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Gresl art bristles with bales, skulls

by James Auer, Looking at Art

Gary John Gresl is a brave man--even, some might suggest, a foolhardy one.

He sets out to depict nothing less than the eternal balance between perceived reality and the unconscious in his complex solo show, which runs through Feb. 20 at the Tera Rouge Designer Galleria, 225 E. St. Paul St., Suite 404.

Called "The Split Brain Series: Idea Evolution: 1983-1987," this flamboyant exercise in self-exploration and revelation involves a profusion of objects out of popular culture, set against paintings that vividly enunciate the topic in two-dimensional form.

Hay bales, antelope skulls, teddy bears, army helmets, plastic Madonnas, dimestore beads, cow horns, bits of broken mirror, even an elk hoof--all are here, in a room as densely packed with ideas as it is with objects.

No doubt about it, Gresl, 44, is a restless, questing, endlessly energetic figure.

Fascinated by the paraphernalia of mass production and its handmaiden, modern war, he has intermixed installation art with more or less traditional pictures in an attempt to trade off intelligence against instinct, the fragile integrity of the ecology against the ravenous needs of the economy.

Underlying just about everything is the essential tension between the left side of the human brain (practicality, efficiency) and the right (creativity, vision), and this Gresl sees as a continuing conflict within the mind of the artist.

At the same time he appears to be addressing the endlessly arguable question of tradition vs. innovation in art: painting and sculpture as opposed to kitsch objects, the fine and the precious set against the pathetic rejects of our disposable culture.

In the main, Gresl has done quite a good job of giving his basic ideas visible form.

His big central piece, "Measuring Mankind," using a milliner's head as the fulcrum for a rotating wheel of opposing thoughts, borrows its form from the symbolic thought of the American Indian.

As a presentation of the essential balance of life it is both intellectually provocative and texturally interesting.

Effective, too, in quite a different way, are Gresl's bold visualizations of our mental contradictions
and emotional frustrations, released periodically by psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.

The problem here is that though Gresl's concerns are encyclopedic, his resources aren't, and as a result, the impact of the show is diffuse and even, on occasion, confusing.

Neither totally a retrospective overview of his output to date nor entirely a cohesive new work, it
ends up being neither--which is a shame, considering the quality of the effort and thought involved.

Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 3 to 8 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. There is no admission.

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