Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ed Nadeau at the Courthouse Gallery

Ed Nadeau will be having an exhibition of his representational work at the Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth October 1-30. Artist's talk and reception are on October 7 - Following is my essay for the accompanying publication.


We Are All Mainers

Ever since he left graduate school in 1986, Ed Nadeau has been creating narrative paintings and drawings alongside his other bodies of work. He comes from a French-Canadian Catholic family and grew up in the Waterville area. This is important to note here because the artist's scenarios of transgression and absurdity grew out of this background - deep roots of folklore and oral narratives in French Canada and childhood tales of the Maine backwoods. However, Nadeau finds the ideas for his works in actual Maine news stories, events in his own life and combinations of both. For him real life is wondrous and weird enough.

Nadeau's tragicomical narratives are populated by caricatures of people and objects and implicitly challenge our everyday logic. The images remind strongly of the Theatre of the Absurd of the late 1940s to '60s which grew out of the realization that the certainties and unassailable beliefs of earlier times had been eroded. Vague moments of suspense reveal the foolishness of mankind when placed in the vastness of nature or when following its basest instincts. It is not surprising then that Nadeau lists among his literary influences Carolyn Chute's The Beans of Egypt, Maine, Stieg Larsson's thrillers, as well as Stephen King. His artistic style could be called faux-naive, revealing the deep influence cartoons have had on him (especially Bugs Bunny). However, his skillfull compositions and handling of paint give him away as a very accomplished painter who is drawn to the work of Anselm Kiefer, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, and his teacher Jerome Witkin.

Nadeau walks a difficult line between reinforcing stereotypes about Mainers, possibly even angering viewers, and creating enough distance for us to be able to experience the humor in his scenarios. He succeeds by maintaining an authorial distance, always presenting his characters and dramas from afar, thereby dwarfing the figures and avoiding an obvious point of entry for identification. This emotional distance, however, allows the viewer to relate to Nadeau's images in a more open, humorous manner. Although the incidents may originate in remoteness, poverty, lawlessness, and insufficient education, they are rooted in simply being human; thus Nadeau's stories transcend the particular and become universal. We all can recognize a part of ourselves and situations which we sometimes find ourselves in.

1 comment:

  1. this is a great write up and I love the images. Thanks Britta