Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grigonis & Kurtz: Found But No Less Valued

Dualism, the state of being two parts in one, often describes our dichotomous human nature. Some call it Yin and yang; others deem it a war between our coexisting egos and will. However you define it, looking down through the corridor of time, man has struggled within himself coming to terms with his two divergent natures; bipolarity to a degree. This innate duality, a built-in safety- mechanism keeps man in check with himself. Good art is about duality also. Maybe it is personal choice, likes and dislikes, but my synapses fire when I find strong tension in artwork; the balancing factor. An artist’s keen ability to apply bi-polar weight, creating a conversation through extremes, maybe even answers to questions, is a skill reserved for talented artists. This evident sophistication is the great divide between “fine art” and “art”. In the spirit of this lifelong conversation, the two man art show has always offered a challenge but also significant reward to art directors, artists and patrons; finding divergent but complementary themes and processes.

Katherine Kurtz and Marjorie Grigonis, in Found But No Less Valued, have created a grouping of paintings that begs investigation. At interest are their approaches, philosophies, mediums –the paths taken to achieve desired end results; minimalism countered by liberalism. The resulting visual aesthetic of the two extremes hanging together, in one space, is in itself an art form. Consequently, the painted works by Kurtz and Grigonis exist under the larger umbrella labeled Dualism; paintings within paintings.

Grigonis responded to pre-existing stimuli, while Kurtz, from her passion for the organics of fresh gesso began with the “fertile void”. Grigonis’ foundation material is a man-made semi-translucent film; Kurtz cotton duck. It became impossible not to consider the remarkable balance and possibilities. To the point of seduction, I have romanced notions and memories of infamous duets. Most artists want to fly solo. Change of faire also assures a healthy diet. Beyond the allure, in all fairness to Marjorie’s contribution, half of the paintings to be shown are also oil on canvas. By choice, not to diminish her complementary canvas work, I am only sharing about the work created on found material.

Beyond the mystery of two opposing worlds in one creating tension, I like it that the artwork stands on its own, pure cut – straight up major league hacks at the ball. I’m excited at what Marjorie and Katherine have done. Far beyond the simple notion of putting two artists together in the ring and for them to slug it out, we enjoy the choreography as a viable genre. Our two- man show, presented with intent is about so much more. I can’t sing a note, even if it were to save my life. I can however look at two artists and their work and weave a tale of connectedness. I am drawn to parings. Back in Aug ’09, I hung an awesome show with R Michael Walsh and Brian Smith. My group- show hanging presently, with the exception of two paintings, is a premier of my 2011 calendar. While there is a harmony throughout the work, demonstrative of our sound vision, tension remains the preferred faire.

Interestingly, Marjorie is a deconstructionist. She likes to put material on and take it off. These new paintings called her out of her comfort zone, even to the point of paralysis. Painting on unfamiliar material, semi-translucent vellum, an evident tension shows up in visual operatic balance – a melancholic yet
gay waltz between the painted and the unpainted. We, Marjorie and I, both capitalized on a God-sent opportunity to share some new material for her to paint on. I am the foremost blessed recipient of this miracle. I’ll stop with the mystery, I feel like telling a story anyway.

One late evening, walking to the corner market, I found a roll of vellum /Mylar with printed architectural / topographical elevations on them; nearly 20 twenty 36” by 48“sheets. There were some larger sheets also. Clearly, for an artist, this was a veritable gold mine. The wanna-be part time painter that I was at the time saw this as a gift from heaven; a new intriguing material to paint on. I imagined the blending of the organics of paint with this semi transparent rigid and rendered material. There was something slick about it. Outside of normal conclusions, I carried my new found quarry home and dreamed of the possibilities. .

Excited, I called Marjorie to come see the “find.” She was equally stoked. She blessed me for the find however making we swear with reverential deference that I would set the Mylars off to the side. Readiness would require a significant dose of
patience. I agreed, it was best to let things lay for a bit. At the right time, a positive direction would reveal itself. They, the Mylars stayed rolled up under my bed until about 8 months ago. Wanting for a greater appreciation of Life’s simple things, I was cleaning out the extra, the stuff, the dross in my life. There is always a physical act in exercising our internal slag. I was downsizing, simplifying, living with less. I called Marjorie to come get the Mylar.

Marjorie was already slated for the November slot with Katherine. We had already discussed the plan to act aggressively. I had already given Marjorie the “I want you used up when we get to show-time” speech and saw this as an opportunity to get Marjorie to shift gears and give me a body of work on the mystery vellum material. She was quick to jump in. She bought her Husband Jim over to the gallery pick up the stuff. We were all excited at the possibilities.

Consequently, this is an extra special exhibition. We are generating new energy in our troika of giving –a three-in-one-collaboration. “Gifted material – gifted material gifted to artist – gifted artist gifting transformed material into gifts for viewers”. Witnessing this dramatic progress and giving the first “amens” has truly been a remarkable and special gift. Like witnessing the birth of a child, this is one of the many blessings we get in life when we trust enough to treasure relationships. I treasure my relationship with Marjorie and now also her husband Jim.

On many occasions, Marjorie I have gone to see performances of the Dumpsta Players , at Bob and Barbara’s, a unique gathering of souls at 1509 South St. This sharing has brought us close together. We had met nearly a year ago through the gallery and developed a wonderful liking of the other. Calls from Marjorie are uplifting, her impromptu gallery visits, the same. So, from time to time, I had fielded questions about the vellum/Mylar. From questions to a visible answer; here we are. Beyond my hallelujahs, without blasphemy, I want to call this experience magical; I do believe in miracles. My sister says I have a unique gift - I think about things and they happen. They manifest the
mselves in many forms, a fore-thought scenario, a want or need materializing at the right time; even mystery vellum material as the foundation of a cooperative exercise. I am not surprised by what has occurred. A die-hard romantic, I love the drama of this story; “Abandoned material is born again”. I believe in “one horse –one rider”.
That’s Karl’s way of saying things work out if destined; a divine tethering. There is a lot of faith behind that.

Now, looking at Marjorie paintings, I am appreciative of her precise yet free dissections of the printed components of the Mylar’s into definable and substantiated elements. She has gracefully even instinctually created a system of valuation for the elements. In her simplicity, yet with an accompanying maturity, she affords us clarity into the gross value of these renderings, despite their devaluation from the abasement of their abandonment. The act of salvaging and restoring the Mylars adds dimension to the work. Our human want and need for salvation and redemption is manifested the- the proverbial second chance, is at issue here. The Mylar’s have been redeemed. The reborn and redefined net value is edified in the rescue.

Assimilation may best describe Marjorie’s unique skill of spooning alongside the parameters and constructs set by the architectural and topographical renderings; far afield from her accustomed way of being. Beyond a Tour de Force, Marjorie redefines her ability to assess the value of external stimuli while countering with a complementary contribution. Stepping lightly,
she has co-created with a sense of invisibility. I hate words that sound fancy. Synergy, however, is a word that comes to mind, but describes well the evident symbiosis between material and artist. Marjorie excels at being open in her search for growth. We are far away from where I met and developed my initial relationship with Marjorie – man it doesn’t get any better than this. This is what I seek in my selection of art, a nurtured intimacy through relationship.

As Head Chef, here at Chez Knapp, a select cut of intimacy spiced strongly with tension and a side of “edgy” is my house special. See, this is getting down to it. My job is to set the banquet table from which my owners and patrons will feast. Nuisance, purpose and presentation must all work together. I am very specific in my decision making. Any artist that I hang, even those that don’t, will tell you I’m not always the easiest to get along with. As much as the process will allow, however daunting, I am about knowing my artists and my art. Artist - Art Director relationships can get tough. I have turned away good art lacking for opportunity to develop relationship. This is the art that I am hanging. This is art that I know. In defense of this need to know and experience my art, I’ve even made a studio visit to Brasil, on my dollar.

It is beyond explanation. Great art does that to you. Here is a test, “How far are you willing to go to get a good body of work?” Considering budgetary constraints … the whole nine, great art will take you out of your comfort zone. Since my installment in the Director’s Chair back in April-March ’09, everything has changed. The wicked learning curve has chipped away at the rough edges of my preconceptions. Including perspective and even my temperament, I am a different cat. I’m not saying I have the answers, I don’t. I’ll tell you what I have. I have art that talks; art that tells story. At one level, under scrutiny from both intimate encounters and also a bird’s eye view, I know the story of art being produced in a few small but significant pockets of Philadelphia’s “fine art” community.

My relationship with Katherine is remarkably different, not as intimate, and infinitely more intellectual, opposite of the spirituality shared with Marjorie. Just the other day, I heard the expression opposites attract. Eu concordo (I agree). Somehow, the balance shows up in the middle.

Katherine and I both enjoy the “studio visit”. Beyond sharing great art, the quality discourse is a remarkable attractant. Katherine, a practicing Gestalt Therapist, liking the clinical participation of painting as a tool, enjoys feedback. She doesn’t talk much about her art, desiring a work-based and demonstrably driven definitive efficacy. In the end, therapy is about results, specific results; increased quality of life. Art as a tool
to effectuate change through the clinical process is a conversation worth having. “…we let go of our own proscriptive thinking and then make possible the exploration and creation of new ways of being or dealing in the world… we access extra-cognitive information, melding feeling, sensory data, and imagination with thought into new ways of being. Gestalt therapy’s respect for images, dreams, nightmares, and humor is legendary, so it is no surprise to me that in my work as a clinician and in my life as a painter, I find much that overlaps.”

In an article I read, Katherine refers to the “fertile void” which is the repository of creativity and its possibilities that dwell deep within us. Including our problem solving potential, she applies gestalt therapy to the hurdles and obstacles that prevent us from accessing this place of plenty. Direction is a commodity, albeit intangible. The likes of Katherine will say that “direction” dwells in the fertile void. Getting to it is key and fundamental to our discussion. Finding direction in one’s creativity bank through clinical applications, like finding a pile of Mylar in the trash is beyond valuation. Found But No Less Valued is really about redefining our prescribed nomenclature in applying and affixing value to those things beyond our understanding. Art is beyond our understanding.

The “gestalt” for Katherine, beginning with elements of preparation through to completion of a painting is about problem solving; isolating truths form lies – the interference and even the demons that sap us of our productivity and sense of self. Overcoming creative paralysis, through learned behavior, is an acquired skill. All artists encounter paralysis at some point in their career. Overcoming the paralysis separates the successful from the rest. In this pairing between Katherine and Marjorie, if there is a point of commonality, a shared experience of the human condition, is our collective propensity to hit the proverbial “wall”. Marjorie too was paralyzed by the dictates of the Mylar. Katherine’s cognitive gestalt response to paralysis is very much a part of her creative process. Process oriented, seemingly religious in its receptiveness, Katherine’s clinical approach to life, her practice and painting is evident in the final product.

Katherine is liberal with her paint, building layer to layer – always layering with remarkable foundation and under-painting. Katherine’s overlay of the strong under-painting leaves a most desirable interfacing at the negative space line; nothing short of luscious. Early Diebenkorn –esque in the outcome, Katherine is not shy about saying she is a fan. I like that. There is no fear in influence. Strong lines move you around the canvas, strong in shapes of color- her pure abstract works hold a firm declarative territorial line, however sometimes softened with a blending of color and light.

Visiting Katherine, she showed three strong yet divergent paths of work. Traditionally, I would have chosen a definitive path, set and selected a number of paintings and went about my business. I liked the relationship between the works and opted to serve limited tastes of her three faces of painting.
Oddly, it is clear that with all my painters, I don’t subscribe fully over to their complete visual landscapes. However, with some painters I can go across the board with their work. This is a big point. Full disclosure requires I divulge my bent towards the controlling; at least in my want for certain selection autonomy, both with my owners and painters. Being able to serve up faire pleasing to the bosses has its rewards. Being able to discern taste is not a simple task. The Knapp’s give me a long leash. Sometimes I think I’m pulling hard by the tension I feel on my neck. That maybe my orientation only, nose to the ground, hot on the scent of growth.

Recently, with a small part played as MC in the Murals Arts Month - 4th Wall Arts Salon “Boutique” Salon, held on Saturday, October 9th, I said openly,”we may not make the most amount of money at this most difficult time in our economy, but we will not compromise. We will legitimize the Philadelphia artist and afford them increased opportunities to hang their work”. Barclay and Rebecca’s commitment to Philadelphia art is unrivalled in my first hand opinion. With historic proportions, the Knapp’s commitment to Philadelphia art, while serving in a different capacity, is equaled only by the City’s Mural Arts Program; Philadelphia’s most significant source of employment for Philadelphia artists. Jane Golden, matriarch and guardian of the world renowned Philadelphia Mural Arts Program may know more about Philadelphia artists than most aficionados. There is something more to say for intimacy.

This notion of artist-patron intimacy, at a very different level, has more value than all other conversations. 4th Wall Art Salon Co-founders Elijah Dornstreich, Keir Johnson and Alexandria Bradley Visual Art sponsors for the aforementioned Mural Arts “Boutique” Salon, share similar sentiments regarding their artist-patron relationships. It is more than having a finger on the pulse. Trying to get talent to the right places is not always an easy task, especially in Philadelphia. Our attention is divided. As Art Gallery Directors, Visual Art Sponsors and Art Program Directors, our collective responsibility and goal in dispelling unsubstantiated foreboding myths of Philadelphia’s artwork being of lesser quality is heralded by Jane’s seemingly single handed efforts to rid the city of graffiti. Naysayers have capitulated to the reputation of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. Jane Golden has put Philadelphia on the map in a worldwide way. Her voice, albeit from a small frame, is clear and resolute, commanding respect, admiration and awe.

There is momentum mounting. Along with me, there are clearly others also believing in the possibilities of Philadelphia Fine-Art scene. It may be the intimacy that we have with our artists, our relational knittedness here in the city that shapes and substantiates our “wholesale” value as a fine art community; the overriding reason that Philadelphia rightfully owns a place at the table of success.