They live among us. Sitting across the room at the Mud House. Fixing the fronts of buildings on Cherokee. Hanging drywall in Lafayette Square. Painting legs at Lumière. They create daily and share their visions when they can.
For a short time I managed Abstrakt Gallery (now absorbed by the Benton Park Cafe) where I had the privilege to connect with many St. Louis artists. I have met many more since my time there. For the sake of the Kinetic Eye visitors I’d like to revisit eleven of the artists who were featured on the shelves and walls of the gallery while I was there.
There are insights to be gained by seeing an artist at work. We had placed a huge plastic sheet in the center of the gallery. Kennedy brought in a dozen or so cans of house paint in various shades—along with a few blank canvases. With her overalls on and her painting tee Kennedy was ready to work. Canvas laid flat she drips, splats, carves, tilts, pours, spreads and brushes paint across the surface. The process ends for a time…picked up hours or days later—tipping the canvas so paint (still wet) takes new shape, additional paint added. The work progresses forward.
Pulls up in a red vintage pick-up truck. You’ve got to love Phil’s beard. It’s in beards like these that you imagine creatures like those in his paintings dwelling. Phil’s beard, like Dali’s moustache, is part of his persona. And it is fitting for one drawing upon cubists and surrealists and all things fantastical for inspiration. Screaming babies in flying machines. Magnificent monsters under beds of clouds. This is the stuff of dreams and surrealists and Phil Jarvis.
Jennifer comes to life when she’s behind a canvas with her brush in hand. Quilting color onto the canvas and abstract backing for the legs, the hips, the figure to come. And the light. Jennifer has a way with light—capturing the reflection on the figure which is the feature. Bits of the background bleed through arms, legs and thighs.
Eric came by the gallery. We then stumbled through alleyways to an apartment where he was working on watercolors. He shared the many pieces in his flat storage. Amazingly detailed pieces. We walked across the street to the pigeon coop-of-a-storefront where he works on his larger mixed media pieces. That’s where I met Grenadier and the bomb filled with bunnies. Then there was Red-Gold. Wood, paint, epoxy, metal, clay merging into something that is so much more. Organic? Synthetic? What is this work Eric.
Think Eric Nichols on glass-cid. Organic? Synthetic? How do you blow glass to look like that? Lampe works and teaches out of the Third Degree glass factory. It’s no accident that there is a similar aesthetic between his work and Eric’s. There are some similar geographies and histories between the two.
If you ever thought you could get into the head of the artist—think again. Just when you think you’ve got Laura’s paintings figured out… What? That’s not Laura? That’s her daughter. Right. She makes these figurines as well: Eco, the blue man; the juggler; the fool; the strong little man. It’s a traveling side show of sorts. Then there are the heads. Your neighbor you say? Some ancient king. A butcher, a baker, a…no, there is no candlestick maker.
What do we grow up to be? Some people grow up to be artists. Others…serial killers, pop stars, pin-up queens, soldiers. These are the stories captured through photo enlargements and paint on masonite. It’s hard not to be enamored with the pin-up girl on gold, or the young boy in his cowboy suite, or the June Cleaver looking woman serving up grenades. Langley draws upon the looks of days past, to present something very modern which messages lurking just under the surface.
Lidded vessels, jars, vases and bowls in very non-traditional shapes with ornate decoration. Would you pour a tea with this pot? Or store bread in this other? I imagine picking fruit out of this bowl. And pouring rosewater from this basin. A flare of the Middle East perhaps in these functional forms from Saint Louis.
Jovan’s is a unique story. A kid in the projects. A Wash U professor, Bob Hansman, with a vision for using art as a means for reaching out to families and children in the projects. Jovan is one of Bob’s first students in the projects. Eventually Bob adopts Jovan and the two work together on developing City Faces, a non-profit organization working with youth in the projects. Jovan draws faces. Faces from his past. Faces from the now. Faces tell stories of what was and what will be.
What is it to share vision? To show someone else what you’ve seen? To capture a moment when the sun was just right on a particular spot in a puddle in a park in Berlin. Cuneo travels the world and captures moments of time while he is away. He shares these with others through his large format photos.
First time I met Thomas was at his brother’s place on McNair which serves as home for many of his pieces. It was interesting to bring these paintings into a gallery context. They took on new meaning on these walls. Lit with spotlights which draw out their color. To look at a Yanko painting is to look to the ground from 30,000 feet up and crank up the saturation of color until it bleeds from the ground below. Bold reds, blues, yellows and pink. Shapes, natural and unnatural alike, the dot the landscape.
You’ll still find most of these artists actively displaying their works about town. Some have moved on. Some have put away the brushes and canvas. Many more have moved in to try their hand in St. Louis.
I look forward to presenting more of this cities talents on these virtual pages.