“Maine” Artists? Beginning to unpack regionalism

by Jacob Fall

This fall, I sent a short questionnaire to a dozen curators and critics active in Maine, and a different one to thirty or so artists who were born here, live here, or went to school here. A most unscientific survey, I have made no attempt to tabulate the results. The responses ran a gamut of gamuts. At the risk of taking this piece into listicle territory, I will present an array of quotations that should help to map the psychic territory of this topic. (I promised my responders anonymity, and so in several instances I have edited out geographic clues.)

I generally don’t like to ‘label’ artists by category, whether geographic, gender or race. I think it often contributes to a certain stereotype in the public mind about the work, and is is often more limiting than inclusive. On the other hand, I think supporting regional artists and art communities is very valid, worthwhile, and exciting.

If a visitor relies on mainstream galleries to ascertain the state of contemporary art in Maine, he/she will probably think it’s all about hackneyed scenes of sailboats, lighthouses and rocks. This is very far from the truth.

I have not been anyplace where the debate over local or regional identity for artists carries so much weight and is discussed so much.

NO JUST AN ARTIST, HATE LABELS… AN ARTIST! PURE AND SIMPLE.

The designation is more interesting in hindsight, I think – as in Marsden Hartley was a Maine artist for a time. But I don’t think it’s as important now.

This is a very interesting topic, as I believe Maine has influenced me tremendously in many ways, but as a person who hasn’t felt permanently at home anywhere, regionalism relays more the flavor of the land to me, trends, edibles and attitudes.

Some of my work is informed and/or influenced by my geographical location/environment but it is not necessarily defined nor entirely understood through that lens.

My subjects usually are Maine scenes… areas that are off the beaten path…

Any time of the year, one must seek out the more serious artists. But especially in the summer, when the vacation season presents a veneer of art banality.

Regionalism should be appreciative, not self-congratulatory. It’s a small planet.

Deep rooted memory of place reveals itself in abstraction as I draw.

Richard Diebenkorn named his abstract paintings after the places where he made them.

The more I think about this the more I believe that Maine artist and similar sobriquets like NY Artist  or LA Artist only get applied to artists who reside in locations with a significant presence in the art world. For example, I’ve never known anyone who moved to [home state] to become an artist, and I have never heard of anyone being described as a “[home state] artist.” Here in Maine, the label becomes a stigma because of the number of art villages extant – many of which focus on landscape painting or genre painting that is marketed to the tourist trade. A “Maine artist” therefore is assumed to be limited in abilities and not part of the larger dialogue of contemporary art. Presumably, NY and LA do not suffer from an excess of artists who paint scenery.

“Maine Artist” might be the best artist brand in the United States. Artists in New York, for example, are from anywhere – and what matters is the place, not the regionalist identity of the artist as a New Yorker. Being from Maine, as far as I can tell, helps artists land galleries in New York.

I often feel like my work is better known in Boston than in Maine, much to my dismay. I love living in Maine but my work has nothing to do with Maine.

…I am intrigued with the whole persona and tradition of artists in Maine and kind of envy their reputation (strong-willed, slightly reclusive, survivors, intense).

I do not think my work belongs to any stylistic or conceptual framework that might be called “Maine Art,” beyond the fact that this is a place that allows the possibility of a sane life with time and space for careful attention and deep reflection.

I think there are many great Maine artists, much great Maine art, great art made in Maine.  But I have also seen examples where the notion of what constitutes “Maine art” can be used to hold people back.  I have heard some Maine artists say “you’re not a Maine artist” to criticize others who may be seen as getting a bit too ambitious or ‘uppity’.  I encountered this question of “What is Maine Art?” my very first days at [art school], … The definition was never too exact and everyone’s was different.  It seems to come around to “I don’t know what it is but I know it when I see it.”

I love Maine! And wish that I could live there year-round, but there is no job for me there…

…it is key to my work that I live here on the Coast. Having said that? I am glad not to limit my art to being retained (or totally defined) within its borders.

I know the ocean is important to Maine but I did not see it until I was 16, [home town] being [many] hours away.

I am very pleased to be living here for many reasons and really believe this is a place to make very good work with commitment. I have been gratified by the increase in understanding by a larger community  that this art endeavor, both cultural and economic, is a collaborative commitment of many parts, including curatorial (commercial and  institutional) , critical as well as makers. My experience is that great shows can come together here, but that not enough art buying is going on- but I do  not think that artists and gallerists do all of this on their own.

I don’t do sailboats and gulls…

Many years ago [a friend] brought someone from Maine to my studio, he glanced around and said “I don’t see anything of Maine in your work” and turned his back to it for the rest of the time they were there.

All art is regional.

Maine is Payne’s Grey.

Jacob Fall

Jacob Fall

Jacob Fall hails from Willimantic, Maine. He studied anthropology and art history at New York University. He has occasionally lectured at the Greenwood Cove Institute for Boreal Limnology.

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