When we were preparing for the "Process" show last week I was reminded of articles I had read in the past about R. Brown Lethem. He is such a fascinating artist and I have always enjoyed learning more about him and his work. I was remembering an article by Bob Keyes in the Portland Press Herald from 2014 when Lethem was doing his “FIGURE <–> ABSTRACTION” exhibit at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. It is a great article about the work shown in that exhibition as well as the artist himself. You can read it HERE.
We emailed Bob Keyes some questions about R. Brown Lethem and his experience meeting him and writing the article back in 2014. Mr. Keyes was kind enough to take the time to get back to us with his thoughts and we are happy to share them with you today....
I was reading the article you did on Mr. Lethem from 2014 when he was doing his “Figure <–> Abstraction” show in Ogunquit and I really enjoyed the insight you offered about the artist and his life. It was fascinating to read about his experiences and how they affected his work. You wrote about how his earlier pieces reflect "conflict among men" while his more recent works shifted to a concern for the environment. Do you think this shift coincided with his move to Maine?When you think back on his paintings, do you have favorites from this exhibit that stand out to you?
In answer to your first question, yes I do believe the shift in his art coincided with his move to Maine. I see that happen with a lot of artists. Maine has a way of helping them see the world from a slightly different perspective, and when that happens their work shifts. I am not sure if Brown would attribute the shift in his work to his move to Maine, but I think that's the case. He was teaching when he moved to Maine, so he was busy. But Maine afforded him time and space to slow down and really concentrate on his art. I really do not have a favorite painting from that time but based on the images we reproduced online, if I had to pick one it would be "Making Bed," mostly because it's the easiest to read in a narrative sense. We can interpret it openly and directly, but he's left enough latitude in the painting to leave it vague. He embeds symbols in the painting and dramatic colors and action. The paintings is active and animated.
You wrote quite a bit about Mr. Lethem's workspace. It sounds like you got to see and experience the barns that serve as his studios and storage space. That must have been exciting to see decades worth of paintings! How did it feel walking among all those many years of work?
It feels great to walk among the work in his barns. It's actually exciting. You realize how much depth there is in his career and how much energy he has expended making these paintings. It's truly a 50-plus-year effort, and to be among that much work helps one appreciate the commitment of an artist to a vision and path. He's one of the best examples of a working artist we have in Maine. He's always made art, and still does. I am not sure if he still lives in Berwick. When I interviewed him, he was splitting his time between Berwick and Bath, and I believe he's moved to Bath mostly full time.
Our upcoming exhibit features some more recent pieces. Is there a piece from "Process" that speaks to you the most or is there one you would most like to see?
"Monkey Painter/Inspiration" makes my chuckle. I like it and I can't stop going back to it to see more. And I also love "On Knees." There's a vulnerability to it that feels authentic.
A big thank you to writer, Bob Keyes, for taking the time to answer our questions. It is always so nice to get different perspectives on artists we admire. I would highly encourage you to read the article referenced in its' entirety HERE and you can also find more articles form Bob Keyes HERE on the Portland Press Herald website.