Porter's perfect summer portrait

Ever since he was six years old, Midwestern-born Fairfield Porter spent his summers on Great Spruce Head Island on Penobscot Bay in Maine. When he painted "The Dock" (1974-75), he had already spent 61 summers there - his early years with his brothers and sister and then later with his own family.

Porter achieves all that we associate with a summer vacation: spontaneity, rest, and an uncluttered way of life. This is a moment of leisure. No work is shown. He uses broad, simple lines and a soft, light palette of colors. Objects are sparse. The dazzling sunlight conveys a midsummer heat at noontime. There are no figures. People are resting, perhaps.

The dock is central to the piece, jutting out into the water as a passageway to vacation. On this island, all communication came by boat, and eventually everyone had to pass over the dock. The boats moored in the harbor were the only way in and out, leading one back and forth between public and private spaces.

The dull-colored sand, in contrast with the vibrant blue of the sea, draws the eye to the band of water and its importance to island life. Water is a conveyance, but it also ensures isolation and privacy.

The oil tank, which dominates the foreground, suggests the self-reliance and practical needs of the island community, almost in a documentary way. It affirms the artist's attention to facts, or what he calls "respect for things as they are."

Fairfield Porter's older brother, photographer Eliot Porter, had captured the same scene on black-and-white film in 1965, calling it "The Wharf." Eliot dedicated his Maine collection, including "The Wharf," to his late brother, Fairfield, in 1986.

"The Dock" is part of the exhibition "On Island: A Century of Continuity and Change" at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. The show has 85 paintings by 49 artists and covers 14 Maine islands. It runs until Oct. 15.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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