An Interview with Frances Hynes

Earlier this year we had the pleasure of having the work of Frances Hynes at the gallery in her "Marking Time: Of Land & Sea" exhibit. Ms. Hynes is an incredibly talented painter with a long, celebrated career. Here first exhibit was in 1974 and since then she has been in over 35 solo exhibitions in states including New York, Florida and, of course, Maine. Her paintings are on display in many museums including the Portland Museum of Art, the Telfair Museum of Art in Georgia and the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Recently we sent Ms. Hynes some questions about her life and work and she replied with some wonderfully well thought out answers which we are so pleased to share with you today.

Overall, what do you think about Dan Kany’s article regarding your work in the Portland Press Herald?

I thought Dan Kany’s article for the Portland Press Herald, about my show, “Marking Time: Of Land and Sea” at Elizabeth Moss Gallery was excellent. He brought fresh, new insight to my painting. He mentioned the painting ‘On Land’ and how the brown form in the foreground of that painting initially reads as abstract, but comes into focus as an old wooden ship. He then mentions the memory, for many Mainers, of the Hesper and the Luther Little, the two ships abandoned at the crossing in Wiscasset and finally demolished in 1998.

These two ships were a landmark/seamark for me for so many years and I mourned their disappearance. I never thought of them as an inspiration for my painting,‘On Land’, but yes, Dan Kany is correct. Without my conscious thought, I believe ‘On Land’ pays homage to these two ships.

Dan Kany compared you to both Monet and Phillip Guston. Are you inspired by these artists?

Monet and Guston are both great artists and I’m pleased that Dan Kany mentioned the relevance of my painting to theirs. Great artists from cave painter’s of 30,000 BC or BCE to the present have been my best teachers.

What I have in common with Monet - wanting my painting to be better and better, the best. So we keep changing, keep working. Trying to make the painting be the most and the best it can be. Trying to make the painting be alive, have presence. We both love mark making, and wanting each brush stroke to have meaning, to say something. And we both want unity, overallness in our work and color and light and to project into the space of the room.

Getting back to your question, what I think about Kany’s article, I really appreciated that Dan Kany wrote the following about my work, “Her work is built up patiently. Visually, it develops slowly. It rewards patience. Its modernist conceptualism arrives at a glacial pace, delivering with it a spiritual meditativeness.” In that way I feel that my approach to painting is like Monet’s.

I have often sat in front of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. It is many paintings - layered and painted over, and if a viewer looks long enough he/she can begin to see them all, all the under painting. The painting reveals itself slowly over time; you learn something new from it each time you visit. Perhaps like a friendship.

There are some great Monet’s at the Metropolitan too. ‘Path Through the Irises’, took me a while to appreciate. It is late, painted from 1914 – 1917. Monet died in 1926. He worked on it for 3 years, I like that, He was not easily satisfied. Monet liked to think about his painting.

The Manneport (Entretat) 1883 is another great Monet at the Met. But there are many great Monet’s at the Met: ‘Garden at Sainte Adresse’ ‘Bridge Over a Pond of Lilies’, et cetera.

People like Monet, but I’d like to mention Turner and his great paintings of the sea and ports. I enjoy viewing his work at the Frick Museum in NY. I think he was the precursor to Monet.

And Phillip Guston? Are you inspired by his work as well?

I was introduced to Phillip Guston’s work when I was a student at New York University, in Irving Sandler’s class, ‘Art Since 1945’. It was only his early work then (1968). I loved the ‘mark making’ in his paintings, each brushstroke having meaning, considered. I loved the red/ pink colors, the way he mixed color on the canvas, the accumulation of paint in the center of the canvas, and fading out and getting thinner at the edges. MoMA had some great early Guston’s. The ‘cartoonish’ paintings he created after 1968.

I have explored many approaches to painting and experimented with the medium. I do appreciate that Phillip Guston made a big change in his approach to painting. Monet did too.

Night Studio, A Memoir of Philip Guston, by his daughter Musa Mayer gave great insight into his painting practice and life as an artist. I think a lot of people know only his later work; his early painting is great as well.

You have had a long career as an artist. What other artists that you have met have made a lasting impression on you?

I miss Will Barnet. He died a few years ago, spent much time in Maine, lived to be 100, so was a connection to past generations of artists. He was committed to making art. He was a really strong artist and was not afraid to reach out and help other artists. In NY he would often invite me for dinner to the National Arts Club on Grammercy Park, his wife Elena would be there and usually a few other artists or people interested in art. He did the same in Maine, inviting people to Rock Garden Inn where he and Elena spent a good part of the summer. I discovered Popham Beach, a place I love, as I’d be in that area to visit Will Barnet.

I met him when we both showed at Terry Dintenfass Gallery in NY. He went to every show I ever had in NY. He always made the effort to see the work of friends or artists he knew. He was a great role model.

I love Lois Dodd’s work. I think she has been coming up to Maine since the 1950’s. I like that her work is about the everyday-the plants we pass by each day, the simple frame houses, the night sky and light in the windows. I like that she carefully chooses a motif and paints it and leaves it alone, no extended fussing. That is another approach to painting. I love visiting Lois Dodd’s home and studio; it’s always an inspiration and a pleasure.

Deborah Remington was a friend, who has passed on. I think her work is under known; it should be in MoMA and the Met. I first saw her painting in the 1980’s. It’s very intense. Deborah and I would go to galleries and openings in NY. She was very witty, her phrases and remarks were memorable and I smile when I think of them. She was a very strong artist and person. Deborah was also willing to help other artists whose work she believed in.

I first saw Ann Arnold’s animal sculptures I think in the 1970’s somewhere on 57th St. in NY, where there were a lot of galleries then. I only met her years later and wish I had known her better.

Joe Fiore was such a good painter. He was so quiet and I think he did not show his art very much. I loved visiting Joe and his wife Mary. He had a magnificent barn/studio at their summer home in Jefferson, ME. (I happen to be an ‘un-gardener’, or ‘minimal intervention gardener’. I would describe Mary Fiore’s approach to gardening in the same way. Let it all grow up.) He was director I believe at Black Mountain College after Albers and later taught in Michigan I think. They were both so generous to start the Joseph Fiore Foundation, with the wonderful facilities in Jefferson and Damarascotta. They also helped Maine Farmland Trust an organization that is so important.

Years ago, I was exploring around Thomaston toward Cushing and discovered the Bernard Langlais property and sculpture. I did not know who he was then or anything about what I had discovered (maybe it was around 1978) but found it all so interesting. I came to know and love his work.

I’d like to mention a younger artist as well. Richard Keen, who shows with Liz Moss and lives in Brunswick is a good artist and friend. Like Will Barnet he is always willing to share information and help other artists.

I’m sure I’m leaving out lots of people, but those are the artists who immediately come to mind. And they all have Maine connections.

You grew up in NYC, but travel to Maine often. What brought you to Maine initially?

My father’s sister, who was my Godmother, would travel up to Ogunquit and stay. She loved art and encouraged me as an artist. She would tell me about the Ogunquit Museum and the artists’ colony there. Around 1992, I had a 10-year retrospective at Ogunquit Museum of American Art, my Aunt would be happy to hear that.

My parents also vacationed in Maine. I first came up in the early 1970’s and remember hiking along the natural and ‘unimproved’ Marginal Way in Ogunquit. My brother and I drove from Woodstock, NY, where I had spent the summer drawing at the Art Students League. Robert Angelock was my teacher there and he told me about Monhegan.

I think I first went to Monhegan around 1975. I took a plane to Boston, then a Down East flight to Owl’s Head near Rockland, then a cab to Port Clyde and the Mail Boat , “Laura B” to Monhegan. And an alternate way was an all night bus ride to Thomaston from NYC, pretty awful. By the 1980’s I had a reliable car and would drive to Port Clyde from NY, exactly 400 miles. And I began to explore the rest of Maine as well. I used to think there was only Monhegan, no other places in Maine.

Over the years what have been some special places you have enjoyed painting. Has this changed over the years?

I love to explore Maine. I used to regret not having my own house in Maine. Now I think I’m lucky to be able to go to different places and not feel that I must stay in one spot. Favorite places: Popham Beach, Pemaquid Point, Port Clyde (before it got so busy), the walk along the river and the coast in Old York and the historic homes there, spots in Damariscotta along the River, inland around Jefferson and Richmond. Lubec was so far up the coast and interesting, then a short hop to Campabello Island. Of course Monhegan remains a favorite island place and full of memories.

Where do you like to go to enjoy art?

Artists have been my best teachers. Just going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art has been a great education, studying the great painting of all eras and cultures.

And I love visiting small museums and college campus museums wherever I go-there is a different collecting sensibility in different places, and that is very refreshing. One learns about local artists and artists significant in their own place and country. And there are great collections put together by individuals – Bruce Brown in Portland has a great, unique, personal collection of art. Herb and Dorothy Vogel put together a great collection on modest postal worker salaries.

Do you have a painting of your own that has been your favorite? What about the pieces in your most recent show at the gallery. Did you have a favorite in that exhibition?

I love ‘On Land’. I like the marks around the edges and the fact that an under-version was painted out and this current painting was a big surprise to me. I want my paintings to surprise me, to evolve, change; develop over a span of time. I also love the big painting called ‘Island Place, Monhegan’. It was also a surprise, a gift. But I work slowly and do not show anything that I don’t feel is strong and interesting. I live with my own work for a long, long time before I show it. The date on the work is the ‘finish’ date; often I’ve been working on paintings for years (like Monet).

The installation of my work at Elizabeth Moss Gallery was so very good, a presentation with understanding for my work. I really liked all the paintings.

I have favorite paintings that I think I will always keep. They are usually smaller, more intimate works, and have great personal meaning for me. My early work can be seen on my website in the ARCHIVE section. I have some of those in my home and enjoy them every day. Like Monet and Guston, my work has changed radically at different times in my life as an artist.

I understand you use journals and sketchbooks regularly. Can you share a bit about them with us?

My journals and sketchbooks contain lots of things and I value them. I always have a book with me. They may contain lists of titles for paintings, lists of things to do, sketches of the tea leaves in a teacup, photographs, news clippings, notes about my day and great dreams. I try to only write the positive, never anything nasty about anyone, even if I get angry. Some contain drawings.

When I’m too busy to paint, I can always do ‘a line a day’ at least the date on a page. How much we forget, I wish I had written more about the time I spent with my parents – what we talked about and had for dinner. I do know that they went to all my exhibitions and accepted my desire to paint.

Please tell us more about your paintings ‘Little Bay’ and ‘Aerial.'

‘On Land’, ‘Aerial’, and ‘Little Bay’ all have the Land and Sea theme after the title for my recent exhibition at Elizabeth Moss Gallery. I love to walk along waterways and the coast, where land meets sea. I like the quick weather, sky and sea changes in Maine.

There are so many cliffs in Maine where one is looking down at the ocean. And I loved hiking to the cliffs on Monhegan. ‘Aerial’ looks down and out to sea. As Dan Kany points out in his review of the work, it has a horizontal/vertical structure. Structure is very Important in a painting and a grid structure is evident in my work. (The history and evolution of the ‘grid’ in painting: that is another topic for a conversation). And the layering is rich and mark making preserved at the edges. It is many paintings and needs to be carefully read.

Little Bay is a place in Bayside, Queens near my home. It is where the East River meets Long Island Sound. I like to walk there and see the tugboats and freighters. It’s similar to the views from the higher floors of the Holiday Inn in Portland.

‘Little Bay’, my painting has the land and sea motif. I’m walking along the shore, looking out at the sound; the trees contribute to the vertical structure of the painting.

Thank you so much to Frances Hynes for taking the time to give us such interesting and insightful answers. It was a true joy to learn more about her work and her inspirations. To find our more about Frances Hynes, visit her website, and please visit her page on the gallery website to learn more about her available paintings.

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