The artist does not draw what he sees, But what he must make others see.
Only when he no longer knows what he is doing Does the painter do good things.
The art of Frederic Kellogg invites us to enter the private world of a highly sensitive, patient and focused observer. Kellogg's gentle but persistent curiosity has been directed at a wonderful variety of objects and persons. His art is possessed of a spellbinding quietude. Its steady silence holds fragments of our familiar world in a realm of timelessness and carefully controlled psychological tension. Kellogg's is an art independent of a particular and repetitive style. He is at heart a realist but is too much the poet to merely record the passing scene. He is a thoughtful man, one who probes and ponders, one who tries to uncover, albeit gently, the unseen character of everyday things. Fond of urban subjects such as city streets, long vistas down boulevards, bridges, layered buildings and crowded corners, Kellogg seldom chooses monumental or conventionally picturesque views. He offers us an antidote to the common experience of the contemporary everyman, a person dulled to the oddities of the urban scene. Suddenly, for one intense moment, one sees a fragment of it with an extraordinary clarity and with unexpected affection. It is not often Kellogg's actual subjects that prompt such an epiphany but the artist's complex emotions about his subjects so carefully focused and tempered by thought that they can be confidently shared with others.
Kellogg's latest paintings of Thomaston and Rockland, Maine possess the calm familiar silence of a New England town in the tradition of Burchfield or Hopper. Deep night has become the favored setting of Kellogg's most recent work. He has chosen to dwell in the depth of night for a while, watching how the human presence has animated and transformed nature's quietest and most poetic hours. Typically, Kellogg has chosen an unexpected array of nocturnal views and subjects.
Many Rockland residents and visitors are familiar with the friendly Park Street Laundry. Full of busy people laboring in a casual community setting, it is a beloved place of practical necessity. Kellogg might have chosen to depict the communal egalitarianism of the laundry and its people. Or else he might have presented it as an island of human activity in a sea of darkness.
Late Journey (2002) offers a more complex view conditioned by actual experience and long reflection. We walk past the front window of the laundry being quite aware of its light-filled, animated interior. Our own perspective is that of a pedestrian traveling down the ribbon of light offered by U.S. Route One. The laundry is a way-station, an outpost of comfort and help along the vital artery that is the highway.
Kellogg might easily have engaged us in a narrative about the laundry but he has focused upon a larger truth. Most of us, although perhaps aware of the life and community offered by such public places, engage frequently but very briefly with the people who operate them. We are passers-by who notice but do not often participate in the larger narrative that is the life of the Park Street Laundry. Grateful for the service it offers and aware of the human dimensions of our exchange, we nonetheless focus upon our own tasks. We are intent upon our trip along the highway, our list of chores, and we maintain the perspective of a client rather than a laundry worker or even a person with much laundry to wash on a particular day. The poetic of Kellogg's painting rests upon the hint of regret, the knowledge that most human encounters are fragmentary and quick, our understanding that each little station of light along the highway has a larger story to tell. It is an egalitarian and open-hearted understanding of the American scene that Kellogg offers in his work, a warm appreciation for the connectedness and mutual regard that is the best of the American character.
One remarkable work of recent months is Kellogg's Black Painting with Telephone, a painting made of several large painted panels joined together to fit an entire wall so that they virtually become the thing depicted. Once again, we are in the position of the person walking in darkness along an urban boulevard. Almost life-sized, the lighted telephone booth looms in the darkness of night, here depicted by the richly-inflected surface of Kellogg's darkened canvas. The telephone booth is an outpost of electronic communication, a place of connection, a refuge in emergency, a place to rest. In a state full of lighthouses, Kellogg's wry sensibility focuses upon a contemporary version of a light in the darkness, something so familiar that we would not have thought it could make a picture. But so it does, and one with such startling authority that it brings us back to its reality and to our own patterns of locomotion and social connection.
Kellogg lives part of the year in Washington, D.C., a big city full of grandly public and absolutely private spaces. Kellogg's night views of Washington buildings are private and intimate glimpses of time spent in perhaps lonely quietude. These are the images of one who reads late at night, who spends time in deep reflection, who ponders the meaning and import of events rather than just chronicling their history. Here again, time seems to stand still. It is understanding that counts, not the narrative of passing news stories and personalities. A lamp in a window, a bowl of fruit highlighted on a simple table, these are the visual talismans of mutable time and space used by painters for many centuries.
There are many artists and poets who choose such subjects to express a melancholy state of mind. Nothing could be further from Kellogg's purpose and result. The wonderful balance of his character is evident in the expressive content of his work. Life is full of flux and drama best understood by a patient, quiet mind. The glory of being human is to achieve an understanding of life's passing events and to arrive at a state of equanimity and optimism about the future.
Kellogg's recent watercolors represent the culmination of many years of personal discovery and quiet evolution in his painting. They are the most beautiful and accomplished of his output in this difficult medium. Finding typical views around town, he has transformed them through his unique sense of color and light and his sense of the unexpected. The beautiful and the unlovely exist side-by-side in our environment. With a sense of humor and a warm and tolerant nature, Kellogg finds room for both aspects of the visual environment in his landscape compositions. Industrial buildings, light poles, road signs and spectacular sunsets interact to great advantage as he enjoys the many surprises and paradoxes they offer to the painter. The result is something genuine, something truly contemporary and much more than a momentary visual impulse or a well-trodden formula. Frederic Kellogg certainly knows what he is about and he has the courage to extend his inquiry as far as life is willing to take him. Since life itself is something of a mystery and always unfinished, as Edgar Degas observed, this contemporary painter has many more years in which "to do good things."
Susan C. Larsen, Ph.D. Collector, Archives of American Art Smithsonian Institution Summer, 2002
Choosing a perfect site for a Maine studio led this artist to more inspiring and productive work sessions
American Artist Magazine, November 2000
by E. Lynne Moss
Oil painter and watercolorist Frederic Kellogg is lucky enough to have two studios, One on the top floor of his townhouse in Washington DC, and the other in the top of a barn built in 1848 in Thomaston, Maine. The barn was designed for a sail maker for tall ships, and Kellogg brought the property in 1995 with the idea that its high elevation and large windows overlooking the St. George River and the railroad would be perfect for a studio.
The artist's work is often described as having a geometric element, one that applies to his paintings in both locals. For his Maine work, this characteristic can be attributed to the railroad lines, as well as to the artist's attraction to architecture. He bought the Maine Studio, in fact because it was "Hopperesque" as he says, especially its bay window. It had great horizon and water views, both of which I wanted.
"I paint the water because of its tradition in American art and in the art of Maine," he continues. "I'm attracted to the railroad because I'm interested in the industrial aesthetic that is apparent up and down the eastern seaboard. You can see all the layers of industrial growth and decay on that line."
Not only is the studio's site conducive to productive work sessions, but its arrangements lends itself to great efficiency, Kellogg often redesigns its interior as his projects change; currently, he plans to repaint the interior and move some of his furniture and equipment. He paints on the top floor and stores most of his framing equipment on the ground floor. "The upstairs has excellent light from the bay window, as well as hardwood floors that make it easy to slide equipment." he explains. The artist has several easels - one for still lifes, one near the window for natural light, and others for paintings of varying sizes - allowing him to keep several works in progress at once.
Kellogg is the former general council for the National Endowment for the Arts under President Ronald Reagan. In the late 1980's, he attended the Washington Studio School and then devoted himself to painting full-time. He lives in Maine from early spring until the late fall, and in Washington DC, the rest of the year.
He told me that he simply knew the time had come. Frederic Kellogg had been practicing as a lawyer for many years when he realized that he had already found all he wanted in the career. Then, he quit his job, bought a summer house on the coast of Maine, and began a second career as an artist. Even though Kellogg was only just starting to devote himself to painting full time, he had been drawing and painting for most of his life. In fact, Kellogg’s work was exhibited for the first time while he was still in law school. Rather than dabble as an artist on the side of his law career, Kellogg says he was sure that one day he would leave law for art and live fully in that world.
The most impressive fact of this story is Kellogg’s success. He has been working full-time as an artist for more than twenty years now, and in that time he has exhibited extensively in the DC area and in Maine and has been collected by several museums. When I interviewed Kellogg for this article, we discussed his influences and the themes and subjects that have inspired him throughout his career. That his work is highly influenced by Edward Hopper and Fairfield Porter is no surprise; stylistically, it is an easy connection to make. But the similarities reach further than that, as Kellogg reaches for modernity in his work throughout his varied subjects including landscapes, city shots, airplanes, sailboats, and still-life interiors. "Each painting has to be a separate world," Kellogg explains.
For the next two months twenty of Kellogg’s paintings exploring all of these subjects are on exhibit at arts@1830, a relatively new gallery on 14th Street NW. Despite the varied topics, the works are united by the artist’s hand and palate. Within those parameters, there is a little something for everyone. There are landscapes inspired by the Maine coast, buildings and streets from DC, and haunting, Hopper-esqe phone booths.
Two of the most interesting paintings both involve airplanes, and highlight Kellogg’s interest in history and visual imagery. One depicts a still-life of a toy airplane with German crosses on the wings and another shows a blue sky full of lingering jet streams and two remaining planes after an air fight. These pieces force a consideration of the incongruous beauty and grace that sometimes exist in warfare. Kellogg says he was inspired by accounts of the attack on Pearl Harbor relating the ironic elegance of the Japanese planes as they descended on Hawaii. Unlike some more stark and blatant anti-war art depicting tanks and flowers, Kellogg says he finds airplane imagery more subtle and interesting.
Kellogg’s efforts to unite modern ideas with a traditional style are largely successful. Especially after reviewing Kellogg’s previous works, seeing the continued development of his style and subjects in this current exhibit only heightens the excitement of the promise of more paintings to come.
Appearances, Fred Kellogg’s one-man show will be on view through May 29 at arts @1830, 1830 14th Street NW. The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 to 6, Saturday 11 to 5, and by appointment. The gallery may be reached at 202-234-2550.