Familiar paths

Terry Hilt sheds new light on Maine's coast
By KEN GREENLEAF  |  March 18, 2009

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PUNCTUATED SHAPES "Approach to Whitehead," by Terry Hilt. 

Terry Hilt's show of watercolors at Aucocisco provides an opportunity to consider the role of modernism in today's art. Modernism is a catchall phrase for a complex series of ideas that were developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe. Its progenitors in painting were Cézanne and the Impressionists, and it reached full expression in the work of Matisse and Picasso and a number of others, including the pioneering abstract works of Kandinsky.

Modernism is not a style, but a way of thinking about the role and process of art. Cézanne showed that a painting was about the artist, and the way the artist thought about painting. It was analytic and self-referential, but rooted in the emotional realities of

"TERRY HILT: MAINE COASTAL TRAILS" | at Aucocisco Gallery, 613 Congress St, Portland | Through March 28 | 207.775.2222
the artist's consciousness. The picture could be, essentially, anything the artist wanted it to be, as long as it maintained pictorial coherence and poetic veracity. These ideas are at the root of virtually everything that has happened in art since, including post-modernism.

Hilt's watercolors follow a path first laid out by John Marin and some of his contemporaries in the 1920s that became a common practice by 1940s and 1950s: use the Maine landscape as an armature for color relationships and to establish pictorial order. She also refers to Kandinsky, and it's worth noting that Kandinsky's early leap into non-objective painting was fueled by his dedication to mysticism, particularly Theosophy.

The only reason to walk a path as well marked out as the one Hilt follows is if you can make it your own, and Hilt definitely does so.

The first thing visible in her paintings is that they are not about the subject. Hilt doesn't expend much energy depicting her spots. "Approach to Whitehead," for instance, has rocks, trees, water in the distance, a horizon line, and sky, but the resemblance to a real place is secondary to both its referential value as an account of Hilt's experience in the place and as a visual foundation for her choices of color and line.

Hilt blocks out color areas with fine lines and fills them with color that is loosely modulated between deep density and light wash. In "Approach to Whitehead" the lower half of the painting is a jumble of mostly blue shapes that reach their boundaries at the black lines. She punctuates the shapes with tiny sections of pink and yellow, giving the whole lower mass a discordant feel, as if the area were in the process of making itself into something else.

Above this blue jumble, green shapes suggest brush and trees while other areas of blue mark out sea and sky. Hilt strokes her green to show the trees have been shaped by the wind, and sticks in little bits of brown for the trunks. It's just enough to give this picture its pictorial identity.

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