Monday, July 30, 2012

Gretchen Kane Studio Visit

Last week I visited a local artist at her home and studio in Blauvelt, NY (just south and west of Nyack).  Gretchen Kane participated in the Japan Tsunami Relief Art Auction that I curated in Suffern last year and I remembered her work distinctly because it was the only abstract piece in the show.  Gretchen started out as an artist in SoHo in the 70's.  Now she is a classroom teacher at a Waldorf-like elementary school in the area.  Her work is inspired by rock formations in nature and she is one of three artists in an upcoming exhibition at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack... Earth, Sea, and In Between: Zaria Forman, Gretchen Kane, Leah Oates.  According to the Hopper House website...
Earth and Sea showcases the work of three artists exploring the natural landscape using their own unique processes to illustrate movement, form and human interaction with the elements.  Zaria Forman’s intricate drawings explore moments of transition, turbulence and tranquility in the landscape and their impact on the viewer.  Gretchen Kane layers transparent color and line, creating movement, repetition and relationship in her work.  Leah Oates’s photography responds to sites and objects that are often ignored and articulates the effects of social processes and consumption on the landscape.  

After my visit with Gretchen I emailed her a few questions... this is what she had to say

Where are your from…..

I was born in NYC on 102 Street and 5th Ave. My artist parents moved to Hastings-on-Hudson a few years later but both continued their city careers. I was often brought to their work places and felt comfortable moving to NY once I was out of my teens.

I remember arriving in the city on 1972 with a duffel bag and a few paintings slung on my back. Walking down the street I imaged that within a few years I’d have a gallery representing me. Within a few weeks I headed downtown to this restaurant I had heard about where I would supposedly find a community bulletin board with information on rooms to rent.  The place was called “Food’ and it was on little known streets south of Houston. (Specifically Prince and Wooster Streets.) ‘Food’ was one of three places where one could find a meal in this, as yet, uninhabited neighborhood. I cannot remember if Soho even had been officially named ‘Soho’ at this point in time.

Back then the place was deserted. No laundry, no stores, just recently abandoned warehouses, many of which emitted specific and yet mysterious smells. On the corner of Broome and West Broadway, (where I soon lived, for $150 month), I remember a distinct odor like bristly pepper. One morning each week, piles of foul smelling leather shapes were heaped onto the sidewalk for the trash man. Sorting through the great street garbage became a vehicle to meet other artists who, like me, were scanning for materials to incorporate into their work.

The street atmosphere was shadowy and foreboding at night but lively and often electrifying by day. I would often see Leo Castelli walking down the street with Ileana Sonnabend. He would always nod a greeting to our familiar faces. I was enamored with his graciousness and pose as well as the fact the he always wore a handsome Italian suite on those bristly streets. At lunch I could run into Allan Kaprow, the artist who develop happenings in the sixties, or see Jean-Michel Basquiat with an entourage of young men crowding on the sidewalk near his studio. Running into Meredith Monk the day after her performance was another thrill. And Eric Bogosian was the technician at the Kitchen. There was a sense of camaraderie, self-importance and risk back then. 

The art scene was weighty and male dominated. The art work of Frank Stella, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Donald Judd and Brice Marden brought awe and admiration to my group of art friends. I must admit I was not interested in the dry formality of their work and the principles founding the minimalist’s movement were tough to get through. But the scale and audacity of the work, as well as the gallery spaces themselves, excited me. I remember posters announcing the Gorilla Girl Movement plastered all over the buildings and that was about the same time I came into contact with women dealers: Paula Cooper, Barbara Gladstone, Marion Goodman and Mary Boone. Female artists like Eva Hess and Agnes Dennis began to influence me and later on, I became friends with greats like Susan Rothenberg, Joan Snyder and Judy Pfaff.  To me the work created by these women was totally original and authentically theirs and they stimulated my need to create and to find my own truth.

The neighborhood began to change. ‘Food’ went out of business, more people arrived and a tiny cheese shop opened up run by a nice guy named Giorgio DeLuca. The Soho rent rates started rising and I moved into a district way over on the west side and south of Canal Street. I still remember the name of the building I moved into on Greenwich Street  …The Terminal Egg Case Building. We were soon a community of artists and musicians. The rent I believe was also $150/mo and we started a whole new neighborhood leaving Soho behind.

How has the work evolved from 70s to now?

My artwork was experimental and all over the place in the 70’s. I went to school at Pratt and was making black line drawings combined with strong gestural marks on huge translucent papers that hung from the ceiling creating a walking maze. On the other extreme, one of my teachers was a realistic figure artist and I mentored with him one summer, learning to glaze and create highly realistic still life oil paintings. Later I became a professional printmaker and I had the opportunity to meet and work with great artist like Claus Oldenburg, Arakawa, Tom Wesselmann.

Looking back at my artwork I see that my early inclinations toward layering, charcoal, pigment and paper took root. This leads me to believe that artists, (people), can potentially discover what is essential for them. It takes lots of hard work and lots of bad art until ones aesthetic can surface and go beyond what is known.
The one of my formative experiences as a young artist took place on a late afternoon while crossing Houston Street. The sun was setting and, as if for the first time, I became aware of the horizon, the setting sun, the clouds and flying birds. After that I sought out light, air, clouds, wind and stayed with friends in the country when I could. I developed a series of paintings based on the view off the Palisades Cliff tops. I had my first official Soho show entitled Fantastic Landscapes and since that time, my work has been motivated by my respect for nature.

The role of the natural world and how it changes one in the studio.

As a practice, much like a musician practices scales, I seek out small wonders, stones, wind, water, and plants to draw. When I am able, I discover nature's patterns and forces and the work can begin to find its own rhythm. Once back in my studio, I begin with these forms but soon relinquish them to allow the process of paint on paper to become my guide. Drawing and painting are distinctly different processes.

Children and art teaching

Working with children as an art teacher has given me insight and great respect for their honesty and unpretentious investigations. In fact, I aspire to be as sincere as they. Often an art project concentrates on specific materials and concepts and I find myself investigating similar content in my studio.

Directions and Career

I will think about his tomorrow.

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