Sunday, January 8, 2012
Art review: Paintings of Former Berks Artist on Show in Philadelphia
Art review: Paintings of Former Berks Artist on Show in Philadelphia Originally Published: 1/8/2012 By Ron Schira Reading Eagle Correspondent Reading Eagle Company Courtesy of Ron Schira Although it has been about 20 years since Hanover-born artist Michael Kessler moved his studio to Santa Fe, N.M., he has firmly kept one foot placed on Pennsylvania soil by regularly exhibiting his artworks at the Schmidt Dean Gallery in Philadelphia. On display now through Jan. 21, these latest acrylic works are visible in the gallery's Chestnut Street location in center city. Kessler, 58, received his bachelor's degree from Kutztown University and has shown extensively throughout the Berks and Lehigh Valley regions. Beyond that, his art and notoriety have generously been extended to galleries and museums nationwide through articles about him in all the major publications. Widely collected, his paintings reside in numerous homes and businesses. He has been honored with prestigious awards and grants, such as - and among others - the Rome Prize, the Whitney Independent Study Program and a Pollack-Krasner Foundation grant. His paintings, though based on nature, are entirely abstract and visually enticing. Smaller than his room-size works, the 16 pieces in this exhibit, all completed on wood panels, are gentle excursions into contemplation. But as with all of his recent paintings, a first glance will present a highly glossed surface that appears to contain embedded elements, somewhat like petals in amber. Further inspection will disclose that these surfaces and undersurfaces are systematically and carefully treated with numerous transparent veils of paint and medium to endow them with a luminous, marbled effect. Bands or stripes of single colors cross either vertically or horizontally, interrupting and energizing the surface as they seemingly float on the picture plane. Technically, they are painted, but their laborious process betrays a conceptual manner of approach that elucidates the painting's timeline, or how one is able to see how the layers interact. And similar to looking into a pond and seeing the levels of wavering plant life, or being able to grasp the underlying structure of roots or ground strata, one becomes aware of that internal space. As many as 50 layers are squeegeed smoothly across the surface in their making, adding to the cumulative effect. His titles consist of one word, such as "Birchlings" or "Axiology," which leaves all interpretation up to the viewer while simultaneously conveying a purely retinal and poetic experience. I must say, too, that I sensed a touch of calligraphy infused throughout much of the work, like bamboo through smoke or on silk. Previous efforts by the artist embraced a subtractive methodology, to which he would sand off excessive paint for the layered effect. The current paintings allow for the same end but with an additive tilt. They speak on an ongoing aesthetic of how he makes his art and how he came to his conclusions. The artist also will work in series and, for instance, emphasize the colors of red or blue in his compositions. For the pieces shown at Schmidt Dean, he explained that groves, forests and birch trees inspired the paintings. Normally, I am not a proponent of resin-coated paintings as I tend to see them disguise bad painting with a nice glossy sheen, making the sheen more important than what is beneath. These original artworks incorporate and conjoin that coating to the method of production and make it an integral part of the work and a true artistic invention. Contact Ron Schira: firstname.lastname@example.org.