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Joel Babb's Real World

Joel Babb’s Real World
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Joel Babb possesses that preternatural ability to paint complex visual realities both with high fidelity and poetic expression. Hyperrealism is an aesthetic not always valued on the contemporary art scene these days but one he shares with a handful of other fine painters of Maine, among them Richard Estes, Linden Frederick, and Alan Magee.

In October, Babb’s vivid visions of the Boston urban maze and the wild profusion of the Maine coast and woods will be celebrated in a pair of exhibitions – Joel Babb: Enlightened Perspectives at the venerable Vose Galleries in Boston (October 3 to November 21) and Joel Babb: The Process Revealed at the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine (October 10 to March 27, 2010).

There are a great many artists who divide their time between New York and Maine, but Babb is one of a select few (John Walker and Jon Imber come first to mind) who are equally identified with Boston and Maine.

“Up here I’m a Boston artist,” Babb told me several years ago when I visited his home and studio in rural Sumner, Maine. “Down there I’m a Maine artist.”

Joel Babb has long been associated with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts where he earned his MFA in 1974 and had taught on and off ever since, but he has lived year-round in Maine since the 1980s. Keeping one foot in the city while living in the country has served him well, as his cityscapes and landscapes complement one another in their attention to detail and in the apparent though hard-won ease with which he is able to bring visual order to both the man-made and natural environments.

“The city’s beauty of architectural forms requires linear perspective – the woods and streams demand a whole different strategy for coping with the complexity of nature’s self-organizing forms,” states Babb in the 24-page catalogue to his Vose exhibition. “Of course it’s all nature, and the subject of painting is about what light is doing in the physical world.”

Babb’s Boston paintings, the masterpiece of which is a six-foot wide panorama of the city as seen from the Hancock Tower, find their poetry not only in the revelation of the play of sunlight across the chaos of buildings but also in the sense of history conveyed by the architecture. And unlike many photorealists, Babb often includes the people who inhabit the city, evoking modern life lived amidst 18th and 19th century buildings.

His Maine paintings, which include deep woodland interiors from wild Gulf Hagas and dramatic coastal landscapes from Mount Desert Island, are visions beyond history, seeking the eternal in the moment, the organizing forces of nature at work in uninhabited landscapes. It is the intricacy of Joel Babb’s art that is initially compelling, but it is his quiet intelligence that informs them over the long term. He is an artist who is able to show you more than the eye can see.

The quintessential Boston & Maine artist with simultaneous exhibitions in Boston & Maine. A treat not to be missed.

[Vose Galleries, 238 Newberry St., Boston MA, 617-536-6176. Bates College Museum of Art, 75 Russell St., Lewiston ME, 207-786-6158.]

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Friday, September 18th, 2009

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3 Responses to Joel Babb’s Real World

  1. Gale Jourdet September 22, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    How many people miss the “old Yankee” trademark centerfold of a beautiful and seasonal landscape painting. Nothing you can write , nothing you can photograph can “draw” the yankee reader into New England better. By it’s sheer size alone it was a show-stopper. I was “there” upon seeing it. I was all “in” and “into” the sense of the place. I was in New England even if just for the time it took me to read the magazine. Yankee was and is a respite for me. In the larger format that is Yankee now, can you realize the wow impact it would have? I think it’s worth bringing back. I hope others agree. After reading this blog about the artist, Joel Babb, and seeing his work posted here, I had to write you. Consider restoring the centerfold to showcase this artist and others of his caliber. It would not only be a service to painters of New England, but appreciated by all of us readers who “dwell” in the pages of Yankee as soon as it arrives on our doorstep.

  2. Gale Jourdet September 22, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    While I’m still thinking about the format and the rhythm of Yankee Magazine, I have this comment as well. Please consider Mary’s Farm the end piece of the magazine. It’s like a “winding down”, a gentle well wish, a reminder to stop and be aware of the moments in life. The column gives a natural and authentic ring to the reader as an enduring picture of what it is to live in New England. It’s like a “moment of grace” after reading what I would describe as a rather robust collection of stories, advertising, lists of happenings, events and travelogs. Mary’s Farm is the perfect ending and gives us readers the carrot stick of knowing that after all of Yankee is read and digested there is still to come that wonderful and pleasant commentary. I know with certainty I will have a few more rich moments to enjoy all that is New England.

  3. Ed Beem September 23, 2009 at 7:09 am #

    Gale, Thanks so much for your thoughtful and insightful comments. I, personally, have no say in the design of Yankee, but I will certainly call your comments to the attention of my editors.

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