For most people, Maine conjures up visions of fresh lobster, light houses on picturesque New England shores, and perhaps a souvenir featuring a rendering of said lighthouse or said lobster. When one mentions they are going to be visiting Portland, they are often met with the response “Portland, Oregon rocks!” Having previously lived in Maine for 3 years, I have been forced to correct many assumptions and remind the person I am conversing with that there is a second Portland. Yes, in Maine. So for a person on the lookout for contemporary art, one might not look to the Northeast (at least not that far to the Northeast) to find new, emerging artists or galleries. However, a recent visit to Portland led me to believe that there is indeed a thriving community of artists and exhibitors alike, people creating outside of the mainstream cities like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. Kate Cleaves and Matt W. Moore confirmed my suspicions. The two have recently opened a show of collaborative paintings entitled Convergence.
Matt and Kate first met at the Maine College of Art, located in the heart of Portland’s arts district, in 2001. Moore studied graphic design and Cleaves painting. The two formed a mutual respect for one another’s work, but it was several years before the two would work on any projects together. After graduating, Matt opened MWM Graphics, a graphic design studio based in Portland where he showcases his signature “Vectorfunk” style. He has worked with clients such as K2 Boards, Citroen Green, and Burton Snowboards. He has also shown his work nationally and internationally. Kate works independently as a painter, as well as producing one of a kind, collectible fairies. She also develops designs for a belt manufacturer called The Belted Cow, and is currently illustrating a children’s book.
Kate and Matt began their art making partnership one winter in the home of Kate’s parents. Along with some friends, they threw up several graffiti pieces on the basement walls. “We learned quickly that painting in the basement in the winter time is not a good idea,” said Matt with a smile. It was some time before the two would meet again. They reconnected in Portland a little over a year ago, and once they began discussing the idea they knew they wanted to work together. “We didn’t really know where we were going to show it or where it would lead,” said Matt. “We didn’t really have a vision of how it was going to look or anything, we just kind of knew we wanted to do it,” Kate added. The result of their collective energy is a series of ten paintings and a striking mural currently on view at Corduroy Gallery in Portland. The surf shop/gallery space commissioned Moore and Cleaves to paint a mural on the windows of their storefront. Additionally, there are four long boards Matt designed with Almond Surfboards on display.
The paintings are abstract landscapes with accents of organic life forms throughout. There is a delicate balance of both personalities that streams through each piece. Layer upon layer is applied to create a complex system of patterns and shapes that dances between objective and abstract. The abundance of color and line pulls your attention from each side of the painting. Your eyes beg for the pieces to continue on infinitely. The mural painted on the front windows of Corduroy indulges some these desires. By masking off portions of the window, the use of negative space lures the viewer into a contemplative space where image and representation are brought to the forefront of consciousness. The technique literally brings the painting to life as people on the other side of the window move in and out of the space.
The two worked side by side on the painting for several months. “We would literally be working on the same piece at the same time,” said Cleaves “[The styles] are completely woven together.” “It’s a true collaboration,” Matt added. “I took some photos from the very beginning and it was really neat to look at phase 1, phase 5, phase 17. They morphed.” One gets the feeling from talking to both of the artists that they hold each other in high regard and this comes through in their work. Convergence acts as symbol of the greater Portland arts community in that it highlights how the city is working together to create its own creative hub for new ideas and experimentation. The exhibition successfully showcases two young artists fusing two distinct styles into a strong, developed body of work.
The winters in Maine are long, but perhaps that is a good thing for the creative process. And it is a good thing for viewers who get to see the end result once it emerges from the cocoon of the studio. “We’re already scheming on the next series,” said Matt. One hopes that a winter long art making frenzy will overcome Portland and we will have another chance to see what the city can produce through the cold, dark months. I can only hope my next visit to Maine offers even more incredible new art to be devoured.
Kate Cleaves and Matt W. Moore
59 Market Street, Portland, ME
Through September 30