Appreciating subtlety: Mathias Fine Art, in the Boothbay village of Trevett, had been on my radar for some time before my recent visit there, due to the intriguing nature of its shows and its intriguing location as a village I had not yet visited in the Boothbay region.
On Friday, Oct. 4, this ex-Californian – prompted by a press release for the current “Subtle” exhibit at the gallery and a friendly phone call from gallery owner Cordula Mathias (and a desire for a little Maine adventure) – drove out to Mathias Fine Art to check it out.
The portion of the drive from Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to the gallery, I discovered, is worth it just for the scenery, a quintessential sort of over-the-river-and-through-the-woods storybook type of experience.
Upon arrival at the small, attractive gallery attached to a house up a steep driveway, I was greeted by Mathias, a calm, inviting woman who moved to the United States from Germany in the late 1970s, as I found out.
Mathias is an outspoken (and well-spoken) champion of the artwork of Brenda Bettinson, whose intricate drawings are the subject of the “Subtle” show, which covers a span of Bettinson’s career from 1992-2002. Bettinson, a 90-year-old ex-pat from England who lives in Trevett, is a prolific painter and sketch artist who has shown work quite widely, including in New York, where Bettinson was an art professor for a number of years.
Bettinson’s work in the “Subtle” show ranges from drawings of flowers to drawings of heavy equipment, with such subjects as a desiccated cat’s skull with some of the skin still on thrown into the mix. What they all have in common, as Mathias pointed out, is that they are all Maine subject matter, from lupines to the ubiquitous excavator. And they are all created with such incredible detail and creativity in composition as to demand – or allow, as the case may be – lengthy quiet contemplation before each piece.
“Backhoe Bucket,” for instance, might appear at first glance to be simply a black-and-white drawing of a backhoe. Not so fast. True to form, as one discovers, Bettinson has included two versions of the excavator’s bucket, each at a different stage of movement, with a subtle orange coloration added to separate the two views and an orange line running artistically through the right side of the piece.
Similarly, “Promise and Harvest” depicts the lupine in pre-bloom and post-bloom (seed) stages. Like the backhoe piece, Bettinson’s presentation of lupines offers the subject matter as it changes over time. Also like the backhoe piece, Bettinson “assembles” her drawing in sections, similar to the work of an actual assemblage artist.
Besides being extremely knowledgeable when discussing Bettinson’s work (as it turns out, both of Mathias’ parents were art gallery owners; she is steeped in the world of art), Mathias also offers interesting anecdotes.
Describing what it is like to go for walk with the detail-oriented Bettinson, Mathias said, “She is always looking, times three – always analyzing. If you go for a walk with her outside, you can ask her, ‘How do you make this color?’ and she will tell you exactly how to do it. … (The color of any subject matter) has to be right. She never paints straight from the tube.”
I couldn’t agree more when Mathias says that Bettinson’s work is “exceptional.”
“This work isn’t just happenstance,” she observed, referring to any possible misconception that Bettinson is merely dabbling in art as a retiree. “This didn’t just happen upon retirement as somebody who wanted to be an artist. … Brenda has been an artist all her life.”
The “Subtle” exhibit is open during gallery hours – Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. – through Oct. 20, and by appointment after that date.
Mathias will give a gallery talk on the “Subtle” show on Thursday, Oct. 10 from 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Mathias Fine Art is located at 10 Mathias Drive in Trevett. It is online at mathiasfineart.com and can be reached by phone at 633-7404.
(Christine LaPado-Breglia has written about the arts in both California and Maine. She is the recipient of two 2018 Critic’s Awards and a 2018 Local Columnist award from the Maine Press Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her a letter in care of The Lincoln County News, P.O. Box 36, Damariscotta, ME 04543.)