Anne Ayvaliotis: A Celebration of an Artist’s Life

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Judge and Jacob
Anne Ayvaliotis, Judge and Jacob, oil on linen, 56 x 74″. All images courtesy Yvette Torres Fine Art.

By Kay Tobler Liss

Anne Ayvaliotis is a name familiar in art circles in Maine. She was part of a well-regarded group of artists that came to Maine from New York City in the 1950s and 60s, a group that included Charles DuBack, Lois Dodd and Joe Fiore. She was known as a teacher of art at the Farnsworth Museum of Art in Rockland and at Round Top Center for the Arts in Damariscotta, and her work is in collections at the Farnsworth and the Portland Museum of Art. Ayvaliotis died in March at the age of 90. In her honor, Yvette Torres Fine Art in Rockland is holding an exhibition of her work, Celebration of an Artist’s Life. (Open September 9 through October 16, and over Thanksgiving weekend in November. Reception: Friday, September 9, 5 p.m.)

Ayvaliotis was a late-generation Abstract Expressionist whose work was part of the Color Field artists’ trend of the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1940s, she lived in New York City and studied at the famous Art Students League and with Hans Hoffman at his school of fine art. She followed this with independent study in Spain, France, Italy and Greece. Afterward, in 1961, she left the center of the art world, Manhattan, and made the bold decision to move to the rural hills of Washington, ME. Many of contemporaries—Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning—who stayed in or near New York went on to find tremendous success, and most of her Maine artist contemporaries went back and forth to New York. One can’t help but wonder if she had stayed more in touch with the art world of Manhattan, whether Ayvaliotis would be more of household name.

But Maine inspired her. “I am trying to express the way I feel about the world. When I observe nature, I get involved, and put it down in a way that works. That’s very exciting to me… An event occurs in my life, which really moves me…when I next look at nature I perceive it in relationship to what I’m feeling. Both life and painting are about despair and celebration. I always like to have that gigantic tension playing together,” she said. The forms and colors in the fields, horses, hills, granite rocks and lakes that surrounded her and her little white farmhouse tugged at her heart and moved her to paint.

Clary Hill
Anne Ayvaliotis, Clary Hill, oil on canvas, 68 x 38″.

In Celebration of an Artist’s Life, one feels this “gigantic tension” in many of the works. For instance, Clary Hill, a 68 x 38” oil on linen of the hills near her home, is dark and foreboding, yet there are bright openings that invite the viewer to see beyond, into life’s dual darkness and light. In Judge and Jacob, a painting of her beloved horses, one sees a playfulness and innocence capturing the childlike nature in all of us. It evokes some of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. In Winter Solstice, one feels the starkness of winter, but a bold bolt of red brings us to a revelation that all is very much alive and changing into the light, yet another example of the artist holding the tension between despair and celebration.

Although very frail in her last years, Ayvaliotis still managed to get to her canvas or paper once in a while to paint. She still enjoyed a martini in the late afternoon as the sun was going down over the fields. She remained a witty and deep-thinking conversationalist. Hopefully, her reputation will only grow.


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