Robert Hamilton: the Last Paintings




Robert Hamilton, Nine Giraffes, 2003, 24" x 24"

Collection of David and Karen Estey

Robert Hamilton: The Last Paintings

May 28 - July 10 2011

Center for Maine Contemporary Art (

In the final three years of his long painting career, while suffering from severe macular degeneration, artist Robert Hamilton (1916-2004) created a series of poignant, colorful small-scale paintings that are a testament to his ever-inventive imagination and zest for life. The artist's inner eye, shaped by a lifetime of seeing, and an acknowledgement of the physical limitations of his vision, inform the imagery in these captivating paintings, many of which have never before been exhibited. A highly esteemed teacher and mentor, Hamilton taught at the Rhode Island School of Design for 34 years, where his students included Yvonne Jacquette, George Lloyd, Richard Merkin, Eric Hopkins, and David Estey. In 1981, he retired to Port Clyde, Maine, where -- inspired by jazz and the art of Max Beckman, El Greco, and Velasquez -- he painted nearly every day until his death, creating a remarkable body of idiosyncratic work.

Suzette McAvoy, curator


Maine Sunday Telegram
June 12, 2011

Robert Hamilton's Primal Colors

The agitation in the work of the late Robert Hamilton (1916-2004) is of a different stripe. In its exhibition "The Last Paintings," the Center for Maine Contemporary Art offers Hamilton's final and most dream-laden work.

Although I think of myself as familiar with his paintings, I was unprepared for the richness of this exhibition. I use that term in connection with the work itself, for while the show is quite small, the painter offers us references to his fantasies with such generosity that they warm the cockles of your heart.

Much of this is drenched in out-of-the-can primal color. Hamilton's colors set the universe of his dreams ablaze. The contrast between their ferocity and the painter's account of romantic voyages, imagined but never taken, give his paintings eternal buoyancy. His dreams will ever float on their energies.

The work at CMCA is not a complete account of Hamilton, but it does hint at the essential character of his art. Hamilton sustained his work on the boundaries – the edges – of the unconscious. His dreams, the scramblings of his memory, his fantasies about other places and the slow urgency to reach them combine to convince us that a world of the imagination exists. I somehow think that he believed that it did.

There is too much in this show and in his work in general that is concerned with travel for there to be no destination. Under these circumstances, imagination itself can be the destination. To journey to a realm created by one's own vision justifies the cost of the ticket. Hamilton took repeated trips to that realm.

In doing so he rowed up the Nile, was a passenger in spooky railroad carriages, hitched rides with the circus and often belted along in his old World War II P-47 Thunderbolt. The plane did not have the rapid grace of a British Spitfire, but what's the hurry? The realm of dreams is perennial; it will wait until you get there.

If you have a taste for history and other enchanted worlds, think Henri Rousseau and his "The Dream" idyll. The nude in it floats just as does Hamilton's plane in his own arms in "Same Old Dream." Time in each is suspended on the edge of the unconscious.

Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 46 years. He can be contacted at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it