I love watching Cove Street Arts trying to figure out what it’s going to become. It’s not meant to be critical. Cove Street is a massive space that’s far more stylish than any other art venue in Portland. It’s like watching a professional athlete stumble in a game, like a bit of grace struck with enthusiasm.
One of the most important players in the success of Cove Street is Roy Germon. Germon is an emerging mid-career master of a certain category of Maine landscape painting – those brilliantly but frugally brushed scenes of challenging landscapes. His brand is extraordinary – bold yet cleverly understated and breathtakingly succinct. When I make my shortest list of Maine painters to watch, he’s always near the top.
But Albacore’s design skill is also remarkable. He is a boutique manager and co-gallery manager at Greenhut Galleries. Greenhut is apparently separate from Cove Street, but they’re owned and operated by the same people, so we’ll see what that ultimately means. Germon is one of Maine’s top exhibit designers, so we can expect Cove Street to always look great.
Featuring the work of Germon, Kathi Smith and Timothy Wilson, “Real & Remembered” is now Cove Street’s main show. If you had any doubts about the state of Maine’s paint, here’s proof that it’s more than alive and well. All three artists are exciting and excellent landscape painters. Any of their work from this show would be more than enough for a solo show in a typical gallery.
If I look dazed, so much the better. When June Fitzpatrick and Susan Maasch closed their galleries, they created a void in the Portland art scene. But between Speedwell Projects, Able Baker Contemporary, the Union of Maine Visual Artists Gallery (last month’s exhibition of paintings by Julia Durgee certainly fits into that conversation), Indigo Arts Alliance and Cove Street, Portland is now coming back into the art driver’s seat in Maine. Sure, Rockland is counting the numbers in the gallery, but with these new spaces and the resurgent energy of the Maine Jewish Museum, the Portland Museum of Art (the NC Wyeth exhibit is awesome), the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts at the University of Southern Maine and the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art, I now think Portland has regained the lead in representing the best of New Art in Maine.
Wilson’s landscapes are painted with appropriate brushwork and a dark tenderness that somewhat resembles Tom Hall whose dark, powerful landscapes on display in Cove Street blew my mind just a few months ago. One of Wilson’s images is a small square of a landscape reduced to a twilight periwinkle sky, a brown foreground and a few black slashes – awakened by a single white stroke – forming the landscape’s midline. This image has haunted me since I first saw it. It’s like a composite of what I love most about Germon and Hall, and considering they’re two of my favorite painters, that’s not a bad thing.
Smith’s work has also come a little closer to Germon’s, and that’s a good thing. While she used to lean a bit more on a sometimes moody tone, she pushed her new work to follow her strength in making sophisticated marks. Henry Isaacs and Colin Page (who also shows Greenhut) were starting to get away with the brush coat of bravado, but Smith and company are making a great case here that there’s a whole generation that can throw paint with it. the best of them.
As you enter the Cove Street space, you are now greeted by Harold Garde’s “Consequence of Ritual”, a 1984 painting by Maine’s oldest expressionist statesmen. It’s a thick, fluffy masterpiece of figurative painting, a swirling homage to humanist chaos worthy of Pontormo’s Santa Felicita’s “Deposition” or even Gericault’s seminal parlor machine “Raft of the Medusa.” . As you make your way to the main spaces you see several of Charlie Hewitt’s clever handcrafted sculptures – and Hewitt’s recent show in Cove Street was also one for the ages (which didn’t get any ink from me just because that I had written about his recent endeavors at Speedwell). Also in this first gallery is an exhibition of poignant and mystical portraits of Miklos Pogany, whose great-aunt was so famously portrayed by the greatest of 20th century sculptors, Constantin Brancusi – an attractive iconic form I have seen brilliantly celebrated in the latest works of Cove Street artist in residence, George Lloyd.
One of Lloyd’s canvases remains on display in the side gallery along with work by Yarmouth painter Tom Flanagan. As discreet as this comparison may seem, it is revealing. Lloyd can paint as well as anyone, but his works are more concerned with formal issues, such as in the visual syntax of looking at an image. And that’s where he sometimes struggles. Flanagan, on the other hand, is a formalist who doesn’t rely on bravado: he uses tape, rollers, and other mechanisms to intentionally leave his hand out of his images. Flanagan’s work at Cove Street – which would be more than a solo show at any other gallery – is an extraordinary lesson in formalism. Flanagan’s abstractions include series of pictorial elements. I have long thought his paintings succeeded in their guided sense of flow, but he added a series of punctuation marks, just a few dots here and there. It’s not that these marks end any flow, but they mark it like a piece of music might say “da capo” – get back to the top and start over. What matters most, however, is that Flanagan’s flow establishes a visual rhythm that marries the intelligence of his pictorial project with his undeniable visual appeal.
Cove Street is huge. That’s wonderful. Of course, there will be missteps and failures when they discover space, but if you want to see what’s up with the new paint in Maine, right now, there is no better place.
Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian living in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:
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