Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ashley Flynn - Expelled From Eden

Fasten your seat belts! She’s back. Ashley Flynn, a Philadelphia based painter, is my lead off January ‘10 artist and she’s on fire! No need for bringing your hat, coat and mittens, she has brought enough heat for us all.

While I normally preview a percentage of an exhibition’s images, I’m offering up only one appetite whetting rendering; the show card image called Clown. A key image in her show titled Expelled From Eden we are given a quick peek into the duality of her artistic nature; Ashley does photography too. An acolyte of Zoe Strauss, Flynn’s shooter sensibilities stand on their own merit; I am permitting a few prints in the show. Additionally, Ashley has requested a television to play a video that will run on a continuous loop. God help me! I may have to get some relief, take some time off. The last time Ashley came to town, I hid out in the basement. She’s intense. We fought like cats and dogs. She’ll say that’s a lie claiming she didn’t fight; only I did. Ashley will also tell you, in her estimation, I fight with everyone. The jury is still out on this verdict.

To the unfortunates, those that did not see my last Ashley Flynn exhibition, her work all but stands up and talks to you. No, it actually screams at you. I lost a few patrons to her last show due to the graphic and provocative nature of her imagery. There is something to say for spring cleaning. A head count for Flynn’s exhibition shows a close second to my September/October Christopher Callahan Show. This is most likely a by-product of the stellar review by Libby Rosof in her nationally acclaimed blog; Not one to spend too much time in the past, we are anticipating record participation in Ashley’s January exhibit, her second solo show. But just a side note, Ashley was included in the “Liberta 2009 Awards”. .

Early on, when Barclay & Rebecca Knapp asked me to join the Knapp Gallery family, as Director, I was given the keys to the kingdom and only one directive – “Take risks.” Save for the Projects Gallery, in Northern Liberties, The Knapp Gallery is the only Philadelphia non-school establishment that has hoisted the Flynn flag. We are the only Gallery to give Ashley a solo show. Am I calling Ashley’s work a risk? Not necessarily, though in the business to sell art, you know - make the rent, the risqué and in- your-face nature of Ashley’s work, does not lend itself to mainstream sales.

Well, that being said, what are the profile and or demographics of a potential buyer of Flynn’s paintings? Leroy Thompson and Traci Wolbert, of Pfuel, Inc. LLC, art collectors and friends of the Knapp Gallery purchased two Flynn paintings her last time around. Urban dwellers, intense professionals, Black and White, this duo has also purchased three paintings by Chris Callahan, an artist I showed back in September/October. As artists, painters, Flynn and Callahan are at opposite ends of the contemporary art spectrum; Callahan a Barnesian Impressionist and Ashley, well Ashley is Ashley. Ashley despises being categorized in any fashion. What’s my point? Seemingly bi-polar in their tastes Leroy and Traci simply know a good thing when they see it. Ergo, there is only one requirement, maybe two, in appreciating and acquiring Flynn’s work; one must have a sound understanding of great art and a keen sense for opportunity. Yes, opportunity.

Opportunity often disguises itself. I was once told “Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.” Rarely does the same opportunity come around twice. However, here we are again. There are limited opportunities to see an installation/exhibition with the power that Ashley delivers; despite Ashley’s process being a nightmare to a Gallery Director. It took me 4, nearly 5 days to get my walls back to white after taking down her last show. First, she hangs paintings and drawings that she creates in her studio. In some instances she’ll even hang some blank paper or canvas. One might call this first step and result the rough draft. Secondly, with remarkable intensity, Ashley comes behind and paints wall renderings creating interwoven vignettes, visual narrative that ultimately tie all the paintings and images into an interdependent and unified story, a homily, if you will. Ashley is all about the moment, with no concern for the show’s end and the “lost” wall renderings. “I am not making the art as sellable pieces only. The most important thing is always the narrative. The wall affords me the depth I need to create the desired visual landscape. That it is ephemeral makes it seem like a distant memory, creating an intimacy with the viewer that cannot be reached in any other way.”

I had taken down Ashley’s last show; the “Wall art” still remained. A woman came through the door panting; “A friend said I had to see this show. That I’d regret a once in a life time opportunity if I missed it. Am I too late?” As the “Wall art” left voids where the Studio-created art had hung, I was able to piece much of the show back together for her. She was remarkably appreciative.

Having launched my press release in Philadelphia Independent Media Center, I’ve already been contacted by interested radio host to do a live broadcasted interview with Ashley. Link to Ashley’s press release- See you all on the 8th.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tamara Giesberts - Foreign Faire

Amazing is the experience of stepping off the plane in a foreign land. Though oftentime we miss some great stuff, as we are doing our best to drive on the right side of the road, let alone grabbing at nuance and experiencing the joy of a new and different place. Everything is different. Always on the run, rarely are we afforded the luxury of time to relax during travel. Briefly, we waft at the food and wrestle with language. We avoid the politics. We are wowed by the history, the age of the land and the Lore. We romanticize with foreign lands; like ships, we are just passing through. At best, if we bring back a solid memory, we've done good.

This month, this holiday season, Tamara Giesberts brings foreign faire to Philadelphia. The Knapp Gallery is thrilled to share in some contemporary Dutch tradition. It has been a while since I’ve had to say the artist for my current show is not from PA., that I was not promoting a Philadelphia talent. This departure from my dogma is not without its costs. Fundamentally, though, it’s about the art, the talent and giftedness of an artist. After all, I am about my Gallery; doing whatever it takes to move it forward. Sure, holding the banner high for the cause of Philadelphia artists, as a concurrent endeavor, has significant value. My primary function as Director is to grow the Knapp Gallery.

Acknowledgement is a dynamic thing. Now, I am free to exist in a space governed by “art for art” sake. Released momentarily from my pro “Philly First “mentality, I am caught up in the heaviness of Tamara’s imagery. I like it heavy, like being wrapped in a handmade quilt of emotion. Facts are facts. My emotional chord is my trigger. You get me through my heart. Another acknowledgement; straight up, I have to say, I could not turn away from these paintings. Immediately, I was taken with the overwhelming sense of desolation, the missing human element.

Tamara’s paintings strike a chord that visually articulates an emotional condition with which I am quite familiar. Certain boyhood memories come racing to the surface having seen this distinctive body of paintings. Her dark haunting images of vacant, dark and mysterious homes and houses, interiors and exteriors, conjure up latent emotional memories of my grandfather’s patriarchal home at 62 Ashland Avenue, in East Orange, New Jersey. An old three story home, “Six and Two” Ashland Ave., known for its dark hallway and stairs to the rear entrance of the kitchen, held secrets of the ages. Dark by nature, the house would talk to you. Listen closely, in the wee hours of the morning and you could hear the stories of my father’s youth.

Tamara Giesberts’ paintings harness the power of memory.

I’ve waited patiently to hang these paintings, believing the holiday season, when our dwellings are bursting with activity, to be the perfect time to unleash the profound, powerful and dramatic nature of Tamara’s work in My home is my Castle. Hailing from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, now residing in Fanwood, NJ, Tamara is a long way from home. A foreign trained architectural designer, Tamara transcends theory into art and demonstrates her painterly understanding of “the dwelling” with a profound confidence in perspective, line and light.

Tamara’s ability to summon the tradition of Dutch masters’ depicting time of day by quality of light rounds out the resolution of this work. “Light typical for the weather and the hour of the present moment points to a context of ongoing time, subtly making temporariness tangible.” With a firm hand, Tamara leads the viewer around in her paintings. There are demonstrative triggers that she employs. Big on convergence Tamara leads you into her web turning you here and there, hither and yon. Remarkably, we can feel ourselves being manipulated. Bold vertical and horizontal line guide us like compasses. A near photographic depth of field, Tamara artfully waltzes us with color and stroke. Delicate in its dispatch, Tamara the technician unleashes raw emotion, some of it chilling.

Technically perfect in perspective, Tamara’s tool box is deep. Above all things, she is the Queen of Light. Tamara’s genius is her instinctual and dramatic use of light. With fervor, Wyeth, Mondrian and Diebenkorn show up. Oddly enough, there is a smattering of Lichtenstein in The Projector. Like religion, there is always heavy light, light through windows, doors and veils. There is reflected light, from icy smooth and silky to some pasty.

A master of emotion through light, Tamara massages her vignettes with identifiable moods. We are caught up in awareness. The overt shift away from human dominance dramatizes the environment; the dwelling and its bareness. Interestingly, Tamara identifies the Dwelling’s life by what we as humans have left behind, a "temporariness"she talks about. We are lost in the images. In our experiencing loss, we find ourselves. Simple.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Traci and JR - Old City Collectors

Okay, I only have time for a quickie. Things have been hectic. But I am in the mood to tell a story. Traci and JR are some Old City Dwellers that make running an art gallery all worth the effort. Now friends as well as collectors, these guys bring awesome energy where ever they go. I am blessed to know them as friends. As collectors, they are shrewd! I can say that, right? That’s all I’m saying.

My short stay here in Old City, Philadelphia has been awesome, in part because of the remarkable people I get to meet. Everyone does not want relationship; I’ll give you all the room you want. I’ll willingly engage with those desiring discourse. Ask me about the art, I’ll share.

JR came through a few months back. We hit it off well. Things went well until we got into a fight, a verbal argument over art. We didn’t talk for two months. Acknowledging the foolishness of our tiff, we made up one day when JR was trying to hide behind a menu at a prominent neighborhood outdoor restaurant. Neither of us remembers the nature of the disagreement. Traci will tell you the problem stems from JR and I liking the same art. The bottom line, we enjoy getting together talking, selling and buying art. I doubt we’ll fight anymore.

From what I understand, JR has a remarkable collection of art, including a Warhol and a Dali. I don’t know a lot about JR, none of that stuff matters. In my mind, he is some eccentric millionaire that wanders the streets, doing whatever he wants whenever he wants. One never knows what to expect from JR. However, if you are in a jam in need of assistance, you can count on him to help. He has even helped me move 4 large truckloads of precious milled hardwoods into my shop, up in Bucks County. He’s only let me down once. I called him to have him bring me a cup of coffee to the gallery. He texted me an hour later saying he was in New York visiting a painting he had donated to an art show.

Beware of return favors. The best part of being JR’s friend is that we never know what will be asked of us in return. JR has a unique sense for fun. An avid videographer, JR develops and films eccentric themes that are part of a project, the direction of which, save for Traci, is known by him alone. On one occasion I was asked to participate, as an actor in one of his films. As all things are a mystery with JR, I am not at liberty to share the nature of my role in the video. You are going to have to wait for the release of his film.

Okay, in talking about JR and his love for film, I’ll share my favorite line from the Basquiat movie filmed by Julian Schnabel. Here’s the set up - over a plate of spaghetti, Jean Michel Basquiat is complaining about the press and how they have hit pit him against Warhol. The Julian Schnabel character, played by Gary Oldman, in response to this rant about the press, says something like …”Jean Michel, go and see Andy; you are all he cares about. And besides, it’s hard to get good conversation in this town.” It is like that with JR; not your garden variety of conversation. Time spent with JR is never boring. On the ground level he’s the consummate artist and life is his art.

The pictures show Traci and JR celebrating their latest acquisition, “Night Bathers 2, a waterfall painting, by Christopher Callahan. These young Old City Collectors know a good thing when they see it. They also bought “Making Friends” a few weeks later. The Duo, as I call them, shares my vision of supporting Philadelphia painters. They also purchased a few Ashley Flynn Paintings, back when Flynn showed in the summer.

JR will play cat and mouse with you, but in the end, he knows what he likes and wants.

JR’s got his own thing going on. Don’t see a lot of that going around; proper respect given to that. He’s about believing in what you do as the sole motivator for everything else –with no excuses. As a personal trainer, I have only known JR through a limited lens. He berated me for taking a left turn off a monster hill, on my bicycle, to shift to a lower gear. From then on there have been no left turns. No excuses. He’s demanding in his perspective and position on things, but at the same time demonstrates he knows the road ahead that will set you free.

Okay, I said this was going to be a quickie. I Gotta rap this up. It’s been real.

Guess what gang? My friends and customers are real special. No, this is not your traditional gallery. Yet, what you see is what you get; great art, great friends and fresh perspective.

Traci calls me Uncle Karl. Man, life is good.

Thanks guys. I love what you bring to the Gallery.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Diane Russo - Young Gun

Long before I was a painter, I studied photography. Despite my choice of painting, as my primary art form, my affinity for the craft of Photography has never waned. A difficult path to trod, present day fine art photographers must struggle against the overwhelming barrage of visual commercial traffic so common in our daily lives. During my Ashley Flynn show, I was introduced to world renown Philadelphia –based Zoe Strauss . Zoe’s work is piercing cutting through the “stuff” of the façade baring the essence of her subjects. Like pure voltage, she connects the viewer to the source of power; nothing is lost in getting the image from the lens to our eye. It is clearly understandable why Zoe is one of the industry’s hottest and most respected shooters.

Young shooter Diane Russo got my attention this past week with a handful of striking images. Exhibiting a naïve savvy and a Straussian punch, Diane’s introspection unveils the space that resides between the simple and the complex. Garnished in nuance, Dianne’s gentle hand takes the hard edge out of vulnerability exposing the soft under belly of circumstance. These images are intimate relational gestures offering a sensitive and sensual glimpse of form and figure.

I’m taken in by the mature and developed quality of Diane’s Images. So far beyond orchestration, there exists an organic sensibility. A male viewer, caught up in a unique perspective shift, I am mindful of the totality of the female form, its sexual orientation and the dramatic difference from male musculature and genitalia. These situational vignettes lend themselves to our exploration and participation. Masterfully, Diane slices through time, halting meter, giving us palatable chunks to savor. Intrinsically, the power of the form and figure as we know it transcends the moment, becoming art in its symmetry and flow. The captured and unfolding drama begs our investigation.

If we test the work and ask “so what” – “why is this good photography?” we can quickly reconcile the value and success of the work by its ability to elicit a genuine emotional response. Repeatedly, I’ve gone back for another look. Everyone that I’ve shown the work to agrees, beyond daring, the work is insightful, sensitive and honest. Diane gets my thumbs up and Young Artist of the Week Award.

Friday, October 9, 2009

You are what you eat.

We are products of our environments. Try as we may, we cannot outrun the variables interwoven into the fabric of our character. Shaped by time, experience and events, we are tethered to the “story “of our lives. Such is the human condition that we are buffeted and bruised by unpredictable external conditions. The nuance of our stories, while the flavor of individualism, divide us into groups of similar ilk. Many of these distinctions are governed by race, sex and the age we are born into history. We talk of people as products of an era; the 70s, 60s, from the “baby boomer” generation. Ascribing values based on specific characteristics of an era, helps us to understand individual perspective.

At every turn, we are gathering data, trying to make sense out it all. Element by element we dissect life’s minutia, breaking down the whole into bite size chunks; synthesizing processed data into new perspective and beliefs. Our imprinted beliefs, perspective and personal codes are largely based on demographics and economics; our social, educational and cultural orientation. Long has been the debate of nature vs. nurture; so many contradictions are wrapped up in the flesh. These are but a few of the controlling strings of the puppet artist that wield the brush. Our response, as artists, to the story of our lives becomes the flavor and power of our art. Stroke by stroke we pour out the by product, the purified solid matter of our experience. Anna Belle Loeb, true to this formula, paints her way free of life’s inequitable entanglements.

A product of the 40’s, reared on the heels of a recovering post depression economy; Anna Belle was born into an era of upheaval and unrest. A teen ager, Anna Belle was an eye witness to the integration of Little Rock Central High School, in Little Rock, Arkansas; she was in New Orleans when Kennedy was shot. Anna Belle Loeb, a white Southerner, whose youth was tainted by ugliness of segregation, has lived to see a Black man voted into the Presidency of the United States. She has seen a lot. Trained in ethics, a lawyer turned painter, Anna Belle’s art plays out years of anguish, resistance and dedication as a social and political activist. Wanting the wrongs of history righted, calling out for equity, justice and truth, she paints away at the dross of life exposing the limitless possibilities that come with freedom.

Painting the moment, documenting events, she is a chronicler - a present day Griot, a title normally reserved and ascribed to an African Tribal storyteller, always a man. The Griot's role was to preserve the genealogies and oral traditions of the tribe. Anna Belle’s paintings, like pages of time, are set apart as documents and declarations; parchments. A voracious reader, Loeb’s bold colorful in your face artistic world is oftentimes driven by words. Her most recent show, “Rabbit Years,” held at the Pagus Gallery, in Norristown, PA was dedicated to famous Pennsylvania born, American novelist/poet John Updike. She too is a poet with a brush.

Tim Hawkesworth, Loeb’s teacher and mentor, says of her paintings; “Anna Belle is a Southerner and her art flows from a Southern consciousness. It is quick, Laconic, comedic and tragic. It does not stand still. It is full of contradictions and the complexity of good conversation. They have the bite of graffiti and the ferocity of an uncompromised stare. They are street tough and sharp. While they seduce and engage our senses they can at times tear at our consciousness. They can break our hearts.”

Laser sharp is her scapel, slicing through bone and marrow. Titles including The Disappearing White Guy, Mudslide of Politics, Big Bucks, Thou Shalt not break my Heart, Inherit the Wind, affirm the intensity of her message. Visually, with an equaled tenacity, she wields an assertive brush. She is not timid. The paintings by nature are edgy screaming with texture, bright color and raw energy; having weighty souls. Yet, in all this there are significant contradictions. Anna Belle is not just all bite, her paintings - Cry Baby, Ochre lambs, young woman and Rabbit in the Hat tell us otherwise. A counter-balancing compassion metes out hope and love for her neighbor. We are caught up in the story of her craft. She gets inside and breaks down our barriers.

Reviewed on Friday, May 15, 2009, by Victoria Donohoe, of the Philadelphia inquirer, Rabbit Years, Loeb’s maiden voyage, got noticeable attention:
“Although some contain recognizable images, they're more about the feeling in each that's experienced at some remove from nature, yet not really removed from it. Thus, they draw us in and carry us along, the best examples being authentically civilized experiences.”

Beyond all the rest, Anna Belle is a painter; loving discovery in the Studio, liking the paint as well as the medium. The paintings stand on their own; emotional and honest; a dynamic and pivotal pure body of work with significant historical significance. As the viewer, we are moved in and out of her soulful vignettes, a quick pace poking at us, the painting is assertive. Raw and intriguing, bold in their progressiveness, the paintings demand acknowledgement. Protesting as when she was an adolescent, the paintings march on the Washington DCs of our hearts crying out “Let freedom ring from every village and every hamlet...” She is masterful in her naiveté at getting us back to ground zero. She is relentless. She is a preacher.

Anna Belle Loeb

She’s got a lot on her Mind

6 November thru 30 November ‘09

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Once is not enough!

There are costs associated with being successful; the demands on our time and talents escalate exponentially. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not complaining. It is great being in demand and acknowledged. Right about now, though, I’m thinking about the benefits of cloning. By the way, where are we in the debate to legitimize cloning?

It’s nice to believe that if we put something in we’ll get something back out; the larger the deposit the greater potential for a larger withdrawal. Teaching this concept to my daughter was a difficult task. “Daddy, if you don’t have any money, just go to the MAC machine and get some.” We all know there is so much more to the “deposit-withdrawal” equation. How we go about getting “it” so we can deposit “it” is truly what’s at issue here. Fundamentally, we must all ask, from whence commeth the substance of our deposits? Dealing art is risky; no risk-no reward. High risk - high yield.

The Knapp Gallery’s investment in Christopher Callahan is paying off with large dividends. Am I saying that taking on Chris Callahan was risky? No, but holding to my overall platform of supporting and promoting Philadelphia artists is. While, my competitors continue to show painters from New York, London and around the world, relying on an address to promote sales, I’m committed to my mission of promoting emerging Philadelphia talent; kudos by the way to Richard Rosenfeld, of The Rosenfeld Gallery who has a great show up by Philadelphia artist Richard Ranck, a Philadelphia Academy graduate. As a cog in a seemingly broken wheel, I’m paying my dues into resurrecting a worthy machine; a sustainable Philadelphia Art Community.

A nagging voice says “if you build it they will come.” And building we are. Suring up the old and laying new foundation, we a readying for a new improved edifice. In response to this visible effort, The Knapp Gallery has been written up by The Broad Street Review:

In my mind, however, this is but a taste of success. I am rarely satisfied, wanting so much more for my painters and Philadelphia. There are varying degrees of success. As a result, measuring success gets a bit tricky. Empirical data, the stuff one can count, beyond sales, the calls (both from in and out of state), queries, requests for additional information, is what I’m really talking about. The Callahan show has caused lot’s of buzz; so much so that we are extending the Callahan exhibit through October 31st. We will however be swapping out the remainder of the current show with an extensive look at his impressionistic work.

It is becoming readily apparent; I am not alone in my efforts to create awareness of the latent wealth found in Philadelphia’s art history and present day remnant. Known as the countries’ largest mural arts program, in my mind, diminishes the collective value of Philadelphia’s vast “high-end” art resources. Recently asked by a friend, from New York, "Why would the culture vultures turn their gaze to Philadelphia?" I’m compelled to respond; only briefly though. For starters, The Barnes Foundation, considered by many as the world’s greatest private collection of French impressionism and post-impressionism works, affords Philadelphia a significant place of notoriety. Beyond “the collection,” though lacking formal accreditation, the decades of Barnesian teaching distinguishes Philadelphia as a cultural center.

The truth be told, I’m not surprised by the overwhelming response to the Callahan exhibit. The stars were aligned; timing is everything. I stepped out on faith and followed up with my best efforts. Increased traffic and visibility necessitates a commensurate response. To accommodate the increased weekend “traffic”, Chris set up his easel and has been painting here at the gallery. The authenticity of Callahan’s art bolsters his resolve and creativity before an audience. He is neither intimidated nor is his stream of consciousness interrupted; he actually enjoys the conversation.

Looking around, I see a plethora of acknowledgeable work; it is not so simple isolating our mission from the hard and fast reality of making the rent. Fortunately, The Knapp Gallery owners share my vision of contributing towards a sustainable Philadelphia Art Community.

Friday, September 11, 2009

VIP King Confirms Callahan Collection

All good things come to those that wait. A VIP visit from Nicholas King, former Executive Director of the Philadelphia based Barnes Foundation, validates The Knapp Gallery’s collection of Christopher Callahan’s paintings. The Barnes Foundation collection, considered by many as the world’s foremost private collection of impressionist and post impressionist paintings, includes 180 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 60 Matisses and 44 Picassos.

In the mid 70s, at the early age of 21, Callahan began working at the Barnes Foundation in a custodial capacity under Nicholas King, then Superintendent. Soon recognized as an artistic prodigy, Callahan became the protégé of now deceased and infamous former foundation Director, Violette de Mazia. During the mid nineties, after the death of Miss de Mazia, King having been appointed to the Directorship called Christopher back to the foundation as a docent lecturer! The extensive history/story of the Callahan - King - Barnes Foundation troika is book worthy. The overall influence of this history rings true throughout Callahan’s extensive body of work.

Having known Callahan in varied capacities, it’s been 10 years since Nicholas King has seen Christopher’s paintings. Thrilled at the direction and progression of Callahan’s work, King keenly isolated Chris’ most recent work. “This must be Chris’s latest work,” pointing to the lone untitled painting hanging on the back wall of the gallery. “It’s a thrill to see where he’s come in the past ten years.”

I’ve suggested a reunion between the two and asked if the gallery could facilitate. Before leaving, King signed the register; “Chris, very very proud of your work. Congratulation! “

Christopher Callahan’s paintings will hang until September 27th.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

All Guns Down

There is still talk of revolution. Each generation puts their twist on it. Ernesto and Gabrielle, present day road warriors remind us there is a lot more going on at street level than just exercising one’s right to free enterprise.

I first noticed him across the street on First Friday. He and his partner were selling jewelry out of their Ford Escort wagon. His chiseled Peruvian facial features and tussled black mane stood out amidst the crowd. Beyond that, my sixth sense detected more going on than what appeared on the surface. I watched a bit then went over to investigate. There were a few velvet covered boards of handcrafted earrings, necklaces, anklets and bracelets - unique stuff - marketable. Many stopped. They both worked on new designs as I poked around. I listened and watched. There was something refreshing about how they worked together. Amidst my second divorce, I’m sensitive to such things, wanting to experience the same for myself. They shared ideas on their designs pointing intimately to the others’ current work. With deftness, each wielded jeweler’s pliers.

I told them I worked across the street in the art gallery. We talked a bit about opportunity, free enterprise, and responsibility as citizens. Clearly, Ernesto liked that I engaged him. Excitedly, he preached of love, equality, a fair wage for a day’s work, collectivism. From Montreal, they were proponents of socialized medicine. We debated the pros and cons of capitalism, citizenship, misuse of power and our depraved nature as Homo sapiens. Ernesto was big on honesty and loyalty amongst brothers and lashed out at man’s propensity to abrogate their role in collective responsibility. Gabrielle came to life passionately espousing her position on a green economy; Pacha Mama – Mother Earth having only limited resources to sustain the creation.

Unencumbered by concern for means, living day to day out of their car, bending wire into jewelry, Ernesto and Gabrielle travel city to city. I could appreciate their journey, knowing myself the rigors of the road. If by chance you have forgotten what freedom looked like, this pair was art in action; walking art. I had been right; there was something about this guy and his gal. They were revolutionaries, itinerants preaching peace, unity and One Love.

Back in the gallery, I laughed to myself, thinking back on my days of radicalism. I didn’t realize how much I missed engaging at that level, being in that conversation. I was still hungry, I wanted more. I went back across the street and offered to make them dinner; they would think about it. An hour later Ernesto came back to see if the invite was for real; I prepared simple faire – fresh greens, red snapper over a Chinese noodles, seared broccoli florets with balsamic vinegar. Interestingly, as a young boy, even as an adult, I was often reprimanded for bringing strangers home for dinner. There is something about feeding the hungry. I once brought a homeless man home named Al Joseph Trueblood, an ex-felon. He stayed with me and my family for a week. My first wife, Valerie, was none too happy with this arrangement; our children were young, 3 and 5. My actions were considered reckless.

At 10:30, it became clear that it was too late to send the dynamic duo back out into the streets. I told them to spend the night in my bed. Gabrielle nearly cried out of joy. We talked well into the morning. Eventually the conversation turned to Communism. Ernesto was determined to convince me of what he considered the true meaning and ideal behind a communistic society. “Americans are brainwashed. True communism, the communism preached by che’Guevara, from the Cuban Revolution benefits us all. There is enough for all.” Passionately, as if life and the world depended on it, back and forth, like a tennis match, baseline to baseline, forehand to backhand, we voiced our positions; neither willing to let the other gain an inch. Gabrielle stretched across the bed enjoying the banter and the comfort of a dwelling.

Ernesto was an Idealist and I told him so. I reminded him of how many messengers of this same message had been killed. He didn’t bat an eye. “You can’t kill an idea! They can kill me, but my message will live on. They killed Malcolm X, Martin, Lennon and the Kennedy’s but their messages and ideals live on. I’m not afraid to die. I’m about peace and love. Love God above all things first and love your brothers and neighbors as you would love yourself.” And then he would raise his peace sign, always the peace sign.

The love between Ernesto and Gabrielle was clear. They wore each other like familiar garments. I envisioned them dying in each others’ arms, riddled with bullets having been hunted down by fundamentalist right wingers. I warned Ernesto that the American Capitalist would never lay down his weapon of choice. “We have exhausted our time of choice. The last minute comes soon! Like the spark of the revolution chasing after the powder, an awakening comes amidst the explosion. All will see that we must be one or we will perish as humankind; no unity - no life.” Like water over a waterfall, the oil of Ernesto’s poetry flowed never ending. I warned Gabrielle; against such charisma she was powerless. She only smiled that Gabrielle smile.

And then, in an instant, the light bulb of clarity shone brightly. I heard my own words – “lay down his weapon of choice.” Off and on, throughout the day and evening, I had wondered why these two had shown up, for what purpose had my Creator sent them across my path? I had only to be patient and remain open. It was clear; the appearance of Ernesto and Gabrielle was a reminder of what’s real and what’s not. Love and life is real. Choice is real. Art is real!

Back in February, Jon Eckel and I showed 23 paintings, in Princeton, New Jersey. Painted jointly as a collaboration, the body of work entitled All Guns Down, touted a message not too dissimilar from the one preached by che’Ernesto. Jon and I were convinced, we need only lay aside our weapons of defense, our selfishness, self interests, self indulgence and we could paint an epic body of work. This doctrine holds true across the board, in all venues, from government through to our personal relationships. Prioritizing a mutually beneficial goal, seeking the best interest of another and putting all available resources behind your efforts are paramount to a successful equation. Like the notion of equality, unity and oneness preached by che’Ernesto, All Guns Down, requires of humankind a higher way of being.

In October ’09 Jon moved temporarily from Philadelphia to Princeton. We had been given the use of a monster house to live in, with a carriage house in the back that served as our studio. For 3 1/2 months, we painted night and day; some days 14 and 16 hours. Throwing caution to the wind, we challenged ourselves to a higher order, painting beyond our comfort zones desiring a third emerging signature from our divergent painting styles; Jon a figurist - myself an abstractionist. We were two very different cats with a similar goal - wanting desperately to get to the finish line; like our very lives depended on it. That was the goal. Twenty three paintings later, we set our brushes down. When the dust settled, we knew we had stumbled on a truth: Prioritize the goal, set aside the differences and all things are possible.

In our collaboration exercise bridging generation and culture, we overcame age differences, ethnicity, differences in religion and demographics. Jon is a trained painter graduating from Tyler School of Art, myself an untrained outsider artist. Trusting the others commitment to the task, believing in all that is good, we were able to overcome the stumbling blocks that have historically shipwrecked the best altruistic efforts. There are no safety nets, no excuses and no short cuts, just the task at hand. There must be a point where our beliefs and convictions fuel the intent and purpose behind our actions. What are you willing to lay down for the greater good?

“The paintings writhe with vibrant jolts of color, line, texture, and bold restive figures. Intimate and provocative themes are by turns poignant, comical, dark and mysterious. Despite strong content and an “in your face” palette, the imagery is approachable and inviting. Musically, the paintings strike a complex, soulful and “saxy” note; with an aggressive tenor and persistent “bottom.” Overcoming initial concerns of clashing independent styles, melding form and abstraction, a confident and resolute harmony prevails; the two painters have become one in these paintings” Ebet Dudley, Writer-Critic

Click the link to see the remaining paintings

Friday, August 28, 2009

Christopher Callahan - For such a time as this

The Knapp Gallery is excited about introducing Christopher Callahan in his first solo exhibition this coming “First Friday” Sept ’09.

We always hear about somebody who was in the right place at the right time, made the right investment and the story of their remarkable find. Every time we hear one of these stories we say “why doesn’t that happen to me” or “that not’s real.” Well, in my mind, I’m about to tell one of those stories. As my grandfather, Osceola Slocum, would have said, “Christopher Callahan is the real McCoy.” Well acquainted with good painters, I represent a couple of phenom artists that I believe will be recognized down through the corridor of time, namely Tom Brady and Jon Eckel. Today, this story is about Christopher Callahan, a painter from Narberth, PA. Beyond believing right place-right time, I believe I was meant/sent to be in a particular place at an appointed time.

It was a few months ago, I had closed the gallery. The door was locked. I was turning away with my bike, heading home. “Are you closed for the day?” a voice asked. “I’ve brought a friend downtown to see you. He has had a bit of a rough time and I’m trying to get him to engage.” Chris stood off to the side and was holding a book. From where I was standing, I could see the title said Christopher Callahan. I asked him if that was him. Nonchalantly, he said “yes.” I leaned my bike against the building, walked over and took the book out of his hands, flipped through about twenty pages and realized we needed to go back into the gallery and sit down.

Back inside, sitting at my desk, Chris shared about what he’d been going through. The loss of his stepson Asher had devastated him. Depressed and not painting, a friend’s love had bought him back out into the streets. I asked about his book, if he had brought it for me. “Oh no, this is the only copy. My sister had this book made for me as a Christmas present; she has always supported me in my painting.” I replied that knew a similar love of a sister. I became overwhelmed thinking back on my sister’s support. Tears welled up and ran down my cheeks. Chris responded in kind. It was in that moment that my relationship with Chris was sealed.

Looking more closely at the book it became clear that Callahan was the genuine article, a painter’s painter. His work showed a maturity, exacted remarkable freedom yet with a definitive direction. He evidenced diversity, painting form, figure and abstraction. Further subdivisions of his work included folk art, impressionism, and structuralism; I asked him what his plans and goals were. I asked him if I could visit him at his studio and see his work. Surprisingly, he said he would like that. A week later I called and we set a date and time.

Arriving at his home in Narberth, it was evident that Chris was in much better spirits. He was excited at having someone come to see him and his work; outside of family and a few select friends, I was a first. Inside his studio, on a table close by his easel, I saw a bible. Sharing our love for our Creator, we prayed, cried and thanked God for his presence and guidance. “I knew God would show up and reveal the right guy that I could trust to represent my work.” We agreed that our meeting was fortuitous and towards a greater end; not just for the two of us. I spent 5 hours looking at work and barely made a dent. “Karl, at the rate you’re going it will take a week to get through all the work!” Despite a second visit, I still haven’t gotten through all the work.

Christopher Callahan, 56, has been painting and drawing for nearly thirty-five years. Different than most painters, lacking trust in galleries and dealers, he has not sought representation. With the exception of his paintings posted on Flickr, he has never shown his work. A tradesman, Chris, has supported himself as a carpenter and electrician’s helper. He is a pensive man; economical with his words. Despite a soft spoken persona, Chris has a profound and settled presence. He talks little of his work believing good art should stand on its own, that a painter's experience is separate from the viewer. “What they walk away with is for them, my words shouldn’t influence their experience.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How deep? Commitment deep.

I am bicyclist, though not for my love of Spandex. You may have seen me riding downtown, out by the Art Museum, riding down Kelly Drive or out in Old City. By default, I’ve become a full-time committed commuter. However, there are drawbacks to this undertaking. I’ve made this commitment during comfortable summer months. Well aware of an imminent winter, I ready myself for the cold.

Pictured here is my riding/racing jersey. I am a novice racer. Having lost my mother to Lupus, I also ride/race to raise awareness about a debilitating disease that attacks all vital organs. Despite 50 years of research we still have no cure.

I started riding just 6 months ago. I made an investment in myself. One could also say I rewarded myself for having finally quit smoking cigarettes after having smoked for a gazillion years; I tried quitting numerous other times but with no success. . Wanting more from myself, from my will, I was not about the “patch.” I hate feeling weak, not in control. I’m not big on fitness, hating exercise; the gym is hell on earth. I attribute my physical conditioning to having lived an extremely active and physical life. That is another story for a different day.

Knowing my nature, prone to start smoking at first excuse, I invested in a health aid; the bicycle. The way I figured it, having spent the money, I’d be forced to honor the new direction, albeit heading towards fitness. No turning back now. Back in my thirties, I used to run but knee problems knocked me out of the game. I never enjoyed running, it was always boring to me; not enough to keep my mind occupied. I kept a fast pace to overcome the boredom. My five times a week running regime was 7 miles @ 7 minutes a mile. 49 minutes of hell. Let’s just get it done. Nobody wanted to run with me. Now, much later in the game, turning fifty, in September, I opted for bicycles over the remaining choices. So back in March, I had a bicycle made for me. I began riding when it was still very cold. At speed, with the sub-zero wind chill factors, it was brutal. I remember thinking about mid August and the heat. Out riding in 30 degree weather, your feet and hands freezing, one’s thoughts tend to go to the extreme.

Thawing out itself is a painful ordeal. I remember sitting in a gas station in Ringoes, NJ thinking my toes were frost bitten knowing I still had to turn around and head back. “Why was I doing this?’ This was lunacy. I reconciled it as “it’s all part of the investment.” Only a fool would pick up another cigarette, having endured this level of pain and suffering. But it is so much more than just about the cigarette. On the one hand it seemed crazy and obsessive that I was out riding in the extremes, towards what end? Albeit only a dusting, it had snowed that morning! To which cause was I committed, extreme cycling or non-smoking?

To a great degree I am at fault for my discomfort. Inappropriately dressed, I was unprepared for the weather conditions. A proponent of the tenets of relativity, I tend to apply wisdom across the board. How we faire amidst many of our commitments is about our state of preparedness. Like my frigid Ringoes ride, I was not well prepared in taking the Director’s chair here at the Knapp Gallery. Actually, at first offer, I declined the Directorship, stating the position was outside my scope of experience. Nine months later, Barclay Knapp, my friend, once patron, past employer and mentor, leaned in, looked over his eyeglasses and said, “I want and need you to move to Philadelphia and run my gallery. Karl, I believe in who you are not in your experience or lack thereof.” I moved to Philadelphia.

Expressed belief in somebody will carry them a long way; through a downturned economy, cold, wind and rain. It’s gonna have to as I commute to work this winter. In terms of Gallery preparedness, continued research, reading, poking, prodding and asking tons of questions keeps me fairly comfortable amidst the wind and wave of this sea of unfamiliarity. Beyond a sense of comfort, I’m exhausting every available avenue towards success; winning is the only option. Over time, The Boss has learned that I am a results oriented individual; that I stand in my commitments. He knows I will do whatever it takes to get the job done. I will deliver. My nature is to finish well in the things that I start.

On an ending note: Through research of a different kind, I have found a winter bicycle riding shoe that will keep my toes toasty. Though a bit pricy, they’ll be well worth the investment. Better gloves will help out at the other extremity.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Putting our best foot forward

Necessity is the mother of invention. Who said that? Props to that cat. We do the best we can with what we have in the moment.

Feedback is a wonderful thing. Well, that’s if you care what others think, believe or care about. Feedback isn’t always about us. Through what others say about us, in their feedback, they are affirming who they are, their needs, that which is important to them. Translating feedback is a developed artform of mine. Dialogue is costly. It is the exception not the norm. Everybody that comes through the door of the gallery does not want to engage. Rare is the opportunity of being fully engaged with a “Walk-in”. Most of my conversations are with artists. Weekend walk-ins are different though. During the week, it’s a bit tougher to get with someone about the art.

When everything is right, when we meet someone that wants engage, there is perfection in the conversation; sharing how the painted image affects us. Rarely do I run into an enthusiasm level equal to my own. That’s okay. I know my place. I love when a visitor lets me run, like a rider giving the horse its head and letting him run flat out. On Saturday, I ran into a decent cat that was about the art.

He comes in with a friend and likes what he sees. “Do you have more?” he asks? Yes, I have more. Down in the basement he’s excited about being near the inventory. I can appreciate that. I am an inventory guy myself. I give him an impromptu show, pulling out paintings by the different artists I represent: Brady, Eckel , Callahan, Pappallas, Silvert, E.F. Halbert, Oechsli, Farrell… When we get to the paintings from Jon Eckel’s most recent show, he’s plugged in. Initially he had been looking for a Trip-tik; a three paneled painting. One by one I pulled out Jon’s last show. Quickly, I ran out of room downstairs and begin bringing them up into the Gallery. After adding eight 48” x 60” paintings into the gallery, things got a bit crowded, but we enjoyed a maze of sorts that was created; walking through the paintings standing on end had an eerie but enjoyable sensation to it.

The guy says he thrilled at my engagement. Said he hadn’t gotten similar hospitality in other galleries before making it to Knapp that day. Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this comment.

So, collectively, as a group of Old City galleries, our joint report card, for that individual, was below par. A fast paced and bizarre ‘010 lifestyle doesn’t afford us many opportunities to build lasting relationships. Truth be known, art is about relationship. I’m just saying. Times are hard enough without having to fend off a bad "rep" to boot. We might want to put our best foot forward, engage and develop relationship within the community? The Art Community, a sub category within the community at large, provides a significant service. We are the vehicle through which culture is maintained; the portal through which your neighbor keeps rhythm with life. Today, I did not sell a painting. However, I did engage and hopefully planted the seeds of a lasting relationship, while possibly changing one person’s tainted perspective of “Old City” galleries.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Support our troops

My job is about selling paintings. Making the rent is real. Galleries may offer a community service of sorts, but face it, like most business models the traditional art gallery business model is designed to make money. Gather art. Sell art. Art is a commodity. Making it, marketing it, selling it and trading it. This is an industry. We all participate in it at some level. Today, I’m talking about the buying end of it.

“I can’t afford to buy art, but I’m clear on something, I can’t be without it.” I hear this all the time. What am I supposed to do with that? One option I offer is to “become a painter.” I do encourage this. Many are exercising this option. There is a trend that I’ll call “Post Career Painting Syndrome. In addition to the young art students, the undergrads, graduates, the MFAers, apprentices, journeymen, itinerant painters, the accomplished, the mid-lifers are coming also. Everybody wants in. Informally, I review a minimum of 10 artists weekly. There is a traffic jam of artists wanting in.

Ryan Buffington, an MFA student at the Academy of Fine Arts, located here in Philadelphia, stands with an 8 foot painting he brought by the Gallery for me to see.

The laws of physics require an equal and opposite reaction to this significant influx of artists. Many are the called, but few are the chosen. Plain and simple, some players in this game are meant to be buyers; easy for me to say, right? These are not just idle or empty words. I’ve committed to buying the painters that I show. I will sell only that which I’m willing to buy. So, I’ve set out to acquire the work that I sell. Picking art for the gallery is different than buying one’s own art. On a low budget, I’m forced to prioritize and sacrifice. Now, as a buyer, I know all the reasons for not buying. I’m also developing a list of reasons why to buy.

With every acquisition, I feel the pinch. I’ve had to slow down a bit and find a suitable pace. I’ve set limits and goals. Presently, my max is $500.00 for any given painting. Now, with nearly 20 paintings under my belt, I’m not so impetuous. One must be careful; there is an adrenaline rush that goes along with buying art. I’ve made a few mistakes. I’ve had some surprises and good fortune as well. Being in the game avails us to good fortune.

A guy comes into the gallery wanting to sell me two medium sized framed pastels. The paintings were his mother’s from the 40s by an artist named Alfred Morang. He wants $400.00 for the pair. A quick look on-line I find out that Morang lived from 1901 to 1958. Born in Maine, he died in a fire in his studio in New Mexico. He was a member of the TAO and Santa Fe painters. Recorded sales at auction for oil paintings ranged from $5000.00 to $15,500.00. These were pastels; I offered $300.00 for the paintings, not that I could afford it. He hemmed a bit but eventually agreed. He followed me to the MAC Machine and the deal was done; so I thought. Online, back at the gallery, I searched Alfred Morang again. To my surprise,

there is more information than expected. Beyond that, I even find my two paintings, “Building the barn” and “feeding the chickens!”

Turns out they’ve been to auction, which means there is a pricing track record. A dozen and a half dealers advertise their representation of Santa Fe Painters including Alfred Moran. I contact them by email and say that I’m accepting offers. I get three to four replies. Now, what to do with the paintings? Do I keep them or sell them? I do have options. Being in the game also means you have options.

Options are about opportunity: Amidst a visit to Ashley Flynn’s studio, a local Philadelphia painter, it became clear my $500.00 was not going to get me very far; her work far too valuable and big. Then, I found a small box of small personal drawings. With tears rolling down my face, I picked out 10 small 8” x 11” watercolor/ink/charcoal/pastel intimate masterpieces on paper. We agreed to $50.00 each. She gave me 12 for believing in her work.

There is an undeniable satisfaction that comes with acquiring art. For me, beyond having great art around me at all times, much of being a collector is about the relationships I've created and nurtured with my artists; knowing I am supporting the local community and the life that created it. As a buyer, I am profoundly aware of those that have supported me in my making art over the years. Anne Williams and Antonio Elmaleh, have the largest collection of my paintings and furniture. They have been with me from the beginning. Conceivably, without their support early on in my career, I might not have made it here to the Director's Chair. “I love you guys.”

We never know the final effects of our actions. Casting no vote is still very much a casted vote. Unless we place a value on it, buying art makes no sense. Once it made sense, I was willing to do whatever it took to keep me in the game. I’ve re-prioritized and culled much from my life. Now, by supporting Philadelphia painters, I am supporting the local economy and participating in local Philadelphia history. Just for the record, here is a bit more sense in the form of a new trend. There are a number of New York City artists seeking gallery representation here in Philadelphia. This presents a new dynamic for Phgiladelphia painters. But, I'll address this another day.

Below, are three of my Ashley Flynn renderings.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Turning the corner.

One never knows what’s lurking around a corner. Literally, at every turn, there exists the possibility of encountering a life altering experience. As humans, “meaning making machines,” our nature is to label and define these experiences, attempting to make sense out of them. Oftentimes, labels of good or bad are applied to such occurrences. In this, we tend to carry around a running tab of the good vs. the bad. Constantly weighing, falling short, we struggle to stay in the good zone.

Different than many, steering clear of such declarations, I reconcile my “corner turning” experiences as gifts and miracles from our Creator. Actually, I’ve come to expect these gifts of opportunities as a way of living. An integral part of my diet, I believe miracles have nutritional and life sustaining value. Speaking scientifically, there is an extra battery source stored way down deep within us, so deep that only a few people, doctors and scientists know of its existence. Recharging of this battery occurs only with the specific energy released amidst another miracle. Timing is everything. Consequently, few people ever experience the full affect of being plugged in.

In my reality, the words possibility and potential do not co-exist. Hear me out! I’m substantiating my use of the word miracle. Potential is based solely on an ability or capacity for something coming into being. For potential to exist, something else must first exist. Possibility requires nothing. My job here at Knapp is a result of possibility rather than potential, i.e. I met Barclay and Rebecca Knapp, owners of The Knapp Gallery, first as a carpenter in their home. Over time, conversation and golf, my position here in Old City was developed. I digress; this was not my intended destination. I have bigger fish to fry. I want to talk about a mind set and the power we appropriate with a change in perspective.

It can be as simple as “think it and it’s done.” My sister Lisa says I have the remarkable skill of thinking things into reality. To a degree she is correct; it’s a lot more than that. It may have begun when I was a child. Walking on a beach one day, I filled two pockets with smooth and colorful pebbles that I had found. Throughout the day I told everyone that would listen “these pebbles are going to turn into money.” I truly believed it. Later that night, I placed my pile of stones on my night stand and went to sleep. In the morning, I awoke to a pile of pennies, nickels and dimes. I ran through the house reminding everyone of my declaration. “I told you this was going to happen!” My brother Michael was livid. “He went out into the street and found a big ugly rock. Returning he said, “This rock is gonna turn into a dollar.” Needless to say, he was not successful in this endeavor. He lacked conviction.

Miracles can be remarkably personal and tailor made to the recipients needs. To these miracles, acts of intimacy, I ascribe greater value as they are demonstrative of the Creator’s love. Here is an account of one such miracle:

Liam Dean, a young red headed and energetic Philadelphian painter has been after me about going to see his art hanging at the Blink Gallery, a solid space about 8 blocks away. Liam had come here to the gallery a few times that week. We talked a lot about his work; we went online and looked at a few artists I was bringing on. He was excited about me seeing his work hang across the way. He had put in the shoe leather, I felt obliged to go. From what I had seen, he was aggressive, searching and “being” at the same time. He was hungry, talking about what it’s like out on Rittenhouse square trying to make something happen. This is what I hear and see down on 3rd. Street. At ground level, folk want in. And it’s already crowded in the pool. His show had come at a bad time for me. Work had been tough, with long hours. Sales had been few. I spent my days marketing: Offering a fair commission, I’ve been hard selling Private Art Dealers, Art Consultants and Interior Designers to buy from our inventory. On top of that, I was planning an upcoming event. I was tired -worn out.

Anyway, it is the end of the week, I’m exhausted wanting only to go home and sleep. Instead of taking the easy way out, I opt to make my way to Chestnut Street and climb the stairs to the Blink Gallery, Tor Chaikin’s fourth floor gallery space. Liam’s work hangs well, and I agree to purchase a piece titled “Underwater Cave;” a small piece for my own collection, a 24” square aggressive abstraction. I snack, talk a bit and head home. Down on the street I follow the sounds of a muted trumpet located at 3rd and Chestnut. I put some coins in the box and ask the musician to play me some Miles. I lean against the corner of the building close my eyes and get lost in the wafting notes. The trumpet stops and the guy says “I knew a guy looked just like you.” He blew a few more notes and paused, “his name was Karl” …few more notes, “he lived in Morristown, NJ. …few more notes “he had a girlfriend named Susan McDonald” ...notes “his father was a politician.” … How do you know me I blurted out? “Don’t you know me Karl, I’m Clint, you never forget the people that you love.”

Thirty-one years ago I did live in Morristown, NJ, my girlfriend was Susan McDonald, and to a degree, dad, a law Professor at Rutgers Law School, was involved in politics. Clint was a guy I met and knew through Susan. It is a miracle to me that in the middle of a Friday night in Philadelphia, on the busy corner of 3rd and Chestnut, a guy that I knew Thirty-one years earlier as a commercial “floor-Waxer” could pick me out of the crowd. And, I had hair back then. Back in Motown, Clint would sit under an over pass by the train station and blow his trumpet into the wee hours of the morning. The miracle of my meeting up with Clint is dramatically compounded in that just two weeks prior, I had told my son a story about Clint and his Clarke floor waxing machine. That wicked machine all but killed me one afternoon. Like in a cartoon gone bad, Clint’s Clarke dragged me around like I was a ragdoll puppet. Clint yelling from the distance just let go! Just let go! Eventually I did, leaving a wake of destruction.

Recently, I’ve had Clint come by and play at few events, including this past First Friday. On a different occasion, Clint played here during a live painting performance by Jon Eckel. .

All things are possible. Miracles keep it interesting. With great anticipation I go through my days turning over rocks, looking to see what treasures will be unveiled. I expect “out of the ordinary” to show up. I’m rarely disappointed. In this, I am well acquainted with success.

Without clearly defined parameters, measuring success can be a difficult thing. While success is already achieved by someone reading these words, know that I want so much more. I want remarkable and measurable change to occur within the Philadelphia Art Community. I want Philadelphia painters to make money on a painting. I want a greater acknowledgement of Philadelphia artists. I want the sustainable Philadelphia Art Community conversation to get much louder. I want the Philadelphia art scene to step into the light, out from the darkness of New York City’s shadow. I want the quality of Philadelphia art to climb higher and soar. Remember, I believe in miracles. Hey, I am all about the underdog. Truthfully, I do believe this to be a dynamic time. Considering the variables, I’m expecting dramatic things to occur.

It makes no sense. There is no money anywhere and Art schools continue to fill classes. “A” plus “B” does not equal “C.” and all that notwithstanding, young people are still enrolling in the art militia. With a promise of only “a hot and a cot” they still line up in droves to join the ranks. Economically, it seems impossible that we continue to create enough demand to support this level of supply.

Despite an unstable and slumbering economy, we continue to invest in a commodity with seemingly limited returns. Delving into art isn’t for the short distance runner. Faith and conviction are requisite in this religion. We are a peculiar people, those of us who are sustained by miracles. Based on present economic variables, strictly by the numbers, the Philadelphia Art Market struggles to survive with limited future growth potential. Thank goodness for the limitlessness of possibility. Hey, I know, it’s not enough just to count on the miracle, like Liam Dean, we have to apply the shoe leather principle, due diligence and self promote.

Oh, back to my pebble story. Much later on, I found out it was my mother that changed my pebbles for the coins. If my mom blessed me so wonderfully with coins, I believe for greater and more abundant things from my Creator. Now, I have a significant cache of remarkable paintings and I’m saying to everyone that will listen. These paintings are going to turn into relationships! One relationship and painting at a time.

Doug Webster, newest member of the Knapp Gallery Family has recently purchased “Red and Black” painted by Petros Pappalas. Petros is a young Philadelphia painter. I introduced Doug to Petros a while back when Petros first started the painting. Doug was smitten long before this painting was complete. Doug is a friend and an awesome guitarist. He loves art and is a modest collector, his collection including a few paintings by yours truly. I’ve known him for years. It was wonderful thing being able to fit him with the Pappalas painting.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

First Friday "Two for One"

Raised in Fairfield County, Connecticut, I hold a certain revere and disdain for New England. Albeit a love-hate relationship, it was home. Though, home has lots of meanings; knowing how you’ll be received suites for the time being. A Black youth growing up in lily white Redding, CT during the late 60’s and 70’s should be sufficient fodder for the imagination. With the exception of a few transient minority families, the Slocum’s, Michael, Karl and Lisa were it. To this quaint suburban community set so safely apart from reality, my siblings and I existed as the minority example, the embodying definition of “black.” Suffice it to say, I did my time and paid my dues. Aware of my surroundings, understanding my role, I made due. Graduating high school in 1977, I went far away to college.

I took notice of the return address when the mailman dropped off the package. I wasn’t fast to open the oversized envelope. I set it off to the side for a few days. Acknowledging my connection to the address stirred within me copious dormant memories. Unresolved and dark tendrils gripped at my heart. I was anxious. Hailing from New London, Connecticut, artist Brian Smith sought Philadelphia representation at the Knapp Gallery. Here I sat in the Director’s Chair thirty plus years later, seemingly cutoff from the past, yet Connecticut, like a hound dog chasing a rabbit, relentlessly pursued me. In an instant, I was transported, tumbling back through time and space. Opening Brian’s submittal was like going home, driving down familiar roads, reacquainting the sights and smells of my youth. To a degree, like the aroma of a mother’s cooking, I associated Brian’s imagery, palette and vision with going home.

Obviously, amidst my decision making to show the work or not, it was not enough that Brian’s art was from Connecticut. Certainly, serendipity has its place, but context is king. Contextually, Brian’s paintings speak volumes of their existence. A dream-like, rainy day nostalgic and melancholic chord permeates the drip laden and dark imagery. We are caught up in a waltz without meter, at first losing step while seeking then finding a distant and muffled rhythm. Bold yet raw imagery of form and figure are opposed by creation; each striking at conflict while gravitating towards harmony. Within this duality emerges a subtle tension that keeps us suspended; a long breath holding, the exhale acknowledging the moment. Brian’s images demand “buy-in”; a response. Justifiably so, good art should elicit a response. This response, good or bad, creates and cements our connection to a painting or an entire body of work. In the end, the rewards of our emotional and financial investments are substantiated by painters returning to studios and starting anew.

Coming up out from my slumber, a nostalgic driven sleep, I am remotely aware of my surroundings; though the sounds of Philadelphia quickly resolve my disorientation. Clarity comes; a coexisting past and present as the resolution to the riddle. How sublime, creating a singular vision from bi-polar realities. Putting meat to this bone was easy.

R. Michael Walsh, a veteran painter here at Knapp, needed a ride north to deliver a commissioned painting to Rebecca Knapp, the boss. It was her birthday and Walsh had been work diligently on a huge lion painting (48”x 84”) for nearly two months. Arriving at his apartment/studio Michael shows me another painting he’d been working on, this monstrous stained glass dip-tik 96”x 120” that all but comes to life and says “hey man I’m standing right here in front of you.” Anyway, Michael and I loaded the truck, battled wind and rain delivering his beast to the boss on time. Timing is everything.

Nearly 2 a.m., after the other guests had left, Walsh and I sat in the heated spa talking over a pending sale of one of his paintings. Reminded of the monster painting back at his studio, slowly, silently the plan, like a wind sail, began to unfurl its breadth in my mind. Catching the wind, I was carried away by the force of creation. By morning I was committed. It would be Smith and Walsh First Friday – “Two for one.”

Like Connecticut and Pennsylvania are light years apart, so too are Smith and Walsh bipolar in their approaches to their crafts. Walsh is meticulously fastidious in his process and delivery. And while one might expect a tightness to emerge from this dogmatic formula, the layering aesthetic of Walsh’s pensive and spiritually charged surrealist renderings evidence a freedom sought by many abstractionists.

“Recently my subject matter has become simplified to a combination of iconographic animals and symbols. I assign different roles through the representation of animals as humans, as spiritual idols, and the traditional use as submissive workers. They are depicted with human characteristics and emotions, particularly a passive sadness, for example: a longing pelican in search of companionship. Elephants and rhinos, which normally symbolize strength, are conversely depicted as soft and demure. I also juxtapose animals as idols with other material objects, which may represent deities.” R. Michael Walsh

Conclusively, a line of demarcation exists between my painters in style, process and presentation; almost as different species or races. Initially, I thought Smith would hang in the front with Walsh in the back. So accustomed to societal norms, we overlook the subtleties that encroach and govern our everyday environments and decision making. Reminded of my youthful struggles as ‘the odd kid out,” I cringed at having to accept and acquiesce to the normalcy of this traditional dividing and segregating of gallery space; so sedentary and predictable. Seeking the realization of emancipation, symbiosis even, I’ve decided on a side by side approach. Charged by the boss to “take risks,” I will step up to the plate and swing the bat of change.

This First Friday, the Knapp Gallery hangs “Two for one,” a unifying integration of process and presentation towards one end; freedom.