'Night Stories' is an intriguing exhibit at CMCA

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Award-winning writers
craft stories based on 
artist’s night paintings

ROCKLAND — Talk about the eclipse …. if you want to see a continuing eclipse go to the current exhibit at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland which is showing the night paintings of Maine artist Linden Frederick. I use the word eclipse in describing Frederick’s paintings as a metaphor because his paintings in this exhibit all deal with night and are very dark. He has caught those couple of minutes before nightfall turns into total darkness. 

Art and literature are united in this special exhibit which includes short stories by 15 major fictional writers who created writings inspired by 15 Linden Frederick paintings now on view at the CMCA.

Frederick is a realist in style and is well known for his night paintings. And while this exhibit is moving, it can be overwhelming as his paintings reflect a quiet sense of alienation and isolation.

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Maine writer Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Empire Falls,” gathered the writers who agreed to write short stories around selected Frederick paintings. The concept for this creative project — which unites art with literature — emerged through the friendship of Russo and Frederick. It took nine years to complete.

In an interview Russo said, “My selection of authors was not scientific. Some authors … Linden knew as friends, but I selected others based on who I thought would likely see something in Frederick’s works. … One writer was not familiar with Frederick’s work. So I said ‘look him up on your computer on the Internet.’ He called me right back and said, ‘count me in’. Writers were not given a deadline.” 

Frederick’s paintings have been compared with Edward Hopper’s for their stark realism. But, by focusing on darkness and the night, Frederick’s subject matter invites more mystery and intrigue than Hopper.

Some important collaborating writers include: Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize winner for “All the Light We Could Not See,” Tess Gerritsen, author of the Rizzoli and lsles mysteries, series and recent winner of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance’s Crime Mystery Award, and Lily King, winner of the Kirkus Prize for Fine Literature for “Euphoria.” All created short mysteries in different styles inspired by Frederick’s subtle and mysterious works.

Elizabeth Strout, graduate of Bates College and Pulitzer Prize winner for her book “Olive Kitteridge,” wrote a story titled “The Walk” about the painting titled “The Dish.” The lead figure, Denny, who lives in a simple home which is barely distinguishable in the dark night, takes a walk. As Denny is walking he thinks back to his high school days and remembers a girl who had everything: brains, beauty, and affluence. She even went to Vassar College. He, on the other hand, had married right after high school and worked in the mill. 

During his walk, Denny comes to the aid of a man and saves his life.  He did not need Vassar College or material success to have time to save a life. Through the darkness of the night, Frederick’s painting reveals Christmas tree lights in a modest home. The message in this story, as well as the painting, is appearances can be deceiving.

My favorite short story in the exhibit is written by Richard Russo titled “Downstairs.” It is fascinating and I had to read it over three times before I realized the meaning of the ending. I loved the subtle imagination in the story which seem to be as realistic as the painting of the same title.

Frederick’s painting “Downstairs,” depicts a night scene with one window in the basement of a building with a light still on. The dark-silhouetted trees against a navy blue sky and subtle pink horizon in the distance conveys a sense of mystery and dark intrigue, like a film noir. Russo spins a tale that cannot be put down, and it slips by so fast you have to read it again to get the message. His words paint a picture of the struggle inside the building to match the visual intrigue on the outside by the artist.

Other writers like Lois Lowry, a Newbury Award winner for her poignant children’s books,”Number the Stars” and “The Giver,” weave intricate stories and develop individual themes around the works of Linden Frederick. Interesting is Lawrence Kasden’s short story, “American Rye and Whiskey” inspired by the painting titled “Liquor.” This painting depicts the outside of a liquor store, quiet and isolated, but Kasden’s story reveals that violence is brewing on the inside of the store as a man bleeds to death at the counter. Again, the theme of outward appearances can be deceiving is reflected in both story and painting.

I urge visitors to buy the beautiful, illustrated book accompanying the exhibit with all the short stories and paintings together. The book is titled “Night Stories, Linden Frederick: Fifteen Paintings and Stories They Inspired,” published by Glitterarti Arts ( 2017). It allows you to take the exhibit home, and reflect on the stories which are an integral part of the exhibit.

Each story is a literary work of art and has a different style. Frederick’s works at the CMCA reflect the same distinct style and all deal with the same topic; night, quiet alienation and silhouettes of nature. The day has been eclipsed by night, but some hardy lights still exist in each painting to tell a visual story.

There are no human beings in any of the works, unless you county one which shows manikins in a window. The stark loneliness of each work is given life by the short stories they inspired.

The stories in this exhibit reaffirm the importance of literature as an art form. And when both visual and literary arts work together, each is enhanced by the other.

“Liquor,” by Frederick Linden

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