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|Carlo Pittore bids us adieu |
|Family and friends reflect on the life of the Bowdoinham artist who inspired others.|
BOWDOINHAM — A bright star of the local art world went out Sunday when Carlo Pittore died at his Post Road home, nearly a year after learning he had terminal cancer. He was 62.
Friends of the artist, who was born as Charles Stanley, said Monday that they had lost not just a friend, but the center of their world.
"He was at the center of the art world here and for many of us, he was the center of our world — he was like our sun. ... Now we're like planets rotating around a black hole," said Peggy Muir. Both she and her husband, Bryce, were friends of Carlo, and participated in his faithful Friday evening open drawing classes.
Carlo was an artist known not only for his fleshy nude paintings or the bold, Indian ink messages he scrawled on mail art and sent to friends on every special occasion; but also for his work defending artists' rights and on issues ranging from art show entry fees to preventing impaired health caused by dangerous art material.
He also was instrumental in founding the Union of Maine Visual Artists in 1975, which helped to connect artists and remind them why they do what they do.
Carlo was a constant in the art scene, going to every local art show and cheering artists just with his presence.
"To me, the only thing about Carlo — other than the kind of art he liked and the kind of art he pushed everyone to create — was that he was always making sure nobody lost the faith in art," said Stephen Petroff, a friend who met Carlo more than three decades ago while in New York. "We have 35 years of history, I was practically still an animal, hardly even human when I met him — I've been civilized (in Carlo's tradition)."
Art is a spiritual path, Petroff said, "And (Carlo) made sure that people knew that and that they kept their monk-like vows."
Though Carlo got very sick from chemotherapy and had to give up art, his friends don't remember him as a sick man in a wheelchair. To them, he was a vigorous, passionate, hard-working man who loved life and art.
Petroff, who visited Carlo to say goodbye before he died, said his friend told him he was grateful to have been able to draw and paint, but his great regret was that he didn't appreciate beauty more. In a September 2004 interview with The Times Record, Carlo said, "I'm hurt when I see the creation of ugliness. It's painful to my eye, heart and spirit. ... I'm at war with ugliness, insensitivity, boorishness and stupidity."
Petroff reflected on his mentor's words of regret, saying: "I don't feel sorry for him — boy, whatever (nonphysical) pains he had — it must have been wonderful being him because it was wonderful being around him."
Even if that meant living without plumbing or electricity, Carlo pursued his art. For years, he lived in a yurt in Bowdoinham during summers, while spending his winters in New York City. There was a colony of yurts as Bowdoin College students joined him, said Martha Miller, a printmaking major at the Maine College of Art. She remembers visiting Carlo in his colony and sharing a bowl of pasta with him. Noting that Carlo was a good cook, Miller said, "He was funny, smart and outrageous."
Miller's printmaking class invited Carlo to make images for their print plates last semester. He made two self-portrait images, and the third was a portrait of Miller. The day he rolled into class in his wheelchair to draw Miller, he confided in her.
"Martha, I am having so much fun, thank you so much," he told her. "This is a lot more fun that staying in bed waiting for the doctors."
At the Maine College of Art's recent graduation ceremony, Carlo received an honorary doctoral degree. Miller remembers what Carlo said after the college president phoned him with the news.
"He said that when he hung up the phone, he bawled like a baby, and he called his mother, who is in her 90s, and she said that she's so proud of him."
"He worked so hard his whole life... and did not get the recognition he deserved," Miller said.
A mentor to many young artists, Carlo grew up in the suburbs in New York and lived in Italy for five years. That's where he got the nickname Carlo Pittore, "Charles the Painter," a name he took as his own. He was a collector of friends from all over the world. Artists argued with him, and it was a love-hate relationship sometimes.
"He wasn't always an easy person, but he was always a really exciting person, and a really dear person," said Peggy Muir.
Friends of Carlo told Carlo's sister, Marion Kahn, that her unconventional brother said words to this effect before he died: "I am so happy, I am so grateful for my life, and I am so happy to have loved all these humans who I love and who love me, and I love you all."
"Only my brother would be able to speak before he faded off," Kahn said. "He was such a special guy."