNT LEBANON TO THE WORLD,” opens June 14, Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland
Featuring objects and artifacts, “The Shakers” draws primarily from the collection of the Shaker Museum in Old Chatham, New York. On view into early January 2015, it will offer visitors a deep dive into Shaker life. The Farnsworth show also will include displays from the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake in Maine.
In addition, the Sabbathday Lake Shakers will receive the 2014 Maine in America Award on July 11. The award recognizes contributions to Maine’s role in American art. Past winners were John Wilmerding, Andrew Wyeth, Will Barnet, Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, Paul Caponigro and Dahlov Ipcar.

MOre SPRING and early-summer shows worth noting:

  • The artist Richard Tuttle collaborates with the Bowdoin College Museum of Art for the first comprehensive examination of his print-making process in “Richard Tuttle: A Print Retrospective,” opening June 28.
  • Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville spends its summer looking at two artists with deep Maine roots, Lois Dodd and Bernard Langlais. The Colby museum acquired a large number of works by each artist. “Lois Dodd: Cultivating Vision” opens June 7, and “Bernard Langlais” opens July 19. In addition, Reed Fine Art Gallery at the University of Maine at Presque Isle is showing highlights, including sketchbooks, from its recently acquired Langlais collection.
  • At Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, look for “Convergence: Jazz, Films and the Visual Arts,” featuring works that depict or are influenced by jazz, opening June 6.
  • In Bangor, the University of Maine Museum of Art features the paintings of emerging artist Maya Brodsky, in a show that opens June 20.
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