Art Review: Cove Street Arts Coming Into Its Own

“After the Show,” Roy Germon.  Photos courtesy of the artists

“After the Show,” Roy Germon. Photos courtesy of the artists

I am enjoying watching Cove Street Arts trying to figure out what it will become. That’s not meant to be critical. Cove Street is a huge space that is far more elegant than any other art venue in Portland. It’s like watching a professional athlete stumble in a game, like a bit of grace excitingly knocked about.

ART REVIEW

WHAT: “Real & Remembered,” paintings by Roy Germon, Kathi Smith and Timothy Wilson

WHERE: 71 Cove St., Portland

WHEN: Through Dec. 7 (dates on specific shows vary, see website)

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

INFO: covestreetarts.com

One of the most important players in making Cove Street a success is Roy Germon. Germon is a mid-career emerging master of a certain category of Maine landscape painting – those brilliantly though frugally brushed scenes of hardscrabble landscape. His mark-making is extraordinary – bold but intelligently understated and breathlessly succinct. When I make my shortest of short lists of Maine painters to watch, he’s always near the top.

“Stream to Lake,” Roy Germon

“Stream to Lake,” Roy Germon

But Germon’s design skill is also noteworthy. He is the shop manager and gallery co-manager at Greenhut Galleries. Greenhut is ostensibly separate from Cove Street, but they are owned and operated by the same folks, so we’ll see what that will ultimately come to mean. Germon is one of the best exhibition designers in Maine, so we can expect Cove Street will always look good.

Featuring the work of Germon, Kathi Smith and Timothy Wilson, “Real & Remembered” is the now the main show at Cove Street. If you had any doubts about the state of Maine painting, here is proof that it is 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 sound giddy, good. 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 show of Julia Durgee’s paintings certainly fits in this conversation), Indigo Arts Alliance and Cove Street, Portland is now roaring back into the driver’s seat of art in Maine. Sure, Rockland has the numbers in the gallery count, but with these new spaces and the resurgent energy of the Maine Jewish Museum, the Portland Museum of Art (the N.C. Wyeth show is awesome), the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts at the University of Southern Maine, and the Maine College of Art’s Institute of Contemporary Art, I am now thinking that Portland has retaken the lead in representing the best of new art in Maine.

Wilson’s landscapes are painted with an apt brush and a dark tenderness that feels a bit like Tom Hall whose bleakly powerful landscapes on view at Cove Street blew me away just a couple of months ago. One of Wilson’s images is a small square of a landscape pared down to a crepuscular periwinkle sky, a brown foreground and a few black slashes – awakened by a single white stroke – comprising the treeline middle ground of the landscape. This image has haunted me since I first saw it. It’s like a composite of what I like best about Germon and Hall, and considering they are two of my favorite painters, that’s not a bad thing.

“Into the Thick,” Kathi Smith

“Into the Thick,” Kathi Smith

Smith’s work has also moved a bit closer to Germon’s, and that’s a great thing. Whereas she used to rely a bit more on sometimes moody tonality, she has pressed her new work to follow her strength in sophisticated mark-making. Henry Isaacs and Colin Page (who also shows at Greenhut) were starting to run away with the mantle of the bravado brush, but Smith and company are here making a great case that there is an entire generation that can fling paint with the best of them.

Walking into Cove Street’s space now, you are now greeted by Harold Garde’s “Consequence of Ritual,” a 1984 tableau by Maine’s elder statesmen of expressionism. It is a thick and chewy masterpiece of figurative painting, a whirling tribute to humanistic chaos worthy of Pontormo’s Santa Felicita “Deposition” or even Gericault’s seminal salon machine “Raft of the Medusa.” Heading toward the main spaces, you see several of Charlie Hewitt’s savvy crafted sculptures – and Hewitt’s recent show at Cove Street was also one for the ages (which didn’t get ink from me only because I had written about his recent ventures at Speedwell). In that first gallery is also a show of poignantly mystical portraits by Miklos Pogany, whose great aunt was so famously portrayed by the greatest of 20th-century sculptors, Constantin Brancusi – an iconically appealing shape I saw brilliantly being celebrated in the newest works of Cove Street’s artist-in-residence, George Lloyd.

“Spin,” Tom Flanagan

“Spin,” Tom Flanagan

One of Lloyd’s canvases remains on view in the side gallery with the work of Yarmouth painter Tom Flanagan. However quiet this comparison might seem, it is telling. Lloyd can paint as well as anyone ever could, but his works are more concerned with formal issues, as in the visual syntax of looking at a picture. And that is where he sometimes struggles. Flanagan, on the other hand, is a formalist who doesn’t rely on brushy bravado: He uses tape, rollers and other mechanisms to intentionally leave his hand out of his pictures. Flanagan’s work at Cove Street – which would be more than a solo show at any other gallery – is a lesson in extraordinary formalism. Flanagan’s abstractions comprise series of pictorial elements. I have long thought his paintings succeeded within their guided sense of flow, but he has added a series of punctuation marks, just a few dots here and there. It’s not that that these marks end any flow, but they mark it like a piece of music might say “da capo” – go back to the top and start again. What matters most, though, is that Flanagan’s flow establishes a visual rhythm that matches the intelligence of his painterly project to its undeniable visual appeal.

Cove Street is huge. It is gorgeous. Sure, there will be missteps and failures as they figure out the space, but if you want to see what’s happening with new painting in Maine, at the moment, there is no better place.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

dankany@gmail.com

John Danos