Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ten Center serves extra helping of Alan Bull

Alan Bull has been one of the most visible and in-demand artists in Newburyport since moving to the city more than two decades ago, consistently exhibiting a diverse catalog of work that goes way beyond the edgy, emotionally charged depictions of the agricultural landscape, especially the trucks for which he is probably best known these days. But you could say — and the artist certainly does — that one of the more significant outlets for Bull lately, especially in terms of generating commissions and income and all the rest of that ugly, nasty business required for an artist to stay alive, is probably the least visible in terms of sheer numbers, and a venue pretty far off the beaten artwalk track. That would be Ten Center, the historic, hip eatery cozily nestled just beyond Market Square — and my comfort zone, economically. Bull, who grew up in Old Town, Maine, and studied at Philadelphia College of Art before turning up in Newburyport in 1987, is the unofficial resident artist of the restaurant. For the past two years, several of his paintings, including two large-format truck paintings, have been the focal point of the restaurant — and this week, it will be serving up an extra portion of the artist, hosting an exhibit of his new work.

Several of the new pieces have already been installed, including “Moonrise Orient,” a landscape from the Long Island community where he has family roots and where he served as artist-in-residence of the William Steeple Davis House. That oil painting just pops off the wall of the spacious second-floor dining room, with its 18th-century wide-plank wood floors, elevated ceilings and copper tables. The function room has three Bull watercolors of local scenes — two Plum Island seascapes and a detail of the structure inside the Whittier Bridge. The rest of the work, which will include monotypes and monochromatic paintings, will be installed Thursday morning, just hours before the exhibit opens. He may also include a few ceramic tile paintings, a recent foray into a new medium for him.

It is not quite clear how long the Ten Center exhibit will hang. Bull, who claims to have sworn off the exhibit frenzy that marked the past decade or so, with the artist having as many as three shows up in three states simultaneously, will be mounting a major solo show at Governor Dummer Academy — excuse me, The Governor’s Academy — in mid-September. That show will feature new works and larger paintings he has not been able to show, including monochromatic paintings and “recent history” series — paintings from photographs of locations that are no longer with us, like the old DPW Building on Merrimac Street, which was torn down just days after he took the photograph, and scenes of the rapidly changing Salisbury Beach. Some of the pieces from the Ten Center show will be part of the Governor’s exhibit. The current show is unusual because of its setting and because of its function: It’s a way of shining a light on the artist who has brightened its interior for the past couple of years, and putting together the artist and restaurant regulars, who have been admiring the work, complemented by the cuisine of Chef Harley. Now that’s the way to enjoy art.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: New paintings by Newburyport artist Alan Bull will be on display in the Garden Room of 10 Center Street, in September. There will be a reception from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 27. For more information, call 978-462-6652.

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