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First Friday frenzy

Reflecting on an art-fueled weekend
By IAN PAIGE  |  December 10, 2008

WIDE SELECTION: The view at 30 Romasco Studios.

A young gentleman visiting an open studio at the Artist Studios on Congress Street eagerly scanned the work on the wall. "Oh, I didn't see this one; I'll take that too!" He forked over a modest sum to the delighted artist, who was already envisioning the new art supplies (and, let's be honest, a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons) now in her future. The price-slashing mentalities that failed for Best Buy on Black Friday worked wonders for the local arts community on First Friday. As artists, galleries, and consumers of art all madly dash to meet holiday expectations, the scramble sets up a temporary creative regime of the people, wrenching power over art away from the perceived-to-be stuffy, hallowed halls and putting it into jewelry designers coming out of the woodwork to hawk their wares like they were gold watches in Central Park.

Not that the galleries weren't holding their own. Aucocisco revisited Hilary Irons and Nicole Duennebier for a dichotomous show of new work; Irons confidently ripped through her canvas with scars of bold colors while Duennebier moved carefully toward further refinement and elegance of composition. Patrick O'Rorke's small floor installation transformed a corner of Whitney Art Works (although not as much as his impressive large-scale piece on display at the Artist Studios defined its space). SPACE Gallery was wall-to-wall with holiday visitors to the opening 30-year retrospective of Spindleworks, while Susan Maasch and Greenhut rolled out familiar faces for sprawling who's-who group shows.

But who can remember all that when there's a hula-hooping woman barking at you about an arts-and-crafts sale at the Dooryard, or live tunes from local pop duo Lady Lamb the Beekeeper bellowing out the Tower of Song onto Congress Square below? Perhaps purist appreciators of art see the whole Art Walk mess as entirely too plebeian, but it sure is a party. Unabashed creativity pops up for every Art Walk, but the December installment brings with it a certain fervor aimed at the almighty dollar. Hence the stalwart MECA/SEA Holiday Sale and newly-fashioned East End Holiday Stroll that continued Friday's frenzy into the weekend. In our city's creatively permissive era, it is promising to focus on the character of commerce all this energy brings. While everyone is struggling to pay their bills, artists scramble for ever-thinner slices of the pie. What's remarkable right now is that someone, or something, keeps baking a bigger pie for the artists.

Nowhere was the excitement of taking matters into your own hands more apparent than at the 30 Romasco Studios Art Sale, on view through December 12. The pliable industrial workspace shared by several artists is well suited as a clean but pleasantly rough-around-the-edges gallery space for the strongest, most coherent collection of talent Portland has seen in some time. Anna Hepler woodcuts gleamed from a bargain-bin-type display while Cassie Jones's playful protozoan forms, rendered in broad Crayola strokes on Mylar, cheerfully greeted each viewer upon entry. Jeff Kellar's pieces danced in architectural simplicity next to Gideon Bok's languid time-based renderings and Mark Wethli's abstracted interior geometries on panel. Newcomers Annie Godfrey Larmon and Petra Simmons showed arresting animal portraits and fractal lichen line work, respectively, while young artists like Sage Lewis and Noa Warren further refined their styles to warm, inviting ends. The list of talent is too long to continue here.

Romasco ringleader Joe Kievitt says he simply connected with artists from Maine whose work he admires and allowed them to invite other artists they thought might be interested. The result of this informal meeting of the minds is an accurate snapshot of many of Maine's brightest, most innovative artists and creates a fresh, improvisatory appeal that makes experiencing their art joyful and social — like it should be.

While Portland's matrix of galleries has done much to breathe new creative life into our city, it's moments like this weekend that remind us that the lifeblood of our burgeoning "creative economy" is the artists themselves. Both producers and consumers in the art world gratefully count on galleries for intelligent curation and dedicated representation, but these overseers of art would be wise to pay close attention — or the Art Walk party might leave without them.

Ian Paige can be reached at

Related: Classic retro, Exploring deep within, Why we live here, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Anna Hepler, Patrick O'Rorke, Hilary Irons,  More more >
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