Eight Maine Artists Curate Works Inspired by Marsden Hartley
“And So Did Pleasure Take the Hand of Sorrow and They Wandered Through the Land of Joy” draws inspiration from the painter’s painter at Bates College Museum of Art
“When I’m in my studio getting bogged down in painting, I often look to (Marsden) Hartley for some guidance,” writes Dan Schein about his work in the painting-rich group exhibition And So Did Pleasure Take the Hand of Sorrow and They Wandered Through the Land of Joy. The exhibition’s title, from a 1904 poem by American Modernist painter and writer Marsden Hartley (1877–1943), has an inherent dualism and a welcoming tone as if to say, “Come with me on this walk.” It fits an exhibition replete with painterly contrasts, hidden-in-plain-sight connections, and older works side by side with new ones.
And So Did Pleasure… is the generous vision of curator and Bates College Museum of Art director Dan Mills, who “deputized” eight mid-career and established artists—Eric Aho, Jack Balas, Katherine Bradford, Jennifer Coates, Lois Dodd, Mark Milroy, John O’Reilly, and Dan Schein—to self-curate works with connections to Hartley. For the exhibition, each artist selected from their body of work or created new work and chose a drawing from the museum’s Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection to accompany it. The artists were also invited to write about their affinities with the modernist. “They really get it!” the Hartley scholar Gail Scott remarked with delight at the opening night gallery talk, referring to these eloquent and revealing wall texts.
Many of the exhibition’s artists share Hartley’s devotion to landscape as subject matter. John O’Reilly’s Dogtown-Hartley Series of photomontages are visual conversations with Hartley’s coastal landscape paintings of Dogtown/Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Eric Aho seeks out the exact locations where Hartley painted, with a searching interest in “fusing” the self and nature through the act of painting. Even his Finnish name “Aho,” which he translates as “wild forest lake,” resonates with the Hartley drawing he chose. Jennifer Coates’s imagined landscapes are deeply connected to a beloved place in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, where she has a studio. Coates shares Hartley’s interest in landscape as a “portal” for exploring abstraction. His rocks function like her trees, she explains. They play dual roles in the painting: they’re grounded and nameable, but they also carry symbolic content or abstract worlds within them.
Reverence for Hartley, the “painter’s painter,” is deeply felt in the palette and robust, confident brushwork of Dan Schein’s figurative oils, and in Lois Dodd’s paintings, with their respect for the rigor of revisiting and reconsidering over time and seasons, a subject that might seem unremarkable to others.
Mark Milroy, Jack Balas, and Katherine Bradford are all captivated by what Bradford calls the “plainspoken and forthright manner” of Hartley’s figures. Milroy loves Hartley’s portraits for their quality of “thereness,” and the Hartley drawing installed next to Milroy’s portrait of Win Knowlton could be a study for it. Hartley is a primary inspiration for Balas’s visual odes to the boldly outlined “big beefy guys” both artists painted for beauty and desire. Bradford’s paintings of front-facing, stand-ing figures—swimmers in the water, another standing alone near a column of campfire blaze—are paired with Hartley’s Study for Fisherman’s Family, and it’s as if Bradford’s swimmers have inherited their gentle humanity.
In the context of the exhibition, but also plainly, undeniably, there is an expression of profound kinship and connection in each of these unique encounters with Hartley. The modernist is in the contemporary studio, “awake and buzzing” (Coates).