Group norming

Feeling out of place, like a failure? Perhaps the problem isn’t you, but your tribe.

Five Chairs, by Pamela Hetherly, courtesy of Kelpie Gallery. This painting stopped me yesterday. The color is beautifully integrated, something that’s lost in the photo.

I spent a few hours yesterday at the Kelpie Gallery in S. Thomaston. I’d meant to drop paintings off and leave, but it is a very restful place with a clean, open atmosphere. I always spend more time there than I expect to. Susan Lewis Baines, the owner, is so interesting and interested that before you know it, the day is half over.

It’s an airy, light space with grey walls, a grey tiled floor and lots of white trim. What little furniture there is, is elegant and subservient to the art. I look at Sue’s handmade desk (no, it’s not for sale) and wonder if I need one like it. Then I remember that I live in an old farmhouse and it wouldn’t match at all. As a decorator, Sue is light years ahead of me. That’s a great quality in a gallerist.
Sometimes I See, by Kay Sullivan, courtesy of the artist. Kay’s works are small, active, and yet somehow peaceful.
She represents a small stable of painters. These include vibrant small pastels by Kay Sullivan, the austere abstractions of Ann Sklar, mystical landscapes of Julie Haskell and Beth London, moody interiors by Pamela Hetherly, and the idiosyncratic landscapes of the late Erik Lundin. On first glance, the work is widely disparate. but the visitor notices that they all hang together well. They are united by a common color sensibility and composition. That makes it possible for high realism to hang side-by-side with abstraction and have the combination complement both paintings.
As different as the paintings are, there’s definitely a group norm at work, and it’s bound to provoke a response from the visitor.
A crow painting by Beth London, available through the Kelpie Gallery.
I tell people I left New York because I can’t paint like a Hudson River Schoolpainter. It is a continuous tradition in New York, dating back two hundred years. In any other place, painting with that golden light and attention to detail would be an annoying affectation. But in New York, it has some wonderful modern practitioners, including Tarryl Gabeland Patrick McPhee.
Mary Byrom is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum this week. Yesterday, she commented about Abbott Handerson Thayer’s Roses, “Such a wonderful quiet stillness, from before these modern times. It makes a difference.” Tarryl and Patrick can still tap into that stillness, and they have many fans because of it.
Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery. His disinterest in selling made him the most unaffected of painters.
I don’t feel things in that way. I’m thoroughly the product of my time, which means less value modeling and more color and brushwork. As long as I stayed in New York, I was subtly pushed toward painting a different way. Galleries liked it, jurors liked it. And I found it personally disheartening. I needed to seek out my own tribe. I did that by going on the road, and later by moving to Maine.*
This is where a good knowledge of art history proves useful. It allows you to see over the lip of the basket you live in, to see where you fit in the greater scheme of things. I like the basket I have moved to, but if I felt confined in it, I’d be exploring other places and other representation.
*An exception to this is Adirondack Plein Air, which is not style-driven. In fact, I find this true of plein air events in general. They usually attract a much wider variety of painters than from the local catchment area.

The value of obscurity

Does fame make artists conform? Critics impact our careers, but what makes their judgments ‘right’?

Woman Reclining of 1928 (Marguerite Kelsey), 1928, Meredith Frampton, courtesy Tate

I’ve dedicated my brief staycation to reading detective stories by the late Georgette Heyer. Heyer is famous as a romance writer. Artist Meredith Frampton was her contemporary and countryman, and he is just being discovered. There are many parallels between their work: they are both sleek, smooth, and perfectly finished. Intellectuals may scoff, but their work burbles with joy.

Meredith Frampton was the only child of the distinguished British sculptor, Sir George Frampton, and his wife, painter Christabel Cockerell. While Frampton was raised in affluent, arty St. John’s Wood, he was also the grandson of a stonemason. His painting reflects an ethos of craftsmanship and hard work.
Sir Ernest Gowers, KCB, KBE, Senior Regional Commissioner for London, Lt Col AJ Child, OBE, MC, Director of Operations and Intelligence, and KAL Parker Deputy Chief Administrative Officer in the London Regional Civil Defence Control Room, 1943, Meredith Frampton, courtesy Imperial War Museums
Frampton attended the Royal Academy Schools, where he won both a first prize and a silver medal. During WWI, he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles. This was a famous Victorian volunteer corps that had expanded to include members of other professions. Frampton served on the Western Front with a field survey unit, scrutinizing aerial photographs and making meticulous maps of enemy trenches.
During the postwar period, he resumed his career as a painter, focusing on portraits of academics and beautiful women. He was, however, a victim of his time and place in culture.
A Game of Patience, 1937, Meredith Frampton, courtesy Ferens Art Gallery
“At that time, the Tate was fixated on this idea that what mattered in 20th-Century art was the forward movement from one progressive ‘ism’ to the next, a kind of handing on of the torch,” saidcurator Richard Morphet, who has championed Frampton throughout his career. “And art like Frampton’s, which didn’t exemplify stylistic innovation, was regarded as having nothing to do with that story. That’s why I wasn’t allowed to show it.”

Frampton had only one significant show, two years before his death. It has never been repeated.

Frampton was a slow, meticulous painter who worked largely by commission. That meant he never had inventory lying around for a gallery to pick up and show. He did, however, participate in the annual Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, sending 32 paintings over a period of 25 years.
It would be easy to dismiss his paintings as reactionary realism in an era of enormous upheaval. However, Frampton was very much a visionary. There is a strong sense of surrealism in his glacial, immaculate, perfectly-ordered surrounds.
King George VI as the Duke of York, 1929, Meredith Frampton
Like his fellow realist Andrew Wyeth, Frampton sold paintings even as the rainmakers ignored him. His career tells us something about the power critics and gallerists hold over artists. Perhaps even more important, his subsequent rediscovery tells us something about the limits to that power.
It’s much easier to paint within the conventions of your time and place, but Frampton reminds us that’s not the only path to greatness. Moderate success, followed by obscurity and then rediscovery, was the career path of Rembrandt and Bach.
I’m still pondering the impact obscurity had on the paintings of Erik Lundin. In his case, and that of Meredith Frampton, the lack of adulation seems to have given them the freedom to follow their own muses.

From Spain to Maine

This reclusive artist never showed his work during his lifetime. It’s worth seeing now.

Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.

On my way out of town last week, I stopped at the Kelpie Gallery in South Thomaston to see a retrospective exhibition of the works of Erik Lundin. For 45 years, Lundin shuffled between Rockland, Maine and Madrid, Spain. His work has never been shown before.

Lundin received an MA in English Literature from Ohio University and taught English Literature for ten years at Lake Superior State College in Michigan. Eventually, he relocated, spending half the year in Madrid and half in Thomaston, Maine. Lundin then spent the next 45 years painting geodynamic landscapes of Maine, the clay cliffs of Guadalaraja, the Seven Peaks of Cercedilla and the Ontigona Sea of Aranjuez. In 2000, Dr. Antonio Dominguez Rey reproduced a waxing by the artist in his magazine of poetry and poetics, Serta (volume 5). Lundin was also an accomplished pianist.

Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.

“Lundin surrounded himself with creative and academic friends while living in Spain, yet kept very much to himself while in Maine,” said the Kelpie Gallery’s Susan Lewis Baines. “A true academic and artist, his work is both cerebral and esthetically pleasing. Many of his paintings successfully show the struggle of being two persons in one, the socialite and the recluse.”

Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.

The paintings on display at The Kelpie Gallery span Lundin’s entire creative life. How he could be an extrovert in Madrid and a loner in Rockport, and why he felt the need to alternate between both existences, is a mystery now shrouded in time. But his social bifurcation is not the only dichotomy in his work.

Untitled (balistraria), by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.

His paintings were strongly influenced by Spanish Cubism and Spanish subjects, including the balistraria (arrow slits) of medieval fortresses. Meanwhile, his other self was deeply engaged in painting the granite coast of Maine, particularly the rocks at Pemaquid. While most of his work studies the architecture of natural forms, the collection also includes some traditionally-rendered, sensitive portraits of friends and a lover.

Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.

Because he wasn’t interested in showing and selling his work, Lundin had the latitude to explore ideas. He did so extensively. For example, the collection includes several composite boards with postcard-sized sketches. Each board explores a single theme.

Lundin’s color sense was particularly strong. He used strong chromatic contrasts in lieu of the neutrals we typically associate with the granite coast.
Untitled, by Erik Lundin. Courtesy of the Kelpie Gallery.

Sales of Lundin’s paintings will benefit end-of-life care at the Sussman House, a seven-bed hospice in Rockport. The Sussman House provides seven-day-a-week/24-hours-a-day compassionate care, pain management, and skilled nursing for patients whose symptoms cannot be managed at home. While the show has officially closed, the works can be viewed by appointment at the Kelpie Gallery.

Newly discovered old artist

Erik Lundin didn’t show his work. What he did was paint, beautifully.

By Eric Lundin
Last winter, Sue Lewis Baines, owner of the Kelpie Gallery, told me about a fascinating collection she had recently discovered. The late Erik Lundin was a long-time resident of Rockland and Thomaston and Madrid, Spain. His work, she said, was wonderful, energetic and prolific. We made tentative plans for me to see it, but life got in the way.
Lundin was a prolific painter who never showed during his lifetime. I was excited to read that Sue is doing a short show of his work. It opens this Saturday, September 9, at 5 PM and runs for a week. Frankly, that isn’t much time.
50% of the proceeds will go to the Sussman House hospice here in Rockport. The way I’m feeling today, I’m more likely a candidate for the hospice than the opening, but I encourage those who can to get out to see it. Not only is the work interesting, but the gallery is beautiful and Sue puts on a nice party.
The Kelpie Gallery is located at 81 Elm Street, S. Thomaston, ME. That’s about five minutes south of downtown Rockland.
Sadly, my breathing is getting worse, not better. I have much to say about art, as always, but no energy with which to say it. I’m sorry, friends.