August 10, 2021
On bright, spring evenings, while driving north on U.S Route 1, just past Waldoboro, you will begin to see a full moon hanging just over Thomaston, a sleepy river town of some two thousand residents that was once home to deep-water ship masters and China trade clippers and where their stately homes and civic buildings linger in varied states of genteel dissolution. Now, painted moons — emblems of a modern-day Brigadoon — are seen in a series of paintings by Ann Craven, whose new gallery has just opened in a beautifully renovated Catholic church in Thomaston. There, Craven’s moons are accompanied by a choir of night-enfolded apparitions, a group of “angels” by Reggie Burrows Hodges.
Craven’s recent (2021) large studio paintings of the spring moon are based on small canvases directly painted outdoors as seen from her Cushing home overlooking the St. George River. Never exact copies of the smaller works, the moons oscillate in realms of memory and imagination, between day and night, the moment of consciousness between wakefulness and dreaming, when recognition itself is still negotiable, uncertain and equivocal. Her moons belong to an ongoing series, often individually identified by the precise month, day, year and time of their making, which she carefully notes on the back of each painting. Her moons celebrate both continuity and change, alluding to states of being simultaneously fixed and unmoored, adrift and centered in the night sky. Bordering on, perhaps, (and making sense of) a kind of sleep-deprived obsessiveness, this ongoing series of unique, radiant, lyrical moments suggests a kind of silent sign of persistence in the universe. Caressed and held aloft by new branches with small, spring leaves, Craven’s moons hang silently above the St. George River, the rippling water illuminated by a flickering expanse of liquid moonlight. In her new gallery the light source and subject of her paintings rhyme with and are reinforced by the large, clear rondel windows in the church transept admitting natural light. If old Maine buildings given a new life could applaud, she would hear her church gallery from her winter studio in New York.
Apart from the moons, which are always with her in New York and Maine, Craven’s imagery is often inspired by birding books handed down to her from beloved family members and other “found” images culled from second or third-hand sources. Ann understands that the way most of us now process visual information is through “mediation,” whether books, magazines, TV, films or our own “personalized” screens that are also “filtered” and curated by algorithms over which we have little control. Smart phones give access to a vast and ever-expanding visual world. For Craven, painting is a way out. She loves paint, its viscosity and how she can work it, color it and apply it wet on wet. Painting releases her from the relentless, too cluttered quiddity of contemporary living now invading every moment of our image-strewn lives. She makes slow and close looking meaningful and necessary again.
“Moons and Angels” are on view and open to the public at Craven’s gallery, 70 Main Street (next the Thomaston Academy building on Route 1), Thomaston, Saturdays and Sundays, 1 to 6 p.m., through September 19.