Snaps: A visit to Maine College of Art


Readers may have noticed that posting slowed down a little last week. I spent a few days up at the Maine College of Art (known as MECA) in Portland, where I gave a  presentation about my work and enjoyed visiting studios of talented graduate and undergraduate students. Business Insider recently named Portland one of the top places to travel, calling it a “funky low-key destination that prizes quality food and cutting-edge art,” and I sampled both on my short trip. Amid presenting, dining, drinking, and talking with students about their projects, I managed to wedge in some visits to faculty studios.

[Image at top: Snap of work-in-progress in Prof. Gail Spaien‘s campus studio. ]

 Gail Spaien, Still Life #7, 2014, acrylic on linen, 38 x 40 inches. 

Chair of the Painting Program, Spaien paints delicate, finely detailed images of flowers in vases. I’m looking forward to her March 2015 exhibition at the Anthony Giordano Gallery at Dowling College on Long Island.

In one of the undergrad studios, I was delighted to find images of Sarah Faux’s paintings tacked to the wall.

Each morning on my way to much-loved Marcy’s Diner where a single order of bacon consists of a heaping plateful and a pancake is larger than a Frisbee, I passed this chunky Anthony Caro sculpture displayed on the lawn at the Portland Museum of Art. 

Leslie Murray, Clover Explosion, 2014, 36 x 42 inches.

My first faculty studio visit was with Leslie Murray, who earned her undergraduate degree from MECA in 2008, then moved to NYC where she got her Masters at NYU. Now she’s back at MECA as a part-time faculty member and painting facilities manager. Her sunny studio is on the top floor of a nearby office building where space costs a mere $295 per month. She recently had a solo show at Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Murray makes objects like these black sparkly rock-like forms, which she then uses as subjects for her  paintings.

 Leslie Murray, work in progress.

I gave my presentation on Thursday afternoon to a full auditorium (thanks everyone for coming!), and was pleased to see some familiar faces. Naturally we took a few selfies. To the left is Martin Mugar, the artist and blogger who coined the term “Zombie Formalism.” To the right: Mark Wethli, an old Facebook friend, also stopped by. He’s on sabbatic leave from his teaching position at Bowdoin College this semester.

Here is Prof. Honour Mack‘s spacious studio in the renovated attic of an old Victorian house. She, too, is on sabbatical, and has just started wrestling with a new series of abstract paintings that engage the circle inside the square. Some of her older work on paper is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Portland through December 22.

Working horizontally on a tabletop, she pours fluid paint and lets it pool and blend in unexpected ways.

Maine is a good place to buy warm boots. Plenty of styles are on view at Reny’s, a discount department store that specializes in hunting and adventure gear, right next door to MECA. If you need Carhartt or camouflage, this is the place. MECA’s spacious, elegant building, on the main street in downtown Portland, was once a department store.

I visited grad student Tessa O’Brien at a building that used to house a restaurant. She paints murals on the outside and uses the inside to mix her paints and prepare her spray gun. The restaurant owner used to have copies of his favorite paintings made in China. Here’s a Frida Kahlo portrait (above) that still hangs in the restroom.

 One iteration of Tessa’s building.

Professor Philip Brou works in a well-organized basement studio located very near Winslow Homer’s studio at Prouts Neck. Brou (pronounced “brew”) has been working on a series of paintings that depict actors who play extras in movies and on TV shows. He contacts talent agencies in NYC, chooses the actors and actresses from head shots, then sets up photo shoots in the city. The photographs become the basis for his remarkable paintings.

Brou’s solitary figures surrounded by a rich black paint remind me of NYC painter Matthew Miller‘s self-portraits, although Miller’s work seems more rooted in American colonial painting while Brou’s recall the flat existentialism of late1960s photorealism.

Another MECA faculty member who is working on interesting projects is art historian, curator, and Fluxer Chris Stiegler. His two main projects are Town Hall Meeting and The Institute for American Art, a curatorial project that he maintains in his Portland living room. Currently Stiegler has an installation by Sebastian Black on view (pictured above).

When I visited the Portland Museum of Art, I was greeted by large-scale Katherine Bradford, Alex Katz, and Chris Martin paintings in the lobby. Further inside,  I found other gems, including Storm, a juicy 1996-97 painting by Sir Howard Hodgkin in the “Treasures of British Art” exhibition.

In the Early American wing, which had recently been rehung, I found many sublime landscape paintings by Fitz Henry Lane, Frederick Edwin Church, and their talented cohort, as well as this little charmer, The Letter, an 1837 painting by Amasa Hewins. Doesn’t it look like a colonial rendition of a Vermeer?

The Business Insider is correct about both the art scene and Portland’s fantastic culinary culture. The MECA crew took me to Empire Chinese Kitchen, which specializes in Dim Sum, and Caiola’s Restaurant, which features inventive cooking with locally grown ingredients. I highly recommend both.


Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. For permission to use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.


  1. Looks like a lot of great work going on in Portland, and you certainly can't beat that price for a studio.

  2. I love seeing my home town through your eyes, Sharon!

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