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Lincoln Perry: Paintings

August 27 - October 31, 2007


Following is brochure text for the exhibition Lincoln Perry: Paintings, held August 27 - October 31, 2007 at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. The text is published in Resource Library courtesy of Dr. Michael Culver, Executive Director of the Museum.


Lincoln Perry


From his smallest watercolors to his largest oils, there is an inherent monumentality and gravitas in all of the paintings of Lincoln Perry. Called a "figurative painter of narratives," his images and stories have a dignity and grandeur that reminds one of ancient sculptural friezes (not unusual since he is also an accomplished sculptor). A case in point is his nine-panel painting, Restoring Order. As in friezes, figures are set horizontally in the immediate foreground, with a suggestion of space beyond them. In this painting we seem to witness some concentrated and organized effort on the part of many people to "put things right," perhaps after some catastrophic event (natural or man-made?) In nine joined panels we follow this communal effort in an idyllic rural community to restore order to the environment, a project pursued with stoic determination ( (not unlike figures in an ancient battle scene). We are left to wonder what has generated this activity, and if these workers are indeed volunteers at all. In lieu of shared narratives, the viewer needs to meet the painter half way, to carefully read what is going on. We need to make an effort to interpret what we see, as we do every day of our lives.

As in Restoring Order, many of Perry's compositions consist of multiple panels that are affixed to create a single square or rectangular painting. These series of panels are a perfect form for this narrative painter whose images are fashioned to be viewed from multiple viewpoints and perspectives. Unfolding in a film-like sequence, Perry's often allegorical images and storylines purposefully cultivate an ambiguity that engages the viewer both visually and intellectually. Rather than answers and solutions, Perry's work is best known for the questions it asks and the possibilities it presents. Countless perspectives and relative resolutions are part of the man and his art. Perry's wife, Ann Beattie writes: "It is a standing joke in our house that there are three possibilities. Even when Lincoln says there are two possibilities, there end up being three."[1].

While Perry is often referred to as a realist painter, his work has been more correctly compared to such European masters as de Chirico and Balthus. These two artists are certainly representational painters, but, like Perry, it is the story not painterly reality that lies at the core of their work. Perry's multi-paneled narratives add so many more dimensions to his stories. He has said that the difference between multi-paneled and single paintings is comparable to "symphonies versus tone poems," -- more canvas equals more possibilities. This is clearly the case in his wonderfully house-shaped painting, Picturing Will. Imagine the limitations that a single canvas would force on this complex narrative. Even the ultimate shape of the joined canvases holds special meaning for each viewer.

Since the multi-paneled paintings in this exhibition are powerfully reminiscent of murals, it may not surprise viewers that Perry is a talented and respected muralist whose commissions are found in numerous locations from the Federal Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida to the Met Life Building in St. Louis, Missouri. Perry said of his commissioned work: "Murals have the scope, the room, to develop a story over time, to trace changes with recurring leitmotifs, to provide a sort of cumulative narrative."[2]. Although mural-like in their capacity to convey that cumulative narrative, the paintings in this exhibit are more intimate, a scaled-down version that draws us closer to the subject rather than (like a mural) requiring a distance between art and audience.

Ironically, co-existing with the intimacy in Perry's many-paneled paintings is a sense of theatre -- perhaps not remarkable for a painter who once studied acting. The "world as a stage" is intrinsic to Perry's work; the painter as omnipotent director giving his actors (figures) many scenes (possibilities) in an attempt to give the viewer an opportunity to evaluate and re-evaluate the multi-faceted stories. The 1982 Rehearsal, with its subject of actors walking through their parts, is a perfect example of Perry's ability to "set a stage" with an unerring eye for the placement of figures within a scene. The triangular positioning of the grouping (based on a centuries-old compositional tool) conveys a profound solidity that reminds one of the works of Titian and Raphael. Consequently, Rehearsal seems both modern and timeless, a characteristic effect of Perry's paintings.

A gifted draftsman who is admired for his exquisite figures and masterful compositions, Perry is also a skillful and adventurous colorist. His paintings are saturated by a juxtaposition of vibrant hues that infuse even his smallest oils with a dynamic and powerful presence. Look for example at his 2002 painting, Companions I. If ever there was a painting whose arresting color combinations and competing angular forms should serve only to tear apart the composition, this is that painting. And yet, with a deft eye for color and with consummate compositional skill, Perry imbues this riotous painting with an order and calmness in accordance with the subject. Like the French painter Pierre Bonnard, Perry has created an interior of colors, shapes and patterns that deconstructs the reality of space and form, and emphasizes the artificiality of "painterly reality."

Lincoln Perry was born in New York City in 1949. He attended Columbia University and received his M.F.A. from Queens College. Perry has taught at the University of Arkansas, Queens College, and the University of New Hampshire. Since 2001, he has been Distinguished Visiting Artist at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Perry's work has been widely exhibited in a variety of venues, including more than a dozen solo shows. His paintings are in numerous private and public collections, including the University of Virginia and the Shell Oil Company. In addition to his work as an easel painter, his mural works include commissions at Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia; Lincoln Square, 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue, and One Penn Plaza in Washington, D.C.; the Federal Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida; One Penn Plaza, Washington, D.C.; and the Met Life Building in St. Louis, Missouri.

-- Michael Culver, curator



1. Beattie, Ann, Lincoln Perry's Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, 2005, pg xii.

2. Ibid, pg. 77.



(above: Lincoln Perry, Rehearsal, 1982, 52 x 60 inches, oil on canvas)


(above: Lincoln Perry, Picturing Will, 1993, 96 x 82 inches, oil on canvas)


(above: Lincoln Perry, Matt, 2000, 12 x 12 inches, oil on panel)


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