Smells like free spirit

Art and engagement in Autumn 2006
By CHRIS THOMPSON  |  September 13, 2006

060915_portland_main
SPANISH LABOR SERIES V1 by Charlie Hewitt, at Farnsworth Museum, Rockland.
Encountering Charlie Hewitt’s work for the first time, at his Farnsworth Museum retrospective (“CHARLIE HEWITT AT WORK: TWENTY YEARS OF PAINTINGS, SCULPTURE AND WORKS ON PAPER,” through October 15), was like meeting someone from the neighborhood where you grow up long after you’ve grown up. Like Hewitt, I was also raised in the twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn — albeit a generation later — a commonality I only learned after being floored by the carefully juggled interplay of rawness and refinement in his work.

His work holds precisely the same kind of power in potentia that haunts the brick and granite jungle of old mill buildings along the Androscoggin River, whose currents fueled the labor of a city that three-quarters of a century ago was an industrial giant. His teacher, Philip Guston, found a way to tap into these same forces by means of the depiction of the contents of his studio in the wake of his departure from nonobjective abstract painting.

The power in Hewitt’s work, like Guston’s, consists in his ability to translate his life, the struggles he has lived, witnessed, and imagined, into a formal and quasi-symbolic language that exerts a calling upon one first to feel, then to fix this feeling in relation to a particular memory. One’s memory then uses the affective force made available in the engagement with the passages of Hewitt’s work in order to come to life once again in the concreteness of this moment.

This is what it means to think that the past has a future; this work shows how such a future becomes activated in the present.

This force and feeling is also crucial to Thomas Manning’s work. Or so we hear.

The greatest curatorial controversy in Maine’s recent memory, the University of Southern Maine’s cancellation of the exhibition “CAN’T JAIL THE SPIRIT: ART BY POLITICAL PRISONER TOM MANNING AND OTHERS" (see additional coverage on pages 10 through 12), has produced the most interesting non-exhibition of the year. Manning was part of the revolutionary group United Freedom Front, and is currently serving a life sentence in jail after being convicted of being involved in the shooting of a New Jersey state trooper a quarter-century ago. The threat of a protest by police officers from around the state at a university corporate donors’ meeting put the heat on the university’s leadership and the show got the ax. Now, following a page from the censorship playbook, its termination by the university has quite predictably made it twice as powerful as it would have been had it been permitted to remain on display. This fall will see a range of grassroots activities undertaken in lieu of exhibition, all of which promise to be serious street theater, worth your time and engagement whatever your political perspective.

Other things to show up for this fall:

Longfellow Books, September 19, 7 pm, launch of DUANE PIERSON’s ON REVIVING A LOST REVOLUTION: mourning the loss of America’s soul, the former soldier, educator, farmer, mason, CEO, and current patriot’s poetry is described by Longfellow Books’ manager Chris Bowe as “incendiary words for the common people.”

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Education, Higher Education, Robert Indiana,  More more >
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