Archive for Park West Gallery

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.

Yaacov Agam—21st Century Genius

Posted in Artists, Yaacov Agam with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2010 by Park West Gallery

“For twenty years, I tried, and finally I understood, the image must be something that becomes, not something that is.

Where is truth, where is the true order? The only truth is the truth of states of being, and the passage of time which destroys itself.”

—YAACOV AGAM, 1971

Yaacov Agam, At“AT” by Yaacov Agam

“Genius” is a hard word to substantiate, as these days in our transient and disposable culture it is often thrown about in reference to all sorts of people from all walks of life. But too often, sadly, novelty is confused with quality.

In the case of 81-year-old artist Yaacov Agam, the word “genius” only touches the surface. The world is filled with his art. From giant installations found in places as far flung as Taipei, Jerusalem and New York City, to individual objects that grace the collections of his devotees from all over the world, Agam has made his mark, which will not be erased from history.

Born in 1921 as the son of an Orthodox rabbi, Agam’s consciousness was always shrouded in mysticism. Steeped in the Kabbala along with the spiritual writings of Wassily Kandinsky and the conceptual revolutions of form and color developed by Johannes Itten and Josef Albers, Agam emerged with an art form independent from all others. In Agam’s art there is a departure from traditional forms of visual expression. In conventional art, everything is visible. Agam’s art strives to capture the invisible; the possible but not yet experienced, and in this way the infinite.

Agam says, “I am not an abstract artist… Abstract art shows a situation on a canvas. I show a state of being which does not exist, the imperceptible absence of an image… The infinity of possibilities, opposing the chance of a presence, a possibility.”

Yaacov Agam, Colorful SkyColorful Sky View” by Yaacov Agam

When one encounters an Agam work, an indefinable experience occurs. Rather than in the traditional artistic experience—where the viewer passively absorbs what the artist has created—in Agam’s art the viewer and the artwork merge. The artwork cannot appear, or come into being, without the participation of the viewer; the creative process and the aesthetic experienced are mingled, and inseparable from one another. The work of art does not exist unless the viewer is engaged and thereby involved in creating its existence.

Walk past a work of Agam‘s and take in the intricate number of manifestations and visible expressions that appear as you move before it. Slide a moveable element from side to side and watch imagery appear from “nowhere,” suddenly and momentarily visible until another millimeter of movement is induced and it vanishes, only to be replaced by yet another visual surprise. Touch a sculpture by Agam and rearrange its elements into yet another of the infinite number of three-dimensional compositions which may be created. All of these experiences are what defines his art, and his genius.

His colors are of the rainbow, God’s first work of art given to man in a pact with Noah (Agam describes the “phenomenon of light” as “inexplicable.”). His forms and structures are marvels of simplicity and simultaneous complexity. His “polymorphic” paintings and multiples are merely corrugations with color adhered to the sides, and yet their purity and simplicity point to profound and universal mysteries discovered in the appearance and disappearance of things.

Yaacov Agam, Festival Night Dance“Festival Night Dance” by Yaacov Agam

In 1964, Agam wrote his artistic credo. Fully formed and unchanged since that time, it has provided the inexhaustible wellspring of his art and sustained him for nearly 50 years, without limitation. He says in it, “My intention was to create a work of art which would transcend the visible, which cannot be perceived except in stages, with the understanding that it is a partial revelation and not the perpetuation of the existing. My aim is to show what can be seen within the limits of possibility which exists in the midst of coming into being.”

It is through Agam that the aesthetic narrative was re-engaged after having been cast aside by the conceptualists. He has taken up the thread of aesthetic beauty, added the notion of time, space and the infinite, and forged his place in the pantheon of the geniuses of art history.

Park West Gallery is honored to have had a relationship with this contemporary master for over 30 years and to present his artworks to our clients, who continue to enthusiastically embrace his astonishing and unforgettable creations.

Leslie Lew’s Red Shoes

Posted in Artists, Leslie Lew with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2010 by Park West Gallery

Comic books and Albrecht Durer. They formed the Alpha and Omega of my visual world as an only child immersed in the mysteries of art. In both I found superheroes.

Every now and then we encounter the ineffable, indescribable and unmistakable phenomenon known as “charisma,” a quality upon which the idea of the superhero was hatched. Whether we happen upon charisma in the physical presence of another human being or discover it in the fruits of their labors, their life’s work, it is undeniable. It may be something that “slipped in” from the “other side,” or came from another planet like Superman, as there is no explanation for it in this tangible world.

Leslie Lew has it in spades.

Leslie Lew, Morris ShapiroMe and Leslie Lew (notice her shoes).

My first encounter with the charisma of Leslie Lew was through her work itself. Funny thing about that… So many practicing artists reveal similar degrees of technical skill and render imagery of a similar nature, but few posses that immutable quality which resonates for viewers open to the aesthetic experience. The “it” factor. For me and Leslie’s work, it was a complete “no contest.”

When I first viewed one of her paintings, my eyes drank in voluptuous surfaces, and lavish, luscious colors, augmented by a textural relief technique (which Leslie invented, called “Sculpted Oils”) which was at once irresistible and formidable. The subject was “Wonder Woman,” and she appeared from the cover of a vintage 1960’s D.C. comic book (complete with a ten cent price button), leaping into action to save the day. Now most men my age, who grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s and succumbed to the lure of the “picture novel” (often to the overt distaste of our parents), and who are forthcoming enough to admit it, will agree that Wonder Woman was hot. Leslie’s “WW” is way hotter.

The contemplation of one of her paintings is a multifaceted experience. It’s difficult to discern which parts are most pleasurable as equally fascinating qualities of form and content compete for attention. For me (and many of her devotees) it begins with the reinterpreted nostalgia of her world. As represented to us through the unique prism of her own cumulative life and cultural experiences growing up as a child born in the early 1950’s, raised in the ‘60’s, artistically forged in the ‘70’s, paying her dues in the ‘80’s and emerging fully formed as a mature fine artist into the ‘90’s and beyond. This appeal appears to be without any boundaries and her work is savored by people from all walks of life, all ages and degrees of artistic sophistication. She seems to have that indefinable quality of the “great ones,” and certainly the enduring ones, of being instantly accessible and as “deep” as you care to go.

When I finally met Leslie, I encountered the other kind of charisma: the human kind; the kind of which everyone dreams and few posses. She is electric, magnetic and radiates an energy, enthusiasm and honest passion for her work and her life impossible to forbear.

Strike two for me.

Leslie Lew, Action #1 (Superman)“Action #1 (Superman)” (2010) by Leslie Lew

In my many years of discourse and interaction with artists of all cultures and ages, I’m hard pressed to think of another who was so comfortable in her skin, openly speaking of her art with an eloquence and insight that ran parallel to her artwork (as do the titles of her paintings). So many artists (no fault of their own) prefer communication to be visual. They are often uncomfortable speaking, especially to groups, about their work. To Leslie, it’s all “flow,” an opportunity to add another dimension to her already multi-dimensional artwork.

At an event that we both attended I watched her, for the first time, from a distance in her black and white designer blouse and red shoes. She spoke to our mutual clients of her life and work with a diffidence and approachability belied by her prowess as a painter and her extensive credentials. She invited the guests to come up and “paint” onto one of her mixed-media canvasses. I watched as they queued up, one by one, and saw the delight in their eyes and faces as they spun and twirled the brushes, and contributed their own impasto applications of color to areas and surfaces of the image, leaving their own mark on a slice of 21st Century art history. I couldn’t resist, had to partake, and that same night I got a healthy dollop of white paint on the sleeve of my black dinner jacket. Leslie had left her mark on me.

When I was able to finally spend some time with her, I was most intrigued by her “story.” For me as a dealer with an insatiable appetite for art history, it’s all about people, the tangible and concrete, the real lives of those who eschew the world of the “day job” and forge fearlessly ahead to conquer the problems of aesthetics.

Leslie is the eldest of four daughters of the legendary Chicago advertising executive Les Hopkins (she is “Leslie Jr.”), who was responsible for some of the most enduring ad campaigns of Baby Boom culture including, “Alka Seltzer” and “Sugar Smacks” cereal (he invented the Sugar Smacks Brothers) among others. Raised in New Jersey and Chicago, and inheriting many of her father’s gifts, she recognized at an early age her destiny to become an artist in the form of an epiphany while sketching Lake Michigan. Later, her father turned his back on his successful, but stress-ridden career, divorced, checked-out of the business world and moved the family to Oregon, where Leslie and her three sisters lived a frugal “hippie-esque” life. This in some ways prepared her for the hardships she herself would endure in years to come. She returned to Chicago and attended the prestigious school of the Chicago Art Institute to receive her BFA and MFA degrees. There she became part of one of most esoteric, but simultaneously unique and distinctive movements in the narrative of late 20th Century painting, the “Hairy Who.”

Leslie Lew, Sugar Smacks“Sugar Smacks Box” (2009) by Leslie Lew

As a young art student growing up in Chicago (Leslie and I are the same age), I was also heavily into the Hairy Who. I adored the “twisted” but riveting imagery of Jim Nut (think George Grosz meets R. Crumb), and Roger Brown (who remains one of Leslie’s heroes), whose stylized imagery takes the naïve approach of someone like Grandma Moses and launches into a completely new realm of urban sophisticated-primitivism. Leslie knew both of these artists, exhibited with them and studied under another heavyweight of the movement, Ray Yoshida. During these years she honed her drawing skills (which are striking), and minored in art history, a passion which still deeply absorbs her.

The next phase of her life took her to New York, where she bore extraordinary hardship and sacrifices for her art, raising her young son Sean (now, a practicing musician and songwriter) as a single mother and supporting her small family solely as an artist. This was a defining time in her life, eventually materializing artistically in Leslie’s use of “Wonder Woman,” as a symbol for the superheroes women often become to deal with the challenges in their own lives. Her entry into the emerging, “East Village” scene in the 1980’s brought her early recognition, and formed the launching platform for her impressive reputation and the extensive art world credentials she possesses today.

Leslie is no lightweight. Her works have toured in museum exhibitions sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon Museum and the Guggenheim (upon whose walls her paintings have hung). She’s shown in the best “high end” New York galleries next to works by Warhol, Lichtenstein and Man Ray. Her works have been reviewed by untold magazines, art journals and newspapers, along with art professors (NYU amongst them) and museum curators. She is featured in the recently published coffee-table tome on the Martin Z. Margulies Collection. Mr. Margulies’ legendary collection is one of America’s premier collections of modern and contemporary works in all media. Being featured and reviewed in this collection (destined for an exclusive museum residence) is a benchmark for any contemporary artist, as it positions them alongside masterworks by Picasso, Miro, Pollack, Rothko and Calder, among many others. Her works have been collected world-wide by a “who’s who” of celebrities and luminaries.

And yet with all of these “legit” achievements in an unbelievably competitive art world, Leslie seeks not to remain rarified. She told me, “I have always felt that art should be for the masses not for just a few of the ‘elite.’ I have worked and established myself…for over twenty-five years. Now is the time to have fun and do what I was meant to do…share my work with the world…and the masses…”

And the masses love it, from what I can tell.

Leslie Lew, Still Life with Fruit“Still Life with Fruit” (2009) by Leslie Lew

Leslie defines three artists as prime influences. She begins with Peter Max. Max is the consummate media master. He has seamlessly bridged the division between “fine” and “commercial” art. In Max’s world, no limit exists on the expression or manifestation of his art. He believes the artist can use the media of our times fluidly. He can create imagery which may be reinterpreted into a limitless number of incarnations and expressions. From the most sophisticated (paintings on the White House lawn) to the most common (ice tea bottles), he sees no separation in his quest to bring his art to the world. Leslie completely agrees. It is only a matter of time, in my opinion, until her work reaches a similar degree of exposure. For now, she creates paintings, monotypes (a lavish combination of painting and digital printmaking), deeply embossed cast paper multiples (also heavily hand-painted), prints, and even extravagant series of tiny matchbook covers, with hand-painted collages affixed. For the future, who knows? I can only imagine what her fertile mind will envision as the next outlet for her imagery.

Next is of course: Andy Warhol. There is an irony in Leslie’s admiration for Warhol, and it deals with the subversive contributions he made to the definitions of what is and isn’t art. Distinguished art historian and Professor, Arthur C. Danto viewed Warhol as the ultimate apostle of Duchamp, and saw his Brillo Box sculpture (1964) as the extension of Duchamp’s “ready-mades,” but positioned in a contemporary American cultural context, which was ultimately responsible for the creation of the “Pop Art” movement. Leslie has inoculated this “art for art’s sake” virus in her work (more on this later), but embraces the notion from Warhol (and many of the most permeated artists of the movement) of the appropriation of imagery from our culture. But the notion of discovering something (often pedestrian or banal) that exists in one cultural context and “elevating” it to fine art through the artist’s identification, isolation, ascension and frequent disparagement so common in the “Pop” idiom, has virtually no place in her canon. Leslie’s pursuit attracts her to subjects from our culture with the intention to elevate us and to remind us of an enhanced quality of life which her cultural signposts embody. She prefers to present the uplifting qualities and values of American culture. It is clear these endorsements often reveal an unembarrassed nostalgic view, but her perspective is focused on messages of optimism and hope. And this is where her third articulated influence appears (surprisingly to many): Norman Rockwell.

Few American artists have been (or will probably ever be) as polarizing as Rockwell amongst fine artists. To his champions he achieved the highest degree of capturing his milieu, his culture, his time and the “spirit” of his generation (in my mind, among the ultimate achievements of any artist–consider Toulouse-Lautrec). To his detractors, he was nothing more than an “illustrator,” whose accessible, often sentimental, and unabashedly narrative imagery reached too broad an audience to enter the realm of “real art.”

Setting aside the arguments on both sides (as time will be the ultimate arbiter) there is no denying Rockwell’s ability to tell a story and to hold up a mirror to American life. Leslie has embraced this idea with a new vision, a new timeframe and a new zeal. Her milieu is a different America–one that emerges from Rockwell’s pre and post-war periods to the next generation’s cultural touchstones, and the personal experiences which shaped her own idiomatic iconography.

Leslie Lew, Animal Crackers“Animal Crackers” (2009) by Leslie Lew

Leslie’s imagery is fertile and apparently unlimited just like her energy. Her comic book themes (which along with superheroes) feature subjects like, Felix the Cat, Blondie, Popeye, Dick Tracy, Lil’ Abner, Little Lulu, Barney Google, True Love and Boy Meets Girl comics. Early childhood memories emerge in Dick and Jane kindergarten readers; breakfast cereal box covers, amusement parks and other family memories and holidays. She’s also struck a strong chord through her use of circa 1960’s “comfort foods (Leslie’s interpretation of the “Animal Crackers” box cover has been a subject of numerous media reviews) and familiar locations of interest in New York, Chicago and other locales etched in her memory. She includes supermarket and toy store interiors (displaying their products in the glory of fluorescent lighting splendor); and her own interpretations of singular places she’s remembered including her ex-boyfriend’s mother’s apartment and her art school supplies store. She has written and illustrated a children’s book which focuses on building esteem for children and celebrating each child’s unique differences. This is the stuff of her generation’s fabric, and it resonates deeply with her audiences.

Another aspect of her work (which appeals to me personally) is her integration of great artist’s works into her own vision, a by-product of her deep knowledge of art history. Works of the masters often inhabit her imagery. Van Gogh appears in a bedroom scene (a visual pun) among other artists occupying interiors, along with a moving interpretation of his “Irises” painting in the Chicago Art Institute. But in particularly powerful manifestations during the years 1988-1995, she created a series of four and five paneled screens (some as large as 60” x 120”) reinterpreting, in her alluring “sculpted oil” technique, the works of Gauguin, Henri Rousseau, Japanese woodcuts, Kandinsky, Breughel and an unparalleled version of Picasso’s Guernica (which she told me she’ll never sell). Picasso has and will always be the paragon for me… So I’m “out”… strike three for me.

Beyond the unexpected impression Leslie’s physical presence and art has had upon me, I am fortunate to also know and to have known many world-class artists. In every case, when given the opportunity, I have spoken to them about the current state of the art world, and the vacuum that exist in the consciousness of our contemporary culture toward visual art. At a time when music, film, theatre, literature and dance remain ubiquitous in our society, and are publicly consumed at startling levels forming multi-billion dollar industries, we have to ask the question, “Where did art go?” It’s not hard to figure it out. When “artists” starve animals in public, slice up sharks and install them in formaldehyde-filled glass boxes, and affix dead flies to canvas in the name of “art,” there is little reason to wonder. Former Christies’ executive, Phillip Hook summed up this contemporary phenomenon succinctly in his book, The Ultimate Trophy (Prestel, 2009): “We live in an era which, more than ever before, equates novelty (emphasis mine) with quality.”

Leslie Lew, Art in America“Art in America” (2008) by Leslie Lew

In almost every case, I can attest that the artists to whom I speak, the “Aesthetic Olympians” like Leslie, sense a “collective consciousness” transformation occurring right now. It is found in the imperative to return to beauty, in the resistance and diminution of “art for art’s sake” and reflected in an awareness of the true hunger in the world once again, for the ideals that can inspire and enrich us, and amplify our lives and experiences. These artists identify with that searching, questing restlessness to answer the same age-old mysteries: “Why are we here? Why do we as homo-sapiens exist as the only species that can create, and what do our creations reveal?”

I was excited when Leslie informed me, as we discussed these issues, that she had chosen to align herself with Park West Gallery for these very same reasons, and had declined requests from some of the “heavy weight” New York galleries who had been vying for a contract with her. I asked her if she had taken any “heat” for it. She laughed and responded, “I love to push the edge…I have been tormenting my ‘fine art/museum crowd’ for years… but not with ‘anti-art, scary art’…but with making gorgeous surfaces, colors—but somehow using relevant concepts. Boy does this confuse them!”

I am certainly grateful to her for choosing Park West Gallery as her conduit to bring a new, expansive audience and greater exposure to her than she has previously experienced, but my elation was quickly tempered by a sense of heavy responsibility. Would we do her justice?

I was comforted however; when she relayed a childhood story to me (It could easily have appeared in a Dick and Jane reader).

Leslie Lew, Once Upon a Time“Once Upon a Time” (2004) by Leslie Lew

As a child Leslie was “pigeon-toed.” Her mother rejected the urging of doctors who recommended surgery. Instead, she proclaimed that she would study ballet, and conquer her affliction. She was enrolled in a ballet class only to be refused by the instructor (a woman who trained Maria Tallchief, renowned American dancer who performed with the Paris Opera Ballet, Ballet Russe and Balanchine) who told her parents that she had no talent, and would never become a dancer at any level. Undeterred, Leslie herself (even at such a young age), refused to accept this assessment and began a painstaking practice routine (for as many as eight hours a day) for more than a year, at the ballet barre she had asked her parents to install in their home. As an incentive, her mother bought Leslie some very “cool” red dancing shoes, in which to practice and ultimately perform. They were a joyful motivation amidst a formidable and serious challenge. A year later in a live recital, she performed a flawless Nutcracker, to the delight and approval of her previously unimpressed teacher and her parents with (it goes without saying) perfectly positioned feet. To this day Leslie often wears red shoes when she desires a shamanistic and symbolic “power source.” She was wearing some when I watched her for the first time.

When I heard that story, I knew I had nothing to fear. Leslie’s conquering of the Park West Gallery world and her determination and commitment was a “done deal.” We just needed to get out of the way. I’ve learned that contrary to popular belief, our childhood does often prepare us for whatever life throws our way.

Leslie Lew, Morris Shapiro, Park West Gallery, Wonder Woman“Wonder Woman-Making a Splash” (2002) by Leslie Lew

I finally asked Leslie who were her artistic idols. I needed to know. We all have them, those of us who can’t get enough of the glories of art. Those who savor and pursue the inscrutable mysteries of that “thing” that serves no purpose other than to thrill us, to inspire us, and to keep us moving toward revelations which can only be described as “charismatic.” She told me of her four artistic superheroes:

Fra Filippo Lipi (1406-1469), Florentine master and teacher of Botticelli, whose technical mastery at his time was unparalleled (Leslie studied in Florence during summers for three years as a student, where she fell under his spell).

Rembrandt van Rijn, Master of the Baroque, who’s depiction of the quintessential dramatic mood in painting is still without peer. Rembrandt’s experimentation with the qualities of painting and his delight in the nature of applying paint to canvas is still the stuff of legend.

Vincent Van Gogh, the “Father of Expressionism” and an artist who believed art was for everyone and never to be withheld for any reason, from any person. Van Gogh’s tactile application of paint, his textures, and surfaces, luminosity of color and sheer power of visual impact has surely been the “seed” of Leslie’s astonishing techniques.

And, ironically… Albrecht Durer, arguably the greatest draftsman of all time, and for whom I share the same admiration as Leslie…

…and for “Comic books and Superheroes…”

…oh, and by the way, Wonder Woman wears “red shoes” too.

Csaba Markus, Aesthetic Olympian

Posted in Art Videos, Artists, Csaba Markus with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2010 by Park West Gallery

In the contemporary world of art a battle is currently raging. As the 20th Century clicked over to the 21st, it provided a convenient demarcation point for this struggle, but it has really been ongoing for at least 90 years. The conflict is about the search by artists of our time for the fundamentals of aesthetics which have long ago been “thrown under the bus.”

Csaba Markus, Veritas“Veritas” (2006) by Csaba Markus

The word “aesthetic” is derived from the Greek word “aesthesis,” which means “perception with feeling,” and in so simple a joining of two phenomena, the entire history of western art criticism has rested. Perception of course deals with the sensorial response to art: what we perceive and experience through our limited senses as we take in what exists before us for contemplation. Feeling, results in what we take from that contemplation and from whatever “information” our senses provide. That is, how the information affects the perspective we bring to the contemplation of an artwork. That perspective is made up of our emotions, our experiences, our education, our dispositions, our passions, our prejudices and the myriad other qualities that define who we are each individually.

All through the storied evolution of aesthetic philosophy two halves have formed the whole of the aesthetic experience. They are the “yin and yang” of art and their measure must each be taken to develop a true analysis of any work of art in any medium. “Form” is the physical body, the manifestation in concrete reality of the work of art before us. In the visual arts (for which we will confine our discussion here) form may include the medium employed, the size or format of the work, the use of line, color, texture, contrast, the composition of the work, or any number of other “physical’ attributes. “Content,” on the other hand, is what the work of art is communicating to us as we experience it during contemplation. All art has something to communicate, even if the communication is about the absence of communication.

In 1917, when French artist Marcel Duchamp created the first “Readymade” by signing with a fictitious name an inverted urinal and titling it Fountain, the true iconoclastic struggle of aesthetic “life and death” began. By proclaiming that something was art, because the artist claimed it to be, the aesthetic experience was transformed into a kind of artistic narcissism, a constant contextual rumination by art asking itself, “Am I art, or am I not art?”

For nearly one hundred years now, artists, historians, museums, art educational institutions, galleries, auction houses and collectors have embraced and legitimized these types of artistic creations and conceptualizations. It serves no purpose here to dwell on the embodiment of these “artworks.” We are all familiar with the dirty ashtrays, the sharks in formaldehyde, the crucifixes in urine, the Plexiglas boxes of trash and the thousands of other manifestations of what author Donald Kuspit in his book, The End of Art (2004, Cambridge University Press), has aptly named, “postart.”

“Post-artworks” have been included in exhibitions with great fanfare and have fetched in the auction and gallery markets dramatically high prices, especially when compared to works by artistic masters of the past. To some extent, these “works” have been derided and ridiculed in the popular press and have caused their fair share of controversy, but essentially they have continued to flourish unimpeded in their own elitist milieu, where they focus on lifting up those things which were once considered banal, meager, ordinary and even repulsive into the highest realms of “Fine Art.”

Csaba Markus, Dance and ConquestCsaba Markus “Dance and Conquest” (2008)

The Pendulum

A comprehensive investigation into the history of art ultimately reveals that if only one thing can be counted on, it is that artists (and consequently their creations) will react strongly to the art of their time. Often this reaction will be in the form of pushing back against the grain of the accepted art of the times, i.e. the art that is seen as respected, legitimate, important, and valid.

Even deeper investigation will often reveal that the polar opposites that drive the pendulum of art history from one side to the other are grounded in the artistic ideals found in form and content and these in turn can be seen as the overarching characteristics of the pendulum’s extreme positions. A good example of this can be found in the distinction between classical art, which is grounded in the principles of purity and adherence to nature’s forms, and romantic art, which is about imagination, myth, and mannerism. Again, this is not the appropriate place for a long discussion of these historical observations, but suffice it to say that the difference between Caravaggio (classical) and El Greco (romantic), is a good example. These artists existed in nearly the same time and yet Caravaggio, by embracing the notion of a kind of painting that was focused on a depiction of true reality (right down to the dirt under the fingernails of the subject), created a new form of art in direct opposition to El Greco’s flamboyant and mystical interpretations of another world that existed beyond the tangible one.

“So what does any of this have to do with Csaba Markus?” you might ask. Well, I have had the good fortune to have many discussions with Csaba about these very subjects. And Csaba is a true student of art history. Just by looking at his art one assumes this. And like every great artist I have met (and the great ones from the past that I have only read about), being well steeped in the history of art, and understanding their place in its context, is of paramount concern to them.

I am fortunate to have a life immersed in art. It surrounds me every day. I research it, buy it, sell it, talk to people about it, and teach others to speak of it. I hear the questions, comments and concerns of collectors, both novice and seasoned. And when I speak of these contemporary issues, of art which causes the viewer to scratch his head and say, “So what?” after contemplating the “postart” that has besieged our world, I get more often than not, the same response: “Please teach me something. Enrich my experience. Enlighten me through the labors of your art. Show me something about life and the world in which I live that I did not know before I experienced your creative spirit. Help me to walk away from the contemplation of your art and feel enhanced.” Sadly, in most cases none of these questions are answered or desires fulfilled. Here it once again appears (after 3,000 years of human artistic consideration): the cry for a true aesthetic experience, “perception with feeling”—and people are indeed crying out for it. They are deprived and starved for it.

Enter Csaba Markus. An aesthetic Olympian, a man whose entire existence is driven to create an art which elevates, amplifies and exhilarates those who encounter it. Csaba, through his art and his complete emersion in its creative processes, is at the forefront of this battle for aesthetic supremacy in an art world which has mostly turned its back on the ideals of beauty.

Csaba knows this. He sees the big picture. He senses that something big is happening now. He understands his place in the history of our time, and he is positioning himself and his art now to be experienced far into the future. He talks to other artists when he is brought together with them through the events sponsored by Park West Gallery. He sees a new way in which art is being brought to the world. A new way in which people who would never have previously had any inclination or disposition to even contemplate experiencing and collecting art, are now engaged and even passionate about the change in their lives brought to them through these experiences. When Csaba speaks of these things his eyes widen, his gestures become broad, his voice booms and he communicates in a bold and vivid manner that runs parallel to his art. A manner that makes him instantly recognizable as a champion, a gladiator for the ideals that formed millennia of masterpieces but are often eschewed and ridiculed today. The quest for beauty: Csaba sees the pendulum beginning to swing back the other way, and he is pulling on it hard.

Stand before a painting by Csaba Markus. At once you know it’s the “real deal.” Before your eyes is a work of art that immediately communicates to the viewer the technical mastery possessed by this artist. Csaba has “chops.” He has studied the techniques of Leonardo, Durer, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt and one hundred other old masters. Likewise, he commands the compositional devices and nuances of the abstract painters and the expressionists. His intention, he has told me, is to create a work that bridges centuries of artistic stylization. And one that is beyond any categorization, any label or generality.

When you look at a painting by Csaba he wants you to bring your own experience to the work. He wants it to be the point of departure for your imagination as your eyes drink in the face of a gorgeous, timeless woman; an airy iconic space full of floating images, symbols and visual touchstones for poetic association; gestures of pure shape and pigment, tonal flourishes, fields of color, ribbons of linear arabesques dancing across the surface. Csaba’s works introduce an artistic world that is fully formed. They present an ideal and harmonic blend of form and content. They are rigorous in their artistic vocabulary and express themselves effortlessly, and yet they are also full of stories to tell, as long as our intuition, spirit and imaginations are willing to listen. To Csaba, the act of creating beauty is once again paramount. To leave the viewer with a sense of wonder and awe that the human imagination can be so potent, that miraculously from nothing but a blank canvas and some pigments, a work of art so evocative and powerful can be born. This is Csaba’s goal. To bring back aesthetic beauty into the art of our times is the reason why he was put on this earth.

Who can say how his work will be viewed in one hundred, two hundred, five hundred years? God willing that there are still people on this planet. And if so, I know that art will still be here. I know that people will still look at a Rembrandt painting and weep. I know that future generations will still be moved by the spiritual purity and sacrifices made by Van Gogh to create his art. I know that people will still attempt to grasp the protean genius of Picasso. I also know (or perhaps believe is more appropriate), that the pendulum will have swung back sometime in our 21st Century. And future historians my scratch their heads and wonder, “What were they thinking?” when they look back in the history books at the remnants of paintings made of spaghetti, sculptures made of old shoes lying in a sled, and “artist shit” in cans (Piero Manzoni). They may very well then set the book down and glance over at their two hundred-year-old Csaba Markus painting hanging on the wall, and be grateful for the artistic crusaders of the early 21st Century who brought back the love of beauty and set humankind and art back on the path of aesthetic glory.
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Click the player below to join me on a private tour of Csaba Markus’ atelier in Mission Viejo, California. During this segment, Csaba and I discuss the old masters who continue to so greatly influence his personal aesthetic.

Yaacov Agam and the Mystical Number “9”

Posted in Artists, Yaacov Agam with tags , , , , , , on October 14, 2010 by Park West Gallery

I am often asked about the significance of the number “9″ in Yaacov Agam’s art.

Yaacov Agam, as the son of an Orthodox Rabbi, possesses a deep interest in Hebrew mysticism. The study of the most mystical aspect of Hebrew beliefs is called “Kabbala.” Kabbala is millennia old and extremely esoteric, secretive and illusive to grasp. Students of Kabbala spend their entire lifetimes attempting to penetrate the hidden meanings and interpretations of the subject.

Yaacov Agam, Emerging (1985)“Emerging” (1985) by Yaacov Agam

In the language of Hebrew (one of the world’s most ancient still in use) every letter of the alphabet has a hidden meaning found in each letter, vowel and accent. Each letter in Hebrew also represents a number. Hebrew, unlike many other languages, never developed separate numerical symbols. The ancient Hebrews also believed that God’s “language” could be perceived in mathematics. When contemplating the perfection of mathematics, formulae, its indefiniteness (microcosm/macrocosm) and man’s need for mathematics to create our physical existence, it is easy to see a “metaphysical” aspect to numbers as well. This is the basis for the pursuit and penetration into the mysticism of numbers and mathematics in Kabbala.

The Hebrew word for “life” is “chai.” The word chai is composed of two letters (two numbers) which add up to the number “18.” So in “life” we find a factor of “9.” Now “9” is also a “magical” number. Perhaps you’ve noticed that for each factor of 9: 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90… when the numbers are added together equal 9 (18…1 + 8 = 9, etc.). This continues: 108, 117, 126, 135, 144, etc.

As Agam considers his works of art to be “visual prayers” or creations which each reflect upon the metaphysical, he chooses to incorporate factors of 9 into each work to “resonate” this purpose. Therefore, in an Agam “prismograph” for example, there are 9 prisms used. The edition size (180) is a factor of 9. The number of colors used in the print is divisible by 9 (I don’t know how many there are, but trust me). If you measure the distance between the prisms, the length, width and depth of the prisms, the sizes of each rectangular space used, the distance from the edge of the frame (white acrylic) to the image, the thickness of the frame, etc. these dimensions will all be divisible by 9 in centimeters. Agam incorporates his Kabbalistic beliefs directly into the physicality (form) of the art he creates.

This is only a single aspect of the layers of meaning in Agam’s work. In particular, I find the things he says about his own work most illuminating. Remember, he created his concept, his “credo,” more than 60 years ago and it has never changed. It has continued to sustain his limitless creativity and to be a template for the creation of his art which has filled the world. There is not (nor has there ever been) anyone like him as an artist in the world history. This is one of many reasons why I personally believe he can arguably be considered the most important artist alive in our time. We are indeed honored to have his art and his enduring relationship to Park West Gallery with us each day.

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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Download the article [pdf]

Visiting Linda Le Kinff’s Studio and Home

Posted in Art Videos, Artists, Linda Le Kinff with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Park West Gallery

In a special unprecedented visit, I traveled with Park West Gallery President, Marc Scaglione, other members of the Park West Gallery team, and 70 of Park West Gallery’s long-term clients, to see the home and studio of artist Linda Le Kinff. At Linda’s home, in the historic French town of Rambouillet, we were treated to a tour of the house and Linda’s adjoining studio filled with Le Kinff art of all types and periods.

Le Cirque by Linda Le Kinff“Le Cirque” by Linda Le Kinff

Along with her husband, Jacques, Linda elected to present a never-before-seen collection of paintings on wood and canvas, collages, and a most unusual array of objets d’art, including sculpture bases composed of four painted panels and two ‘coffee tables’ created by mounting large painted panels on legs. Also included were two poetry books created by Linda on special hand-made papers, filled with original poetry, drawings, paintings and collages. These two highly intimate and compelling creations were a delight to the guests.

Most well received were Linda’s sculptures in bronze. These works had never before been offered to collectors and they ranged in size from small table top works to life-size bronzes installed in her backyard. Linda announced that she would be going to the studio foundry in Italy where the works are cast to supervise the casting of each sculpture ordered and the specification of the color (or patina) chosen by each collector.

Left to Right: Agathe en or, La Contrebassiste, Anais a la Capeline, La Trapeziste
From left: “Agathe en Or,” “La Contrebassiste,” “Anais a la Capeline,” and “La Trapeziste” by Linda Le Kinff.

Finally, Linda unveiled — for the first time — the new catalog raisonée of her graphic works. The book, over five years in the making, was enthusiastically received and a signed and dedicated copy was made available to each couple in attendance.

There is no experience like meeting an artist and peering into the creative world in which they work and live. At Park West Gallery, we are delighted to bring these enriching experiences to our clients, as they provide a deeper appreciation and understanding of the remarkably talented people who represent the art of our time. This was truly a unique experience that only Park West Gallery could bring.
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Click the player below to join me on an exclusive tour of Linda Le Kinff’s home and studio in Rambouillet.