Fog. Many of Maine’s island communities spent much of the summer surrounded by it, immersed in it, generally overtaken by it. While most people can tolerate a little fog, almost nobody escapes unaffected by straight weeks of it. It’s no wonder, then, that Swan’s Island artists Ralph Hagopian and Iver Lofving have turned to fog as the subject of their current work.
Hagopian, a watercolorist, lived on Swan’s year-round for 14 years, but now splits his time between Swan’s and Brunswick. “Because we’ve had two weeks of fog I am working on a fog scene,” he explained recently. “It has a mysterious quality that the fog has that I am trying to capture.”
Hagopian has painted all his life, but has really been able to spend more time painting since he retired. “There is a sense of peace I have had since retiring here,” he said. “The island is welcoming and friendly. We have stayed here many years feeling like we belong, that kind of warmth and the feeling that we are home.”
Evidently, that sense of peace comes through in his work. “People appreciate the restfulness of my paintings. I use soft colors, not harsh,” he said. Hagopian describes his work as “representational – I try to let nature present its emotional impact without resorting to distortion of color or form.”
Lofving, an art teacher in Skowhegan during the year, makes woodblock and silkscreen prints. While he used to live full-time on Swan’s, the island is now his escape from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. “Swan’s is a great place to be,” he said. “In the real world you feel like you have to run around and do things. [Swan’s] simplifies the world, cuts it down to the essential stuff.”
Lofving calls his reduction block prints “kind of representational” and tries to tell a story in each. He particularly draws upon his own experiences. For example, he described a camping trip he once took on an island. At low tide, a group of raccoons ran out to the island and ate all his food. He later turned this story into a print. He has also made prints of fishing excursions at the local co-op. He is currently working on a print of a rock with fog using gray, green and black ink. Lofving’s favorite subject is “nature and how people relate to it,” but political art is a “close second,” he said.
For both men, summer on Swan’s is a productive time. Lofving finds that “things get nuts during the school year,” so summer is a time when he can “pretty much concentrate on selling and making art.”
Hagopian looks at summer as “an opportunity to capture and express moods of Maine, the peculiar lights of Maine in the summer, fog, and brilliant blue-dominated landscape – the emotional value of these colors is what impresses me most,” he said. “The lobster industry is more active. It is an opportunity to portray life styles of people who make their living off of the natural bounty off the coast of Maine.” Not surprisingly, this is one of his main subjects, though he also paints landscapes, boats, and wildflowers.
At present, the Swan’s Island Library is the only place artists can show their work locally. Hagopian exhibited at the Library last July. His work can also be seen at Archipelago in Rockland, and he plans a show at the Southwest Harbor Library next summer. In the past, Lofving has shown his work at the University of Southern Maine, as well as New Bedford, Massachusetts, and New York. However, “it’s just as easy, and makes just as much sense to sell on Swan’s,” he said. He currently sells his prints and silkscreened t-shirts out of his studio, but plans to have a small gallery open by next summer. The gallery will be next to his studio, “up in the woods, just past the store on the left. Anybody can stop by,” he said, welcoming all comers.