Artist Lois Dodd captures the light, world around her

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PORTLAND — Lois Dodd is best known for her works in which she paints the world around her — from her apartment windows in New York City to the woods and gardens of Maine and New Jersey.

The Portland Museum of Art is showing “Lois Dodd: Catching the Light,” a career retrospective for the painter that features more than 50 paintings from six decades. The exhibition will be on view from Jan. 17 through April 7.

Born in 1927 in Montclair, N.J., Dodd moved to New York as a student at the Cooper Union. She studied there from 1945 to 1948, a time when New York emerged as the postwar art capital of the world and Abstract Expressionism flourished. In 1952, she was the only female co-founder of the Tanager Gallery, along with artists Philip Pearlstein, Charles Cajori and others.

Rather than turn to abstraction, minimalism, or pop, Dodd has remained faithful throughout her career to painting her immediate surroundings, whether it be a country landscape or an interior view of her apartment.

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Dodd was a key member of New York’s postwar art scene and later taught at Brooklyn College for 25 years. She also found a second home in Maine and became associated with the Lincolnville artists, including Alex Katz and Neil Welliver, before moving to Midcoast Maine where she has lived and painted for several decades.

Dodd was part of the wave of New York modernists to explore the coast of Maine in the later half of the 20thcentury. Like Fairfield Porter, Rackstraw Downes, Alex Katz and Neil Welliver, Dodd started spending summers in Maine, beginning in 1951. Attracted by the inexpensive but rambling old farmhouses, endless woods, stone quarries and bright sunshine, Dodd and fellow artists sought both companionship and escape from the demands of city life. To this day, Dodd can be found trekking through the fields and forests in her Maine environs — with canvas and paint supplies in hand.

She often works en plein air, starting paintings on-site in the woods or other location and finishing them in her studio. At times, her observations are so direct that she uses the window to frame her compositions, as seen in the exhibition’s “View of Neighbors House in Winter.” She often returns to the same location and views to explore at different times of day and times of year.

“Lois Dodd: Catching the Light” includes views of a men’s shelter outside her Lower East Side apartment that become studies of light, architecture and the city. In “Men’s Shelter,” April, 1968, one sees the verdant grass of spring with shadows cast by the surrounding architecture of the neighboring buildings, depicted through her flat blocks of color. 

Dodd is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Design, and a member of the board of governors for the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Among many honors, she recently was awarded the Benjamin West Clinedinist Memorial Medal in 2007 from the Artists’ Fellowship Inc. and Cooper Union’s Augustus Saint-Gaudens Award for professional achievement in art in 2005.

Dodd’s works can be found in museums including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri and the PMA. He resides in both New York and Maine.

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