Archive for American artist

Anatole Krasnyansky-Beautiful Paradoxes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by Park West Gallery

Excerpted from the upcoming new book on Anatole Krasnyansky

kras image for blog

With an entirely mischievous twinkle in his eyes he greets me. I ask how he is, and as usual he responds, “Still alive,” with deadpan seriousness.

I have known this man for more than 15 years and every time I am with him I am again surprised and amused by his paradoxes. He is a walking paradox; a tangle of contradictions and ironies in living color. Spend a few moments contemplating one of the twisting, turning, swirling, multi-colored, multi- textured figures that inhabits his art and what is true about him in reality, becomes symbolically true in pigment.

He walks slowly and carefully and carries a cane, but I have watched him dancing (think Groucho Marx meets Henry Kissinger).  He is intimate with the architecture and the liturgical symbolism of the world’s greatest cathedrals and yet I have seen him irreverently posing for photographs as a “saint” by holding a plate over his head to act as a “halo.” His physical appearance and demeanor both exude sophistication and refinement suited to his classical cultural training, yet the genesis of much of his imagery emerges from something as foreign to classicism as rock and roll and “over the top” American entertainment. He cites the stimulus for creating one of his styles as experiencing the band “Kiss” (while working as a set designer) and how he was traumatized to the point of needing to create a cathartic artistic exorcism to feel normal again.

No surprise then that this duality carries into his extraordinary art. I know of very few artists who have worked simultaneously in multiple disparate styles. Yes, artists almost always pass through transformations in their work which often yield dramatic differences in style, subject and content, but Anotole creates a continuing artistic dichotomy to mirror his paradoxical nature.

His “Cityscapes,” which delight so many viewers reveal his deep experience as a draftsman, his brilliance as an architect and his poetic ability to create a poignant, evocative mood through a facile command of the unforgiving technique of watercolor.

His “figural” imagery, steeped in the groundbreaking theories of visual perception that pass from Cezanne, through Picasso, to the aesthetician, Rudolph Arnheim (Art and Visual Perception, 1974) continually wrestle with the complex visual problems of plastic space, color interaction and orchestration of form. Yet both styles reside harmonically in the creative world of Anatole Krasnyansky. He has also sought ways of “reconciling” the two styles of his art, and fusing them into a unique conception. These works display his figures in architectural interiors, with lavish cityscapes seen from the windows, or figures flying above complex architectural structures beneath them. Most recently, he has begun to populate interiors with modeled figures (akin to a notion of sculpture) in various poses and activities, with elaborate and detailed vistas of architectural designs in the distance.

Regarding the content presented in his works, there is also a fascinating duality. Though his works initially appear to be driven by formal concerns, as they “dance” and entertain the eye in an aesthetic “performance,” he also contemplates carefully and with great detail the messages he intends to present. I have listened to him discuss a painting and describe one-by-one each figure presented. With great precision he illuminates the subtle nuances of expression, position, apparent activity and even the costume worn by the figure and its relationship to his messages. Often they carry political meanings and incipient statements about dictatorship, hypocrisy, guile and manipulation stemming from his experience as a Soviet citizen. It is rare to find an artist so fluid in the formal language of art to be so articulate as well in the meanings of his imagery. Most artists allow the viewer to draw one’s own conclusions. Anatole welcomes these as well, but typical of his paradoxical nature is anxious to reveal his own allusions.

It is also this two-sided artistic coin that makes him so interesting in the early 21st Century world in which we reside; a world which seems to be less and less attuned to beautiful artistic dichotomies. Herein is another irony. In a world where the “elite” art of our time resides in an anti-aesthetic, an obsessive artistic narcissism wherein art continually looks at itself in the “pool” of context and asks itself over and over again, “Am I art, or not?”– Anatole’s art evokes powerful responses from thousands of people all over the world. The enthusiasm for his artwork is often dramatic, certainly passionate, and enduring for his devotees. I know collectors who have dozens of Karasnyanskys. Anatole and I have discussed the history of art many times. We’ve walked museums together and contemplated dynastic Asian sculptures, paintings by Velasquez and “installations” composed of truck mud-flaps and lunch box thermoses.

In all of this, I feel comforted though by the thought of future generations viewing his impressive and expansive body of work; his paintings, drawings and prints, and seeing his historical position in the pantheon of the champions of beauty. He has “walked the walk.” And he has devoted his life and career to enriching us through his unflagging efforts, often in the face of extraordinary challenges and difficulties.

Dr. Eleanor Hight’s excellent article which follows adroitly sketches the arc of Anatole’s life and career. It is important that his story is told and the details of his accomplishments be recorded in this beautiful book, this record of his life and art at this place in time. But I know much more.

I know the story of how he borrowed the original watercolor paintingsfrom the Soviet institution that had nationalized them, made copies which he replaced in the frames when returned, and walked on the backs of the originals to make them look old and unimportant when the customs officers located them with his belongings as he departed Ukraine. I have seen these paintings as they now hang on the walls of his living room. I know how that when he proclaimed his intent to leave the U.S.S.R, he became a “marked” man and of the fear and uncertainty he and his young family faced, especially as Jews. I know while barely able to speak English he pretended to have experience as a scenic designer to get his first job in Los Angeles so that he would not have to go onto the streets as a beggar to support his family. I know of the widow of a famous Russian painter who lent him her husband’s studio in California without charging a cent, to allow him to work because she believed in him. I know of his insecurity when he first showed his works to the Dalzell Hatfield Galleries in Los Angeles with master paintings on the walls surrounding him and the joy he felt when he was invited to exhibit there. I know of his love for his family, his strong, smart and devoted wife, Nellie, who has stood by him all these years and been his “rock.” I know of his love of Louis Armstrong, and Mozart, of Kandinsky and El Greco. Yin and Yang. Two sides of a coin.

I know too of his uncompromising dedication to his art; his refusal to accept anything that does not meet his standards; the way he labors and studies his imagery and considers carefully the content it conveys, his preliminary drawings, his printing proofs. He knows that his work needs to be uncompromising because every painting and print released to the world by Anatole Krasnyansky is a piece of his soul, a testament of his dedication to his chosen profession, his struggles, his triumphs and his mark on the history of art. It is part of the narrative of a man born and trained in a communist world whose journey has brought him to a world of nearly limitless freedom. This is a story that resembles many artists who have walked a similar path in their quests to find freedom for their art. But, I can’t think of another who has walked as uniquely as Anatole Kranyansky. Or one who has walked it with so many beautiful paradoxes at play.

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.”

Experiencing Rockwell

Posted in Art Exhibits, Artists, Norman Rockwell with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2010 by Park West Gallery

“I cannot convince myself that
a painting is good unless it is popular.

If the public dislikes one of my Post covers,
I can’t help disliking it myself.”

—NORMAN ROCKWELL

On March 8, 2009, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) opened its exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell. On the day of the opening, The Detroit Free Press “art critic” Mark Stryker (the newspaper’s music critic, who evidently was tapped to become the art critic after another round of Detroit business layoffs) penned his review. His opening tag line: “Love the show, hate the art.” You can save time by not reading the article. That tag line perfectly sums up Stryker’s opinion.

"The Art Critic" by Norman Rockwell (1955)The Art Critic” (1955) by Norman Rockwell

Online, a volley of reactionary comments to Stryker’s column lined up in the opinion blogs. They ranged from absolute venom (typical online stuff) to comments from readers who completely ignored Stryker’s opinion just to laud the show and encourage Detroiters to go see it and support the museum and its efforts.

Another part of the Free Press’s coverage was a side bar, “Was Norman Rockwell a Great Artist?” The DIA’s curator, a professor (whose mother modeled for Rockwell), and a well known Detroit artist weighed in. The artist, Charles McGee, expressed a prevailing attitude towards Rockwell’s work that dogged him during his life and has continued to this day: “I think Rockwell was a great illustrator. To me there’s a big difference between illustration and fine art. It’s not that each isn’t good in its own right, but one is selling a product as far as I’m concerned and the other is selling itself.”

I went to see the show with my 14 year old daughter, Amanda, who had written a biographical report on Rockwell for her history class a few months before. Her assignment was to write about an American artist, and when she asked me who she should consider (perhaps one of the benefits of having a dad in the biz) I replied immediately that it should be Norman Rockwell and expressed to her my reasons why.

Ironically, during her research for the report we as a family flew to Europe to attend a Park West Gallery collector event. One night at dinner we mentioned to a client that Amanda was researching Rockwell, and she proceeded to inform us that she had modeled for him when she was a child; her image appeared on a 1957 Saturday Evening Post cover. Big mistake to say that to me because I surely drove this woman “nuts” querying her about every aspect of Rockwell’s working process and his personality.

Amanda’s report included an interview with our guest – and she ended up with an “A.” Not surprisingly, Amanda was just as excited to see the show as I was. During the entire time she was working on the paper, her teacher was gently ridiculing Rockwell and needling her about her choice. His point was the same as Stryker’s and McGee’s: Not an artist, just an “illustrator.”

Where does this attitude come from? How can an artist who contributed so much to the culture and artistic identity of America (this is profoundly apparent when stepping into the final room of the exhibition and seeing each of the 323 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers he created during seven decades) be so pejoratively viewed by the art “establishment”?

The answer is obvious. There is a disconnect, a separation (more like a chasm) in the art world between the arbiters of what is and isn’t “art” and the American people. This was never more apparent to me than when we left the museum and I saw the lines of enthusiastic people; families with young children, seniors from my parents’ generation, and students. People of all races and ages, all queuing up for tickets and filling the galleries, anxious to experience Rockwell’s art – actually hungry for it.

Rockwell was keenly aware of his image as a mere “illustrator” and frustrated enough to address it many times in his art. Trained as a “fine artist,” he was well steeped (as all of the great ones were) in the history and narrative of his profession.

In one of the photographs included in the exhibition of him working in his studio (on the most important painting in the show, in my opinion – The Problem We All Live With, 1963), I caught a blurry image of Rembrandt’s etching masterpiece, The Hundred Guilder Print. It was in the upper left corner hanging on the wall amidst his own studies and drawings. This delighted me (I’m sure most people wouldn’t have noticed it) because I had just been marveling at the use of chiaroscuro in so many of the canvasses of Rockwell.

Norman Rockwell "Triple Self-Portrait" (1960)“Triple Self-Portrait” (1960) by Norman Rockwell

Rockwell’s Triple Self Portrait, one of the most popular and amusing of all his famous images, deals directly with this paradox of the power of his work and his popular image as a “commercial” artist. In it we see pinned to his canvas self-portraits of Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh as well as a Picasso Cubist head. It is well known that Rockwell greatly admired the old masters and was enthralled by Picasso and even Pollack. The painting, which reveals his astonishing technique in the masterful articulation of the fabric of his shirt, the mirror into which he peers, and the golden helmet mounted at the top of his easel, defies us as viewers to ignore or diminish his prodigious mastery of oil on canvas while at the same time casts visual puns about who it is he is portraying.

In another captivating work, The Art Critic (1955), a young art student examines a painting through a magnifying glass while holding his easel and palette (with real globs of paint affixed). The woman in this portrait (based on a Rubens) looks back at the student with an expression of surprise, as if to say the young man is too close and is staring at her bosom. Behind him is a painting of three 17th Century Dutch gentlemen (again a nod to Rembrandt) who appear to stop their conversation to peer with surprise at the young student’s indiscretion.

This is a great and amusing scene until one looks at the technique Rockwell displays. It’s as if he says to us, “Take a look at my ‘chops,’ those of you who question my artistic legitimacy. I can do Dutch and French masters as good as they did and use them in the background of my paintings.”

From my own experience, it has been an honor to work with Curtis Publishing, the owners of the intellectual rights to Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post imagery, and the Norman Rockwell Licensing Company, managed by the artist’s family, in the development of limited-edition prints created exclusively for Park West Gallery clients. More recently, these works have been realized as hand-drawn lithographs created at the same studio French artist Marcel Mouly used for the creation of his lithographs.

I’ve also had the pleasure of offering original Rockwell drawings and seeing several of them collected. It is truly a thrill for an art dealer to be a part of the joy experienced by someone who has the rare opportunity to acquire something of this kind of rarity and historic importance. Through this process and in viewing so many of his works, I have gained a deeper appreciation for Rockwell’s art.

Norman Rockwell produced over 4,000 works of art in his lifetime, a lifetime that he devoted to unfailing artistic discipline and committed to sharing his view of our world with an emphasis on humankind’s higher morals and enduring values. His messages of family, equality, freedom, tolerance, and even human shortcomings touched more Americans than any other artist with our shared heritage. His contributions to the American spirit during World War II are legendary, particularly in the way that he focused not so much on our soldiers fighting abroad but on the heroism and bravery of the everyday people who remained at home.

So once again, we have to ask: How can an artist of such power, possessing spectacular technical genius and an unparalleled ability to communicate and touch so many, be so often dismissed by those who claim to wield the power of judgment as to what is and isn’t “art”?

The answer is too long and complex to be addressed here. I have written about it before and continue to vigorously share my own views on the topic. It has to do with the long (and unfortunate, in my opinion) history of art that extends from Duchamp to Warhol and resides today in the likes of Damien Hirst, whose works fetched unprecedented prices last year for “sculptures” of cigarette butts in medicine cabinets, dead flies on canvas, and his “masterpiece,” a dead calf in a glass case.

It has to do with the fact that when people crave the experiences that art can provide such as elevation of the human spirit, a demonstration of the results of unflagging dedication to hard work and excellence, and a jumping off point into the contemplations of human thought and spiritual meaning, these works of “art” leave us cold, unfulfilled, perplexed, and often angry when discovering the sums paid for them by museums and collectors. There is no way we can know what the future will hold for this kind of art.

As I travelled the halls of the museum with my young daughter in tow, as we moved past the paintings by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, and dozens of others who built on the narrative of the art that came before them, I couldn’t help but believe that as long as there are people on this planet, these works will be precious. They will forever be emblems of human greatness and our aspiration to reach for higher and deeper understandings of beauty and the miraculous around us. Thinking about Norman Rockwell, I saw him fitting perfectly into that same pantheon of masters in another hundred years.

We continued on to the contemporary wing of the DIA. We turned a corner and on the floor to our left we encountered a “sculpture” by Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama. The work entitled Silver Shoes is a clear acrylic box, encasing 23 shoes with cloth protrusions emanating from the openings, everything spray-painted silver. It’s a work, I am confident, Mr. Stryker would love. However, there was no line of people outside the museum queuing up to buy tickets to see it. No line of people behind the work patiently waiting to view it. No “audio tour” devices pressed up against people’s ears in contemplation before it. In fact, there was no one looking at it at all.

They were all downstairs, Experiencing Rockwell.