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Earthy art exhibition “rocks” Reeve Union

by Beth Krieck, fo the Advance Titan

'From the old boat house on Pike Lake' shows off Manitowoc native Gary John Gresl's basic concepts. His show at the Gail Floether Steinhilber Art Gallery in Reeve Union runs till March 15. (by Kyle Redjinski, of the Advance Titan)

An exhibition in the Gail Floether Steinhilber Art Gallery in Reeve Memorial Union featuring a Milwaukee-area artist will run Feb. 6 through March 15.

Gary John Gresl, a 59-year-old Manitowoc native, says most of his nature-based works have a theme.

“They incorporate all sorts of objects that out of my experience have hit a chord,” said Gresl in an interview with The Scene Online. “They could be things I recall from my childhood or things I’ve dealt with as an adult.”

Mementos and Earthly Things exhibits what Gresl calls “assemblages” or “visual short stories.” Every sculpture contains many details such as beads, shells, pinecones, yarn or bone. Gresl frequently uses antlers and stuffed animal heads to convey his sense of nature. The sculptures range in size from a small, decorated stepladder to a 12-foot collage surrounding an alligator.

“I’ve (used the animals) with my own feel and perception of their place, how they work together,” Gresl said.

“It’s cool but it’s kind of freaky at the same time,” said junior Tiffany Detlor as an initial response to the exhibit. Detlor also said most of the sculptures seemed like they were based on the conflict between man and nature and how human influence on nature causes suffering in nature.

Sophomore Nathan Lundt agreed.

“I’ve never been to one of these before, but I like the voodoo essence of this one,” said Lundt, speaking of “Skull from Up North,” a piece of work containing an old wooden box with a single bird skull inside.

Several sculptures, such as “Culture,” incorporate nature and modern technology. “Culture” looks like a carnival game thanks to the flashy red lights, but is arranged around a goat’s head. The effect is a great contrast; nature and man, man and nature. Debris completes the piece, as it does most of Gresl’s work. Thanks to his love of collecting small objects, nothing in the gallery is boring or plain.

Gresl says he is influenced by calligraphy, science, images from his youth, art from Africa and Indonesia, flower arranging and popular culture.

His work evokes a sense of nostalgia and longing.

In “Evoke 1,” old doll heads and a Mickey Mouse ball bring back childhood memories of the simple pleasures in life. It was in front of this sculpture that several students sat and reminisced about the past.

“In reality, this is one small opportunity to communicate with a small group of people, just one small part of the ocean of art that is being produced,” Gresl said.

Born in 1943 Gresl grew up with a great love for the outdoors. He graduated from UW-Stevens Point and took art classes through UW and Silver Lake College in Manitowoc.

In Brillion, Gresl taught high school art classes and served as a middle school principle for two years.

He first started assemblage by finding objects in a farm dump in 1964, and proceeded to teach himself the basics of putting it together in an artistic way.

He also gained experience in antique dealing and realized that art is in the eye of the beholder, and can be anything an artist wants it to be.

In recent years, Gresl said he has been very active in the Wisconsin arts community. In 2000 he became a co-founder of MVAR, Milwaukee Visual Arts Roundtable.

In 2001, he was nominated for the Governor's Award in Support of the Arts. Gresl is also a contributing author to the bimonthly “Art In Wisconsin” newsletter of Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors, Inc. and is a spokesperson for adaptive reuse of the Prairies School Old Coast Guard station on Milwaukee’s Lake Michigan shoreline for use as a center for regional art.

Awards Gresl has won include many best of show awards and first place awards in state art competitions.

He has also participated in Chicago art shows.

All of Gresl’s art is available for sale. He has a hard time seeing his art as “commodities” and doesn’t create them with money in mind.

He wants to find a happy home for each of his sculptures where they will be cared for and appreciated.

Most of the works are $750 to $5,000.

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