‘Making Faces’: Photographic portraits at PMA capture personalities of actors and masters of the canvas

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PORTLAND — Renowned American artist Andrew Wyeth’s strength of character comes through in Joyce Tenneson’s high-resolution digital image of him taken in 2004.

With Berenice Abbot’s photographic portrait of Edward Hopper, dressed in a suit while sitting casually near a woodstove in his studio, we get a keen sense of the precise formality often reflected in his paintings.

And in his image of Berenice Abbott (who as a photographer is rarely the subject of a photo), Todd Watts captures her features so well that it almost feels as if she is in the room.

These and 30-plus other outstanding black-and-white photographic portraits of famous world figures are part of the Portland Museum of Art’s “Making Faces: Photographic Portraits of Actors and Artists” exhibit.

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Other recognizable personalities in this thought-provoking and creatively hung exhibit on the second floor are Louise Nevelson, Alberto Giacometti, Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol,  Saul Steinberg, Milton Berle, Eddie Kantor, Ray Bolger, Jimmy Durante, Imogene Coca and Lucille Ball.

The exhibit also includes a selection of paintings, drawings and sculptures by leading European Modernists such as Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger and Jean Arp, along with their photographic portraits.

Showing simultaneously on the third floor, in the Konkel Gallery, is “Making Faces/Making Art: Portraits of Maine Artists,” a display of images taken by Maine photographer David Etnier of his father, Stephen Etnier, and their artist friends who’ve dominated Maine’s art scene for some 30 years. Etnier’s photographs show these artists in their studios, juxtaposed with examples of their artwork.

Perhaps the most exciting work in the second-floor galleries is a photograph of Picasso, taken by Robert Doisneau and titled “Picasso’s Breads.” In it, Picasso is seated at a table where he is eating lunch. On the table are eight small oval loaves of bread. Doisneau placed the rolls on the table on both sides of the plate in front of Picasso (four on each side) and asked the artist to drop his hands under the table. So, at first glance, it looks as though Picasso has very swollen fingers.

This photographic portrait of Picasso stands out because it is strong, clear and serious, yet has elements of humor and visual deception.

Another rare photograph in the second-floor galleries is one of Nevelson taken by Dan Budnik in 1958. It shows Nevelson as a sensitive, pensive woman wearing a plaid shirt while in her studio.This is in stark contrast to the dramatic persona she created later in life, courtesy of exotic clothes and heavy makeup .

In the same gallery is an interesting photograph of Robert Indiana, pioneer of the Pop Art movement, taken by Barbara Goodbody on Vinalhaven. Goodbody deftly captures Indiana’s free spirit, carefree lifestyle and sense of humor.

A photograph taken by Barbara Morgan, titled “Martha Graham, Every Soul is a Circus,” shows the famous founder of modern dance jumping in the air, defying gravity. Graham is wearing a costume that makes her look as if she has wings and is flying in space.

The most poignant photograph in the third-floor exhibit is of Etnier’s father. Hung beside it is his father’s “Coast Guard Tower” oil painting, an example of his characteristic use of sharp hard-edge lines to depict a tranquil scene.

Also intriguing is Etnier’s photograph of Thomas Crotty painting in his studio. Next to it is a watercolor done by Crotty of his young son titled “Donald.”

Visitors should also take note of a photograph of Katerina Weslien and her accompanying woodcut on Japanese paper titled “Esponsa Series 1990 From Island Portfolio.” An abstract work, it is a great example of her style.

I also found a photograph of Richard Estes and his beautiful “Lake Champlain V” oil painting quite moving.

Both photography exhibits are a feast for the eyes and merit more than one viewing. They will be up through April 8.

The museum at Seven Congress Square is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $4 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children under 6. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.”

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