Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nazi Art Spoliation

I saw the documentary The Rape of Europa this past week in Concord, NH.  The viewing was a collaboration between the Red River Theatres and the Currier Museum of Art in conjunction with their Secret Life Of Art exhibit.

It is an exhibit which aims to demystify why and how a museum operates. It includes a recently restituted pair of alter paintings from an Austrian Museum to the grandchild of its original owner. The grandchild, 81 year old Tom Selldorff, opened the movie with a moving account of his struggle for restitution of the artwork.

I will not take up a lot of space rehashing the film, suffice it to say that it is well worth seeing. It tells the story of the destruction and looting of Europe's great museums by the Nazis. It cannot be separated from the story of World War II- a powerful story that we all need to be reminded of once in a while.

I was unaware of the extent of the systematic destruction and looting of museums and libraries that the Nazis practiced. I was also unaware that the Allies had created a special unit, The Monuments Men, to mitigate the destruction of European art. They helped in the planning of bomb drops to ensure that museums and cultural artifacts were avoided. They were instrumental in coming in after major battles to prevent looting.

It begs the question of what is Culture and what is its importance. In view of the Nazis desire to exterminate certain cultures it became clear that Culture is the shared history of a group told through their collection of art, books, architecture, religion and language. By removing those things physically the Nazis tried to remove their identities.

It was made evident how important Culture is by people's willingness to put their lives on the line for it. There were powerful still shots of the curators and residents packing treasures of the former Tsars of Russia to be shipped to Siberia before the siege of Leningrad. Later these curators lived in the bombed out museums to safeguard remaining treasures from exposure to the harsh Russian winter. In Occupied Paris a mousy art historian, Rose Valland, was forced to help the Nazis catalogue and move artwork to Germany. By night she recorded where works went to aid in their retrieval after the war. This belies the argument that "Yes, art is important, but...."

I cannot overstate that part of the experience of this film was viewing it collectively with 150 other people. I do not often go to movies and have forgotten the power of being swept into a story and to hear others reactions to the more horrific or brutal scenes. There was an elderly audience member who had intimate experience with the Holocaust. She was obviously hard of hearing and was unaware of how loudly she conversed with her friend. She confirmed that many of the events in the film were true and happened to her family. It was humanizing by being both funny and emphasizing our safety to express ourselves, out loud in our community.

This was an example of how the collaboration of two institutions- Red River and The Currier strengthened their abilities to tell a story by reaching out to other mediums. If you have a chance- see both the movie and the exhibit. And by all means, don't miss their next collaboration!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Small Views

C. Chin, Stilling Street, Boston
 McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of “Small Views” featuring small works by Cathy Chin, Melissa Anne Miller, Shane Neufeld and Sandy Wadlington.

The show will run from November 30 through December 31, with an artists’ reception on December 3, from 5 to 7 PM. The public is welcome.   The reception takes place the evening of Midnight Merriment in Concord. The Main Street will be closed to traffic from Pleasant to Centre. Caroling and hay rides will be taking place to celebrate the start of the Holiday Season. For more information visit Main Street Concord.

Inspired by the most recent work of artist Cathy Chin, gallery director, Sarah Chaffee worked to put together a show featuring similarly sized works. “Cathy’s small, urban studies - motivated by a road trip - had a fresh feel that I thought people needed to see,” said Chaffee.

S. Neufeld, Green Fundy After Storm
It coincided with a recent batch of watercolor studies by Shane Neufeld who since becoming an architect has not had much free time to paint. A trip to Nova Scotia this past summer, with its sparkling light and dramatic bay served as an impetus to start again. This show is rounded out with the talent of artists Melissa Anne Miller and Sandy Wadlington.

S. Wadlington, First Snow of the Season
Landscape has a fascination for people as both a respite and a reflection of our place in it. In the respite category are the small pastels of Sandy Wadlington that minimize the human impact on the landscape. “Frosty Morning,” a view of a pine grove provides opportunity for Sandy to display her technique and mastery of atmospheric effects. A careful weaving of small strokes builds up a rich surface texture. The pale silvery grays feel like a winter fog settling over the dark trees. “Working small is also quite intimate and peaceful. You are in your own little world. Every little mark has a purpose, and you put it there, or erase it, or something in between,” says Wadlington.

S. Neufeld, Pines Over Studio,
Penguin Island
Another view of the landscape as romantic respite is Shane Neufeld’s watercolors of the Bay of Fundy. They are more color studies with their broad, wet strokes of pigment. “Pines over Studio, Penguin Island” is a symphony of greens contrasting against white, sunlit buildings.

C. Chin, Tailgating
Both Melissa Anne Miller and Cathy Chin take to the city streets for inspiration. Cathy’s diary of images provides us unlikely subjects of beauty- McDonald’s restaurants, old gas stations and exit ramps. In “Tailgating” her brush turns to a tangled mass of signs and phone wires dominated by the tail end of a car. The red of brake lights bleeds into the enameled blue of the trunk- a tour de force in color. In “Stillings Street, Boston” (at top) Ms. Chin breaks down the buildings and signs into sun-drenched planes - blues, viridians and grays. It is a veritable quilt of color.

S. Wadlington, Frosty Morning

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Art Heist!

I went to a presentation at the Currier Museum of Art on the theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston.This presentation was in conjunction with the Currier's current exhibit "The Secret Life of Art: Mysteries of the Museum Revealed." It was a fascinating look inside the mysterious and seemingly glamorous world of art theft and clearly of interest to others as the auditorium was packed with at least 300 people.
The largest art theft in history took place on March 18, 1990 and is still actively pursued by the FBI & security from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Anthony Amore, chief of security at the Gardner Museum, and special agent Geoffrey Kelly gave us an inside look.

The first part of the presentation was a little slow as Mr.Amore presented all the facts of the theft complete with images of the crime scene. It was heart breaking to hear him describe the destruction of such valuable pieces- the thieves sliced the canvases out of the frames. My assumption had always been that thieves do this to roll the works up for easy transport, but he said the lack of paint chips pointed to them being carried out flat. Paintings this old, with many rounds of restoration and relined with layers of linen, have stiffened with age. Shock number one!

Mr Amore also referred to the thieves throughout the presentation as common thugs and miscreants. At first it sounded like anger or indignation at the act but he continued on to counter the common belief that art heists are ordered by wealthy people who want to possess singular pieces. He said their have been no known instances of this from solved cases. Art thieves generally are common criminals who have stars in their eyes caused by estimated values of artwork. They often hope to ransom the works back to the museums they were stolen from.

Another misconception is that all art in museums is insured. This seems unbelievable but then I think to my own experience with helping to guide people on art insurance. It isn't always the best use of your money. If a piece is truly one of a kind, no amount of insurance money can replace it. And in the case of the Gardner Museum it is stipulated that the collection remain intact or dissolved with all proceeds going to Harvard. Harvard has tactfully not tried to rub salt into this particular wound by demanding the museum be dissolved. The Gardner holds out hope that the art will be returned and the collection restored to its original and intended state.

By the end of the lecture it became clear that Anthony Amore and Geoffrey Kelly are a dog and pony show to help keep the memory and facts about the heist alive. It is part of the Gardner's plan to retrieve the art. It is a very noble dog and pony show though, one I was interested in hearing. I am interested enough to be eagerly anticipating a book about art theft by Anthony Amore due out this spring!

Be sure to partake of all the interesting programming that the Currier has scheduled around the "The Secret Life of Art: Mysteries of the Museum Revealed."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Catherine Tuttle - Peaks and Valleys

McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of “Peaks and Valleys" featuring the paintings of Catherine Tuttle. This show will run from October 19 through November 26, with an opening reception on Friday, October 22 from 5 to 7 PM. Both the exhibit and the opening are free and open to the public.
Catherine Tuttle’s distinctively styled paintings are enjoyed throughout Northern New England, with shows in Vermont, Massachusetts, and her home state of New Hampshire. She is best recognized for her vibrant colors and striking approach to natural subject matter. Although nature is a constant in Catherine’s paintings, she has successfully depicted a variety of subjects - familiar New Hampshire landscapes, tidal streams and marshes, and bright garden flowers.
In this exhibit, Catherine returns to her exploration of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the shorelines of Great Bay & Plum Island. Although she is known for her vibrant watercolors she has returned to her roots by painting in oil. This change was spurred on by classes with noted NH portraitist and landscape artist Ralph Stone Jacobs. “I find I can more fully describe the qualities of deep space, atmosphere, and the solidness of earth with oil paint,” says the artist. Her palette in the oils reflects this statement with solid, dark greens and grays.
Many of the vistas are rendered in both watercolor and oil. “I have often found pleasure painting the same mountain range or river scene in both media,” says Cathy. In the watercolor of Tuckerman Ravine she takes advantage of the transparent nature of the medium by portraying a rising cloud of mist above the headwall, whereas the dark, rich oil painting gives the headwall of stolid permanence. She has also portrayed Plum Island and Oyster Bay in both mediums. In “Plum Island, Tidal River” a delicate pink on the horizon of the watercolor conveys late afternoon atmosphere and a sense of distance, while the oil of the same scene takes advantage of the mediums rich colors.
“We have carried Cathy as an artist for almost 20 years and it has been exciting to watch her expand her vision in response to her growing skills,” says gallery director Sarah Chaffee. “She has really found her footing with the most recent works in oil. They feel like Cathy Tuttle paintings with her bold use of color and confident brush stroke. These paintings are sure to appeal to anyone who admires nature in New England.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How to Hang a Piece of Art

At McGowan Fine Art I hang artwork all the time. I hang art in the gallery. I hang art at client's homes or offices. It is so much fun that on weekends I will change artwork around in my own home. When people watch me do it they want to know if I use a laser level and how I do it so fast. I don't use a laser because a regular level works just fine and I am fast because I do it all the time..... and I have a system down. For you, loyal readers, I am going to share the patented McGowan Fine Art can't fail hanging directions.

Hanging Art on a Wire

Things to know
§ Height: In general, art should be hung so that when a person of average height (moderately tall woman, shorter man) looks at the piece, their eye falls approximately ⅓ of the way down into the image.
§ Bump-ons: These small plastic circles keep art from moving once on the wall. Put 1 in both of the bottom corners, right up to the edge of the piece.

How to hang:
1. First, determine the appropriate height by holding the piece up to the wall. Make a small mark immediately above the frame in the approximate center of the piece.

2. Grasp a tape measure, with the end held in the opposite hand With the piece resting on the floor, glass towards your body, hold your fingers, centered, under the wire (approximately 8-12” apart – more for a large piece, less for a small piece) and pull the wire taut. Measure the horizontal distance between the two spots (for argument’s sake let’s say 10 inches), and the vertical distance down from the top of the frame (For argument’s sake we will say it is 7 inches.) If it’s easier, you can make a little mark on the piece where your fingers are, so you have something to measure.

3. Measure from the mark you made on the wall the vertical distance you found measuring the wire-( 7”). Make a mark.

4. Measure out horizontally from this new mark ½ the distance you found measuring the wire (the 10 inch measurement) – make a mark, one on either side of your center height mark. These marks will be the same distance apart as your horizontal measurement (10 inches.) Try to keep these roughly at the same height. Estimating is okay as long as you are close – if you have a tough time keeping them the same height, just measure down from the ceiling for both marks to make sure they’re the same.

5. Put your 2 hooks in the wall, making sure that the bottom of the hook (not the nail) goes at your mark.

6. Hang the piece on the wire, making sure to support the piece carefully until the wire is secure on both hooks. Use a level to double check that the piece is straight. Voila!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Contemporary: Lotus Lien, Lynda Litchfield, Fred Lynch

McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of “Contemporary” featuring the work of Lotus Lien, Lynda Litchfield and Fred Lynch. The show will run from September 7- October 8, with an artists’ reception on September 10 from 5 to 7 PM.

“Minimalist work is not always as popular as it should be,” says gallery director Sarah Chaffee. “I think people believe that there isn’t enough to look at or be engaged with. This show, featuring three different interpretations of a minimalist aesthetic, is quite engaging, but requires a little work from the viewer. What initially seems quite simple or monochromatic is actually filled with subtle details and color shifts. I thought by bringing three different artists together to address minimalism that it would allow people to compare and contrast.”

Fred Lynch, of Maine, has shifted from pure two dimensional painting to a more sculptural format. He uses oil and enamel paints on MDO, which is a two inch thick board giving the paintings lots of dimensions. But his technique doesn’t stop at painting. He incises into the enamel surface creating intricate patterns. Oil paint wiped across these surfaces is caught in the incised lines giving them a quality of a printed image. The patterns are an investigation and organization of space. “It is my feeling that my paintings are about systems that aid in producing new and seemingly countless shape variations,” says Lynch.

Lynda Litchfield, also of Maine, works in the ancient medium of encaustic. This is a wax based paint which Ms. Litchfield takes full advantage of. Her translucent surfaces glow providing a luminous surface for her lyrical lines. In “Diagram D (Echo)” a scalloped line moves vertically across a sea glass green and earth colored surface. The painter’s hand is evident in the slight overlap of strokes where a third shade of color is in evidence. These pieces are extremely quiet- even contemplative. Ms Litchfield’s lines provide the map for the eyes to skate over the surface.
Lotus Lien, a recent graduate of New Hampshire Institute of Art makes sculptures that are reminiscent of the cairns found along New England’s hiking routes. Her stacked stones are created with porcelain and smoke fired with natural materials such as seaweed or banana peels. The burning of these items creates an uneven surface color of the richest, natural hues: maroon, brown, gray and blush. These orbs are then carefully stacked on a support to create a tension between size, balance and color. A defiance of gravity is their defining trait but the round forms are sensuous enough to make them a visual delight.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Karl Drerup, Masterworks

McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of "Masterworks: Enamels, Paintings and Drawings" featuring the art of Karl Drerup. The show will run from August 10 to September 3, with an opening reception on August 13 from 5 to 7 PM. This show is co-sponsored by The Enamelist Society, an organization committed to the education and recognition of the art of enameling.

Born in Germany in 1904, Karl Drerup originally studied drawing and painting after leaving monastic life. While pursing advanced studies in Italy, he was drawn to the traditional craft of majolica - brightly colored earthenware, a passion that would influence his later work. Life and history pushed Karl and his wife to the Canary Islands to escape the Nazis in 1934, and it wasn’t until his arrival in New York City in 1937 that he started pursuing his interest in becoming a designer-craftsman. His first venture into the craft world was making ceramic vessels with a friend, and they quickly found a market for their work. Karl soon began teaching himself the art of enameling - applying his painter’s sensibility to enhance the craft. His skill and craftsmanship are visible in all of his endeavors.

In 1946 the head of the League of NH Craftsmen, David Campbell, enticed Karl to NH to help build the emerging organization and the greater crafts community. It was an easy choice for Karl and his wife to leave the bustling city for the rural life of Thornton, NH. Since his time in Spain and the Canary Island, the countryside had always appealed to him. In 1948 he was asked to establish an art program at Plymouth Teachers College. By the time of his departure 20 years later, Karl had created a full department with 10 faculty members and over 100 students.
All the time he was teaching he continued his enamel work, which was well suited to the cramped studio in the woods. With a minimum of equipment and space he was able create pieces that reflected both his natural environment and his background as a devoutly religious man. Rather than creating a deep, three-dimensional space as you might with paint, Karl flattened out his images and took advantage of the ornamental quality of enamel. Surfaces abound with bright blue boats and sunshine, or lively squirrels, deer and fox from top to bottom of the plate. In his religious images trees, hunters and Saint Eustis all share the same plane and delight the eye with jewel-like colors. The seductive and ornamental qualities of the melted pigments were the perfect medium for this imagery.
Karl Drerup’s paintings and drawings tell of his early training as an artist. His lines, the work of a trained draftsman, also tell Karl’s personal history. His sketchbooks abound with images of hillsides in Italy, Spain and the Canary Islands as well as pages filled with the indigenous people he shared these spaces with. Later work, such as “Gore Brook, Thornton,” depicts the beautiful landscapes of Northern NH. All of these drawings and paintings, source material for his enamels, are strikingly beautiful in their own right.

McGowan Fine Art will also host noted enamel authority, Rick McMullen, for a slide presentation on enameling techniques called “Unveiling the Mystery of Enamel.” The presentation will be on August 28 at 11 AM in the gallery and will address techniques such as plique-a-jour, basse-taille, cloisonné and more. Mr. McMullen’s professional knowledge will be edifying for antiques dealers, jewelry specialists and appraisers but enthusiasts of any level will find his clear explanations rewarding.

This show will be held in conjunction with a show of Mr. Drerup’s drawings at Plymouth State University called “Karl Drerup: A Modernist Drawn to Life.” It will run from August 14 – October 23. For more information visit

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

After Hours Appointment? Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

Despite all of our advertising, website and word of mouth many people still do not know our retail hours. They are Tuesday through Friday 10-6 , Saturday 10-2 or by appointment. Most of our regular customers know that those hours are guidelines. We will never be open fewer hours than that but frequently we will be open more hours than that.

Our trusty framer, Brian, arrives at the gallery at 7:30 AM Monday through Friday- meaning that if you need to drop something off, he is here. He can help pick out framing but he is not very good with the computer so he can't give you a price quote. He doesn't like to chat about art but we find he has an unerring eye when it comes to framing and fancy layouts.

Even though our hours say we are closed on Mondays one or more of us is frequently at the gallery. Having this day free allows us to make appointments without worrying about covering the gallery. I will use it to hang new shows or do some of the dirty work around the gallery. It is casual Monday for us so we will often be in jeans- or in painting and wall patching clothes. It is the rare Monday that at least one of us is not on duty. The caveat is that we tend to leave by 4 in the afternoon.

We frequently have early morning meetings which means we arrive at the gallery at 7:30. If we stop into the gallery first it may mean you receive an email that early. It gives the illusion that we work 24 hours a day!

We are also happy to make appointments to meet you at the gallery. Some people think that they will be inconveniencing us if they make an appointment, but it is exactly the opposite. We could be open seven days a week - sitting & waiting and hoping that you will show up on a sunny Sunday. Or we can make an appointment knowing that you have made a special trip to see us. We think this is a much better deal for everyone. We have opened the gallery at 6 AM, stayed until 8- or showed up on Holidays. We are very accommodating.

So..... how happy are we to make an after hours appointment? This happy:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Unleashed! A Benefit for the ARL of NH

McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of “Unleashed!" featuring the work of Janet Duncan, Bruce Campbell, Jane O’Hara, Elizabeth Mayor, Holly Meade and Adelaide Murphy Tyrol. The show will run from June 22- July 30, with an artist’s reception on June 25 from 5 to 7 PM. This show is a benefit for the Animal Rescue League of NH and is free and open to the public.

“Unleashed!” is the dream of McGowan director, Sarah Chaffee, who is singularly devoted to her rescue dog Henry. “I have always had a strong connection to animals and I support rescue operations,” says Chaffee. “It was hard to pick just one organization when my audience comes from the tri-state area, but I think that helping any rescue organization is a win-win for animals.” The show itself will feature the works of 6 artists from around New England. The works range in medium from woodblock print to wire sculpture.

Both Adelaide Murphy Tyrol and Jane O’Hara do more classic portrait-style interpretations of companion animals. Jane’s series of dogs from her neighborhood convey her love for them and their myriad personalities without taking away their dignity. In “Best Friend-Trusty” a Boston Terrier strikes a macho pose but melts the viewer with a large grin and an even larger tongue. Adelaide’s “Peace and Love” likewise portrays an appealing white dog holding an olive branch. The dog’s tag is a red heart which adds a colorful accent to his white fur.

Holly Meade uses wood and linoleum blocks to create her engaging images. In “Red Horse” she neatly fills the page with the image of a jumping horse- neck arched, tail in the air and hooves pointed. It is elegant and wild at the same time. Janet Duncan also employs a graphic style with her watercolors. In “Pablo & Savvy” her broad swatches of color create an array of color- and also a moment of sharing for a young girl paddling a kayak with her shaggy dog. In “Everywhere That Mary Went” a young girl leads her lamb around a lawn. The bright green of the grass challenges a red jacket and snowy, white lamb to create a vibrant composition.

The unique work of Bruce Campbell provides three dimensional relief to Unleashed! Bruce is a catalogue designer for the Metropolitan Museum and uses his commute time on the train to create simple wire sculptures of animals. With a minimum of tools and fuss he bends the wire to create gestural figures of moose, dogs, reindeer and butterflies. These are occasionally given some sparkle by the inclusion of sea glass. The lines of his work relate to the woodblocks of Elizabeth Mayor. Her deceptively simple lines and shapes are spiced up with the addition of pigment and colored White-out. In “Mmmm..Kitty” a thin white line defines the arching back of the cat. Elizabeth then uses White-out to fill in the surrounding negative space. It is a playful use of materials to match her playful imagery.

All in all this is a show that is sure to delight animal enthusiasts and art lovers. There will be works by other artists available- Judy Lampe, Barbara Carr, Louise Chouinard, Hannah Phelps and more

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gary Haven Smith Studio Tour

This past Saturday eight of us caravaned out to Gary Haven Smith's studio to see how he creates his sculptures and paintings. It was a bit rainy but that helped to keep the black flies away- always a scourge this time of year in NH!

This first image is of the outside of Gary's sculpture shed. The large door allows him to back his truck up to unload the huge rocks onto the trolley for his stone saw. You can see a new sculpture sitting at the entry.

This second image shows his saw in the background. It is about 1 story high and uses a diamond tip blade (strand). He has rails to pull stones on a trolley towards the blade. A consideration in his design is the limitations of his equipment. He can only lift the saw blade up about 5 or 6 feet so that the stones cannot be too large or need to lie down and accommodate a horizontal cut. Another consideration is that his crane can only lift 2000-2200 pounds. Eliminating weight by removing stone is imperative.

Next to the stone cutting studio is a another space where he mills metal pins for joining stone, carves slate, assembles smaller pieces. There was an amazing amount of equipment - and ingenuity on display. It becomes clear that Gary is a problem solver when it comes to interpreting his vision.

Upstairs is his painting studio which is less coated in stone dust! It was a tight space so it was difficult to take many photos without seeing the backs of all the attendees. This is a shot of the painting station with a jumble of oil paints and the encaustic medium he uses to apply them to slate and lead. It is fun to see some of his older paintings and how they relate to the most recent work.

After we were done touring the studio everyone spent a few moments to walk around Gary & Susan's lovely yard which has a variety of Gary's older and newer pieces. These sculptures benefit so much from being placed in a landscape. The light color and curvilinear lines of the stone provides a contrast to the dark green trees and grass.

For those of you who missed the tour we will do it the next time we have a show of Gary's work in about 2 years.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

John Bonner, Bits Of Sea

McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of “Bits of Sea" featuring the paintings of John Bonner. The show will run from May 18- June 18, with an artist’s reception on May 21 from 5 to 7 PM. This show is free and open to the public.

John Bonner finds his inspiration in the gritty seaside towns of the North Shore of Massachusetts Bay. The wind roughened clapboard, houses perched on harbor side hills and elusive views of the ocean through historic homes are his chosen imagery, but it is the thinly applied glazes of paint and broad strokes which are the true appeal of his paintings.

Sewall Street Fall Over Spring is the quintessential Bonner scene. Painted clapboard has lost its vivid color and milled lines through exposure to the ocean. The colors are muted and edges lost, but the expanse of blue sky with billowing clouds brings freshness to the scene that might otherwise be missing. The bright blue sky glints off of windows and reflects on the wind coarsened homes. Long shadows cast between the closely built homes and randomly arranged telephone poles bring a strong sense of place to these pieces. These can only be paintings of a Northern New England town. As in Sewall Fall, Harborview Over Porch provides a small glimpse of the ocean placing these scenes firmly on the coast.
These rugged scenes give Bonner ample opportunity to ply his craft. In the small gem Fallen Spruce, he uses rough oil washes to imply fences or wispy branches of a tree. By not wasting the viewers gaze with detail he calls attention to the heightened morning light and strong structure of the buildings. “It captures my informal nature,” says Bonner. In Wild Blue Yonder the artist puts this informal nature to work with bold strokes in the blue sky and unusual perspective looking past a house to the sky beyond. These are paintings to remind you of home, but then take you beyond to a place of color, movement and light.

Monday, May 3, 2010

From Homer to Hopper at The Currier Museum

Just went to see the Homer to Hopper show at the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH. Full disclosure here - when I thought I was going to be an artist my medium was watercolor. I love it and all of its possibilities.

Watercolor is often treated as the ugly, younger sister to oil painting and sculpture. Because of the necessity of moving quickly with the medium many think that it requires little thought - and all action. Those who have become proficient at watercolor know that it is a medium that requires more than fast action, you must think quickly too. As a painting emerges the painter must be willing to chance it all with each new layer or incorporate the mistakes. From Homer to Hopper displays a beautiful and broad range of paintings in which to closely study the medium.

This show follows the arc of skill in American watercolor mastery from the early 1800's to the present day. For the early painters it was a medium that was easily transportable and lent itself to the quick portraits an itinerant painter needed to produce. I deduce from the early American examples presented that it was mainly used to color and didn't really take advantage of the natural tendencies of the medium- to pool, puddle, bleed and glow. These paintings are coarsely done but charming and serve to highlight the leaps that watercolorists made less than two generations later.

In the later 1800's we see the ascendancy of painting over imagery. Homer's "Fishwives", shown above, is a stunning tour de force of layers built up to create the moody, atmospheric scene. The artist has not shied away from scraping at the surface to expose a the paper through the pigment. The rich colors and heavy contrast negate the myth of the light, airy watercolor.

Prendergast's The Stony Pasture shows a lighter touch with watercolor. It is the antithesis of Homer's heavy hand with pigment. All the colors are fresh and sit on the surface of the paper. He has allowed the pigment to pool naturally creating a graded line at the edge of each shape, curving it around to create volume. He has let go of the fussy detail seen in the earliest watercolors in this show and allowed the strokes to seen. It is a seemingly spontaneous approach.

I was unable to find images from the most contemporary works (you can see many here) but there were some real beauties to be seen. A Burchfield studio scene is stunning. There was also a beautiful Arthur Dove from his Flour Mill Series. I saw another at the Phillips Collection that still sticks in my head- clearly it held a fascination for Dove. There was also an early Georgia O'Keeffe that is quite strong. These more abstracted pieces pave the way for what it to come later in the show.

The contemporary pieces are what really got my attention. The beautiful abstraction Visitors by Mark Toby with its use of opaque white drawing on the surface brought to mind some of the lovely ink and gouache drawings of our own Bert Yarborough. I was not aware that there was a history of using this opaque calligraphic line. This is very appealing to see this thread of aesthetic discovery over time. Another contemporary piece worth spending time with is a large abstract of lines by Sol Lewitt. While simple in concept it is quite mesmerizing. The lines flow across the surface creating a subtle movement. This is a piece I could live with.

I highly recommend seeing this show before it closes on June 7th. While it lures you in with the big guns of Homer & Hopper, it is the lesser known pieces which delight.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Moving Day!

People don't get to see the process of how Gary Haven Smith moves his sculptures into the gallery. It is frequently done on weekends when there are fewer people to inconvenience. This time it happened on Sunday, April 11.

Gary brought along his son, Devon, to help this time. As Gary and I both get older it takes more time to complete the process and we are thankful for a younger set of muscles.

Gary has a flat bed truck with a crane attached to one corner. After putting on the emergency brake and putting blocks under the tires Devon and I put jacks under each corner to keep the truck from tilting too much as the heavy loads moved from the flat bed to our front step.

Large straps are attached to the pieces for hoisting them up. A hand held control is used to guide the crane around all the obstacles- street signs and the large McGowan Fine Art sign above the door. While Gary operates the controls I helped to guide the pieces away from the brick wall. Devon lined them up on the waiting dolly on the top step.

This bench is the only item that gave us a scare. As it was lowered to the top step the weight was enough to lift a back wheel off the ground and moot the effect of the emergency brake. Despite all the safety precautions the truck started rolling forward. There was a bit of screaming and a bit of running as Gary jumped into the truck to apply the brakes. I had visions of the bench going through our front window and the crane taking out the front columns of the building. Who said art was boring!?

After the dolly is pulled into the gallery an engine winch (the large orange bit of equipment on the back of Gary's truck) is used to remove the sculpture from it and place it on the floor. Some of the sculptures are light enough (a relative term) to be moved by hand. Many need to be placed in the perfect place with the winch- with slight adjustments made by muscling the piece into place.

The tops of some of the sculptures are literally placed by hand. Here is a picture of Devon lowering the top of "On the Way Up." Gary guided it on to the pins on the pedestal. I would guess that the top weighs about 60 pounds- which is harder to lift than you might think!

After 6 hours of doing this the guys went home. I spent another hour or so doing some clean up and hanging the painting in the front window. I hate to leave the front window empty over night. I went home, ate supper and sat down. I was too tired to read. My weekend chores will have to wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gary Haven Smith

McGowan Fine Art announces the opening of “Focal Point” featuring recent paintings and sculptures by Gary Haven Smith. The show will run from April 13 to May 14, with an opening reception on April 16 from 5 to 7 PM. It is free and open to the public.

Gary Haven Smith has long been recognized as one of New Hampshire’s premier sculptors – completing such public works as The Source, a large sculpture at the Thorne-Sagendorf Gallery at Keene State College and the fountain in the entry of Concord Hospital. Many of his paintings and sculptures are in private and public collections throughout the state including the Currier Gallery of Art and the New Britain Museum of Art.

Color takes a back seat in Gary Haven Smith’s most recent paintings as an outcome of his landscape photographs. Leaves, trees and grasses are a jumping off point for the broad patterns etched into the surface of his paintings. He heightens the contrast by using silver leaf on the dark natural surface of slate. In “Soffice” the reference to a forest scene is still apparent on the surface of the slate. Vertical lines of tree trunks are broken up by the silver silhouettes of leaves. Rich red paint on a textured lead surface hint at the soil beneath- creating an overall play of pattern. The influence of photography has distorted the images in this case so that there are both seen and unseen images. “We don’t see things as clearly as we want to,” says Smith.

His large-scale granite sculptures continue in the same vein as his previous work, exploring curved lines and textured surfaces. Smith says “I see it as deconstructing the boulder.” This is a reference to his cutting into the oversized granite boulders and, in many cases, piecing them back together. In the bench he created for this show he has inserted a smooth, highly-colored piece of red granite into the rough undersurface of a boulder. The geometric perfection of this base fits in like a puzzle piece. The found shape of the sitting surface provides another counterpoint to the seemingly random exterior of the raw stone- the perfect marriage of beauty and function.

There will be a studio tour at Mr. Smith’s home on May 8 at 10:30 AM. People interested in attending should RSVP to the gallery at 603-225-2515. The group will meet at McGowan Fine Art at 10 AM to carpool to his studio.