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Bernard Langlais: Independent Spirit


The Portland Museum of Art will present a major exhibition featuring 57 wood sculptures and 13 works on paper by Maine artist Bernard Langlais (1921-1977) (pronounced Lang-lee) on view from April 11 through June 9, 2002. Bernard Langlais: Independent Spirit will be the first exhibition in Langlais's home state to display both his abstract and figurative works, giving viewers an opportunity to review his full career as a sculptor. (left: Eagle, circa 1963-1964, wood, and oil on wood, 83 x 64 inches, Collection of Edwin Hild)

Langlais was born in Old Town, Maine; in 1921. He was the oldest of ten children of French Canadian parents. Although he had no formal artistic training in high school, he decided on a career as an artist from a young age. After high school, he moved to Washington D.C. to study commercial art. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the Navy, where he was classified as a painter, which lumped together house painters, illustrators, commercial artists, and fine artists. After six years of naval service, he attended to the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, and he received a scholarship to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, an event that changed his focus from commercial to fine art. Skowhegan gave him a scholarship to the Brooklyn Museum School, where he studied with the famed German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann. He traveled to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grand Chaumiére in the early 1950s, and received a Fulbright Fellowship to study the works of Edvard Munch in Norway.

Langlais's experiments with wood began in 1956, when he returned from Norway and bought a summer cottage in Cushing, Maine. During renovations to the cottage, Langlais rebuilt an interior wall by piecing together scraps of wood. He found the work invigorating and inspiring, and continued to create abstract wall reliefs that he showed to great acclaim in New York throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was included in the important assemblage exhibition New Forms -- New Media at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1960, as well as having a solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1961. While he continued to develop his technique in what he called "painting in wood," figurative imagery began to dominate his work. By the time Langlais moved to Maine full-time in 1966, he was making room-sized wall reliefs, which soon grew into monumental statues that still populate the yard around his home in Cushing. He died prematurely of congestive heart failure in 1977, but he has left a lasting legacy on the arts of his native state. (left: The Lion, 1963, wood, rope and oil on wood, 46 x 96 inches, Collection of Edwin Hild)

Bernard Langlais: Independent Spirit will give viewers an opportunity to review the full achievements of this important Maine sculptor. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue the will be the definitive resource on Langlais's work in wood.

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