Portland Press Herald
Art Review: Page proves vibrance of Maine painting
BY DANIEL KANY
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It’s impressive that Colin Page is only in his 30s. He seems to have an experienced hand, but his canvases repeatedly rely on his resourcefully creative intelligence rather than well-seasoned (or over-cooked) solutions.
Page paints the Maine coast en plein air (outside and on site), and the style has always been the demanding backbone of Maine art. It happens so quickly that an artist working in this mode can be prolific. But he has to paint efficiently, which means quicker decisions and bolder strokes. To do it well takes skill and smarts.
Page certainly has a swagger to his stroke, but his most successful work shows off his brain at least as much as his brush.
His largest work in “Spatial Perception,” his first solo show at Greenhut Galleries in Portland, is “Deep Winter Rhythm,” a handsome and quietly ambitious birch forest winter landscape.
A dozen trees scale the visual foreground. Beyond them rises the blue snow-covered ground, blocked in by subtle but extraordinary passages of banks of trees.
These highly abstract background passages are surprisingly easy to overlook despite being so colorful and impressively painted. Our eyes remain within the scene, because they are never given the chance to rise to the sky or to the forest canopy.
Page excels at balancing warm and cool colors. Using these to emphasize atmospheric qualities, he keeps the temperature comfortably away from the steely cold.
The artist’s thought processes are most easily seen in the strokes sitting on the surface that act as punctuating edits. A red line in the upper right plays a key compositional role, but it has a tentative rhythm. Strokes of blue in the snaky left-to-right shadows and the thin white highlight at the far left of the closest tree display are also shaky.
These strokes stand out, but their role is quite different from most of the mark-making in the painting. Page uses them to counterbalance his otherwise active brush and slow us down to feel the quiet calm of this snow-blanketed scene.
Because of its scale, “Deep Winter Rhythm” is the only work that doesn’t read like a plein-air painting in this show.
“Across the Harbor” is a large scene of a familiar coastal town, recast in bright red. The canvas sparkles with bold and decisive forms, painted shapes, brushy passages and color almost to excess. Yet it reveals both spatial intelligence and remarkable drawing on the part of the artist.
Some of Page’s last decisions (you can see by how the marks lie on the surface) are sharply smart. He dissolves the distinction between the two central red buildings to turn them into a single complex shape that dominates the composition, and then a tiny orange mark on the water plays up the often-exposed orange underpainting of the top sequences.
This bit of orange helps the water read as reflection, and reveals the spatial logic of the painting — which resembles a drawing folded so the reflecting water lies flat like a stage and the background rises straight up from the shoreline like a theatrical backdrop.
“Across the Harbor” might appear like a typical coastal scene, but structurally, it is highly original.
Surprisingly, I like Page’s boats better than his marines. (I could count my favorite boat paintings on one finger). My favorites in “Spatial Perception” are “Glare” and “War Horse.”
“Glare” is a lobster boat seen from the back with the dazzling setting sun directly behind it. Page rightly renders the sunset glare in the thickest, most intense white and yellow impasto, while the boat is a thin, hardly visible plum wash. While it anchors your eye to the scene, the boat is merely the negative space of the major player — the sunlight on the water.
While seemingly simple, it’s a gorgeous orchestra of warm and cool hues, in which light clearly dominates your perception.
“War Horse” is a scene I generally don’t like, but Page nails it. It’s a working boat under blue plastic wintering on dry land under neighborhood power lines. Page’s movement within the blue is impressive, both as color and brushwork.
The strokes of negative space around the power lines are impressively — and appealingly — deft. The volumes of this humble scene intertwine with the color and the light in a tour de force of painterly poetics.
While some of my favorite brushwork happens in Page’s coast scenes, like the chocolately rocks of “Cave Point Shore,” such works also feature most of the show’s unresolved passages.
In “Backlit Acadia,” for example, the top left falls apart from four directions: Land, sky, spray and horizon.
While it’s a balanced scene (it also falls apart on the beach in the lower right), Page’s virtuoso brushwork sets the bar sometimes even too high for himself.
But I think it’s a good sign that Page doesn’t have an answer for everything and pushes himself to take on new things with innovative approaches during a plein-air session.
It’s why he’s not just a good painter, but someone we might be calling great 10 or 20 years down the road — when he likely will be at the peak of his painterly powers.
Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland.