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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A month in the shadow of a great painter

Ghost stories, cemeteries, and the work of a great painter
Clif and I visited this old cemetery in the waning light.
If I had any talent for poetry, I’d have exercised it last night. I’m at the Joseph Fiore Art Center in Jefferson, Maine for a one-month residency. My room faces east. I watched the slow rotation of the night sky, the stars overflowing their courses. The dawn rose red and fiery, glinting through the trees off the waters of Damariscotta Lake.

I spent yesterday with the other visual artist in residence, Clif Travers of Kingfield, ME. Clif is both a writer and painter, and recently returned to his hometown after a long stint in Brooklyn. His work here will involve panels and prose, brackets and blocks. I'm curious about what the end result will be; I imagine he is, too.

Moving into a temporary studio is more daunting for a studio painter than for me; I simply had to offload my extra supports and was done.
My studio away from home.
When we’d both finished, Clif and I took a quick jaunt to Rising Tide Co-op in Damariscotta and Pemaquid Point. It’s rare that I can play tour-guide to a native Mainer, but Kingfield is way inland and north.

There is a family cemetery set within the aptly-named Rolling Acres Farm. It’s of a type I identify more with Scotland than America, a set of small ‘rooms’ separated by carefully-laid up dry walls.
Katahdin, 1975, Joseph A. Fiore, courtesy Maine Farmland Trust
I’d already retired when Clif called up that I should come down and see the waning day’s pyrotechnics. The few white stones glowed peach against the dark woods. We set off through the hayfields to photograph it, me in my bare feet.

“Maybe this place is haunted,” Clif enthused. Well, I was raised in a notorious haunted house, but it was late and I refused to tell him about it. Ghost stories need their buildup, after all.

My workspace is in an old barn, redolent of old hay. But I don’t expect to spend much time there. I’ve a goal in mind for this residency. It involves the intersection of water and land, and—mostly—painting big. Unfortunately, my monster Rosemary & Co. brushes are delayed, so I’m going to have to be flexible in my approach.
View from Bald Rock, 1971, Joseph A. Fiore, courtesy Maine Farmland Trust
Who was Joseph Fiore (1925–2008) and why is there an art center dedicated to him in Jefferson, ME? Fiore was born in Cleveland, the son of a violinist. He was musical himself, and that is very evident in his painting. He attended the experimental Black Mountain College on the GI Bill and studied with Josef Albers, Ilya Bolotowsky, and Willem DeKooning. Later, he taught there.

With those instructors, it’s no surprise that Fiore was, foremost, an abstractionist. However, his work is rooted in nature and he also painted lovely, loose, realistic landscapes. His paint is worked very thin, and his brushwork is loose and measured. Leaving that much canvas is the mark of a good draftsman, because any dithering shows.

After Black Mountain closed, Fiore settled in New York, where he taught at Parsons. In 1959 he and his wife began summering in Maine. They bought an old farmhouse in Jefferson, which they used for the rest of his life.
Clary Hill, 1970, Joseph A. Fiore, courtesy Maine Farmland Trust
Fiore and his wife Mary were avid supporters of Maine Farmland Trust. When the Trust purchased this waterfront farm, the idea of the art center was born.

My first response to being surrounded by his work was a kind of intellectual shock, where everything I thought I knew about painting was challenged. Now, nearly 24 hours later, I’m adjusting somewhat. But the opportunity to be submersed in another artist’s work is not to be sneezed at, so I’m adjusting my plans to allow time with the paintings every day.


Corinne said...

This place and Fiore's art look amazing! Looking forward to what you create here this week! Enjoy! <3

Carol Douglas said...

Thanks, Corinne!