Between Dreams At Elizabeth Moss Galleries Reviewed by Dan Kany

By Daniel Kany

The contrast between Michel Droge’s and Liz Hoag’s paintings now on view at Elizabeth Moss Galleries presents an unusually rich peek into the painting side of the artistic process. Depending on how you see Droge’s paintings, you might be looking at the work of two landscape artists – or even three if you count John Knight, whose show in the gallery’s back space also fits the landscape narrative. Knight’s newest works are small landscapes, nicely framed on paper. They are watercolor, but they evoke Vincent van Gogh. Though van Gogh is one of the most distinctive, recognizable artists in history, it’s surprisingly hard to describe why his work is so powerful and stylistically recognizable. Knight’s tip of the hat to van Gogh helps explain it. “Dogleg Path at Gilsland,” for example, is an 11- by 14-inch watercolor in a typical van Gogh palette. The forms of the light green fields are defined by outlining strokes that sit over the lighter sections. An almost black pine, squat and stable, anchors the scene from the center – the composition swirls around it. This is where Knight takes a great lesson from van Gogh: No one has been better at using wet paint to combine lines into colored rhythms that pulse with color and energy. Knight’s sky is simply a set of strokes defining the clouds, but then, instead of wash-brushing the sky, he makes it blue by pulling meandering lines away from the center-stage cumulus cloud. The cloud itself echoes the centering tree like a puffy white shadow, defined by the same blue in all its darker places. 

We generally see echoes of van Gogh in rhythmically dashed, outline-drawn, boldly colored paintings, like Knight’s. But we also see van Gogh’s stylistic ripples in impasto-all-over paintings like those of the late Neil Welliver and, now, Liz Hoag. Hoag’s paintings in “Everyday Maine” are generally trees or landscapes that languish in the presence of brushy acrylic paint. In “Looking Back,” for example, a stream meanders from a sunlit field into a canopy-shaded wood. The sun is hot white and bright outside of the wood, but it trickles in with the stream in the form of thick, sky-blue brushstrokes that play the part of dappled reflections. On the one hand, the high contrast hints of realism, but it also allows for the consideration of the strokes of paint laid out upon each other. Hoag is doing this with acrylic, which dries so quickly that the strokes must be piled upon each other. Van Gogh was pushing wet paint aside with his loaded brush, an inexplicable skill better explained by sorcery than science. But technical magic aside, to us, the view is not so different. Hoag’s most confident works, such as her 48- by 60-inch “Tangle,” feature the negative space: Instead of painting a background and then putting a tree on top, Hoag has unapologetically finished with the spaces between the branches. The effect is that the entire surface of the painting leaps to the fore, not unlike stained glass. Moreover, the paintings that feature this effect quiver with visual rhythms that shift between literal paint and photorealistic effects. We see her process, her patience, her skill. This is the path less traveled, the long way around, and in my opinion, at least, the scenic route.

Michel Droge’s five paintings seem the most unlikely to relate to van Gogh; yet the comparison is apt and throws light on how van Gogh’s contemporaries might have been seen his work. Droge’s panels appear as abstract, thinly painted and highly glazed atmospheric nocturnes. But in their complexity and unusual balance of light, shadow and paint mark – set off by some unlikely pencil marks scrawled with the offhanded bravado of Cy Twombly – they convene a conversation with works such as van Gogh’s seminal “Starry Night.” Though “Starry Night” is structured like a landscape, it leaves behind the sleep-settled village at the base of the scene for the dreamy theatrics of the ethereal sky dancing above. When I discussed Droge’s paintings with a razor-sharp impromptu group of Maine College of Art students (where Droge teaches), they all saw Droge’s atmospheric abstractions as landscapes. But when challenged on that point, they stepped away from the settled sense of place typical of landscapes to a visual orientation that moved up toward ethereal images. The paintings, they realized, were much more nuanced, complicated and unusual than simple landscapes. Droge’s propensity for interrupting her images with drawn (even scribbled) graphite marks unbalanced their basic reading of landscape. While I initially read the works as images you might see when staring up at a night sky, I think the students had it right. A landscape, after all, is the viewer’s visual experience of a scene in a place. And while Droge works hard to deny the physical grounding of the landscape – the foreground and fundamental premise of Hoag’s and Knight’s work – the point is the subjective visual experience of a person. A key difference between her work and traditional landscape is that Droge seems perfectly happy, even inspired, to leave her physical presence out of the view she presents. Landscapes generally try to give you a place to stand, and Droge works to keep that from happening. Droge’s “Circadian” is a 5-foot-square image punctuated by a cloud-filter red sun in the atmospheric upper stratus. It could be a view down from a mountain to water, like Chimney Pond from higher up on Katahdin. Her “Breathing Lesson” has a dark lower half with two orangey spots in soaring light, cloudy white above: The work reminds me of “Starry Night,” but without the need to fill in the village landscape below. Or, maybe, it could be the pair of nipples on a lover’s breasts, but if you’re seeing a landscape, it appears as lights in an atmosphere-filtered sky. Droge’s ability to push traditional techniques around tough questions of approach (and even theory), and yet insist on an aesthetic reading, is her great strength. Her work is subjective, complex and even difficult. But its beauty is difficult to deny. It thrives on its indeterminacy, which allows us to feed it with our own narratives, our own expectations, our own desires. The trio of shows at Elizabeth Moss initially evades easy connection. But with a longer look, the topics shift away 2/3 from the painterly approaches of the artists to the response of the viewers. And there, it all comes togethe

HIRAETH review by Nicholas Schroeder Portland Phoenix

HIRAETH review by Nicholas Schroeder Portland Phoenix

Since she first appeared as a student in MECA’s Graduate Studies painting program, I’ve been a huge fan of Michel Droge’s work. Her thick, hazy, metallic-seeming paintings held both darkness and light as well as anyone in the state (not named Dozier Bell). But “Hiraeth,” her short-stay exhibition of cyanotypes and embossings, Droge takes a left turn into a different medium and intention.

In an artist statement, Droge defines “hiraeth,” a Welsh term, as “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for lost pieces of your past.” A year prior to when she began the work that would end up in this exhibition, Droge’s brother died of an opiate overdose. “Everything familiar had come undone. I was navigated uncharted waters,” she writes. “I began a series of prints based on the idea of unraveling an Aran sweater.”

Those prints are included here, as well as numerous cyanotypes and several pieces that seem to serve as a stand-in for the sweater itself.

Haunting and apparitional, Droge’s work in Hiraeth is vibrantly nostalgic. With a primary color palette of white and aqua, the show conveys a nautical theme, the images vaguely recalling fisherman’s maps and navigational charts. Droge and her brother grew up sailing on the water. They’d spend summers on Block Island.

Droge came to study at MECA in 2009, and as she recalls it, kept to herself about the heavier themes of the past year that had been informing her work. She says that even as she was making the embossings and occasionally showing them in town, she’d never really talked about the work’s connection to her brother. “I would just talk really vaguely about the universal feeling of being lost at sea.”

Years later, Droge made cyanotypes working with the same themes and materials, a set of stick chart drawings she says “helped navigate emotional and unconscious waters.” A photographic printing process that ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide, cyanotype prints emerge a cyan-blue hue, squarely in the register of marine aesthetics. Relative to other methods of printing, the image tends to fade when exposed to the basic elements.

Printed, the crudely formed stick charts took on constellatory patterns, and she combined them with the sweaters and embossings for a three-pronged exploration of what the artist describes as the unconscious emotional realm she’s navigated since her brother’s passing.

Droge wonders if the story behind this work overshadows its universality, but her exhibition at the airy, well-lit Frank Brockman Gallery in Brunswick, is simple and inviting. Frayed ends of the cable-knit sweater appear in the cyanotype “Shoals” as the distant shores of land masses, with narrow isthmuses curling off the frame. In “Prophecy,” we see the white form and outline of the sweater as though its arms are raised up in surrender. In the cyanotype “Thief,” the sweater-sleeve imprint conjoins with a bed of stars imprinted from the stick charts.

As an educator who encourages young artists to engage with the coastline and its various storylines, from the effects of climate change on working life to the drug problem in coastal communities, Droge’s exhibit here is without question the most personal we’ve seen from her. It’s harrowing stuff, even with its macabre themes soundly sublimated into an art medium, the cyanotype, that could otherwise be described as angelic. Viewers would enjoy it even without knowing the whole story, its universality is indeed strong. But for those who might grapple with the work in particular terms, it’s as life-affirming as it gets.

Hiraeth, works on paper by Michel Droge | Through Aug 31 | At the Frank Brockman Gallery, 68 Maine St, Brunswick

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Nocturnes at UMF OPENING 9/8


Michel DrogeNocturnes       UMF Art Gallery

8 September – 9 October 2016 Opening reception: Thursday, 8 September 5-7pm, with a conversation with the artist at 5:30

In Nocturnes, a new series of large oil paintings, Michel Droge approaches the qualities of night that evoke feelings of the sublime—the powerful and disorienting diminution of the self absorbed by the vastness and impenetrability of the deep night sky and ocean. Climate change and its effect on coastal communities are concerns at the heart of Droge’swork--beneath the mystery and melancholy of her darkly luminous environments runs the artist’s insistent question of how to represent what cannot (yet) be clearly seen?  

Michel Droge exhibits internationally. She conducts research in Maine’s island and coastal communities along with her students at the Maine College of Art (MECA).  

The UMF Art Gallery and the Department of Sound, Performance, and Visual Inquiry are grateful for the generous assistance of the Maine Arts Commission in developing this exhibition. 

The gallery is located at 246 Main Street in Farmington, behind the UMF Admissions Office. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sundays from 12 to 4 p.m. and by appointment. For more information or to make an appointment please contact Sarah Maline, UMF Art Gallery director, at or 207-778-1062. Please visit us at

More on the UMF Art Gallery
The UMF Art Gallery is a teaching gallery dedicated to bringing contemporary art and artists to campus and the regional community. In its focus on innovative and challenging new work, the gallery reinforces the academic vision of the University and the Department of Sound, Performance and Visual Inquiry in celebrating art as a powerful agent of community and cultural identity. The gallery develops compelling interdisciplinary educational opportunities for students and the community and works with local schools to integrate art into their curricula. 


June Fitzpatrick FINALE August 4 -27

June Fitzpatrick Gallery
522 Congress Street Portland Maine 04101

August 4 – 27 2016

The Last Exhibit
Before June retires and the gallery closes

5 – 7 PM Thursday, Aug 11

Hours : 12 – 5 PM Tuesday - Saturday


& others who have called the Fitzpatrick gallery “home” through the years