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