Page Eastburn O’Rourke joined our Zoom session from her studio with two of her paintings placed behind her. She moved aside so I could see them, and I caught my breath when she said one of them depicted Cozy Harbor on Southport, a place that holds a lifetime of happy memories for me. O’Rourke’s style is more primitive and playful than representational, but I instantly recognized the scene—the wharf piled with lobster traps, the boats at their moorings, and the islands that ring the harbor’s entrance. Even viewed on screen, the painting filled me with joy and a sense of connection
O’Rourke discovered Cozy Harbor on one of her “field trips” around Maine with her sketchbook. Back in her Yarmouth studio, she paints iconic Maine scenes, captured in strong shapes and bright colors—a style she calls “pop folk art.” Some of them are instantly recognizable, such as Portland Head Light or Kennebunkport—others may represent a real place, but could be “any little cove, anyone’s corner of Maine,” she says.
To illustrate her approach, she describes a recent outing to sketch Yarmouth’s Madeleine Point. “I came through the forest, so it was sort of shady and dark, and when I got through the woods it was sunny and bright—there was the water and the dock with a lobster boat, and it had all these buoys fanned out like a peacock—it was this amazing feeling of delight,” she says. “As I was sketching it, I was walking around on the rocks, and I had this memory from my childhood of being at my grandmother’s house on the ocean and hopping on the rocks. A big part of what I’m trying to do in my art is to capture that initial feeling of delight and freshness from when I first saw the scene. But also, something that keeps you connected, and emotional, and brings you back to a special time and a special spot.”
A few years ago, O’Rourke had the urge to add something new to her work and began experimenting with textural elements. She started cutting shapes out of balsa wood with an X-Acto knife, but decided she wanted to go further and bought a scroll saw—now part of a collection of power tools that includes three saws, a drill, and a sander. “I love shapes so much that it’s really fun to paint them and then explore them again with my saw—almost as a form of drawing,” she says. “I’ll paint the scene, and then I’ll figure out the 3D elements that I want to make pop forward.” In addition to wood, she uses burlap, cork pieces, and rope, the last of which she drills into the painting so that it appears to be wrapping around a piling or dock. “I’m creating a world I want to invite people into, and the 3D elements are a part of that, O’Rourke says. “They add to the wonderment of going up to the painting and exploring it.”
“Wonder,” “discovery,” “excitement,” and “joy” are repeated often as we chat. “I connected with a couple of artists a few weeks ago about doing joyful, happy art, and embracing that. It’s just an unbelievably challenging world, and my art plays a part in helping people connect to optimism and hope.”