Artist Jeffrey Epstein Unveils Portland Art Gallery

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First time look at unique artwork by Jeff Epstein in Portland. See the world through his eyes with a unique art style.

Jeffrey Epstein

Jeffrey Epstein The Space in Between

This is, in today’s art world, something of a rarity.

Jeff Epstein’s show is a group of small paintings in a small room at the end of a small alley in Portland, but it opens questions that are valuable and substantial. The largest of the dozen-plus paintings are only twenty by fifteen inches, and most are much smaller. An attentive viewer, nonetheless, will take away a generous awareness of Epstein’s surroundings — how he sees things and what they mean to him.

This is, in today’s art world, something of a rarity. Those who spend much time in galleries will be familiar with the current academic trends toward ostensibly transgressive social investigation or post-Warholian irony, which taken together result in what is beginning to be called Neo-Mannerism. Genuine sincerity is rare and undervalued, and using the quiet theater of everyday life as a subject and creating real poetic resonance is rarer still. Yet that is exactly what Epstein is up to with these little paintings.

Epstein divides his time between New York and Cushing, Maine. His work has been shown fairly often over the years at Caldbeck in Rockland and around the midcoast area, but this is the first chance for Portland viewers to get a close look at these personal and unassumingly intense works.

It is in the nature of much current art to demand a wall text for apprehending it, and indeed the art is often simply an illustration of a statement. It is also common to assume there is very little difference between a reproduced image and the work itself.

Epstein’s paintings, and indeed most really good paintings, are just the other way around. Reproductions can’t convey what they are about — one needs to go there and see them without the intervention of a text or jpeg. To do so is to be quietly drawn into the world around his house and garden, and to see the everyday objects in that life the way he sees them. Through the magic of the painter’s eye and technique, commonplace objects become very special, seen with affection and interest. The richness of a quiet life becomes tangible to whoever wants to stop and look.

Take, for instance, “Shepherd’s Crook and Telephone Pole.” The crook is not a true sheep-snagger, but is instead one of those supports for a bird feeder one finds in every hardware store: stick it in the ground, it loops over and you hang your feeder. The telephone pole, with its cables, splice boxes, guy wires and all, is as commonplace as a thing can be, so omnipresent as to be invisible. The crook protrudes through an orange shrub while the pole and wires just stand in the background. The black of the crook is set against the gray of the pole, framed at the top by the wires and a green background. All are rendered in Epstein’s signature painterly method, loose brushwork with the finer details suggested, often with borders drawn by scraping the paint away to make a white line.

The little “Night Shed” is just a few colors, blues with a little green and a few ochre grace notes. A window barely illuminates the darkened interior, while a few lines indicate the handles of power mowers familiar to anyone who has ever used one. Some dark unidentifiable shapes are the detritus that collects in a shed, things too potentially useful to be thrown away but not needed just now. Here again, the scene is commonplace, rendered interesting by the quiet joy of the painting.

In “The Space Between,” twenty inches tall and not quite seven wide, we glimpse a sliver of a car in a driveway framed by the corners of two clapboard buildings, one taller than the other — a house and shed, perhaps. The brushy crown of a tree fills the background.

It is the kind of scene one might see every day for the greater part of a lifetime without ever giving it a thought.

“Birdfeeder with Snow” depicts the type of wooden feeder Boy Scouts used to make, perched jauntily on a black metal pole and capped with snow; the wire grid meant to discourage squirrels is indicated entirely with scratched-out white marks. To the left of the feeder, the trunk of a pine tree emerges from the snow about a quarter of the way up the canvas. Blue shadows streak the snow. Again, a scene so familiar as to be invisible is made sparklingly immediate and intimate.

These quotidian objects, seen everywhere, are imbued with energy as Epstein’s focused attention discovers the hermetic life of objects in each thing it touches — things to which we might be bound by decades of familiarity. They are a sort of household haiku, at once humorous, contemplative, and profound, taking on meaning in the way simple things do when something — perhaps illness, grief, or deep contentment — has reduced our range of vision to that which lies before us.

“JEFF EPSTEIN — PAINTINGS” | through November 30 | at Art House, 61 Pleasant St, Portland

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Ken Greenleaf
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