Monday, September 12, 2011

He’s back -They’re back; The Dynamic Duo Strike Again.

Chris Callahan comes to town and things always get exciting; it just what he brings. Success with Chris validates our proven formula: Offer each collector, each designer, business or homeowner only world class art - priced realistically and an accessible committed painter. We’ve sold 13 Callahans. Above and beyond gallery sales, I own 9 in my personal art collection. I’ll only exhibit paintings that I’m willing to buy. Just by the numbers, Callahan is my number one painter. Facts are facts; truth.

My standard definition of truth is that which can’t be denied. The absolute nature of truth demands a volitional response. Usually on a grand stage, observance of truth causes change. The value of truth, as a commodity, however is difficult to assess. Our Investments, whether be it our time or other resources, acknowledge our priorities. Acquisitions of our treasures reveal the true nature of our hearts. Whether we are poor or “blessed” with means, this account reconciling holds true; more truth.

Present truth - collector and buyer activity in Philadelphia’s Fine Art Community, at the local gallery level, is near non- existent; near extinction. Galleries are closing as we speak. Confirmed closing of Philadelphia’s “long-term” institution, the Sande Webster Gallery, is endemic of our current plight. And as the existence of our galleries wane, the “Co-op” gallery remains seemingly the last avenue for artists to “buy” exhibition space. On the average, the co-op artist here in Philadelphia is spending $1,200.00 yearly to exhibit their art for a month, once a year. In Philadelphia, there exists a unique division of perspective regarding our Fine Art Community.

I’m not the only one believing there is a disparate and significant gap between what is viewed as Philadelphia’s thriving Art community and the reality at street level. The Art community at the other end of town vastly differs than the face of our art community here in Old City. The tourist visiting the Art Museum and soon to be Barnes Foundation sees and views these as the wealthy components of a sound infrastructure; Philadelphia’s visual arts scene with theater and Live Entertainment is not a catch-all including Fine Arts. Our healthy list of Art Schools would lend one to believe we as an art community harvest a fair percentage of these graduating students.

The misnomer – “there are many young artists here in Philadelphia” - is born of undeniable truth. Scratching below the surface reveals greater truths. Despite increased enrollment at Moore, Tyler, PAFA and others, Philadelphia relinquishes that youthful population to attrition. Sales-Dollars expended in yearly graduate shows from these schools are in-house and alumni specific, students take their share of the proceeds as they leave across the state line, the schools portion remains within the institutions, seemingly islands unto themselves. Consequently, this money never reaches the street-level Philadelphia Fine Art Community. In a piece I wrote early in 2009 called “Support our Troops” I noted the efforts of Ryan Buffington, MFA student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in his attempt at making some in-roads here in Philadelphia. Ryan recently graduated taking his near twenty thousand dollars in sales from the “annual” graduation exhibition back home with him to Utah. Before hitting the highway, he came by to share his good fortune and to verify the veracity of the many conversations we had shared over the past two years. “There is nothing to keep me here. There are no income or career generating opportunities that can entice me to stay.”

Consensus among Philadelphia’s gallery directors and owners attributes decline of our gallery presence with limited career building and income generating opportunities for the young artist here in Philadelphia. The subsequent and resulting weakened Philadelphia Fine-art infrastructure negates contiguous sales of Philadelphia-made artwork. Philadelphia’s remnant professional painters suffer from limited exhibition spaces. Buyer and collector confidence at a minimum, in part because of it close proximity to New York, weighs in the balance as root issue in our re-birth. New York, by virtue of its long running history as the heart of the World’s art market with seemingly unlimited exhibition opportunities, despite the universal effects of a downturned economy gets the Lion share of “Collector Confidence.“ Consequently, selling the $10,000.00 painting is the exception rather than the norm. Re-gaining confidence in “Philadelphia-Made” art is JOB One.

Roger Lapelle of the Lapelle Galleries and I talk a bit. We agree times are tough. We also agree our collective efforts in holding off the demise of Philadelphia street level Gallery are not in vain. Lacking exhibition spaces Philadelphia artists are left with slim and alternative means of showing their work. An exhibiting here at Knapp took to me to a fitness club downtown that showed art by many Philadelphia painters. Bottom line, high end art here in Philly is channeled through non- conventional means. Lobbying local businesses to exhibit Philadelphia-made art is foremost on the agenda of all Philadelphia artists. Window dressing at Daffy’s the same.

Personally, my treasures lie in my art collection, including 10 paintings by Ashley Flynn, 9 mono-prints and two paintings by Alfred Ortega, the aforementioned 9 Callahans, 10 awesome collages (a complete single body of work) by Linda Garfield; ones, twos and threes by Matt Baumgardner, Petros Pappalas, Marjorie Grigonis, Nancy E. F. Halbert, Liam Dean. A small collection by many standards, these paintings reflect my personal commitment to art, and on a micro level, my commitment to Philadelphia-Made Art.

I am not alone. Local collectors JR and Traci Wolbert demonstrate similar commitment. On a larger scale, actually more like the type of commitment we’ve seen down through history; seemingly, average everyday folk, yet with some silent hidden agenda. There are always stories behind art acquisitions, beyond the typical gallery sale. We have all heard and know the big art acquisition stories. Hey, we are Philadelphia; the infamous Barnes acquisition is history. The Dr. Barnes - Violette de Mazia story is history. These are facts; more truth. The bible says that a storm first announces itself in a distant rain cloud. Today, Traci and JR are that rain cloud; even a rain cloud of hope. If the best ingredients make the best cake, these two neo-philanthropists are Philadelphia’s best ingredients for change, for rebirth, for renewal. They do things differently, methodical with intent. Regularly, you will see Traci carrying bags of lettuce for Benjamin, her black rabbit, but trust me she is on a mission infinitely more significant. JR, seemingly nonexistent, like a vampire, shows up only after dark. They are a different breed. In fulfilling their vision, they search for truth. Someday, a by-line in Philadelphia history will recount their efforts as the nudge that breathed life back into Philadelphia Fine Art.

An Old Testament theme, “And their word is their bond,” seems an appropriate foundation for their house of reform: One’s word as their bond - one’s “word” as binding, like that of a contract. A concept and notion quite remote from our current waffling of values, JR and Traci are big on integrity. Albeit often misunderstood these two altruists are about fulfilling a vision they have for Philadelphia. Their commitment to deliver us a “new” Art Community, though seemingly a soft peddle is firm and in your face. They evidence this commitment in both word and action. Like strong current that runs deep, their quiet influence already apparent in their ability to rally believers to the beat of their drum. Power and influence is often demonstrated in non-traditional methods in bringing people together.

Likewise, JR and Traci employ such non-traditional measures, recently promoting an impromptu MS benefit event at the Swanky Bubbles and the Dalet Gallery; the dynamic duo shelled out $25,000 to resident Russian painter Valera Ishikov $25,000 and of the Dalet Gallery and $6,600 to Oliver Wright. Not a lot of bells and whistles or press just a grass roots approach to bringing people together; just results. The “Dynamic-Duo” is results-oriented. Demonstrative of a monster sized commitment to the Philadelphia art scene, it is impossible for me to stand aside impassively and not comment on what is happening in my backyard. After all, what occurs over on 2nd street has a dramatic impact on my economy here on 3rd street. Seemingly single-handedly, the Duo is supplanting status quo expectations with redefined tenets of acceptability. What is acceptable?

Acceptable is the notion that Philadelphia “Arts and Culture” would take on a sense of inclusivity. Acceptable is an open dialogue with Philadelphia’s decision makers towards healing our ailing Old City Art District. Community action organizations notwithstanding, Old City Arts needs help from downtown; in fighting and squabbling over street vendor presence as a deterrent to tourism here in Old City is endemic of our fractured and myopic perspective. The significant disconnect between the money makers and the decision makers are apparent in our limited, discounted and impotent voice. On numerous occasions I’ve contacted Mayor Nutter’s office with proposals of change; no response. Not deterred easily, I have personally walked through the doors of the “Arts and Culture” office, Headed by Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer. Never available to receive me, I sent my proposals by hand with new “golden” boy Elijah Dornstreich of the Fourth Wall Art Salon. Steuer’s reply required the document be condensed into bullet form. Complying, I’ve still not received a response.

The document presented developed an industry utilizing exclusively the graduates of Philadelphia’s Art Institutions:

The New Philadelphia Fine-Art Registry
White paper – Draft
Long Term Proposal: Accommodating MFA post graduation attrition

Philadelphia’s significant concentration of Fine-Art Schools lacks sufficient back up in career building opportunities for its MFA graduates. Consequential loss of potential “professional” artists has stymied growth and tainted the reputation of Philadelphia’s “Fine-Art” Community. At street level this translates into limited art buyer/collector confidence.

• Establish and promote the “Philadelphia Fine-Arts Registry.”
• Establish and publicize an annual Economic Development Grant funding source-based on a “Training” initiative.
• Create 5 municipally owned or business cooperative “Exhibition” spaces for Registry members called registrants.
• Create a self-contained registrant managed and marketed City-Wide industry with “Genuine- Philadelphia – Made” branding.

Philadelphia Fine-Art Registry is an internet searchable repository of MFA graduates and houses the components of a new municipal self-contained and self-sustained industry. Operating funds from exhibition admissions, membership dues, painting sales and printing sales maintain employment generating opportunities for registrants. The registry increases undergraduate and post graduate art school enrollment.

As an Economic Development Tool, Philadelphia Fine-Art Registry qualifies for federal and or state training funds/grants. Training funds entice relocating firms, offset costs of workforce training, provides registrant employment opportunities and generates municipal publicity.

Registry Galleries guarantee registrants’ exhibition space, employment opportunities, additional municipal revenue, increased First Friday traffic, a wider commerce perimeter and increased tourism opportunities. Alternative Registry exhibition spaces are developed through participating businesses.

Introducing “Genuine- Philadelphia – Made” branding /marketing establishes significant registrant employment /revenue generating opportunities, promotes the MFA initiative, increases municipal publicity and promotes tourism.

Chris Callahan and many other “Outsider” Journeymen painters here in Philadelphia are not products of our Art Schools. However, they make up the bulk of our professional representation. JR will tell you Callahan and Valera are his two heavyweights, owning a few by each painter. JR’s support of Callahan and Valera’s artwork evidences commitment at the local level. In His way of thinking, like a boxing match, JR would like to see a public face off between the two. In his truth, he believes these two painters are two contenders for the history books.

It is impossible to not take notice of a Chris Callahan. Truth - Callahan paints like a maniac. He paints like there is no recession, as if he were a $300,000.00 dollar a year painter. He paints large, uses lots of paint and paints non-stop. In his exhaustive studies of a subject, theme or geometry I have seen Chris paint 7, 8 and nine paintings of what some would seem to think are the same painting; trust me, they are not. Dogmatic in his doctrine, Chris, like a preacher, drives home with assertiveness his contribution and commitment to the craft.

I am told there is no truth in art. Illusive in its value, we struggle to reconcile the intangibility fine art sales and notion of the Art Industry as a sustainable economic contributor. The numbers don’t lie. From the art materials industry, the art school industry through to the innumerable art professions there is an undeniable percentage of contribution to world, national and state economies; albeit and considered subsets of primary categories like Health, Finance, Entertainment. Despite History’s assertion - above certain income levels, art acquisitions make-up 15 to 35% of personal household budgets, there is a disproportionate perspective here in Philadelphia.

Choosing for art above other commodities, to a degree, a commitment borne of higher consciousness acknowledges the value of the lives of those creating the art. Despite our history which includes a genre appropriately named “The Philadelphia Impressionists,” we have waned in our regard and support of our roots. Our continuance and survival is contingent upon rebuilding our failing infrastructure. We need the JRs and Traci Wolberts now more than ever. It is impossible to escape the results of success. Success by nature is an attractant; folk gravitate to the successful, at least those that appear successful. While appearances can be deceiving, numbers don’t lie. Selling and buying paintings engenders confidence.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Razza and the Crates -

Hanging a "long distance" show is not without its unique challenges. There is always an unexpected. This phenomenon holds true with my Razza show.

It has been forever since I’ve seen this work. Ed Mero of PrestigeArt flew me to South Florida to see the “World of Razza”. His work hung at a museum, medium size galleries, schools and restaurants; we had dinner at an awesome Cuban Restaurant; stopping along the way to meet some of Eddie’s people. I saw remarkable art. At warehouse size galleries, art from Botero, Warhol, De Kooning, Modigliani and everybody in between; South Beach, Ft. Lauderdale to Miami. From wholesale to retail to private dealers, I peeked and pushed. Hitting it hard, day and night we pounded away painting by painting. One will be amazed when peering into the nook and crannies while at special places. Looking at tons of art dealers, Eddie’s tour of Arts in Miami was without equal. I saw it from the inside out. At one particular wholesaler, this cat had art from floor to ceilings, like 14 ft ceilings awesome art starting from $500.00 to $1,500,000.00. Razz’a work hung on walls along with all your conceivable heroes. Eddie’s tour reminded me that art mostly is a meritocracy. One must earn ones way to the wall.

Today, only a day away from game day, I’ve spent a few hours hanging the work, work that I have not seen in what seems like years. Tossing around jpegs is nothing like the real thing. As a painter, Razza gives it all to you. You can’t see that in a photo. There are multi elevations to each painting because of the thickness of the paint skins. The “Gearilla” paintings are demonstrative in their gearness, just as the paint skins are also in their silkyness. In their own rite, these are the most luscious paintings you want to imagine.

Here are a few photos just out of the crate.

Oh, the crates!!! That was the unexpected thing! The crates are too big to fit in the basement. I'll have to figure that out inb the morning.

Al Razza - Enough Said

For Immediate Release
Contact: Karl Slocum

The Knapp Gallery Presents:

Razza In “New Work”

First Friday Opening: May 6th, 2011
Exhibition Dates: May 6th – May 29th, 2011
Artist Reception: Sun. May 7th (1pm – 4pm)

I’ve seen Razza’s work hang alongside Chagall, early Warhol and other masters, both old world and contemporary. His imagery, vision and sense of color command our committed acknowledgement.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

MZB - Paint by Color - Part 3

At what point are you willing to put your beliefs on the line and vote with your feet? You know, stake all with no safety net; put all your chips on one number? Sound a bit dramatic? Life is dramatic. Well, that’s where we are. Margaret Zox Brown’s Paint by Color exhibition is the dividing line of my career. Clearly my last two blog entries regarding this body of work evidence significant literary departure from my standard critiquing format. Why the change? Choice. When finally we are willing to risk all for our beliefs, passion becomes the mainstay of our diet. Why else offer our necks to the guillotine?

Only the Director here at Knapp, I am responsible for carrying out the directives of the owners, Barclay and Rebecca Knapp. And While I enjoy certain measures of autonomy, keeping these privileges requires results and execution of their vision. Forsaking safety, protocol and possibly relationship, in the name of exceptional art, I have made an executive decision that is outside their consent. The Knapp’s like Margaret’s paintings a lot, however with the caveat that they are expensive for the Philadelphia market.

Holding to my Grandfather’s adage, “No risk no reward,” I have placed my head into the mouth of the lion. Forging ahead, without the Knapp’s blessing, contrary to their vision, I have hung Margaret’s show. No, this is not blatant disregard for their authority. I have remarkable regard and respect for their perspective. I am more than appreciative of the opportunity they hey provided for me, and their trust in me to meet the responsibilities of my position. This is not a struggle for power. This is however an exercise in “voting with my feet.” Putting oneself in Harm’s way demonstrates commitment. In the end, isn’t that what making art is all about; a demand for a committed response.

An outspoken champion for the Philadelphia artist, I find in remarkably ironic that it is for a New York painter that I have drawn my line in the sand. Ultimately, the line represents great art. If I am not willing to take a hit for world class art, than I need a new occupation. Let’s get serious. This is about livelihood, for the artist, the gallery – everyone involved. There is no time for passivity. As a Director, I would be remiss if I withheld this exhibition from Philadelphia based on price alone. Is Philadelphia worthy of my commitment? I don’t know. In the end, I have to face myself in the mirror and live with my decision.

My decision, more than being about Philadelphia, is about the value of fine art and the opportunity to promote the finest artwork available. Folks, in my estimation, this is some of the finest art available. I am staking my reputation on it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

MZB - Paint by Color - Part 2

Margaret’s work arrived about an hour ago. In an instant the world came to a standstill; all else has been put on hold. While the paintings are leaning against the wall, patiently awaiting their imminent wall positioning, I sit on the floor as a parent with an infant. I caress the paint as if to convey my affection; their warm glow satisfying my need for acceptance. Still in contact with the ground, not yet exalted, they maintain an element of settledness; at rest. The remainder of the day, I can’t do much else than just walk around gawking at my treasure; my pieces of gold. They are all mine, well, at least for a month.

I had forgotten the richness, the luster and depth of the paints application. It has been more than a year since I first stood in Maggie’s New York studio. That day, literally I wept at the enormity of the well from which I had been called to drink; her delicate hand on my shoulder, acknowledging the moment’s power. This is the meat of my memory; remembering the moment. Briefly, we stood silent, Maggie and me, sharing the dynamics of our fortuitous meeting. It is all about the moment.

Resigned to the facts, we are held to the arithmetic of our existence. A moment is passed seemingly before it has begun. Back in mid ’09, MZB seized her moment; it was First Friday here in Old City Philadelphia. With confident strides she walked into the gallery and up to me asking if I was Karl, the Director. Barely had I made the acknowledgement before she deftly interjected how her work met our vision at the Knapp Gallery and that her work fit. With pointed and final punctuation - “I want you to exhibit my work here.”

Good Paintings, just like profound words, beyond description only, make account of significant moments. We are amidst one such moment. Outside, we await yet another winter storm, some believe of blizzard proportions. However, the golden-white-hot-yellow hue of MZB’s palette shines brightly from within this space, as if the Knapp Gallery had captured the sun. Taking in this brilliant light, a radiant glow tuned keenly to a wavelength akin to 1000 watts, we are bathed continuously in a visceral and visual balm; yes there is healing.

Maybe that’s what’s so taking about these paintings and the vessel by which they were painted. Beyond the color, the love, the care, there is a remarkable profound sense and understanding of light.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Margaret Zox Brown - Paint by Color

For Immediate Release
Contact: Karl Slocum
267 455 0279

Exhibition Dates: February 4h – February 27th, 2011
First Friday Opening: February 4th from 6:00 – 9:30 pm
Artist Reception: Sat. February 5th, 2011 (1pm – 4pm)

(Philadelphia) – The Knapp Gallery continues its tradition of First Friday openings and welcomes Margaret Zox Brown in her solo exhibition, Paint by Color. Her work hanging in nearly 75 private collections, and many institutions, Margaret, MZB , or Maggie, depending on your relationship, has command of her craft. Paint by Color a reference to “paint by number”, says exactly what she means; color is everything.

MZB’s focal point and journey is the exploration of color. All else is tangential. Not diminishing the power of their content, her imagery, objects of subject and matter are near incidental; though always familiar, subject/object are revealed through journey of the paint on the canvas and color. Resulting opportunities, imagery becomes ancillary vehicles by which accentuating color is dispersed, often an exercise in dispelling traditional ideals of the still life. Intellectually, color as object illuminates the spirit, soul or grace an object’s line.

Painting the reflection of her essence, gifted with the ability to translate and interpret the very nature of her character, emotions, likes and dislikes, through color she disrobes for us layer after layer, exposing an intimate glimpse into her makeup.

Color as an expression, an intimate language, her language, character by character, symbology dripping with life, connotation and immediacy, we are drawn into latent memory through visually stimulated - olfactory cognition. Maggie’s coloring conjures up definitive and familiar scents of our lives and existence; prescribing the hue of the human condition. Glimpses of divine light, lost in revelry, transported to and fro by waves of refraction, inhaled through ocular fragrance, we are immersed into the sensual, even the melancholy.

Is that all there is, pigmentation, light’s frequency and wavelength? Color, the “tool” fundamental to her ethic, beyond the mechanics of her craft, transmits resolve or lack thereof seemingly codified into arithmetic expressions, (Freedom = honesty + integrity). Near infinite in their values, albeit with minimal references, Margaret cleverly unfolds space within space; a table’s corner defined by only gesture, a suspended stool, grounded by only minutiae -pads of color. Embedded systemic codes of gradation validate our finiteness, ken and even our limitations. Simultaneously, well defined transcended spectrums affirm the vastness of creation - reigned in only by utilitarian organic line, judicious line use exacting professional restraint; alas reality confirmed.

Enough with the safe version.

Beyond expected levels of enthusiasm, I'm jazzed and simultaneously taunted by these paintings. So far outside my comfort zone is Margaret's work that I am given pause. Normally drawn to edgier work, it became impossible to pass over this superior craftsmanship, to negate their precision; their mastery. Margaret’s ease of hand reconciles elusive nuance of mechanics, meter and ideas of purpose surrounding our craft. I have never known such beauty and struggle to set free a way of being that has governed a lifetime of denial.

Gracefully lacking pretension, by a whisper of silence, I am lulled, drawn to her altar of peace; beauty abounds. Oh, that this paradigm might last. Ripped from Dream's revelry, illusions of peace an affront to my frenetic paranoid sensibilities; I am challenged by silence, more so by the appearance of silence cloaked in peace. Notions of calm, well outside my understanding, I am weary of Greeks bearing gifts. My unrest is at issue. I am helpless against such weapons of resolve.

MZB’s Paint by Color body of work, beyond piquing my curiosity, mystifies and confuses my want for closure, justice and reverse vindication. Devoid of blemish, I seek but find no error, crack or imperfection. I scoff at the brilliance; disdain prevailing. A skeptic by nature, I kick out in disbelief and resist yielding though know it is futile; beauty somehow overtaking my sense of filth and loathing.

Unsatisfied is my flesh in its hunger for satisfaction. I thrash about seeking the source of my screams and cries of anxiety. Shrieks for acknowledgement and liberation pierce me through exposing my evil desire to revel in their pain and anguish; from whence cometh this bent on destruction? Appalled, my wretchedness is ever-present; how the darkness blinds me. Elusive is my want for gratification, bi-polarity demanding its tax; Beauty's opposing realities of stench, grime and discontentedness.

How dare the light dwell just beyond my grasp?

Wanting respite from the deafening cacophony, looking to my cache of Brown laden imagery, out from under Calamity's heap, reaching, I grasp for her hand of peace, if only momentarily, knowing full well the imminence and appointed growl of life’s lingering wolves from beyond the door.