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Expressionist Island

Expressionist Island
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The gentle Cranberry Isles scattered off the shores of rugged Mount Desert Island have provided shelter and subject matter to some of the best artists in modern Maine art history – William Kienbusch, John Heliker, Robert LaHotan, Dorothy Eisner, Emily Nelligan, Ashley Bryan, Gretna Campbell, and Campbell’s son Henry Finkelstein.

Like most of the artists who have worked on the Cranberries, Henry Finkelstein is a New Yorker. He teaches at the Art Students League and the American Academy of Design, but he has been painting on Great Cranberry all of his life and on nearby Gotts Island all of his married life. Despite his long connection to the state, however, Finkelstein’s Maine landscapes are more often seen elsewhere.

This fall, June Fitzpatrick Gallery at the Maine College of Art in Portland is providing an opportunity to see 14 of Finkelstein’s large Maine paintings as Cranberry Island and More (September 30 to October 30). Loose, free, and energetic, Finkelstein’s oils capture both the essence of the island summer world and vigor with which he pursues it.

There are dozens if not hundreds of good painters of the Maine landscape and, over the years, I have come to think of them in terms of the visual frequency with which they paint. At the high fidelity end of the spectrum are super-realist painters such as Richard Estes, Joel Babb and Linden Frederick. In the broad middle range are impressionistic, painterly realists such as Lois Dodd, Jon Imber, and Christopher Huntington. And at the low fidelity end of the spectrum are painters such as Keinbusch, William Manning, and John Walker who abstract the landscape, responding to places seen with impulses rather than descriptions. Henry Finkelstein’s Maine landscapes operate on an expressionistic frequency somewhere between the loosest of the impressionists and the most descriptive of the abstract painters.

“Although it may not be the first thing one notices about my paintings,” states Finkelstein on his website, “their dynamic is largely influenced by the Abstract Expressionists…Nevertheless, unlike strictly abstract painters, I paint mostly from direct observation. Nature offers me a necessary resistance that I find challenging.”

In paintings such as “Weigelia by the Gillis’ House,” “Garden through Plum Trees II,” and “Shadows on the Grass,” Finkelstein demonstrates the dynamic tension that exists between painting and seeing, between place and being. He explores both what is “out there” in the phenomenal world and what is happening “right here” on the canvas with equal earnestness, preserving enough illusion to give the viewer a picture of island Maine while freeing himself from the imitation of reality in order to create his own reality.

June Fitzpatrick Gallery is one of the top five art galleries in the state and Cranberry Island and More: Paintings by Henry Finkelstein is a great occasion to check it out.

[June Fitzpatrick Gallery, 522 Congress St., Portland ME, 207-699-5083.]

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