December 31, 2014

art current: A Breath of Summer Air at the Caldbeck Gallery

by Britta Konau

I know, winter has only just begun, but I could already use more warmth, color and light. If you feel the same way - and if you enjoy good painting - I recommend stopping by Rockland's Caldbeck Gallery.

Their current show assembles recent and older works by Cicely Aikman, Elizabeth Awalt, Lois Dodd, Jeff Epstein, Nancy Glassman, Fred Kellogg, Kayla Mohammadi, and Nancy Wissemann-Widrig. All paintings are landscapes of some kind but range widely in the handling of brush and paint. As such, the show offers a very enjoyable, refreshing and informative overview of different approaches, emphasizing continuities of interest between artists working from observation and from imagination.

Glassman's works are closest to direct observation and most are titled with the botanical names of the flora depicted. Small oils on aluminum of berries, cherries and blossoms appear timeless, were it not for their fresh, close cropping. The 1950s palette of "Glauca Rose Hips," compositionally the simplest of the group, is enlivened by twigs that meander calligraphically against the pastel green background and is beautifully complemented by shiny red hips. The underlying metal supplies intriguing glints of light in Glassman's gem-like flower paintings. Their brushwork is vivid, confidently building up exquisite nuances of color, texture and material. On the other hand, the larger oil on panel "Amaranth" is more a vibrant, energetic field in which fore- and background are enmeshed, the central plant almost engulfed by teeming vegetation. Dodd, coming from a completely opposite direction, creates a quietly gorgeous "Coneflowers and Bee": just three flowers balanced dynamically across a richly varied green background, their orange and pink blossoms popping.

 

While Dodd and Glassman here present nature up close, Kellogg takes a longer view with two island vistas. Summer heat and humidity have blurred edges and partially washed-out color. These solid works are most remarkable, however, for their complex ordering of space into the distance. Whereas Kellogg's subjects are traditional Maine fare, Epstein has a superb eye for beauty in unexpected places. "Ruts" is an impressive strong vertical in which visual interest is horizontally stacked up and into depth like a scroll painting. From the ruts in the immediate foreground our eyes wander over wintery roads and fences to a farmhouse, barn, and trees farther afield. A master of his means, Epstein conjures this sliver of a rural winter scene with paint liquid, impastoed, and scratched into. In contrast to Epstein's taut composition, Wissemann-Widrig's paintings are broad water views, open and spacious. In the appropriately titled "Sea Calm," light impressionistically reflects off slight waves, with the water's transparency beautifully captured in the foreground. Wissemann-Widrig, too, is a virtuoso of the brush, using whatever movement necessary to create the desired atmospheric and descriptive effect, from straight strokes and forceful daubs to thin swirls and curling eddies.

 

Awalt expands on this gestural approach, applying paint loosely, pouring it, letting go of control to a large degree. In the large "Vernal Pool" this results in a luscious layering of lights, colors andforms to evoke a wild, spring fecundity. This pool is quiveringly alive, shimmering with liquid veilsof color. The two paintings by Aikman (1923-2013) are also riotous, but they are more Matissean,flat, decorative, with colors bound by lines into interlocking shapes. Aikman clearly enjoyedcoloring outside the lines, however, and stripes, dots and solid areas engage with unaffectedsymbols of flowers and more detailed renderings of animals to suggest all-encompassingsymphonies of life.

 

Mohammadi takes even more artistic liberties with the so-called real world than Aikman's stylizations. Her moonscape envisions the elemental forms of the scene - circle, horizon, triangularreflection - in a texturally and colorfully complex configuration that recalls stenciled street art.Mohammadi's pièce de résistance, however, is an 8 x 6-foot untitled painting, which I read as arejoinder to landscape painting. Against a quintessential rendering of a sea- or landscape (reddishhorizontal stripes topped by blue ones), a boat is stacked with colorful geometric shapes.Recognizable as Mohammadi's personal artistic vocabulary, these modernist forms glow from within, everything else being rather drab. In confident, passionate and wonderfully imaginativeterms, the artist's choices are thus placed within the context of a tradition especially strong in Maine - rescued from sinking in a sea of unremarkableness.

 

All artists are represented by very strong work that has been chosen in a meaningful way. Althoughcoming from opposite ends of the spectrum, from representation to abstraction, from completecontrol over brush and image to relative freedom, the paintings beautifully coexist and enhanceeach other. Ultimately, the show illuminates what we've known all along - that representation andabstraction aren't so different after all, just a matter of degree.

The current installation is on view through January 30, 2015, Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. and by chance and appointment at Caldbeck Gallery, 12 Elm Street, Rockland, 594-5935,caldbeck.com.

art current is a biweekly column written by Britta Konau. She can be reached atbkonau@gmail.com.

 

 

December 8, 2014

Camden artist Maggie Foskett dead at 95

Pioneered creative photographic technique called cliché verre    

The artist Maggie Foskett died Dec. 1 in hospice care near her winter home in Sanibel, Fla., after a brief hospitalization, surrounded by her husband, son and daughter. She was 95.

         Foskett, a summer resident of Camden, Maine, transformed bits of nature into brilliantly colored and spare, sometimes haunting shapes through a pioneering photographic technique known as cliché verre, the direct exposure of compositions onto photographic paper through an enlarger. She was among the first American artists to use cliché verre in photography and is credited with helping establish the technique as a photographic art form in the United States.

         She exhibited at galleries and museums throughout the East Coast and her works are included in the permanent collections of the National Museum for Women in the Arts and the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., and in the Farnsworth Museum of Art in Rockland, Maine.

         She had more than 25 one-women shows over her lifetime and in 2000, Foskett was included in “Photographing Maine 1840-2000,” a published compendium of Maine’s most significant photographers. In 2013, she was included in “Maine Women Pioneers III,” a collection of Maine’s best women artists.

         “A sensitive and exacting observer, Maggie Foskett reveals nature’s incredible variety in new and surprising ways as she penetrates the internal structure of birds, plants, insects and reptiles,” a curator wrote of her 1998 exhibit at the National Academy of Sciences.

         Born Margaret Edna Hughes in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Nov. 15, 1919, Foskett was the first child of Edna and Reynold King Hughes, an American couple who relocated from the United States to South America for Hughes’ cattle ranching business.

         Foskett completed her early education at the Sao Paulo Graded School, founded by her father, and matriculated to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1939, majoring in English.

         Bryn Mawr College remained an important touchstone throughout her life, and she credited its faculty for instilling the belief that she could pursue her own interests at a time when women were expected to adopt traditional roles.

         Foskett’s first marriage ended in divorce and she married her second husband, John D. Foskett, a Chicago businessman, in 1962, ultimately residing in the Chicago suburb of Geneva, Ill.

         Foskett began her artistic career working with stained glass. At the age of 57, she enrolled in a community college course in photography and began shooting and developing black and white film.

         But she became enthralled by the brilliant colors made possible by Cibachrome photography, and started working exclusively in color even though the medium had not yet been embraced by critics as a legitimate photographic art form alongside black and white photography.

         At her second home on Sanibel Island, Foskett photographed tropical plants and sea shells, always at close range, and developed the images into 18 x 24 inch Cibachrome prints, magnifying small objects into larger than life works of art.

         “A rag picker of small cosmologies in nature,” she sometimes called herself.

         In 1984, Foskett moved from Illinois to Camden, Maine, and her career blossomed when she found a community of artists associated with Maine Photographic Workshops in the nearby town of Rockport.

         Foskett studied photography with many of the best American photographers, including Ansel Adams, Sam Abell, Marie Cosindas, Ernst Haas and Jerry Uelsmann.

         She discovered cliché verre by accident when, working in her darkroom in Florida, she turned on her enlarger and saw the translucent outline of a spider magnified on the photographic paper below.

         She began experimenting with what she saw. She took tiny bits of plants and insects, created an arrangement between two glass slides, and exposed the slides through the enlarger directly onto photographic paper.

         The resulting images revealed intricate details and variations of color unseen by the naked eye. The idea of unmasking the hidden beauty and mysteries of tiny pieces of nature fascinated her for the rest of her life.

         In dragonfly wings, she found honeycombs. In plant stamen, she found snowfalls of pollen. In flower petals, she found rainbows of color.

         She discovered that even rocks, cut thinly, could be shot through with the bright light of her enlarger to create extraterrestrial landscapes.

         Through her many years of work, Foskett noticed the patterns of life’s building blocks repeated themselves in nearly every object she photographed. She remarked that she also came to understand the fragility of nature; some compositions of flowers or insects might fade so quickly she had time for only one or two images.

Foskett told one interviewer that her goal was to “show how delicate our balance with mortality is.”

         She stopped using her camera completely in 1995, devoting all her energy to cliché verre prints made from her enlarger. In her most productive years, Foskett worked 10 to 12 hours a day in her darkroom, shredding images that failed to deliver their promise and sometimes emerging with only one good print for the day.

         Late in her career, she became fascinated with x-rays of injured birds and animals, and composed images that superimposed natural objects onto the skeletal traces revealed on the x-rays.

         She experimented with human x-rays, too, usually her own. One of her most memorable images shows blades of grass layered over an x-ray of her thigh, with the caption, “and then my bones will hold the seeds of summer grass.”

         Foskett took one detour from cliché verre. In 2004, she created an exhibit out of a series of old black and white photographs she shot in 1979 at a shuttered institution for “wayward girls” in Geneva, Ill., dating to the late 19th century.

         The photos included images of marked and unmarked graves on the grounds of the institution, known as the Illinois State Training School for Delinquent Girls, and the abandoned buildings that housed thousands of young women, many of whom died in childbirth while incarcerated.

         The simple headstone of one 20-year-old girl, Sadie Cooksey, captivated Foskett and became the title of the resulting exhibition, “Who was Sadie Cooksey?”

         She dedicated the show to “all the Sadies, past and present, who walk alone, sadly troubled.”

         Physical limitations prevented Foskett from creating new artwork in the last decade of her life, but she found other interests to feed her creative mind and love of nature.

         In Florida, she raised zebra longwing butterflies in her screened porch, tending the delicate chrysalises and delighting when the new life emerged. In Maine, she enjoyed feeding chipmunks from the palm of her hand on her back deck.

         “She never really stopped,” said her husband, John Foskett.

Foskett remained an inspiration to dozens of artists and photographers, including her niece, the Vermont artist Sally Linder, and her stepdaughter, the Florida artist Lynn Foskett Pierson, and her unique body of work continued to be featured at galleries and museums. The Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland, Maine, represented the artist and her work.

         Foskett’s last exhibition was at the Boston Children’s Museum in Boston in 2012-2013, and was titled, “For We Are All Sprung From Earth And Water.”

         After cremation, Foskett’s ashes will be spread at her cemetery plot in Camden, Maine, at a time to be determined by her husband and children.

         Foskett is survived by her husband, John Foskett; her daughter, Kate O’Neill; her son, Kenneth Hughes Foskett; her stepdaughter, Lynn Pierson; stepson, Chip Foskett; and five grandchildren: Liam W. Foskett, Robert W. Foskett, John Foskett III, Annie Mayers and Laura Pierson.

Foskett’s only sister, Dorothy Conklin, predeceased her in 2013.

In lieu of flowers, a charitable contribution in Foskett’s name may be made to: CROW, Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Sanibel, Fla., www.crowclinic.org/support-us/memorial-gifts.

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