From Inside Out

Bernard Langlais, 1976. Photograph by David Hiser, courtesy of the Colby College Museum of Art and the Bernard Langlais Art Trail

Bernard Langlais, affectionately known as Blackie, grew up amongst the woods of north central Maine. Son of a carpenter and one of ten children, Langlais knew he would be an artist at an early age. He found success in New York as a painter, and showed his early wood sculptures alongside Warhol and Rauschenberg at Leo Castelli’s eponymous gallery. Disenchanted by the New York gallery scene, Lagnlais transitioned from an art world insider to a creator of outsider art when, in 1966, he committed himself to making figurative wood sculptures. In the brief 11 year period before his untimely death in 1977, Blackie filled his 90 acre property in Cushing Maine with monumental carved wood sculptures. Lions were his favorite subject matter, but Langlais carved and painted the entire animal kingdom with a loving hand and distinctive soulfulness. After his death, the homestead, surrounding property and thousands of sculptures were donated to the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville. Today, visitors can walk among his massive works the Langlais Sculpture Preserve which covers a portion of his original estate.

Langlais, gentle lion of Maine art, made art work that is utterly his own. He was not so much out of the mainstream but up river from it, nearer, perhaps, to its redemptive source for an artist as fiercely independent as Langlais. Lions and tigers... and whatever the wood told Blackie it wanted to be.

Excerpt from an essay by Christopher Crosman for Bernard Langlais at Alexandre Gallery, New York

Bernard Langlais

Maine artist Bernard Langlais represents a unique link between classicism and modernism, painting and sculpture, abstraction and representation. His prodigious oeuvre includes hundreds of sculptures and thousands of works on paper and canvas. The prolific artist, or ‘painter with wood,’ as he might have preferred, was master of a varied sculptural syntax — from the rhythmic intarsia inlaid abstract reliefs for which he first garnered acclaim in New York City, to the witty and heartfelt animals that have installed him permanently in the memory of Maine’s art history. Langlais showed his abstract relief assemblages to great success throughout the late 1950s and early 60s. In 1960, he was included in the watershed assemblage exhibition New Forms — New Media at the Martha Jackson Gallery, and he was soon enjoying a solo exhibition at the prestigious Leo Castelli and Allan Stone galleries in 1962. Langlais redefined his medium, using paint, burning, and staining to introduce more figurative qualities in his work. In 1966, he left New York and moved to Maine full time where Langlais embarked on an independent path towards the figurative. Langlais’ art came to be dominated by a menagerie of beasts, bears, fish and feathered-friends, and of course, his iconic lions. In Maine, with 85 acres of open space at his disposal, Langlais’ sculptures expanded, from canvas-to-wall-sized reliefs, to monumental outdoor statues rising into the sky around his home.

Bernard Langlais was born in 1921 in Old Town, Maine. He studied commercial art at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C., and earned scholarships to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Brooklyn Museum Art School, as well as a Fulbright Scholarship to study the paintings of artist Edvard Munch in Oslo. Langlais moved to New York in the 1950's but soon became disenchanted with the art scene in the 1960's, and purchased a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. Langlais died in 1977.

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