Dowling Walsh Gallery is hosting two blockbuster shows for the month of June: an inaugural show of paintings from the Estate of Stephen Pace (1918-2010) and the second show of Sarah McRae Morton’s old world paintings. Stephen Pace is known for his abstract expressionist paintings, which over time evolved into an exuberant broad-brush representational style of scenes from his surroundings in Maine. Sarah McRae Morton’s paintings are imagined portraits and scenes inspired by Faulkner’s famous saying, “the past is not dead, it is not even past.” The public is invited to an Opening Reception for the show Friday, June 5 from 5-8 pm. “Stephen Pace Estate / Sarah McRae Morton” runs through June 27.
Stephen Pace’s first fame as a painter came from his abstractions. Pace had studied with Hans Hofmann in the late 1940s and found the renowned German-born painter-teacher’s exuberant attitude toward making art inspiring. “You could do whatever you wanted to do,” the artist recalled in the 2008 film profile Stephen Pace: Maine Master. iIn that same profile Pace admitted that from the beginning of his life as a painter he “always liked big brushes and splashing paint.”
Caught up in the vibrant New York City art scene of the 1950s, hobnobbing with the likes of Kline and de Kooning, he became a major figure in the second wave of Abstract Expressionism. He could, as one critic put it, “gesture with the best of them.” His work appeared in numerous annuals at the Whitney, and he had solo shows in some of the most respected galleries of the day.
According to art historian Martica Sawin, author of the definitive book on the painter, Pace first came to Maine in 1953, to visit Monhegan. On that trip he happened upon Deer Isle. It was “love at first sight” he told Bruce Brown, curator of Maine Coast Artists, on the occasion of his exhibition there in 1993. Stonington, that magnet to an amazing array of artists stretching from John Marin and the Zorachs to Jon Imber and Jill Hoy, became the center of his artistic universe. He and his wife and muse, Pam, camped there nearly every summer before buying a house in 1973 and becoming part of the community.
Drawing on the gestural energy of his abstract work, Pace set about rendering his coastal surroundings. His paintings of Stonington fishermen represent a remarkable chronicle of one of Maine’s most active working waterfronts. This painter born and raised in the Midwest was fascinated by their activities: digging clams, setting lobster traps, restocking bait.
In a scene in “Stephen Pace: Maine Master,” filmed in his barn loft studio in Stonington, the elderly artist approaches a blank canvas and inscribes several strokes of paint, fearlessly, like a conductor bringing down the baton to start the first bars of a Beethoven symphony. He lived to paint—and his paintings live on.
“The past is not dead, it is not even past” – William Faulkner
Sarah McRae Morton’s paintings are invented portraits of her ancestors and historical figures – people from her own life, from books and paintings, and from her travels and stories learned. The events and people illustrated are not bound by time or fact, but are imbued with ghosts and artifacts from cross sections of history. Sarah’s work is wildly romantic, with an earthy palate and energetic movement around the canvas that quiets on key moments – detailed renderings of the face of a bear, the lips of a lover, the fox stole around a poet’s neck. The paintings seem to flicker to life with her spirited brush strokes.
This show brings together a collection of Sarah’s imagined portraits inspired by Faulkner’s famous saying, “the past is not dead, it is not even past.”
Sarah draws on her own family history across the ages. In “Flight” and “The Crown Carved of Graphite and Gallows Under Beeches”, Morton delves into the story of her ancestor, William Bankes, an affluent and notable explorer who was exiled from his home in England for his homosexuality in 1841. In “The Pequod Captain’s Son”, she places Ernesto Tamayo, the child prodigy Cuban guitarist who was the son of one of Castro’s guards, in a metaphor with Moby Dick. Ernesto is shown performing on the back of a whale in an opera house. Tamayo lived with Morton’s family for a time in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he died in 2014, and during which time he wrote the second half of Mozart’s requiem, from whom he believed he was reincarnate.
Several paintings in the show also pair artists with their subjects in invented memories, linking their artistic expression with childhood experience to tell us something new about their work. Sarah’s painting, “Girlhood Portrait of Edna St Vincent Millay as the Waste-Man’s Little Daughter”, attaches the poet St Vincent Milay, to the subject of her own poem, The Pear Tree. Sarah’s painting, “A Day Behind the Wolf Trapper, Tussa and Evelyn”, is of the frontier photographer, Evelyn Cameron, who took pictures of daily life in Montana in the early 1900s. The painting uses Evelyn’s frequent subject of wolf trappers, and echoes the stance of Evelyn’s famous self portrait, to tell the imaginary story that as a girl, Evelyn freed the wolves as they were trapped.
Dowling Walsh Gallery is located at 365 Main Street in Rockland Maine, directly across from the Farnsworth Art Museum. We are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am – 5pm, and by appointment on Sunday and Monday. For more information, visit us online at www.dowlingwalsh.com or call 207-596-0084.