Very big, beautiful paintings of trees – that is what one will see at contemporary realist painter Jane Dahmen’s “Four Seasons” show, which will open at the Portland Art Gallery on Thursday, June 2. Dahmen’s paintings, it should be noted, are so large because she paints on doors.
Interviewed recently at the Newcastle home she shares with her husband of 50 years, Dahmen – who is also the host of Talking Art in Maine: Intimate Conversations, the thought-provoking live interview series at Damariscotta’s Lincoln Theater – explained her painting-trees-on-doors obsession.
Before moving to Newcastle in 2004, the vibrant 75-year-old lived in Lincoln, Mass., where “somebody gave me an 8-by-8-foot canvas with a frame around it. I looked at it in my studio every day,” she said. Prior to receiving the canvas, Dahmen worked on “making small paintings of Maine and Tuscany” – landscapes and still lifes – after spending time vacationing in the two locales. Trees and doors were not yet her focus.
Dahmen said she would walk in the Massachusetts woods daily, “wishing I could paint the woods. Nothing was working. I couldn’t do it, until one day I put a streak of paint on the (large) canvas from top to bottom, and that was the first tree trunk.”
Not long after getting her big-canvas feet wet, Dahmen moved to Maine and began painting trees on doors.
“I had read that Willem de Kooning painted on doors,” she said. “I went to Home Depot and saw a sale on doors,” and the rest, as they say, is history. Doors don’t warp, she said, and they are easy to transport in a stack in the back of a vehicle.
Dahmen paints in a well-lit studio attached to her spacious riverside home. In addition to housing numerous colorful door paintings, the inviting room contains smaller paintings, such as the three that make up the triptych “Osprey.” When hung vertically as intended, “Osprey” reaches a height of 14 feet.
Dahmen is happy to feel so welcomed by the Portland Art Gallery.
“They like large work and they’ve been selling my paintings,” she said of the Middle Street venue. “I really wanted a gallery with large, white walls, and that’s what they have.”
She does admit, however, that she “got suddenly intimidated” about filling such a large space when she was asked to do a show there.
In talking to Dahmen-the-artist, one cannot help but wonder how she is influenced by what she learns as Dahmen-the-interviewer. Now in its second year, Talking Art in Maine has seen her teamed up with the likes of Sharon Corwin, chief curator of the Colby College Museum of Art; talented Rockland painter Eric Hopkins; painter and printmaker Yvonne Jacquette; the extremely entertaining and creative nail sculptor John Bisbee; and famous figurative artist Alex Katz.
On Tuesday, May 17, Dahmen interviewed 2D and 3D artist Anna Hepler. Hepler, she said, “trusts that if she jumps into something, good is going to happen. … She opens herself up to that very vulnerable place where she could make a fool of herself. That’s where creativity is – in that area that’s embarrassing, uncomfortable – basically feeling comfortable with the unknown.”
“We learn not just about the process that these artists go through,” Dahmen said. “We learn about the pitfalls and how they overcame them.” Katz, she said, was “turned down by everyone when he started out and kept sticking to it. Now he’s famous.”
Dahmen’s Lincoln Theater interviews give audience members “practical information for artists, but also philosophical stuff for the people that aren’t artists,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be an artist that’s listening (to the interview) – anyone can get something out of it.”
Dahmen believes the interview process is beneficial for the artists being interviewed as well.
“I think it’s good for artists to articulate what they’re doing,” she said.
Along those lines, Dahmen said she has learned that “you have to be flexible in this life. If a painting isn’t working, you have to be willing to see where it is leading you.”
“I am as interested in what’s going on in my soul as what’s going on ‘out there,’ so I let the painting dictate where it’s going,” she said. “I think going with your own instincts is the most important thing an artist can do.”
An opening reception for Dahmen’s “Four Seasons” show, with wine and hors d’oeuvres, will take place from 5-7 p.m., Thursday, June 2 at the Portland Art Gallery. The Flying Seeds, Dahmen’s daughter Emily Sabino’s musical group, will play at the reception. The show will run through Monday, July 4. The Portland Art Gallery is located at 154 Middle St. in Portland and can be reached by phone at 956-7103.
Learn more about Dahmen and her art at janedahmen.com. Her next Talking Art in Maine interview at the Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St., Damariscotta, will take place on Wednesday, June 22 with rising New York abstract painter Katherine Bradford. Go to lcct.org or call 563-3424 for more information.