Reading Art for Depth

Reading Art for Depth

This morning I walked by a car in which two teenage boys head bobbed and body rocked in a frenzy to “growl” music. The windows were up so the sound was muted, but strong vibes exuded a fair distance. A third youth walked by the car, grinning from ear to ear. These teens were in full and deep communication with each other about who they were, within their worlds, at that moment. I am multiple generations older and a peace-loving female, and I also understood what was being communicated. We all have a growl within us. It means different things at different times, but essentially an inner growl speaks of human suffering and determination to survive.

This type of common-denominator communication can often be found in the artwork of deeply committed artists. During May, June, and early July, PMA presents an eclectic collection of four solo exhibitions in the main galleries: Richard Kamler, Farnaz Zebetian, Rinat Goren and James Claussen. Each artist works in media and expression that is very different from the others.

Usually when I walk from one art gallery into another, I instinctively try to find the common sensibilities that link the artwork to myself and the world. After this morning’s experience with the teenagers, I was curious to see if I could find a “growl” thread connecting PMA’s four artists.

Richard Kamler: "The Last Supper: Re-imagined" One of twelve goblets, gold leaf, originally filled with blood (now black residue) 1996

Presently displaying his work in the entrance gallery is sculptor and painter Richard Kamler. Well known for his outspoken crusades for peace, Kamler comes from the point of view that humanity is essentially made up of one heart and one blood. While in ancient times societies developed their own spiritual beliefs and restrictive judgements within their physically distant localities, Kamler explains through his artwork that (especially in this modern day of global communication) to put one’s energy towards perpetuating the aggressive differences between societies and cultures is counter intuitive to world survival.

While the artist is clearly an outspoken person, and full of inner growl, Kamler wisely chose art as one of his vehicles for getting his message across. As he says: “Art is our one true global language. It knows no nation. It favors no race. It acknowledges no class. It speaks to our need to heal, reveal, and transform.”  While viewing his work my eyes were opened to the destruction that can be caused by separatism generated by religious competitiveness, political power posturing, social greed, and the perpetuation of poverty.

When I stood before Kamler’s lead-wrapped cafeteria food tray display, all kinds of warnings fired off in my head: Don’t touch! Who eats this food? …Workers? …Prisoners? …Children? Who feeds the children of the world? Is there lead in their food? …My food? Are we all caught in a jail-society butterfly net whereby we are killing our food and therefore ourselves? Is the whole world in danger of being poisoned? Needless to say, viewing even one Kamler piece can take the viewer throughout space and time, looking for hope that might be our future.

Farnaz Zabetian: "Not All Windows Have Beautiful Views (detail)"

Walking on into Decker Gallery B, I view the work of Farnaz Zabetian. Of Iranian/American descent, Zabetian presents a collection of large oils on canvas exploring womankind’s abilities to struggle through and survive maltreatment. Each painting features a different aspect of deep emotional experience. Titles include “How to Despair with Dignity,” “Discovery of Something Out of Nothing,” “Memory’s Fog,” and (to my mind an inner growl piece) “Rebel.” While Zabetian is using the theme of historical and worldwide oppression of the female as her point of reference, viewers of both genders who have personally experienced deep trauma will recognize within the works a few of the different stages of loss and recovery that the psyche goes through in collapse and repair.

Farnaz Zabetian: "Woman on Red (detail)"

I now move on to Arabella’s Gallery. Here encaustic artist Rinat Goren has presented work that layers abstracted forms and graphical shapes between transparent and opaque washes of wax-based color. This technique creates a 3D quality that hints at the passage of time. Goren’s titles lead us towards her intentions about the abstract works, and include “Under the Surface,” “Hidden Language,” “How Clear Thoughts Form,” and “Living Mindfully.”

Rinat Goren: "Living Mindfully (detail)"

Referring back to Zabetian’s work in the previous gallery, I wonder if Goren’s work could be demonstrating a pathway towards long term, personal lifestyle recovery. Diffusing clutter would enable one to get at the essence of any problem. Using one’s inner growl of determination would then lead to the healing. My mind then skips back to Kamler and his cry for a unified humanity. I wonder if Goren presents (symbolically) a technique that not only allows us to self-protect, but also to better embrace the cluttered concerns of the world.

The fourth solo exhibition is that of James Claussen (Decker Gallery A). I’d taken note of Claussen’s exquisite lithographic techniques earlier (the guy can really draw on stone), but I hadn’t as yet attempted to decipher the meaning behind his imagery. The displayed Artist Statement explains that his recent work combines surrealism and abstraction to form a visual and spatial experience.

As I viewed the aesthetically graceful works from afar, I felt a sense of comfort. The light pieces hinted at daydreams, the dark works towards that of a galaxy-filled night sky. Ambiguous large or small forms floated about the pieces in geometric balance, the hues and tones companionable and relatively nonaggressive. Some pieces appeared to have more movement than others, but most felt so carefully designed that they reminded me of the careful inner workings of a clock. I pondered the Artist Statement coupled with this distant calm message I was receiving. Surrealism and abstract forms. Was this show the playful renderings of a technically astute engineer of grace -- the point being that graceful design is enough? We certainly need grace in this chaotic world of ours. I again looked at the careful designs and moved forward. Something was hidden here. Surrealism is a word that is often used to describe work that portrays a reality that is beyond the obvious. I sensed calm waters hiding deep insight. Perhaps Claussen has been practicing his own Mindful Thinking.

James Claussen: "Dimension"

My sleuthing mind told me to search for any one tiny shape within the complex pieces that might surprise me. I immediately found it (aha! an inner growl) floating around in “Revolution” (a piece depicting organic linear forms revolving around a central axes). Upon finding my “key” to what might be Claussen’s deeper message, I began reading the printed pieces sequentially, according to the dates that the works were created. New, startling conclusions arose in my mind about Claussen’s work.

Here was no superficial child’s play. I pondered the individual pieces for a while, searching for proof that my theories were solid. Maybe yes … or maybe I was just being theatrical? Then I stood back and viewed the body of work from afar. Scientific precision, clearly and calmly expressed upon a very imaginative stage. One of the Claussen pieces is called “Enigma.” Yes, indeed.

After my experience of walking through the four galleries at PMA, the question now begs to be asked: What is bigger than personal concern for my own healing and that of my fellow man? Are artists in general affected by the shifting state of world affairs and cosmic reality?

In answer, I can only think that the adult artist’s intellectualism travels outward as his/her teenage growl silently roars within. It is the blessings of time that enable the experienced and mindful artist (and all adults throughout the globe) the ability to transform deeply instinctive inner growls into something that might ultimately help the world and beyond.

To meet the artists (and come to your own conclusions about the works displayed) join us at PMA for the following Art Talks, all free to the public:

            June 4, 2-4 pm. Rinat Goren on the history and special attributes of encaustic (melted wax) painting.

            June 11, 2-4 pm. James Claussen on the history, advantages, and challenges of traditional lithography.

            July 9, 2-4 pm. Richard Kamler, conversations with the artist.

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"PMA Heartbeat" contains the personal observations of the artist in Studio 26, and not necessarily those of PMA as a whole.

Website by Werner Glinka