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.”