Archive for Merrill Chase Galleries

In Pursuit of Nobility—The Art of Robert Kipniss

Posted in Artists, Robert Kipniss with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2010 by Park West Gallery

“The development of an ability to work from memory, to select factors, to take things of certain constructive values and build with them a special thing, your unique vision of nature, the thing you caught in an instant look of a face or the formations of a moment in the sky, will make it possible to state not only that face, that landscape, but make your statement of them as they were when they were most beautiful to you.”

—ROBERT HENRI (1865-1929) / Letter to the class, Art Students League (1915)

Robert Kipniss, Crossings II“Crossings II” by Robert Kipniss

As a young art student in Minneapolis one day in 1974, I experienced an artistic awakening. While wandering through an art display in a bank, I was touched by a singular work; a lithograph in dark tones of brown and green. I stopped, contemplated it for a moment and moved on.

A few minutes later I felt an urge to revisit that same work and see if I could ascertain what it was that had attracted me to it. I studied the work more carefully. In it, were a few small houses, nestled in a deep receding landscape. Trees appeared as well. Their leaves fluttered in a tangible and yet empty space, but there were no branches connecting them. As I viewed the work, I was overcome with a poignant feeling, a mood I could not associate, but felt nevertheless. I moved on to take in the remaining works by other artists in the exhibition, but I continued to feel a tug to return to that work again and experience its remarkable effect on me.

I went back yet a third time. This time, I slowed down and took in the composition, the technique used, the overall balance and order of the work. All these impressed me equally and served to heighten the mood I was experiencing at the same time. I took notice of the artist’s name then, finally. It was Robert Kipniss, American; born 1931. Little did I know at the time, what a profound aesthetic experience I had just encountered and what effect it would have on me for years to come.

Fast forward: years later. I had come to know Kipniss’ works intimately through my association with the Merrill Chase Galleries in Chicago, where I worked as Gallery Director. I had met him on several occasions and had become deeply attracted to his work. I had presented it to hundreds of collectors and observed close hand the remarkable effect his imagery had on people from all walks of life and at all levels of artistic sophistication. I had studied his history and was well aware of his extraordinary credentials, the awards and prizes he had attained and his extensive museum representation throughout the world. All of this made me a deep Kipniss fan, but I had another experience, one of which the teacher, painter and aesthetician, Robert Henri so eloquently spoke in his letter to the Art Student’s League of 1915, quoted above (ironically, where Kipniss studied also in the late 1940’s).

Robert Kipniss, Sentinels II“Sentinels II (first state)” by Robert Kipniss

It was a warm early autumn evening. I was relaxing outdoors sitting with family and friends and as dusk crept in, I was observing the sky through a close-knit group of trees a few feet from me. As I looked up I caught a moment of fleeting, transient beauty. The fading light had created a splash of leaf silhouettes flickering in the gentle wind. All I could see were the silhouettes of the leaves, without branches connecting them to the trees, the fluid dark trunks all set against a deep blue-grey sky.

It was, as I realized, a “living Kipniss moment.”

It occurred to me at that very instant that my experience was a reflection of the finest compliment to an artist that can ever be paid; my perception of nature, my experience, a visual miraculous moment, was enhanced and even attuned by my familiarity of Robert’s work. His “vision” had awakened my experience, allowed it to happen, and implanted more deeply my appreciation for life and the beautiful visual miracles that surround all of us continually, if we are only “in tune” enough to see them.

This phenomenon is not unfamiliar to Robert Kipniss. It is in effect that for which he strives.

He has said, “I may be painting trees and houses, but when I look at them, that’s not what I see. I see an atmosphere, a moment, a quickly passing experience that I’m trying to capture. My art is an art of intensity, of delving, of exploring the soul.”

The experience of viewing a Kipniss work is one which requires a determined engagement and attention on the part of the viewer. As I often say: “You have to go to great art. It doesn’t often come to you.” At first view, a Kipniss work may appear so subtle that one will walk right past it. But those who linger are rewarded.

His images draw us in with a confluence of impressions, personal associations and feelings only hinted at. Feelings which suggest past experiences derived from our own trace memories and perceptions of nature, remembered somewhere deep within us. We may not be conscious of these visual or immersive memories, but Kipniss’ works seem to psychologically engage us and pull these impressions forward into our conscious minds. Some say that the experience is “surreal.” Others call it a form of visual “déjà vu” as if they “remember” a scene, but can’t quite “put their finger on it.” His works have been called “imaginary landscapes,” “surrealist landscapes,” “dream landscapes” and “trance-like.” To Kipniss they are his means to, “grasp that which we can never possess, except for the moment.”

Although every work of art may be perceived and evaluated in terms of both its form and its content, in Kipniss’ work it is difficult to separate them. Much of the dreamlike and captivating quality of his works is derived from the absolutely meticulous compositions he constructs.

Every spatial, proportional, tonal, textural, and formal relationship in a Kipniss work is perfectly calculated and arranged. The eye feels no tension while moving through and into the illusionary spaces he constructs. Every element supports and engages another and another, which creates an overall effect of extreme ease and mystery at the same time. Renaissance painters would often refer to their painting compositions as “machines,” whereby every element would be tightly controlled, and “bolted” down to allow the work to “run” smoothly for the viewer. In Kipniss, they “purr” along in perfect balance and the longer we observe the more we “feel” his mastery in depicting mood and a sense of wonderment.

Robert Kipniss, Appoggiatura“Appoggiatura” by Robert Kipniss

Commenting on Kipniss’ works in a 2007 catalog, Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions for the Mississippi Museum of Art, Daniel Piersol observed, “The issues of time and place are subtly but unmistakably invested in every Kipniss image… his captivating images are not merely nostalgic; rather, they are freighted with a haunting reverie. Through his masterful use of subdued color and purposefully structured compositions, the painter controls the viewer’s ability to ‘read’ or comprehend his images, thereby causing one to linger before them.”

These compelling characteristics of his work are well suited to the challenging and highly demanding technique of mezzotint, which Kipniss has mastered and employed for decades. Few ever attempt it.

Briefly described, a metal plate is pitted across its entire surface by either using a “rocker” tool or by machine (which Kipniss prefers for predictability). The plate, if then printed, would produce a rich, velvety and solid black, characteristic qualities which are unique to the “alchemy” of intaglio printing. The artist then works the pitted surface with a burnisher, smoothing out areas so that the more he smooths the area, the less ink will reside in the pitted grooves and indentations and consequently print. The artist therefore, is in essence, working backward from dark to light. This laborious technique creates the broad tonal variations and dramatic contrasts which are important in Kipniss’ works and can be so effectively employed through the mezzotint process.

Kipniss commented as follows about the technique: “The nature of mezzotint is that it is about objects emerging from darkness, catching light and being defined by their shadows as well as by their highlights. If you wanted to do something lighter or airier, you would use a dry-point or lithograph. That’s what happens in mezzotint and is why I really fell so much in love with it. It enables me to achieve the density that frequently eluded me in lithography.”

In an age where so much of art has become concerned with creating something “new,” something “novel” and something which focuses more on definitions of what is and isn’t art, Robert Kipniss is an artist of immense rarity. It is refreshing to see his work so embraced by museums, galleries and collectors all over the world and a testament to the quality of his artwork and his enduring message.

To once again quote the words of Robert Henri, a legendary hero to those who devote their lives to the pursuit of aesthetic beauty, often at great struggle and personal cost:

“It is not too much to say that art is the noting of the existence of order throughout the world, and so, order stirs imagination and inspires one to reproduce this beautiful relationship existing in the universe, as best one can. Everywhere I find that the moment order in nature is understood and freely shown, the result is nobility.”

I invite you to take some time and enter into the world of Robert Kipniss’ art. I believe once therein, you will also be one who discovers “nobility.”

A Detroit Jewish News Exclusive

Posted in News Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Park West Gallery

PLATINUM: Decor – Art & Soul
Peek inside the personal collection of Park West Gallery’s director

Morris Shapiro, Detroit Jewish NewsMorris Shapiro sits in front of Le Marriage by Marc Chagall, a wedding gift Shapiro and his wife, MaryAnn, gave to each other. “The couple stands under the chuppah and surrounding them is a visual feast of celebration — dancers, musicians, friends, family and children,” says Shapiro. “His drawing talent was one of Chagall’s greatest gifts, and this work, absent of color, focuses the viewer on his extraordinary draftsmanship.” Photo credit: GENE MEADOWS

Written by KHRISTI ZIMMETH • The Detroit Jewish News

A large work by Marc Chagall hangs in the front hall of Morris and MaryAnn Shapiro’s Novi home.

“It’s definitely one of my favorites,” the 56-year-old Park West Gallery director says of Le Mariage, a 1976 aquatint framed in black that depicts a traditional Jewish wedding. “We bought it for each other as a wedding gift.”

A tour of the Shapiros’ contemporary home reveals more than 100 other works, all with personal meaning. Hanging over the living-room sofa is a large contemporary piece by Miro; and nearby, the small gold-framed Portrait of Jan Lutman the Goldsmith is by Rembrandt. In the family room, a large piece by Detroit artist Marcus Glenn hangs over the fireplace. Other walls hold a Matisse-like drawing, works by 1998 World Cup artist Linda LeKinff and mysterious and otherworldly images by New York artist Robert Kipniss. Many share Shapiro’s Jewish heritage.

“I don’t have a traditional art collection, per se,” he explains. “I’m immersed in art. My collection is eclectic and based on personal experiences and relationships with artists. Each means something special to me.”

Working with Southfield’s 63,000-square-foot Park West Gallery has enabled Shapiro to meet many of the artists whose work now hangs in the home he shares with MaryAnn and 14-year-old daughter Amanda. Three other children – Mia, Myles and Mason – are grown. A family portrait by artist Peter Max hangs over the living room’s grand piano, and a tour of his collection is sprinkled with stories and reminiscences of artists he has been fortunate enough to meet and work with.

Contemporary artist Igor Medvedev, whose quietly elegant Late Fishing hangs above a cherry-wood Ello sideboard in the dining room of Morris and MaryAnn Shapiro’s Novi home, says that his work is about capturing “visual miracles.”

Working directly with artists is one of the best parts of the job, he says, and a dream since he was a child. Shapiro grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s. His mother, he says, decorated the house with gaudy French Provincial furniture and accessories. “It was really hideous,” he remembers. “There was no art on the walls, so I made my own. I drew and painted in part to rebel against my parents.”

Thumbing through a book on the Holy Land one day in his parents’ library, he came across a woodcut of Adam and Eve by Albrecht Durer. “I was mesmerized by the contours and lines and Durer’s use of space,” he says. “From that moment on, I was smitten.

“He eventually followed Durer into drawing, going on to study at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. While there, he shifted his emphasis from studio art to art history and art criticism, later working at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts before returning to the Windy City to pursue another passion – music.

After playing the drums professionally for a time, Shapiro took a position as gallery director for Chicago’s Merrill Chase Galleries, where he worked from 1977-1983. In 1983, he came to Detroit to head Park West’s retail gallery, where he’s been ever since.

After 25 years, he’s still passionate about the company’s philosophy of bringing art to the public.

“In many ways, art has been taken away from the people and made less accessible,” he says. “It’s gratifying to be able to swing the pendulum back and to allow people to experience art firsthand.”

While Shapiro is serious about his art, not all of his art is serious. Another favorite piece in his collection is a drawing by animator Chuck Jones, dedicated to daughter Amanda. “It was really neat to meet him,” Shapiro says.

While eclectic, Shapiro says his collection reflects his interests and his life. He’s passionate about reading, writing and music and loves to travel. He participates in jazz jam sessions whenever possible and is currently collaborating with Amanda, a burgeoning singer-songwriter, on her first demo recording. He enjoys spending time with his first grandchild, Matthew.

A member of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, Shapiro also is passionate about his family and his faith. He believes it “is about being appreciative of the blessings I have in life, the sanctity of family, the observance of and passing on of tradition,” he says. “My religion also provides for me a perspective of how short life is, how miniscule and insignificant we are, how God’s creations are miraculous and infinite and how fortunate [we are] for every day we are given. Each day is a gift of inestimable value.”

He believes others interested in collecting art should follow the same philosophy, allowing art to enhance their life, not just their wallets.

“Knowing what you like is the entrance into the art world,” he says. “People should buy art because they love it. It should be collected for its emotional and spiritual benefits, not its financial benefits. It’s really the only way to go.”
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