At the narrow margin where land meets sea, beauty and ruin co-mingle. The source of inspiration for so many artists and writers, the waterfront can also stand as a symbol for despair. At once the Giver of Life, Ocean can be a cruel taskmaster, exacting a dear price from those that labor on or near its shifting tides.
In an exhibit entitled, Catching the Light: The Frenchboro Paintings, at the Archipelago Gallery in Rockland, Maine, artist, Daud Akhriev, captures in his paintings and pastels the contradictions and hardships of Maine coastal living in a collection of powerful and compelling images. Sponsored by the Island Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to cultural awareness, conservancy and research along Maine’s island-rich coastline, the show features both portraits and landscapes by this Russian-born artist, now residing in Tennessee.
In one riveting work, scaled to life-size, Danny, 2007-2008, a mixture of hardship and determination is writ large on the weathered face of a native Frenchboro fisherman. In this work, based on a series called, Weathered People, completed in Russia years before, Akhriev’s impasto style imbues the canvas with the same rough-hewn texture that makes the subject appear both vulnerable and indestructible. He wears his sweat shirt like fragile armor against the ravages of his occupation; his face at once care-worn and intrepid.
In the intimate and touching portrait, Clearing, 2007, an unassuming goddess arises from the broken shells and detritus of the inner harbor. And much like Botticelli’s, Birth of Venus– the embodiment of female perfection—Akhriev’s twenty-first century version stands at water’s edge, nightgown clad. She radiates beauty and self-confidence as she appears to step from the sea, hem lifted in a modest but poignant gesture of her womanhood. Newly awakened, she appears slightly dazed and disheveled– as surprised to see us standing before her as we are to witness her emergence from this unlikely Eden.
Inspired by Andrew Wyeth and following in the footsteps of Winslow Homer, Rockwell Kent, Marsden Hartley and the many others who have come to call Maine their home-away-from-home, Daud Akhriev has spent many summers on the small island of Frenchboro. While there, he has integrated the colors and moods of the island and its inhabitants is a way that is both direct and respectful.
Akhriev’s landscapes capture the timeless quality of the island village and the often rough-cut boundary between civilization and the forces of nature. Piers and wharfs teeter like broken monuments to the human struggle to extract a living from the surrounding waters. Like poet, Percy Shelly’s fallen and once powerful king, Ozymandias, whose emblematic remains are slowly reclaimed by shifting desert sands, Akhriev’s shoreline is littered with arrays of pillar and post, coiled and tangled lines, stacked lobster pots and gray-shingled sheds—symbols of the uneasy bond between the cold North Atlantic and its coastal villages. Floating serenely in these settings however, are the ubiquitous harbor craft—principle tool of the fisherman’s trade—sleek and well-ordered as they swing on their moorings in the saturated colors of Frenchboro’s late summer afternoons.
Akhriev’s waterfront scenes are complex and meticulous studies in color and form—a gigantic game of Pick-Up-Sticks, gone array. In each of his works, the docks, like the island inhabitants he portrays, appear to have reached an uneasy truce with a world where the power of nature is relentless and the flesh endures against all odds.
by Richard Friswell, Editor-in-Chief
Catching the Light: The Frenchboro Paintings
Works by Daud Akhriev
At the Archipelago Gallery, Rockland, Maine
Through September 20, 2009
View the entire Akhriev show at: http://www.islandinstitute.org/gallery_view.php?g=127&i=0
Learn more about the envirnmental programs of Maine’s Island Institute at: www.islandinstitute.org
And visit Rockland, Maine’s nearby Farnsworth Art Museum, in “Wyeth Country” at: www.farnsworthmuseum.org