“Sunday Morning” by Freddy LaFage
“Sunday Morning” by Freddy LaFage
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I am probably not alone in looking at a Perimeter Gallery exhibit as merely an interesting backdrop to the customers delighted with the beautiful produce, breads, pastries and meals at Chase’s Daily, with which the gallery shares space. The very bustle of the place forms its own aesthetic voice.

Chase’s Daily is well-loved because it does so many things so well, and Freddy LaFage is one big reason it does. Chase’s master chef, business partner, family member and a resident of the restaurant building with his wife, Meg Chase, and their two children, LaFage still paints “fresh daily.”

I sat down with Freddy LaFage this week and talked about how making things — particularly paintings — is what makes him happy. The 14 paintings of “All Over” are from 2018–19, and he makes a point that it is quite stylistically diverse, unlike most solo shows.

There are still lifes of common objects like a can of beer, a tin cup full of cooking utensils, four individually wrapped pounds of Cabot butter stacked on a plate. There are also landscapes in various stages of abstraction, as well as full-on abstractions that defy easy interpretation. Whatever the style, each painting invites the viewer to slow down and look.

That diversity so well expresses the lives of many Maine artists who juggle day jobs with family, art with home repair, inspiration with exhaustion. It’s the Maine way for all of us, but it’s astonishing that, with all of his literally many plates, LaFage carves out regular hours of productive studio time. Short as it may be, that private time is his regenerative luxury, a place to build from, and he makes it work.

“Life is complicated,” he says. “It makes demands, asks questions, delivers gifts.” Studio time reflects life in its diversity, and the various styles of this exhibit, each specific to itself, are all unified by LaFage’s touch — both the touch of his brush and what touches him — and his fascination with simply making things.

“Prentice All Over” is the large painting commanding the front brick wall. A wide, icy-white frame sets off a familiar, very local, winter scene — the big log yard at the corner of Routes 131 and 137, as familiar as going home to Freedom.

The yard feels busy, though no human appears. A giant Prentice log loader rules the painting’s center, its long arm extended, plucking and stacking huge logs all over the yard, describing the system of production — from the tumble just delivered, to the initial sorting, the organized stacking, and the piles of inventory ready for delivery to mills. In a way, the log yard is a metaphor as real as the organic system of Chase’s itself — from the rush of arrival from the farm to the beautifully organized display, then pickup and delivery — a meal on-ste or at home. Logs and vegetables, both real Maine work, no matter how you cut them.

While a log yard is the subject, it’s also the framework for an excitingly made painting, and LaFage’s painting skill, whether realistic or abstract, ties the show together.

“Art is communicating,” LaFage says. “These paintings reflect our world. My world.”

How does an artist reflect or describe the world? It’s not always as simple as a direct rendering. It depends on finding yourself as you start, discovering how to proceed, and stopping at just enough.

“Sunday Morning” is a fully perceptual painting of an intimate bouquet of kitchen implements sitting simply on a windowsill, the home version of what LaFage uses every day at Chase’s. Flooded with the meditative glow of a free morning and the luxury to enjoy it, LaFage notes in paint and color his familiarity with the business end of a potato masher tipped away just so, as the light breaks up its lines. Or how that light disassembles a wire whisk, a shiny metal spatula, or a perforated spoon. “Immensely engaging to explore,” LaFage says. The painting answers questions about kitchen tools the viewer never knew he or she had.

Almost fully abstract, the large vertical “Freight Train,” however, asks more abstruse questions and leaves them with the viewer. Why “Freight Train”? What are those vertical ranks of ochre and raw sienna scallops energizing the entire left side? Who is that thoughtful blue guy sitting on the magenta staircase? Why does the yellow and white blaze of light illuminate two dozen red and purple discs? Why, who, what, when, where am I when I look at a painting? “Questions. Conflicts. Thoughts. Dreams,” La Fage says, and these are as much the real subject as the way the stainless spatula plays with light in “Sunday Morning.” Emotionally, perhaps these tougher questions and dreams are more real in the steady unease of life than the calm of a typical quiet Sunday morning.

The small, very abstract painting “Disappearing” hangs between “Salted,” the recognizable stack of Cabot butter, and the utensils of “Sunday Morning.” “Disappearing” is a Freddy favorite, he says, because in sitting down to reconnect with his art after the complications of a day, he started with only the idea of discovery. Small blue and black strokes developed, energizing the surface, suggesting some condition that disappears just as it’s grasped. Two small children were sitting underneath the painting the day I was there, and I asked each what they saw. “Tadpoles,” reported the little boy without a pause, while his sister confidently said, “Raindrops!” What appeared for one disappeared for the other. That was all I needed to hear.

“All Over” is on view until September 29 at Perimeter Gallery, Chase’s Daily, 96 Main Street, Belfast.