At the Academy: Amze Emmons and his Pattern Drift

For the record, the Academy Art Museum rarely fills all three of their first floor galleries with the same artist, so it’s a pretty strong clue as to how seriously the AAM appreciates their work when this does happen. And that is certainly the case with Philadelphia-based Amze Emmons’ current exhibition entitled Pattern Drift at the South Street arts center.

Bringing together fifteen years of the artist’s work in documenting the realism of urban life through the influence of comics and cartoon language, information graphics, news footage, and even packaging, Emmons has used his observations to bring new life to familiar scenes of construction sites, road closings, and such iconic urban artifacts like the traffic warning cones or plastic chairs.

The Spy sat down with Amze a few days before he leaves Easton after a few weeks in residence about work and his connection to these illustrative examples of 21st-century living.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Pattern Drift at the Academy Art Museum please go here.

 

A New Executive Director For RiverArts

Maria Wood

Chestertown RiverArts Board announces a new Executive Director. Maria Wood will step in to the position on September 1, upon Andy Goddard’s retirement on August 31. Andy has been RiverArts executive director for 3½ years. Pam White, Board president, happily made the announcement. “The Board is very pleased that Maria has accepted our offer. Her experience and vision will build in exciting ways upon the strong foundation that Andy has created.”

A native of the Eastern Shore and a graduate of Smith College, Maria brings a deep belief in and appreciation of the benefits of the arts in the community. She brings, as well, the organizational skills that RiverArts will need. She spent 20 years with the National Children’s Music Project, a non-profit organization with a mission to promote social, cultural, and academic arts education, first as the program director and then as president. More recently, she was Deputy Campaign Manager for the Jesse Colvin for Congress campaign. Currently, she is Education Manager for RiverArts.

“I am excited to take on this position,” said Maria. “RiverArts is a crucial part of the rich arts culture in Kent County and I look forward to working with the Board, staff, volunteers, and members to support the important work of connecting the arts with the community.”

 

Spy Minute: Artist Lesley Giles on her Moon Series

Lesley Giles is an English artist but that hasn’t stopped her from documenting one of America’s most remarkable accomplishments;  the conquest of space in the 1960s and 1970s. After moving to Florida with her husband, she became fascinated with the space rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, just miles away from where the couple lived. And the result of those experiences led her to capture iconic images from the USA’s mission to conquer outer orbit using her unique vision of space and time.

Giles is a graduate of the Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths’ College, London University. She has exhibited extensively in galleries and museums in the UK, Europe, USA and also in China following a Visiting Painter invitation to Urumqi, Xinjiang in 1996. Her work has been published by Harper Collins in “Watercolour Masterclass” and “The Challenge of Landscape” as well as being featured in several magazines.

The Spy spent a few minutes with Lesley at the Trippe Gallery in Easton to talk briefly about this special interest of hers, and how it has impacted her art in general.

The Art of Lesley Giles: Moon Series
For the month of August
Trippe Gallery 
23N Harrison St Easton
410-310-8727

The Story of Olive Lucas (Part Two) by Mary Robinson

Editor’s note: When we heard the story of Olive Lucas written by Spy friend Mary Robinson we wanted to share it with our readers. It’s a period of our history that we felt our readers would appreciate and a story you may not know – an African American nurse’s service in World War II. The five-part series covers her time in the Army Nurse Corps between 1942 and 1945. This will be a five-part series.

Part Two – Fort Huachuca, Arizona

Here I am, 2nd Lieutenant Olive Lucas, a member of the Army Nurse Corps. Our bus leaves at nine tomorrow morning headed for Fort Huachuca, Arizona. I and five other nurses will be on that bus, headed for our first Army assignment. It is summer in New York and it is so hot that there is steam rising from the pavement. I love the city, but have to admit, I am looking forward to leaving the heat and humidity behind me.  This cross country trip will take us to Sierra Vista, Arizona where Fort Huachuca is located. Sierra Vista is about 15 miles north of the border with Mexico and it is surrounded by the Huachuca Mountains. The fort encompasses almost 100 square miles of desert at the foot of the mountains. 

It is August 25, 1942, and here I am in this isolated place in the middle of the Sonoran desert. The bright lights of New York have been left behind and I find myself here amongst the poisonous snakes, spiders, chiggers and a host of other desert creatures. On top of all that, there is heat, sand, dust and constant winds. Just stepping off the bus and my shoes are covered in a mix of brown dust and sand. I thought New York was hot, but this is the kind of heat that is going to take some getting used to.                                                                                                                                                 

I know the official Army policy calls for segregation of all base facilities, but it is a little disconcerting to see that every single area of the base is segregated. Civilian quarters for locals who work at the hospital, service clubs, officers’ clubs and most importantly, both hospitals are segregated. Hospital No. 1 is staffed by and serves all Negro personnel and their families. Hospital No. 2 serves all other personnel, their families and civilians. Fort Huachuca is home to between 17,000 and 20,000 Negro soldiers, nurses and other personnel. Two combat units of Negro soldiers, the 92nd and 93rd Infantry divisions are based here at Fort Huachuca.

I never imagined a hospital this size on an Army base. The hospital covers several acres with various units connected by miles of corridors that are over a half mile in length. I quickly realized the best feature of the whole hospital is that the connecting corridors are covered, which offers protection from the unrelenting sun, wind and sand. To give you an idea of just how vast this complex is, consider that it includes three Dental clinics, PX, barber shop, beauty shop, cafe and soda fountain, recreation halls, gyms, tennis court, movies, a library, and outdoor fields for exercise and baseball. 

Today began with basic training. We had to perform all of our duties wearing our civilian clothes, even the drills in the middle of the day, in August, in the desert! Our basic training will last six weeks. I can’t imagine how we can do six weeks of this in our civilian clothes. The explanation given was that the Army is in transition from changing our uniforms from the Red Cross uniform to an Army Nurse Corps uniform. The components of basic training will cover medical and military training in the form of drills, map reading, tent pitching, obstacle and infiltration courses, as well as physical fitness.

It is probably a good thing that the hospital complex is so large because the soldiers, nurses and other Negro personnel will most likely be spending the majority of our off-duty time on the base. Off-base businesses and restaurants do not serve Negroes even if they are wearing the U.S. Army uniform. The one advantage is that with the two combat units based here, it allows for an active social life for the nurses.

The WACs are coming! This is the best news we have had in weeks. The Women’s Army Corps is a unit that does a whole variety of jobs. They do everything from doing repairs for military vehicles to being responsible for entertainment and morale boosting on the base. There is a rumor that they will be the ones to create an officer’s club for the Negro officers at Fort Huachuca. The current club, The Lakeside Officers Club, is not open to Negro officers. The new officer’s club will be a great place to hold the shows that the USO provides. Entertainers like Lena Horne, Count Basie, Billie Holiday and many more will be able to perform and the Negro audience won’t need to be sitting at the back of the room.

I enjoy reading the magazines and newspapers in our library. There are always issues from the Negro newspapers from all over the country. The Chicago Defender, The Pittsburgh Courier, The Crisis Magazine all have war correspondents that are writing articles about Negros serving in all areas of the war. The experience of Negro nurses can be different from one area to another, but some things are unique to this group of nurses. I remember a comment from a nurse who when asked her view of the role of Negros in the war replied, “I find it exciting, and I am learning so much, but at the same time I find it to be the most frustrating experience I have ever had. In spite of all that I have met so many wonderful people.” I know exactly how she feels.

      

Notes

– Location of Fort Huachuca, Fighting for America, Christopher Paul Moore, pg. 96

– Segregation Policy – G.I. Nightingales, The Army Nurse Corps in World War II, Barbara Brooks Tomblin, pg. 194

– Hospital description – The Chicago Defender, Langston Hughes, May 20, 1944; pg. 19

– WACs – Enemies in Love, Alexis Clark, pg. 63    

– Ninety-second and Ninety-third Infantry – G.I. Nightingales, The Army Nurse Corps in World War II, Barbara Brooks     Tomblin,pg.194                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Mary Robinson lives in St. Michaels, Maryland.                                                                                                 

Delmarva Review: Summoned At First Light, Melville’s White Jacket by David Salner

Delmarva Review Editor’s Note: David Salner’s poems are full of fresh and evocative images. He invites his readers in with exacting language, surprising metaphor and a subtle music. His work bears reading over and over as we discover layers of meaning. In “Summoned At First Light,” the poet imagines how Herman Melville, in his memoir “White Jacket,” may have looked back on an episode in his life from the vantage of many years. Melville is recounting a sailor’s flogging, commonly used at the time by the U.S. Navy as corporal punishment. Here, he conjures the thought of what to do with “beauty” at a time of man’s suffering.

Summoned At First Light, Melville’s White Jacket

Bare feet on deck, 

he felt the waves wash through the boards, 

the long swell, the tender holding of the sea. 

 

But when the boatswain twirled his cat, 

he guessed what they’d been summoned for. All afternoon, 

as the keen scourge hissed, he listened. Just listened,

 

which left a mark. Our lives are made of water, 

a wash of salts within us, a tide 

rising and falling back. As an old man, 

 

he watched the sun sink to a line

where sea and sky are blended, a measureless

haze at the horizon. And studied how the darkness

 

spread from wisps of pink and orange. And wondered, 

what am I to do with beauty?

What am I to do with that man’s pain?

_____

David Salner’s writing appears in recent issues of Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Salmagundi, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and previously in Delmarva Review. His third book is Blue Morning Light (2016, Pond Road Press) and his fourth, From House to House, is to be published by Broadstone Media (fall, 2019). He worked as an iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, longshoreman and has a MFA from the University of Iowa. He is writing a novel about the lives of the sandhogs who built the Holland Tunnel. Website: www.DSalner.wix.com/salner

“Delmarva Review” publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of submissions annually by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The print edition is available from Amazon.com and Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford. An electronic edition is also sold at Amazon.com. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.

Shore Arts: Heather Harvey at the Academy Art Museum

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Or in this case another woman’s treasure. If you live in Easton and you happen to check out one of the three new shows at the Academy Art Museum you just might recognize some of your trash featured in the Heather Harvey exhibit “The Thin Place.”

Harvey, a Washington College associate art professor, prowls the streets, alleyways and parking lots of Easton on what she calls “urban beachcombing” expeditions. She searches for debris that comprise her installations, three of which hang at the museum through Sept. 30.

Belonging by Heather Harvey

Harvey, a Syracuse native whose undergraduate degree from the University at Buffalo—“I’m an upstate New York girl,” she says—is in anthropology and archaeology. She regards herself as a science-inspired artist. Harvey earned her MFA in art from Virginia Commonwealth University and now chairs art and art history at the Chestertown college. She lives in Easton with her husband, who teaches history at Salisbury University—splitting the geographical distance from their academic venues.

At the Academy museum, her installations are accompanied by about a dozen paintings, watercolor and acrylic, that reflect a different side of Harvey’s exploration of “areas where we don’t have everything figured out, re-inculcating childlike enchantment and wonder.” These are “thin places,” a Celtic expression for permeable divides between living and dead, sacred and profane, commonplace and extraordinary—even extraterrestrial. The science part of that enchantment, she says, are “invisible ordering systems” that define our life on this planet—astronomy, gravity and weather, including wind (“we only see its effects”) as well as magnetic fields. Other paintings are metaphors for certain effects on our lives, such as emotions, or even more defining biological or sociological realities, including gender, race and class.

Possibility by Heather Harvey

Among the most personal of her paintings is “Hope Sound,” the name of the place in Florida where her friend, poet Mary Oliver, passed away. Painted on the day Oliver died, it expresses, Harvey says, her grieving, her thanks for having known her friend and “a sense of ascension.” By contrast, another painting derives from scientific curiosity, inspired by her trip with her husband two years ago to South Carolina to experience a total solar eclipse.

“There’s a little bit of Baroque in my pieces,” Harvey says, referring to a suggestion of exaggerated motion and detail to produce drama and a sense of exuberance. But she also goes for the sublime. “That’s beauty mixed with awe that borders on terror. An eclipse is like that,” she says. “An unsettling tension between the two.”

As for the trash you may or may not recognize, Harvey on her nocturnal sojourns seeks surprise in whatever she finds. “I’m not looking for anything in particular,” she says. “I don’t get the idea first and then go out and look for something to complete it. The objects themselves inform my work.”

Not all the objects are recognizable. Twisted pieces of metal. Shards of plastic or rubber. Others we can guess at, such as a bit of green-and-red ribbon. A discarded piece of Christmas wrapping? Maybe a tree decoration. Still others are unmistakable. A child’s sandal missing its mate.

Whatever, Harvey endeavors to create aesthetic treasure out of it.

For Heather Harvey, who has exhibited from New York City to Los Angeles, this is her first show in the hometown where she gathers most of her material. The other two shows coinciding with Harvey’s at the Academy Art Museum are Amze Emmons’ “Pattern Drift” and James Turrell’s “Mapping Spaces.”

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.

Delmarva Review: My Dad Just Died After All by Michelle Berberet

Author’s note: “Puzzled, intrigued, and a bit embarrassed by my reaction to my dad’s death, I wrote about it to make sense of it. Through this process, I discovered some of the mysteries and miracles of grief. I found some peace.”

I didn’t think when Dad’s time came, he’d really die; I figured he’d bully God like he bullied everyone else and continue to live, forever. So even though my dad was ninety and suffering from serious congestive heart failure as well as various infections, his death was a shock.

“He’s gone,” my brother said from California after my husband, Bill, handed me the kitchen phone. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2009. Thick autumn sunlight shone through the window over the sink.

“Hmmm. When?” I asked from Virginia. I had no idea how I felt, what to do. I wished tears had sprung to my eyes, but they didn’t. I didn’t even choke up. I nodded my head. Dad was a difficult man to love. Grieving him wasn’t turning out to be any easier.

With Bill watching me, I hung up the phone and said, “Dad died,” though I was sure he already knew. He nodded in silence. Bill stepped closer with his arms open to hug me, but I stepped back and wrapped my own arms around my torso. Undeterred, he took another step and hugged me as best he could.

Once released, my feet moved me step by step out of the kitchen toward the dining room where I could sit down. I didn’t make it. Instead, I had to settle for the doorjamb between the two rooms to prop me up. I repeated the details to Bill, such as they were. The caregiver was turning Dad to prevent bedsores when his heart stopped. My brother was upset because he had been on his way to the house, but he was running late and wasn’t there when Dad died. Bill and I exchanged a glance and small smiles at this. My brother was usually late.

Then I was silent. I didn’t know what to do. Dad was the first of our parents to die. I wanted to go about doing whatever task I had been doing, as if the call had never come, but feared that wasn’t appropriate. Apparently, my silence disturbed my husband, who was accustomed to me being more talkative and active.

“Anything I can do? Anything I can get you?”

I shook my head “no” out of habit. But the offer took root. What I really wanted was a nice glass of spicy red zinfandel. I hesitated. Was this a polite offer I was supposed to decline? Would he really go get me a bottle? I might have been numb, but my brain was still able to analyze⎯hyperanalyze, actually. I felt like I was observing myself as a stranger.

Now, you have to realize my husband is a wonderful, generous man. That said, he is not a “Can I pick anything up for you from the grocery store on my way home?” sort of guy, like my dad in that regard, now that I think about it. I tried to convince myself that I could do without the wine, or I could go get it myself or go with him, but the harder I tried, the more I wanted the wine and the more I wanted my husband to go get it for me. My dad had just died after all.

“I’d really like some wine.”

“OK, what kind?”

“Zinfandel.”

“Where should I go?”

“Safeway or Fern Street, I suppose.” Both stores were less than two miles from our house. Fern Street, a small wine shop, was closer.

“I’ll be right back. Anything else?”

I shook my head. After he left, I realized I hadn’t said red zinfandel. I dismissed my concern. Surely, after twenty-six years of marriage he knew that.

And then I was alone, still propped up by the doorjamb. I wanted to cry, tried to cry. I even hugged myself, dropped my head and pretended to cry, hoping this would stimulate real tears. But I had the crying equivalent of the dry heaves. No tears came.

Something else did. It felt as if two unseen hands reached into my stomach, my whole abdomen, and probed for something. I tightened my arms, which were already wrapped around me and bent over in pain to resist this force, but those hands continued to search. The pain intensified. The invisible hands dug deeper. Even in my distress, I was pretty sure whatever the hands were after needed to come out. But still, some part of me resisted. Did I not want to lose what those probing hands were after? Was I just resisting because of the pain? Either way, whatever the reason, part of me wasn’t giving up without a struggle.

I continued to hug myself and rocked slightly, trying to breathe. I was powerless, and I could only wait this thing out. I realize now, I still didn’t cry.
Who knows how much time passed? It felt like a long time and an instant all at once before those hands, with a final tug, left with their prize. I gasped. I remained bent over, my hands on my knees, trying to make each breath a little deeper.

I felt my aching abdomen with my hands. No blood, no particularly sensitive areas. With each breath, a bit of calm entered my body, my mind. Finally, on an inhale, I stood up slowly as if I were in a yoga class. I exhaled, put my hair behind my ears, and looked around the dining room and kitchen. The sun was now blasting in the kitchen window, one last show before descending below the horizon for the night. I was relieved to see everything was the same, no evidence of the attack. Was it possible for an emotional experience to feel so physical?

I made my wobbly way to the dining room table, planted both hands on its surface before sitting down. I shook my head. A ridiculous smile spread across my lips. I must have looked like an idiot. I felt like one. My dad had just died, and I couldn’t cry and now I couldn’t stop smiling.

I didn’t know why I was smiling then, but I think I do now. I wish I could say that I was smiling because those hands had ripped out all my fear of Dad and anger toward him, but that wouldn’t be true. It took me years to replace those feelings with compassion and forgiveness. But I like to think those hands at least started the process. I was glad he was out of pain. I was glad he couldn’t hurt me anymore. And I was glad I had survived his death and those hands ripping from me something deep within. Perhaps I was smiling at the irony that it wasn’t easy for me to let go of the man I’d kept at arm’s length for so long.

There were good reasons I kept Dad at a distance. I think back to the evening of the Fourth of July when we had just arrived home from a long trip. I must have been in my late teens. We hadn’t unpacked when my best friend, Meg, came up the driveway.

“Do you want to go to the beach and see the fireworks?”

“Yeah, but I’d better stay and help unpack.” I didn’t even want to ask Dad if I could. I knew better than to ask.

Meg and I were looking out at the ocean. The moist air felt, smelled, and even tasted good, a welcome change from the desert we’d returned from. We didn’t see or hear Dad come up from behind, a beer in one hand.

“Hi Meg. What’s this about fireworks?” Dad asked with a cheeriness he reserved for nonfamily members.

“Oh, Meg’s going to the beach to see the fireworks and wants me to come. I told her I couldn’t. That we just got here. Need to unpack.”

“Go ahead,” Dad batted his hand at us. “We can unpack tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll be back right after the fireworks,” I assured him.

“Have fun, don’t rush.” I gave Dad a quick hug and a peck on his cheek without his usual prompting.

A few hours later, after saying goodbye to Meg, I walked up the driveway to the front door and found a very different father waiting for me.

“Where have you been? You left your old dad here to do all the work…”

He ranted on and on. I listened. I knew if I said anything, it would make things worse. It couldn’t go on forever. I waited for him to lose steam while I listened to the waves and repeated to myself over and over in my head: I knew I shouldn’t have gone. I knew I shouldn’t have gone. I just knew I shouldn’t have gone.

By the time Bill came home, the smile was gone, and I was sitting at the dining room table, exhausted. Bill triumphantly pulled a bottle of white zinfandel from a brown bag and offered it to me. My lips flexed into a fake smile, but I didn’t reach for the bottle. I was too numb to be angry.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s white zinfandel,” I said. He looked at the bottle.

“Yeah, so? Isn’t that what you drink?”

“No, I like red. White is sweet, cloying.” A hint of annoyance made its way into my voice. I knew I couldn’t pull off a thanks anyway sounding the least bit sincere, so I didn’t try.

Bill remained amazingly good tempered given my displeasure. Under different circumstances, he would have been hurt, upset. He would have said, “Well, I’ll drink it,” before putting the bottle in the fridge and going off to read. But he remained and chatted as if I weren’t being totally ungrateful.

“I wondered. I saw the red too. But I thought you liked white. Don’t you like white?”

What did he think? That I was mistaken? I had misspoken? That he knew what I liked better than I did? I knew he was trying to make things better, but I only felt worse.

“I’ve never bought white zinfandel,” I said with a hardness in my voice I instantly regretted. I had no control over my emotions. I felt angry one moment, giddy the next, just not sad. At least not the respectable crying sad I longed for.

Didn’t he know me well enough to know what kind of wine I liked? Still a part of me knew I wasn’t being fair to Bill. I hadn’t said “red,” after all. He’d tried. Plus, he was probably upset too. He and my dad got along fine, each respecting the other, neither wanting more than the other could give.

I didn’t have the energy to fight, but I also didn’t have the energy to say my usual Oh, it’s OK. I said nothing.

Again, my silence spoke for me.

“Do you want me to go back? Get the red?” Bill asked while his eyes pleaded, Please, no, no, no.

Unbidden, a small smile came to my lips, a real one this time. He was so cute, trying so hard to be nice in a way so foreign to him. I desperately wanted to say the usual, “Oh, that’s OK, I’ll be fine.” Or “I’ll go get it.” Or even, “I’ll go with you.” But as the smile grew, I dropped my eyes, and my head made the slightest nod. Bill had offered. I really wanted a glass of red zinfandel, and I really wanted to say what I wanted. After all, my dad had just died, he hadn’t been able to bully God, and I had survived his death and those probing, ripping hands. I braced for his reaction.

“You really want me to go back?” Bill sounded more surprised than annoyed.

I looked into his eyes.

“Yes, I do.” I said as a matter of fact. What he did with this information was up to him.

“OK, I’ll be back.” Bill said with a big smile.

I hadn’t demanded, I hadn’t hinted, I hadn’t begged. I’d spoken clearly. I couldn’t believe how good that felt and how effective it was. I was just glad to tell the truth, to say what I wanted. I had learned not to do that as a child. What I wanted wasn’t important, if it inconvenienced my father, which it did, seemingly, all the time. Apparently, I had learned this lesson so well I was afraid of telling my husband what I wanted.

And soon, he was back. When I heard him come in the front door, I walked from the kitchen that was now in shadows into the dining room to meet him. Once again, he pulled a bottle triumphantly from a brown bag. I gave him a wan smile. I took the bottle, looked at the label, nodded approvingly, and placed it on the table.

Dad had just died. A dull ache was settling in replacing the severe pain of the probing hands and the numbness of the unknown. This was an improvement.

I opened my arms wide, and took the last step to Bill.

Michelle Berberet is an artist-in-residence in the Arts and Humanities Program at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Washington, D.C. She writes and creates art with patients, family, and staff. In addition to “Delmarva Review,” her writing has appeared in “America Magazine” and on the Alexandria DASH buses and trolleys. Her mixed media artwork appears on the National Academy of Medicine’s website.

“Delmarva Review” publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of submissions annually by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The print edition is available at Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, and Amazon.com. An electronic edition is also sold at Amazon.com. The website is DelmarvaReview.org.

Spy at the Troika: Raoul Middleman and Wrestling with Art

Raoul Middleman’s personality is as colorful as his art.

That became vividly apparent in dual appearances at Plein Art Festival events Saturday evening: an interview and reception at the Troika Gallery, where 20 of his paintings are on display through Aug. 3, sandwiched around a film preview and question-and-answer adventure—you could call it performance-art storytelling—at the Avalon Theater.

Crusty Old Dude

Deservedly billed as “Legendary Artist” by the Troika Gallery, which sponsored the Avalon show and has represented him for 23 years, Middleman taught at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore for 58 years until his retirement from teaching last month. His freewheeling, wide-ranging paintings are in the collection of, among others, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery/National Gallery of Art in Washington, along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Academy of Design in New York.   

Middleman, 84, describes his approach to painting as “a wrestling match. . . . I start out with a vague idea of what I’m going to paint and then the brush, the application, takes over. That’s an exquisite moment. What I come up with is a surprise, even to me.”

“His personality and storytelling are inseparable from his brushstrokes and narrative art,” says one of his thousands of former Maryland Institute students, Liz Parks. (Full disclosure: My wife participated in our interview with Middleman, reminding him when he recalled his youthful days in Montana as a ranch hand (of sorts) that his student, then known as Ms. Goodman, dubbed him “the Sam Shepard of art,” after the late playwright known for his American West vernacular.

In a scene from an in-progress documentary on his career, titled simply “Middleman,” screened at the Avalon, we see the artist shopping at Lexington Market. (He’s Baltimorean through and through.) In the market for scaly models, Middleman chooses four fish to take to his home/studio. Not to be fried, baked or broiled. But they are served up raw in a seafood still life, similar to one in the window of the Troika right now. He arranges them around a couple of lemons, also purchased at Lexington Market, and slathers paint on the canvas as if filleting his catch. Then he changes his mind and reconfigures the scene.

His art has been described by critics as “messy and real,” reflecting the chaos of life and nature. If he has one particular muse, it’s “the super-funky Baltimore atmosphere,” citing filmmaker John Waters as a fellow-minded artist. 

He majored in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and hoped to become a writer until visiting a girlfriend in New Orleans who gently nudged him in the direction of art. Soon he was studying at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of Art.

“I could always draw,” he said, adding, “If someone suggests you should do something different and that doesn’t work out, then you have two asses to kick.” 

Like many artists in any field, Middleman declines to be confined to a single genre. Early on, he did Pop Art, which he gave up in pique over a dispute with a New York gallery owner. He turned to landscapes, about as far from Pop Art as you can get, and continued in landscape artistry periodically throughout his career. Several wreckage-of-nature paintings can be seen now at the Troika. For a time, at its height in the 1960s, he favored abstracts and later narrative paintings telling a story that could be re-interpreted by whomever beholds it. 

He likens his progression to Renaissance painter Bellini, whose earlier paintings Middleman calls “linear” in style. Later, Bellini moved closer to the approach of many of his students, among them Titian—more painterly, more sensual. “To some, Bellini’s earlier work is his best,” Middleman says. But time bends fashion and taste. And what once was deemed hip is later dismissed as ho-hum. And vice-versa.

Middleman has ridden that wave throughout his career as a painter, even drawing inspiration from former students, trying new styles.

To his son’s question, Middleman recalled that at one point in his career he was an Abstract Expressionist.

 “ ‘No you’re not, Dad,’ ” Middleman said. “You’re an Argumentative Expressionist.”

Apparently, the father agrees.

“Painting is an open question,” he says. “A good painting is kind of an argument. Whatever the artist may think it means, it may be something completely different to each viewer. So, there is no single right answer. Only questions.”

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.

Plein Air Easton: East Meets West with Master Jove Wang

Given the abundance of local and regional participants in Plein Air Easton, it’s something hard to remember that the Plein Air movement is an international one. And someone who makes that undeniably clear is the presence of one of China’s most celebrated artists, master Jove Wang, on Goldsbrough Street the other day.

Professor, author, and award-winning Plein Air painter, Wang has devoted over thirty years to move his work beyond the technically proficient into a world more associated with the extension of his soul.

In fact, Jove feels that the best metaphor for his work is that of a symphony conductor that delicately alters the impressions of light and color on canvas similar to someone leading an orchestra to bring out the very best performance.

As the invitation of Betty Huang, artist and owner of Studio B in Easton, Jove Wang makes his first appearance at Plein Air Easton with a live demonstration at the Avalon Theater on Friday starting at 9 am followed by a reception at Studio B (where is work is exhibited) on Saturday.

The Spy talked to Jove with the help of Betty’s translation skills to understand his three decade approach to his art and life.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information and events like this with Plein Art Easton 2019 please go here.

Spy 7 Files a Report: Knightly Provides Night to Remember for Plein Air Easton

The 2019 Plein Air Easton Meet the Artists event over the weekend brought several hundred people to the historic Knightly estate on Leeds Creek off the Miles River. Alice Ryan received a warm standing ovation during dinner for hosting the event at her beautiful 81-acre farm and estate. 

Guests were invited to arrive a few hours early to wander around the estate and engage with the Plein Air artists who were pressed to complete their work by 7 PM. During the reception and dinner, guests were encouraged to purchase the just completed works and well before the evening concluded, the red “sold” tags were abundant.

This week-long annual event organized by the Avalon Foundation provides a remarkable opportunity to view artists at work and, of course, to enjoy art. But, remember, the message: The best way to ensure the future of Plein Air Easton and the Health of your Arts Community is to buy art!

For more information and a complete schedule for the week: www.pleinaireaston.com 

 

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