11/20/2006: "Albert Kresch: Paintings at Wright State University Art Gallery"
Al Kresch and Glenn Cebulash. On November 7th I met my brother Tim in Dayton to see an exhibition of the work, mostly recent plein air landscapes, of Albert Kresch. Kresch is a painter I have heard a lot about but was not familiar with. Kresch was born on July 4th, 1922. He began making cartoons at 6, studied art in a variety of programs from the WPA Settlement Houses in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum, and later in Hans Hoffman’s school in NYC from 42-43. He has a BA from Brooklyn College and an MA from New York University.
The exhibition was curated by Diane Fitch, Associate Professor of Art, and Glen Cebulash, Associate Professor of Art and is currently up at Wright State University in Dayton Ohio from November 5th through January 7th, 2007. Wright State is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated painting programs and is connected to the great painting tradition of the last century which is also underrated at the moment due to the times and what I think is the great misunderstanding of post-modernism.
“Near Coshecton” 1994
In the late 30’s Al Kresch and his friend Leland Bell met Helion. Helion had formed a group with Mondrian called Abstract Creation. They were both very important abstract painters during the 30’s each having his own impact on American painters. Helion, while in the French army, was captured by the NAZI’s and was interned in one of the concentration camps from which he eventually escaped. After that he began to return to the figure. He said while interned he kept seeing the faces of people. That sense of humanity became an important aspect of his work from that point on. But it is not as if he left abstraction. His work remained essentially abstract even as the figure began to dominate the picture plane. This, Kresch said recently in an interview with Craig Taylor, was the impetus to do what he and a number of the Jane Street painters were already looking to do-- that is to move from abstraction to figuration. Kresch’s first two exhibitions at the Jane Street Gallery (the first coop gallery in Manhattan begun in 1943) were abstractions. It is not uncommon for artists who began with abstraction to find their way to figuration just as many figurative painters eventually find their way to abstraction. It is a standard comment of mine that all painting is both observational and abstract. One cannot manipulate abstract visual form without recognizing the debt it owes to observation and representational painting without a sense of the abstract translation from 4 dimensions to 2 dimensions. I can tell you this specifically because I’ve taught drawing, design and color for nearly 22 years. Work that denies translational abstraction is always stiff and dead lacking the energy that abstraction exudes. In short a picture/painting, whether or not it comes from direct observation, memory or invention, is its own reality. Kresch understands this instinctively.
A good example of this is “Summer” at the end of this blog. Essentially a yellow field painting with a dark line of trees and hills along the horizon and a streak of blue cloud just above. The dominant yellow forces the blue into a space that seems to be between the viewers station point and the line of hills on the horizon. There is no other mathematic perspective active in the painting. It is a color space alone.
In “Catskills Landscape” it is the contrast of light and dark that frames the color of the ground plane and sets the blue sky into the background. Yet the blue of the sky made of ultramarine, cerulean and cobalt blue exists both in the deep space and rises above our heads as it sits over the nearly white hot bluffs and sand of the middle ground and fore ground. Something similar happens in “Parade of Clouds” where the soft saffron clouds float not so much over the horizon as over trees in the farther middle ground are pushed forward by the blue sky, as much texture as color, in which they are imbedded. The texture wants to hold them in place but the color contrasts propel them forward. These are mostly small paintings, some barely larger than a large format postcard, and like Corot’s smaller Italian landscapes they project a far bigger impact upon us than their size should allow. This is pure painting at its best.
I was involved in a conversation standing next to Kresch and several painters from the Midwest Painters Group and learned that Kresch’s color is not an attempt to copy the color he sees in nature. While it may draw from something in the motif he understands that color is its own reality on a two dimensional surface.
That once a few tones are established everything must build from or in relation to those colors and may require choices different than what the eye sees but choices that cause a two dimensional picture pressure that is consistent with the painting as a new reality, albeit one inspired by the original landscape or some aspect of that landscape. This is what Corot meant when he said a painter must “Dream
before Nature”. Kresch’s color, at its best, simply becomes light.
“Parade of Clouds”
Kresch’s sources are sometimes obvious. Rouault’s dark outlines forcing the color like stained glass is the most obvious. I saw this immediately and was pleased to see Martica Sawin mentions the connection in her essay for the show. But Gabriel Laderman mentions Courbet, Derain and Marquet. I also noted some connections to Hopper in the 1995 “Near Coshecton.“ But none of these influences deny the essential originality of Kresch’s vision. While the artists mentioned were certainly available to Kresch as he began to study his craft it is not uncommon for a work to find similar solutions whether or not one is intending to copy a style. It is no matter that one recognizes signs of another artist in any given work. Laderman, in one of two essay’s written for the Kresch exhibition, talks about originality and how landscape painting becomes part of the dialogue, not only the aesthetic dialogue but even the political dialogue of the times. These are issues we’ve often discussed in these blogs and on the AA forum posts. I said earlier that there is a great misunderstanding of post-modernism. Post-Modernism often questions the idea of originality in art. If it does anything well, Post-Modernism deconstructs past ideas about art in its bid to re-form how we perceive and think about art. I think Gabriel Laderman’s statement bears great significance in relation to this issue. He says…
“Originality is not found in ignorance of past examples , or ignorance of the motif, but in using as much knowledge from many sources available to us to arrive at our notion of the motif. Too many times we say to ourselves, I am a painter, I cannot use all of that knowledge in making the picture. Kresch does not do that. Whatever he knows and feels is an important part of what he has to say to us about the motif.”
Many feel that landscape painting is dead. That it has little relevance in today’s politically charged world. That it is an old idea whose time is up. Laderman, who taught painting at Queens College, says “ insofar as any observer must feel the strength of Kresch’s emotion and forming of the motif, he is changed. This change, which exhilarates and lifts up every viewer, also has a political dimension as well. We begin to believe in the goodness and fullness of man through experiencing the goodness and fullness of each painting, and in this way we become better citizens.”
Kresch, as Corot said, “dreams before nature.” And so do we as we are awash in Kresch’s stunning color space.
An abbreviated show history for Albert Kresch:
1946 Jane Street Gallery, New York, NY
1948 Jane Street Gallery, New York, NY
1953 Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, NY
1977 Hobart and William Smith Colleges, NY
1982 Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
1989 Contemporary Realist Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2001 Center for Figurative Painting, New York, NY
2002 Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York, NY
Fulbright fellowship 1954
American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Prize, 2003
Elected as member to the National Academy of Design, New York, NY, 2006
In the collection of the Ecverhart Museum, Scranton, PA
European painter and teacher who brought modernist ideas to artists in the United States. Hoffman taught an interesting kind of abstraction working from still life mostly. He coined the term “Push Pull” having to do with the shifting shape energies possible vertically and latterally as well as color energies forward and backwards on a two dimensional surface. Hoffman’s influence on abstraction in this country is impossible to deny. He is even given credit for doing drip paintings before Pollack did them.
Painter and educator who taught for years at Queens College, Laderman Has of late been trying to find and bond together a large number of younger painters in this country around the idea of “Forming” which gets at the idea that how one paints what they paint, the abstraction, the content, color/light etc. is all one important, possibly the most important issue in painting. He is a champion of abstract figuration.
The Jane Street Gallery:
The cooperative gallery opened in 1943 and was the first cooperative gallery space run by artists themselves. Some of the more important artists from the Jane St. Gallery were Hyde Solomon, Nell Blaine, Judith Rothchild, Leland Bell, Louisa Matthiasdottir, Ida Fischer, Larry Rivers and Albert Kresch who is, at 80 the only surviving member. Together they staged the American premiere of a play by Frederico Carcia Lorca, “If Five Years Pass” for which they designed the sets. The play was staged at the Provincetown Playhouse. A large majority of the Jane St. Gallery members were students of Hans Hoffman who taught privately in both NYC and Provincetown. --From the New York Times article ART IN REVIEW; ‘The Jane Street Gallery’==‘Celebrating New York’s First Artist Cooperative’ published July 4th, 2003 written by Grace Glueck.
Sources and links: I harvested some quotes and facts from an article and interview by Deborah Garwood and Craig Taylor published on art critical.com:
I also found some important ideas and quotes by Martica Sawin and Gabriel Laderman in the multi-fold invitation printed for the exhibition by Wright State University. I don’t know if these are published on their web site but here is the link all the same:
My brother Tim, who is the person who has introduced me to Kresch’s work, shows along with a number of other painters influenced by Kresch, Leland Bell and the school of painting that began prior to and continued long after the Abstract Expressionist movement on the Mid-West Painters Group web site links listed below. Their site not only highlights the work of the group but is educational in that they discuss and show the work of their own influences as well. Tim is planning to put up a number of images from Kresch’s Wright State exhibition in the near future if you are interested in seeing more of his work.