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.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Clean your glass!

Back in the day, I was a serious cigar smoker, smoking three to four cigars a day. Frequent smoking within the confines of my pickup truck rendered the windows translucent with an ashen film. Over time visibility became compromised. My daughter Karli, not one to hold her tongue, would berate me, “Daddy, you need to clean your glass! “ I would take exception just on GP, though ultimately grateful for the miracle of Windex and her reminder. Clarity is not to be taken for granted.

Renewed clarity has indefinable value. Numerous derivatives of the theological notion “tableau rasa,” a blank slate, level playing field, fresh beginnings, attest to this claim. Rid of our presumptions, expectations and the plethora of preconceptions that govern our perspective, we can embrace the totality of the blank slate. I’ve had lots of help keeping my glass clean. In fact, art, like Windex, has remarkable cleansing properties.

First Friday last, I hung a provocative show by Ashley Flynn. It was a defining moment for me. I was required to exercise choice. Had my glass been cloudy, I might have missed a “diamond in the rough” opportunity. No chance of that, Ashley’s work screamed and I heard it. It stood straight up and I embraced it; traditional Knapp Gallery art docile and pedestrian by comparison. The artist, a fourth year student at Moore College of Art and Design, was heralded by Philadelphia-based art critic, Libby Rosof, as unpredictable in the July 10th edition of her Blog “ "Art without borders –Ashley Flynn at Knapp.“

Embracing the essence of unpredictability carries us out beyond our comfort zone and makes us vulnerable. Oftentimes, the translucence of our visibility is self-imposed as a defense against such undesirable states. Ashley’s art made us vulnerable. Yet in that exposed condition, the human condition, confronting our weakened nature, something happened, we found healing. In that healing, I have found freedom. How about you? Transparency has its rewards. The two-sidedness of cleaned glass is nothing to fear; nor should the gallery experience be.

So, while the collective we tend to be put off by many traditional gallery environs, find comfort knowing the Knapp Gallery, under new direction, is redefining the Contemporary Art experience. Okay, so I have a sense of drama about me. It’s clear to me; freedom affords us a renewed sense of appreciation for awe and excitement. I’ve taken off the blinders. I can see again! I’m blaming it on Karli; she got me to clean my glass. So to get the party started, I’m declaring today “National Glass Cleaning Day.” All in favor?