One Artists Way: Gary John Gresl (An Interview)
by Patricia Obletz (From the Wisconsin Visual Artists Magazine), September 1, 2007
Talking to prodigious artist, philosopher, writer Gary Gresl is a
spiritual journey. If his name is familiar to you, its likely that
youre interested in visual art and have seen his mixed-media assemblages
in numerous galleries and museums, or youve read his commentaries.
Each Gresl assemblage of found objects speaks of ancestors and wildlife,
and intriguing, inspiring, sometimes humorous, reflections of internal
and external life now, then and in-between. His sculptures have won numerous
awards, including Mary Nohl Foundation Suitcase Fund, Best in Show and
Jurors Awards (details at _www.Gresl.com).
A native of Wisconsin, Garys driving ambition is to gain national
and international recognition for its visual artists. To this end, he
works tirelessly, giving energy, time and financial support to a variety
of fine art organizations and grassroots movements to promote visual art
and artists. Hes a lifetime member and past-president of Wisconsin
Painters & Sculptors, the oldest visual art society in this handsome,
green state; founding member of Milwaukee Visual Artists Roundtable. Gary
also is one of the founders and currently one of three co-directors of
the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards/Hall of Fame hosted
by Museum of Wisconsin Art, formerly West Bend Art Museum.
When asked about his aim to advance Wisconsin artists, Gary leaned forward,
his true-blue eyes sparking, and said, For many years, the Milwaukee
Art Museum used to jury Wisconsin artists work and exhibit them
in their galleries, such as the Cudahy Gallery. But in the mid 1980s,
MAM staff was heard to say that the Cudahy Gallery of Wisconsin art was
a ghetto. MAM soon closed this gallery. Coinciding with the
plan to build the Calatrava addition, MAM support of state artists was
However, as a positive step, in 2005, the Milwaukee Art Museum
agreed to give local artist groups a summer Saturday in which to set up
booths and display their art on museum grounds. The Milwaukee Artist Market
proved to be a very successful venture and has become an annual event.
Not even last summers blazing heat deterred a big crowd of people.
Unfortunately, though, there still remains the attitude that regional
artists are provincial. My dream goal is national recognition for art
created in this state. I think that New York, considered the center for
contemporary art and developments (at least those publicized), has dominated
the headlines long enough. Its good for the art scene in general
to promote regional art across the country.
On my personal journey as an artist, I came to believe that creating
art wasnt fulfilling me. Regret may not be the right word, but my
failure to pursue my early interest in art expression bothered me. But,
through my association with other artists in the late 70s and early 80s,
I realized that the 3D materials Id begun adding to my paintings
provided the most satisfying and natural road to my fulfillment. Working
with them combines my interests in natural history, evolution, and philosophy
with visual and intuitive responses utilizing a wide variety of elements,
ranging from Gaia to museum studies. When I taught art back in the
60s and early 70s, I was too inexperienced
(and thick headed) to view that what I did as a teacher would lead these
young people to some spiritual level. However, most of these
students found expression to come easily from their most basic observational
reality, and as long as they were not demanded to create art
that was perfect or real or realistic,
they enjoyed the experience and felt good about it.
One boy who had difficulty with academic subjects had the most
wonderful, unexpected eye-to-hand process. Everything he did was out of
proportion, with unreal angles and foreshortening, with a Picasso-like
quality to his translation of 3D to 2D. He loved drawing and coloring,
and I praised him for his unique expression. This was one area in his
school life in which his academic skill did not have to come into play.
Gary spoke of his own childhood fascination with found objects, rocks,
pieces of wood, buttons, and more. He said, Back in the 60s, when
art class assignments required found objects, I knew at last why I was
saving them. They gain character and meaningful history with age. Lets
take a spoon or a shoe. These things have remained essentially the same
over the centuries, yet theyve been altered through time; the older
ones have gained character and they parallel our lives: they surface,
they function, they wear down. I use them in my work as metaphors for
I never know where or when Ill find something that inspires
me. Since closing the Milwaukee Antique Center, after 31 years, I still
frequent antique stores, rummage sales friends often find things
for me, and on the Internet, Ive bought sea shells and mounted fish.
And sometimes I encounter perfect objects when walking in the country.
Art is essentially a way to communicate, as well as a way to personally
intellectualize and experiment, and to study and seek personal contentment.
Making art most often is a solitary experience that fills me, and no doubt
many other artists, with eureka, ah ha moments. Whether its
finding the Muse or releasing the demons, always for me its about
translating Natures physical manifestations into paintings or sculptures
through my perceptions and ability, therefore possessing or becoming part
processes. Art is a guide that has helped me to find and earn a place
in the Universe.
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