Published: June 23, 2003
“Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, 1907-1975” is a major retrospective of work by this compelling and influential Maine artist, and the first exhibition to bring his visual and written work together. Biographical in its focus, the exhibition features Porter’s paintings and works on paper and also draws extensively on his personal correspondence, poetry, critical writings, notebooks and published works. A large-scale photographic reproduction of Porter’s lost socialist mural is also included in the exhibition. Many of the works in the exhibition were inspired by Porter’s summers spent at his family’s home on Great Spruce Head Island in Maine. “Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, 1907-1975” is on view through September 7 at the Portland Museum of Art in downtown Portland.
Porter was a fascinating and complex American painter who produced Realist work in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement. He was hailed by the poet and art critic John Asbery in 1983 as “perhaps the major American artist of this century.” Besides being an innovative painter, Porter was also a prolific poet and art critic. His immersion in art history and theory informed not only his criticism but also his paintings. His work as a writer, critic, poet and painter is remarkably consistent and is best considered as a single, complex, lifelong project in which the artist perpetually sought to define for himself his own relation to the world.
“Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, 1907-1975” explores Porter’s wealthy upbringing; his education at Harvard; his youthful travels in Europe and Stalinist Russia; his marriage to poet Anne Channing; his involvement with Marxism and socialism during the 1930s and 1940s; and his work as a painter and critic from the 1930s until his death in 1975.
In his paintings Porter forged a distinctly American vision out of two disparate styles: the first intimate, sensual and representational and the second colorful, gestural and abstract. Relying on the unexpected mystery of everyday personal experience, Porter created a body of work that beautifully portrays contemporary American family life.
Porter, perhaps more than any other American painter of the late Twentieth Century, formulated vital images of family and home that were both deeply personal and iconic. The exhibition’s curator, Justin Spring, who is the author of the seminal Porter biography, Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art (published by Yale University Press, 2000), has assembled the most revealing images of Porter’s home life, as well as portraits of family and friends — including individuals who have since become the foremost literary, artistic and intellectual figures of their generation.
Twenty-seven years after his death, Porter’s intellectual achievements remain highly regarded within the art world but little known outside it. His extraordinarily intimate paintings, however, continue to have a wide-ranging and immediate appeal to viewers across the country. Ultimately, “Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, 1907-1975” is a colorful and inspiring celebration of an artist whose achievements continue to exert their influences in the art world.
“Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art, 1907-1975” was originated by AXA Gallery, New York City, and is curated by Justin Spring. The four-city exhibition tour is organized by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions (CATE), Los Angeles. The show has been to Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Wash. (October 5, 2002-January 5, 2003); Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Ala, (February 1, 2003–April 20, 2003); and after Portland it will travel to McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas (October 5-January 4, 2004).
The Portland Museum of Art is at Seven Congress Square. The Museum is open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10 am to 9 pm on Friday. Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the museum is open on Mondays from 10 am to 5 pm. Museum admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students with ID, $2 for youth 6 to 17 and under 6 are free. The museum is free on Friday evenings from 5 to 9 pm. For information, 207-775-6148 or visit www.portlandmuseum.org.
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