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Marsden Hartley, Visible Silence

Edmund Marsden Hartley was born in Lewiston, Maine in 1877. He died in Ellsworth, Maine in 1943.



Marsden Hartley, Painter and Poet is the first-ever documentary film on the life and work of the great American modernist painter Marsden Hartley. Using more than 60 of Hartley's paintings and drawings, as well as many photographs from collections around the world, this 65-minute documentary traces Hartley's life and work from its earliest beginnings in Lewiston, Maine through his travels in Europe and throughout the United States... and ends with his secluded and lonely life in a remote Maine fishing village. It is a story filled with poignancy, meaning, and importance...for Hartley is an iconic figure in the minds of many, as both a painter and a writer who has achieved almost cult-like status, here in the United States as well as throughout the world.

Marsden Hartley is arguably one of the four or five most important painters of the first half of the 20th century. In this film, Michael Maglaras explores his work not only as a painter of great renown and substantive importance...but as a poet as well, for Hartley was a fine poet and essayist...one of the most remarkable thinkers in the American Modernist movement.

Visible Silence: Marsden Hartley, Painter and Poet is 65 minutes in length, and is a film of intelligence, depth, and revelation.

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Marsden Hartley was one of the finest exponents of pure Expressionist painting. He was influenced during his early career by Impressionism, by the stark unnerving reality of the artist Albert Pinkham Ryder, as well as by the pre-Cubist integrity of Cezanne. To fully understand Hartley, one must understand his penchant for assimilation and distillation of artistic impulse. Hartley observed, made note of, absorbed images and gestures. He stored these in the cabinet of his mind and sifted through them time and again. His obsession with symbolism, with mystical meaning and attachment, enhanced this dependence on observation for its own sake, and supported his life-long posture as an outsider and his detachment from human relationships - except those realized through the veil of his art.

For most of his adult life Hartley also experimented with prose and poetry.   He sought secondary and sometimes primary expression through his writing, particularly during dry spells when the painting wasn't working, or, as I point out in Visible Silence, when the immensity of a particular human experience transcended the limitations of expression through paint and  canvas alone.

Like all true autodidacts of refined sensibility, Hartley experimented continually, turning over ideas again and again in his mind and revisiting these ideas on canvas as well as on paper.

One is put in mind of Mozart, absent-mindedly folding and refolding his napkin at table...processing each possible fold as creative nuance, through some sort of magical free association.

This artistic process was put to its true test many times in his life - after the death of the German officer Karl von Freyburg in 1914, as well as after the drowning of the Mason boys and their cousin on September 19, 1936. For the last seven years of Hartley's life, he painted and repainted the members of the Mason family and wrote poems to their memory. In revisiting the great tragedy of the drowning and the cruel bent of the sea - while resting, seven years later, in the parallel comfort of the home of the Young family in Corea, Maine - Hartley still memorialized, fretted about, and, above all, distilled this tragic experience to its ultimate conclusion as one of the great and unnerving examples of Expressionist art. For on Hartley's easel, the day he died, in 1943, was an unfinished painting with five fully-visible and stylized roses - one for each member of the Mason family.

"Visible Silence: Marsden Hartley, Painter and Poet"represents and embodies my final thoughts on this painter and the immensity of his contribution to our glorious collective American artistic heritage and experience.

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