A Sense of Place
THE CANVAS – September 2013
By Britta Konau
Painters James Linehan, Deborah Randall, and Alec Richardson evoke rather than describe iconic Maine landscape formations, which include blueberry barrens, the rocky coast, and the sea itself. Although inspired by specific locations, these places could be anywhere in Maine, and we all swear we have been there. The artists take care to preserve that effect by avoiding geographic place names in the titles of their works.
James Linehan studied art at Arizona State University in Tempe and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He moved to Maine in 1983 to assume a position at the University of Maine in Orono, where he continues to teach, and was the chair of the art department for many years. Linehan’s paintings have been included in group shows throughout the United States as well as in Japan, Jordan, and Finland. He has had 20 solo shows at galleries and institutions that include the Sherry French Gallery in New York (now defunct), the Blaine House, Maine’s governor’s mansion, in 1995, and the University of Maine Portland Centre (no longer in existence) in 1996. Linehan has executed many public-art commissions, including Percent for Art, a statewide program administered by the Maine Arts Commission. His work is in the collections of the Portland Museum of Art, Bates College Museum of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum, the U.S. Department of State’s Art Bank Collection, and many corporate collections. Linehan is currently represented by the Littlefield Gallery in Winter Harbor.
fter moving to Maine Linehan was initially reluctant to make his new surroundings the subject of his paintings. “I’m an Irishman from Boston and have a cantankerous streak,” he explains, “and I didn’t want to suddenly become a landscape painter.” He did, however, include landscape elements in the abstracted, collage-like paintings he was working on at the time. Not until 10 years later did Linehan take up landscape as a subject in earnest. “It became unavoidable, and now the excitement of the colors and of setting one stroke against the next give me everything that I need as a painter.”
After creating watercolor studies, drawings, and photographs on-site, Linehan paints in his studio using oil, acrylic, encaustic, and casein. The latter paint does not allow for blending; instead, brushstrokes have to be layered individually. Linehan has adopted this technique and style for working in other mediums as well, and the resulting quasi-pointillist look has become a trademark of his. Like individual embroidery stitches, clearly visible brushstrokes weave together images that optically vibrate with energy.
Linehan prefers quiet, unpretentious places that are typical of Maine. A frequent subject is a dynamically composed coastal scene punctuated by big boulders and the verticals of trees. Blueberry barrens like the one in Light Rain feature prominently as well. The painting is part of a series of fog scenes and is based on a view of a farm in Jacksonville owned by Linehan’s in-laws. Looking up a sloping hillside of blueberry bushes and scattered rocks, the viewer’s eye is guided toward the gray sky, which is animated by the artist’s lively marks. Over a yellow ochre underpainting Linehan has layered colors that are unified and muted by the rain, evoking the cool atmosphere of this Maine scene. “It really looked this way,” Linehan explains. “I am a very literal painter and do my editing through the camera.”
Deborah Randall grew up outside Washington, D.C., and studied painting at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in Oakland and the Savannah College of Art and Design. Recipient of many juried show awards, Randall was also granted residencies at the Vermont Studio Center three times. Her work is in the Viewing Program at the Drawing Center in New York and has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions in galleries throughout Maine and New England as well as at the Danforth Gallery of the University of Maine at Augusta (2006), the Art Gallery of the University of Massachusetts–Lowell, and the Georgetown University Art Gallery (both 2000). Randall’s paintings are in the collections of the Colby College Museum of Art and the Meyer Library of the California College of the Arts, among other institutions. Randall operates her own gallery, Deborah Randall Fine Art, in Kennebunk and is also represented by Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth, Camden Falls Gallery in Camden, and Museum Editions in New York as well as additional galleries along the East Coast.
eborah Randall’s curiosity was aimed at nature early on, during backyard investigations and frequent visits to natural science museums. She claims that those experiences have influenced the palette and surface of her paintings. Randall is a very versatile artist who finds expression in three distinct bodies of work: freely drawn figurative scenarios that sensitively capture large and small psychological dramas, organic gestural abstractions, and landscapes. Although stylistically widely divergent, all of Randall’s work expresses internal states of being—from tranquillity to questioning unrest—in terms ranging from descriptive to allusive.
Randall did not execute her first mature landscape painting until 2008, but even then, coming from abstraction, she was more interested in the formal elements of a view than in its details. Today, her landscape subjects encompass crashing surf, marshland, ocean views, and meandering rivers under large skies animated by the daily or seasonal change of light. Randall’s far vistas open up an atmospheric space that serves as a stage set for those moments of change when the sun sets or a downpour threatens, with the viewer right at the center of it, witness to the quiet as well as flamboyant spectacle of nature.
“I live three miles from the beach and marsh and absorb that scenery through daily observation,” Randall explains. “I think of the atmosphere and the colors while I am outside and take those ideas as starting points for what I want to convey in terms of color, light, and space.” Working largely from memory, imagination, and intuition, Randall delights in experimentation and often paints over initial starts, never knowing exactly how it will work out in the end. Although the view in Pink Afternoon is inspired by Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport, it convincingly and brilliantly evokes universal qualities of a water view from almost anywhere along the coast of Maine.
Alec Richardson ?
Born in western Connecticut into a family of artists, musicians, and dancers, Alec Richardson spent every summer at his grandparents’ property on Spruce Point in Boothbay Harbor. When choosing an art school, he decided on the University of Maine in Orono, where James Linehan was one of his teachers. Richardson’s paintings have been included in group shows throughout Maine as well as New Hampshire and Connecticut. He is represented by Greenhut Galleries in Portland, where he has had six solo shows, and is now also affiliated with Littlefield Gallery in Winter Harbor, where he will have a solo show in July of next year.
Invention has played a variously strong role in Alec Richardson’s landscapes, and so has the amount of descriptive detail he includes. Consequently, his style has ranged from more tightly descriptive to gestural suggestions of subject matter. “Developing a style is not really my thing,” Richardson says, “I like to experiment with different approaches based on how the subject speaks to me.” His working method naturally varies as well. Whether painting representationally or more abstractly, the artist’s source material may include field studies in watercolor or graphite, photographs, or quickly executed oil paintings on paper.
In Richardson’s more loosely painted images of coastal scenes, of which Moment is one, the artist is not interested in the site’s physical particulars but what he calls the energy of a place. Because of the painting’s small scale, some of the sweeping, broad brushstrokes that build up the image appear almost monumental. Moment’s overarching dark palette supports a unifying mood and atmosphere, and Richardson acknowledges the tonalism of George Inness (1825–1894) as an influence. The painting was inspired by a view of Ringtown Island from Marshall Island in Penobscot Bay. “I thought there was a wonderful communication between the islands with the erratic acting as a go-between—it is full of spirit,” says the artist. Paying attention to the edges of things, how they interact, is one studio lesson Richardson has clearly absorbed well.
A second painting of the same scene, Messenger, represents the landscape formation with much more detail, thus highlighting the specificity of the location and lessening its expressive impact. Richardson finds Maine’s landscape tremendously poetic, and his stated goal is to paint how it feels to him: “My art is not about ideas but awakening an emotion, hopefully in the viewer too.”