by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Innsmouth, MA – Finally, after years of planning, fund-raising and contentious debates over its redevelopment, the Pickman Art Gallery is open to the public in a new, larger location.
Housed in a building that was closed for nearly ten years and almost demolished, the Pickman Art Gallery now hosts on its second floor the largest collection of art by Bostonian artist Richard Upton Pickman. The collection consists mainly of 1920s paintings, but there are also some sketches on display.
The gallery is the brainchild of local businessman Alex Visser, head of Cerulean Skies Corporation, and a Pickman aficionado who has collected his paintings for many years.
“Pickman is a fascinating artist. He has a short body of work – he disappeared in 1926 – so he is very sought after nowadays,” says gallery curator Victoria Carr. “His style was definitely ahead of its time. The imagery he used, back then, was considered very graphic and unpleasant. He was kicked out of college and could not exhibit in any respectable gallery.”
After Pickman’s disappearance, his work was quickly forgotten. Many of his paintings were lost or damaged. When interest in Pickman resurfaced in the 1980s, finding his paintings became increasingly difficult. Carr says that two of the paintings now displayed on the second floor were discovered in the basement of an old house. Some others were donated to the old Innsmouth Art Gallery and kept locked away. Another one appeared at a flea market.
“It was on sale for two dollars if you can believe that,” Carr says with a smile. “The owner thought it was horrid. It had been owned by his father and he had no idea it was a Pickman original.”
The increased scrutiny of Pickman’s work does come with a drawback: forgeries. Carr has run into more than one would-be Pickman which ended up actually being a contemporary painting.
“There is a series of paintings from the 1960s which we are sure are not authentic – Pickman had disappeared and presumed dead for nearly four decades by then – but they are extremely well executed. Some fan took it upon himself to imitate Pickman’s style, which has caused much confusion to us.”
“We’ve got forty on display, and his sketches. There are some others in private collections. Alex Visser would be the biggest collector out there, but there are some other people in New York, Boston and Montreal that I know of who own at least two or more paintings. It is easier to find his photographs.”
Pickman took many photographs to use as references for his paintings and most of these were preserved by his family, Carr explains. The photographs tend to feature cityscapes.
“There’s even a series of pictures of Innsmouth, of when he came to visit one time,” Carr says as she points to a photo. “That’s this very building you’re in right now, back in 1920. Very different, isn’t it?”
The Pickman Art Gallery will feature different exhibits on the first floor and maintain the permanent Pickman collection on the second. However, in honour of the inauguration of the gallery, Alex Visser has loaned some rare works which will be on display on the first floor during the month of June. They include several unfinished canvasses and some early Pickman works.