Kevin Beers - Working with His Portals (An Owner’s Guide)
Step-by-step instructions on how to work with the Kevin Beers Portals together with a brief description of a personal journey.
I've met several Beers owners now that didn’t know how to access his Portals - or in some cases that they existed in the first place. I thought it would be instructive to outline step-by-step instructions on how to work with them and then share my personal experience of traveling through the Manana Island portal.
The traveler will, of course, need to have spent time on Monhegan to have the memories to travel back to. The stronger one's connection to the emotional life of the island, and the earlier the age of one's first visit, the more straightforward the navigation. Simply standing on Swim Beach as an eleven-year-old is pointless if you’ve never been to Monhegan (Manana’s sister island) to begin with.
The painting Manana Island — displayed above — provides the easiest access for me, but finding your own reliable portal is unique to you. For this reason, I’m including additional portals throughout. Experiment with each of them. Find one that moves you, and then commit to it.
Lastly, the Beers Portals and the worlds they open are deeply personal. I hope to do them justice here. I’m humbled to be of some small service to other owners (as well as to those with the privilege of indirect access to the Portals.)
Remember that the Beers Portals are a gift of the artist. You have been lucky to stumble upon one, but even if you never make your own portal journey, be grateful for the beauty of the images themselves. Gratitude and humility - more than color and form - are the true doorways to our past and our future.
Enter with that mindset.
Make your attempt where you can be in solitude with the work. Lock doors for privacy if that helps you relax during the journey, but allow strong natural light against the canvas. Insofar as possible, match the ambient light to the image itself. If it’s dusk, then dusk, cloudy afternoon, then cloudy afternoon and so on. Unfortunately, this may involve opening windows and blinds which for the novice traveler, may create a feeling of vulnerability during transport. Consider this discomfort a modest price to pay.
Above all, stay relaxed. Take deep, calm breaths. Keep your weight centered, your legs and arms loose. Stand close enough to the work that you block out the surrounding room from your peripheral vision. The Manana Island portal, as you can see above, is hung against white brick, allowing me to focus without distraction. While advanced travelers can stand across the room from a portal for a greater panoramic effect, as a novice you should position yourself close enough to make out the fine whiskers of the artist’s brushwork.
Start small with “entry point” observations. Simply take in the practical elements of the image. Circulate your attention and range about the work.
For example, in Manana Island notice the sweeping, wide-angle panorama of Swim Beach. Then lean in close to discover the smaller craft in the harbor, then shift to the dark wet rocks on the beach, then the cement block with the iron chain in dead center. Feel the dimensional balance of the bookend framing: from the large porch at left of the image to the lesser, but complimentary, weight of the shoreline summer home at right.
Move your attention to the exhaust of the crocodile clouds, the trim sailboat flat to the viewer, the electric basin of cutaway blue water. Even as I write these last descriptions, I'm aware of the transition in my written language.
Pay attention to the green grasses on the sunburnt hill, then the gradient blue of the sky. Move back and forth between colors to “loosen them” further. Imagine you are stretching. Feel the floor lighten. Let the portal speak to you.
Above all, don’t talk “at” it. The painting will tell you what it told the artist. Beers has created this environment sparingly, stripping away the non-essential to make your relationship to the image clear and pure. Observe the desolate beach, the empty hill, the lonely vista.
Continue with this appreciation. You are deepening a critical connection.
Feel the pencil-crisp clean line of razor horizon cutting through the image across the center - and yet, not exactly in the center. Imagine how it was planned and executed before the first applied tip of a brush. See the cool-white ghost moons in the semi-transparent underpainting - the artist will later obscure them so that they can only be felt, intuited.
Beers has disputed the existence of these pentimento moons and it seems has also forgotten his profound intuition to place them there. Artists themselves will never have personal access to their portals, and they can easily forget how much of themselves they gave to bring them into existence for others.
Finally, when you feel ready, select a single shaded area of color and “lock into it.” Where you were passive before, now shift and go on offense as it were. “Catch” the portal. The transportive moment should be a “pounce.”
The khaki beige in the lower corner works for me generally, but there's no guarantee on any of this. Personally, I need a consistent patch of a single tone with no variation in shade. If I latch onto that one color long enough, and just that one, I am usually able to feel a “hum” right before I make it through.
What was stunning in the still “gallery” image, will now be breathtaking in the portal. The clouds over the top of the island should begin to stream steadily. You will feel the shoreline “pull” toward Manana beach as if you were standing on the edge of the ocean and an undertow pulled at your bare feet, sinking you into the sand.
Time will “leak” through the canvas like ocean water seeping into the depth of a child's beach hole.
Once you have released the exhaust clouds completely and the sky clears, you will hear the first strain on the wood of the frame. This cracking may be startling the first time, but the frame will not snap towards the traveler.
Also note, not every traveler hears the frame crack. There are other entry and exit signals. One of the major Beers collectors I've spoken with says she hears the picture's hanging wire snap, and a gallery owner once heard plaster gently falling as the mounting hardware pulled from the drywall.
The key thing is that you’ve made it in. Take a moment to congratulate yourself. Take in the simplicity of your painted hands and the delicate lines across your palms from the brushwork that is now creating you. Feel the moisture of the wet paint on the canvas skin of your forearms.
You should begin to hear a nautical clanging from some forgotten summer.
More importantly, I’ve never heard of a single traveler that did not hear the lobstermen coming in from their day's work. They will be unloading their haul and joking with each other on a pier that is out of frame. Many of these lobstermen will have already passed on. You will hear the burnt-orange of their laughter.
You will not soon forget the burnt-orange laughter of the lobstermen that have passed on.
From here you are on your own. There will only be your memories and your summers, your visits to Swim Beach, to Monhegan, to Maine, to your past and to the people in your life that are - or were - precious to you.
At this point, I can only share my personal experience, but it should give you a feel for Manana Island and what the artist has made possible within this portal.
My children are 8 and 4.
When they stand on Swim Beach, they will always be 8 and 4. Their painted faces and tanned skin are shining and bright. My son is teaching my daughter to fish at the left of the image. She is casting a line into the harbor with a collapsible fishing pole. We purchased the fishing tackle from a gift shop by the post office. My son was given bait through the service window of a beach restaurant.
The woman was a year-round local, tough, but friendly in a gruff Maine way. She'd overheard my son talking about the need for bait, and she'd taken a liking to him. When she handed it to him, she'd said something to my son in such a strong Maine accent that he didn't understand her. She laughed about it, and she said she “couldn't understand a word he was saying either.”
Either. “Just say ‘eye’ and then ‘the’ together, five times fast,” the children giggled at dinner.
On the beach my daughter is now moments from making her first successful cast. I wait for it.
Watching her, I recall the ferry ride out from New Harbor that morning. It had been clear and bright, but the sea was rolling. Up on the sun deck, my daughter was wearing her life jacket. She had fallen asleep on my shoulder. It was perfect. I knew then that it was perfect. I'd been afraid to move...
My wife is 29...
We won't have children for another five years. It is the year after we are married. This would have been our second trip to Monhegan.
She will always be 29 coming up behind me on the picnic bench, looking out over my shoulder towards Manana Island. I can feel the smooth chill of applied oil paint as she kisses my neck. I feel the brush of her golden yellow fingers on my waist.
“Next summer we should rent a cottage and stay for a few days,” she says. She is affectionately pressing her hair into mine. I want to tell her that it will be a decade before we do, and I want to warn her about all the lost summers before then that we will miss out on. But you learn very quickly that visitors cannot speak in portals…
My children are in the water. They are grown now, adults. They have left home. When they are in the water, they will always have left home.
They are helping an old woman into a dinghy that ferries visitors out to Manana. My son helps her from outside the boat. My daughter guides the old woman from the inside. The teenage captain sits by the outboard.
The old woman has rolled up her jeans. She is old for jeans - too old - which reminds me of something, of someone. The old woman is laughing about the water in the bottom of the dinghy and how she nearly fell from the rocking of the boat while she seated herself. She is holding my children for balance. Their hands and her hands are painted in single strokes of color blending together.
I realize it’s the windbreaker. I know the windbreaker. It belonged to my mother.
Which cannot be.
She passed shortly after my daughter's birth. She was young, 68 at the time. But on the trip out to Manana Island she is always with her grown grandchildren, sitting on the wet bow seat of the dinghy wearing her yellow flapping windbreaker and her torn blue jeans. She wore these jeans when she painted the bedrooms of our summer home.
Her summer home.
I am directly beneath the artist's brush now. My mother is palette-swirl laughing into my amber turpentine chest. I can feel the brush flicking and hollow-wiping through me. Colors under colors under colors under colors - these colors are shot through with throat-tightening lilac, blending and blending and blending on the artist's palette.
She wanted her grandchildren to have this island - to understand it somehow. And then, possibly, maybe, their own grandchildren might have it as well. She was very clear on this. It was a life vision, and in the portal she sees that she's done it: she's given her family Summer.
For a fraction of a second, she looks at me, possibly looks at me, but it's too fast, always too fast, and her attention returns to my grown children and the teenage boy ferrying them out to Manana Island.
And then, again, that laughter. The burnt-orange laughter...
The three of them reach Manana Island. From the beach I can make them out heading up a small broken wooden walkway. It heads towards the top of the whale-humped, straw-colored hill.
My adult son is guiding my mother over a difficult stretch of pathway on the steel conveyor track that runs up the hill. My mother is talking loudly. I cannot make out her words, but even from across the harbor I remember her voice, which I realize, always realize, I’d forgotten.
In a moment she will reach the top of the hill and wave back - she will always wave back. It is an exaggerated wave with her whole arm. It was how she waved when she was full and happy and lobster red and afternoon thunder rolled through her against aquamarine sky. Her wave embarrassed me as a teenager, but now it gasps through me in scarlet.
The clouds are beginning to stream again, the picture frame is cracking…
There are other children on the hill. Some of them are close together with my own children, some are further away. These children are always playing at the top of the Manana Island hill, but I can never see their faces. The artist - some artist - has hidden them from me.
But I recognize the sound of their play in my red, red heart. I know that this Maine Red is being applied thickly, directly onto the canvas from a tube of pure color.
And then I can no longer make out the maypole swirling of these faceless children, not after they have passed over the Manana Island hilltop. But I can hear the fading sound of their burnt-blue laughter.
You will not soon forget the fading sound of burnt-blue laughter.
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Thank you, Kevin for the light that you’ve brought into our family’s home.