You know the place

Posted May 04, 2009, at 6:51 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — There’s no doubt where you are when you view Linden Frederick’s latest exhibition. You’re in Maine, whether it’s a side road, back alley or Belfast Harbor.

It’s also the how and the when that are examined in “You Are Here: Linden Frederick, Studies and Paintings,” which went on view at the end of April at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.

While “You Are Here” is a display of Frederick’s quietly eerie and beautiful realistic paintings of Maine life, the exhibition is meant to be a look into the artist’s process as well.

A Belfast resident, Frederick is a New York native who has been living in Maine since 1989.

The exhibition consists of 35 oil paintings, with finished work paired side-by-side with a study. In some cases, both study and finished work were made in the same year. In other cases, there is a gap of several years between the versions. And in still other pairings, the date of the study comes after the final product, indicating Frederick went back and finished the study, too.

His process is exhaustive. According to an essay by CMCA curator Britta Konau in the exhibition catalog, Frederick travels the state looking for subjects. He captures images with photographs, drawings, notes and his memory, and then develops a study within a month or two in order to capture his impressions.

“The studies allow Frederick to work out what he calls ‘the mechanics’ of the final painting, including values, explaining why some of the studies are in black-and-white,” Konau wrote.

Frederick may not start the final painting until several months later. In the case of “Sunday,” a painting from 1988, the date on the study is listed as 1986. For “Turquoise House,” however, Frederick completed the final version in 2002, but the date of the study is listed as 2003.

The studies are Frederick’s impressions of the scene, with hazy details and schematics. The details come into much sharper focus by the time he has finished with the final painting. Some of the details change, too — trees or windows are in slightly different locations — and the vantage point is sometimes slightly altered. It’s as if the image has been refocused.

As beautiful as they are, the paintings are also a bit eerie. There are no human figures in any of the work — unless a ragged scarecrow counts — but humans are nevertheless strongly in evidence, whether the scene is of a car on a road or light emanating from a house.

“The absence of any figure parallels the distance and remoteness that permeate all of the artist’s work,” Konau wrote. “It is as if Frederick were holding his subject at arms’ length for us to see, compelling us to understand that We Are Here. Stylistically, the artist minimizes the evidence of his making, yet we know his presence, even artifice, in the careful compositions and points of visual interest that just seemed too coincidental. There is a deliberateness in everything — a ‘just there-ness.’”

Frederick’s depictions of light, whether it’s a sunset or the taillights of a car driving away, contribute to this distance and remoteness. His images of homes lit up for the evening give the viewer a feeling that they’re peeping — what’s going on behind the windows? Frederick gives us some clues in the titles of the paintings, such as “10 O’Clock News” from 2006, “Night News” from 1995 and “Wheel of Fortune” from 2006. In the latter painting, the viewer can see the brightly colored game-show wheel — including the black “bankrupt” section of the wheel — in the corner of a window.

“Setting a situational stage, Frederick gives us enough information to complete the scene according to our own experience, associations and feelings,” Konau said. “The viewer gets the sense of really knowing the place, and that is the true beauty of Frederick’s paintings, their humanity. Of course for anybody familiar with midcoast Maine, this may be literally true, but familiarity with an actual locale does not distract from the strangeness with which the artist has infused common scenes, the strangeness that beauty and distance impart.”

“You Are Here: Linden Frederick, Studies and Paintings,” closes July 18. Frederick will give a gallery talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 30. Events are free for CMCA members or with admission. For more information go to www.cmcanow.org or call 236-2875.

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