Art Review: Cove Street Arts A Game-Changer

1_CoveStreetArts_Overview-.jpg

Portland is kicking off the summer season with two new art venues on Cove Street in Bayside. The area was already teeming with studios. But now with Daniel Minter’s Indigo Arts Alliance and Cove Street Arts, the new 13,000 square foot space opened by the owners of Greenhut Galleries, it’s a different world.

ART REVIEW

WHAT: Cove Street Arts inaugural exhibitions

WHERE: 71 Cove St., Portland

WHEN: Through July 27 (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

The largest gallery in Chelsea in Manhattan is Gagosian, which occupies a 21,000-square-foot building. But Cove Street’s 8,000 square feet of exhibition space is comparable. And, yes, Greenhut still operates its space on Middle Street.

Established in 1977, Greenhut is Maine’s oldest gallery. If you combine it with the Cove Street space, it’s now also the largest. But technically, Cove Street Arts is a completely separate business from Greenhut Galleries. The owners are the same, and the staff will undoubtedly do some double duty; Roy Germon, Greenhut’s “shop manager,” for example, installed much of the work, including the excellent installation of “The Sartorial Self” – a fashion-oriented show featuring the work of Crystal Cawley, Frederick Lynch and and Lesia Sochor.

Whatever the business and operating relationship, Cove Street is a game-changer for Greenhut. The Middle Street space is not huge and its wall spaces are a bit complicated to account for framing gear, flat files and so on. It cannot accommodate large paintings. Cove Street’s walls call for large paintings. And they have found them, led by Greenhut artists Tom Paiement and Tom Hall.

Whatever the business and operating relationship, Cove Street is a game-changer for Greenhut. The Middle Street space is not huge and its wall spaces are a bit complicated to account for framing gear, flat files and so on. It cannot accommodate large paintings. Cove Street’s walls call for large paintings. And they have found them, led by Greenhut artists Tom Paiement and Tom Hall.

“The Sartorial Self” is a fashion-oriented show featuring, from left to right, the work of Lesia Sochor, Fred Lynch, Andy Warhol and Crystal Cawley.

“The Sartorial Self” is a fashion-oriented show featuring, from left to right, the work of Lesia Sochor, Fred Lynch, Andy Warhol and Crystal Cawley.

“The Sartorial Self” is a fashion-oriented show featuring, from left to right, the work of Lesia Sochor, Fred Lynch, Andy Warhol and Crystal Cawley.

Currently, Cove Street features several exhibitions: “Photographing Coastal Maine” curated by Bruce Brown, “The Sartorial Self” and a retrospective exhibition of the estate of Lucile Evans, organized by estate representative Laurie Perzley. Works are also on view by Cove Street’s first artist in residence, George Lloyd.

Due to the scale of the space, the gallery is running “spotlight” groupings of works by several different artists, including Paiement, Hall, Sean Alonzo Harris and Michel Droge, and the gallery’s bookstore space features an installation of small works.

The shows are strong – particularly the unusual and perky “Sartorial Self” – but it is the large-scale work that steals the show, namely works by Paiment, Hall, Droge and a few wittily playful sculptures by John Bisbee.

Hall’s big paintings are powerful, bleak and gorgeous. And they come alive in apt partnership with the vast space. It’s one thing to have that kind of wall space, but Hall’s work is marked by a design sense that works a certain magic at a distance – qualities that could never be fully revealed in his shows at Greenhut and the erstwhile June Fitzpatrick gallery.

“Monhegan (Manana Nocturne III),” for example, is a large night seascape featuring black land in the foreground and a still-darker Manana Island in the center. Hall’s surfaces are lush and complex, pulling the viewer in to consider his washes of varnish among the thick layers of paint. The darkening sky is a blend of silver grays, umbery washes and cerulean vestiges of the day-blue sky. Hall adds weight with darker blues on the far edges of the sea. And he pulls the viewer into place by sculpting the edge of the foreground land with silhouetting lighter blues, chiseling what might first appear as treetops but which we know to be the tips of buildings, such as the cupola of the Island Inn. However, it is anything but quaint: It is a scene being swallowed by the night. As painting, it is muscular and active, reminding us with bits and splatters of the physicality of its making. It is lyrical, but mournfully so.

Tom Hall, “Brownfield Bog Triptych,” 72” x 216”, mixed media on canvas.

Tom Hall, “Brownfield Bog Triptych,” 72” x 216”, mixed media on canvas.

Hall’s strongest work, “Brownfield Bog Triptych,” is a huge horizontal dark swath of forest, all black but for a blue strip at the bottom edge of the 18-by-6-foot canvas. In this work, the silhouetted black forest appears as a flat band flowing all of the way across the canvas with its bits of sky appearing as a field of yellow varnished newspaper collaged over the surface. It is physically impenetrable, a dream image. It’s a vision rather than a place. It doesn’t allow us in but, rather, holds us in place: We see and we feel, but we can’t enter. With its intimidating dark field of painting and roiling surface, this work holds up to even the very best works of Abstract Expressionism.

Tom Paiement, “Entropy I,II, III,” 96” x 282” mixed media.

Tom Paiement, “Entropy I,II, III,” 96” x 282” mixed media.

Paiement’s “Entropy” is similarly scaled and powerful. But unlike Hall’s reductive spiritual forms, Paiement’s scene is practically encyclopedic. Paiement’s work is always far-ranging, loaded with ideas, imagery, differing systems logic and practically limitless details. “Entropy” is a triptych that seems to tell a story of the world in three parts. It could be seen as a cultural consideration of the fleetingness of human existence, but it is so loaded with imagery and art history iconography that it could be read in many different ways. It has a sense of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a point particularly punctuated by the final panel’s view from space, but here, instead of HAL, human existence could be considered its own poison. Yet, Paiement is also upbeat in his scenes of Dionysian revelry: dancing, sex and so on. Human accomplishment appears everywhere, not only as society and technology (such as the satellite in the third panel) but through cultural references. We see hints of Francis Bacon, King Crimson, Marcel Duchamp, music and so much more. My own reading of the work is ultimately quite dark, but there are many ways to see this painting as a celebration. On its own, it is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Bisbee’s “Tub Boat With Oars” is a footed bathtub made from the artist’s signature 9-inch nails. It treats the vast floor of Cove Street’s main space like a sea. It’s empty, but for a bird perched on the rim: This detail is both hilarious and cheekily inviting. There is no way this thing could float and it is not unlike a bed-of-nails in bathtub form because of its life-size human scale. It seems to hum along happily: “Rub a dub dub …”

Michel Droge’s “When Cupid Went Crazy” is a very large and colorfully atmospheric canvas. Droge has included some of her Marshall Islands stick chart imagery – which ostensibly turns the image from a view to the sky to a view down to the water. (Stick charts were a form of navigation device that laid out how the presence of the islands interrupted the ocean swells.) But Droge’s works hold up primarily as abstract painting. Their opticality and bubbly visuality are spatial and so turn Droge’s colors into light. Working on this scale is good for Droge: Her work holds up extremely well. It manages to be simultaneously playful and elegant.

There is much more art to mention. For example, the unexpected visual conversation between Cawley’s and Lynch’s work could be worth an entire column. But Cove Street is an excellent space, and what it offers in terms of possibilities and scale is new, important and most welcome.

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

dankany@gmail.com

John Danos