"Here Where We Are Standing, Dinosaurs Did Dance"
Gary Gresl, Wisconsin Academy Gallery, Madison, Wl
by Kevin Cole, Published in Dialogue
Amalgamation, Construction, evolution, and consideration...are words
that come to mind. Gary Gresl's assemblages juxtapose the familiar, the
forgotten and, at times, the remote through carefully placed found or
acquired objects that assume new life as art. Gresl's sculptures provide
multiple opportunities for viewers to be transported through time.
The Wisconsin Academy Gallery (Madison) in July presented thirteen works
by Gresl that exemplify some of the more original art currently being
produced in the state. Curator Randall Berndt commented,"The natural
and the manufactured worlds come together to make an accumulated extravaganza
of personal expression." With two more exhibitions scheduled in the
coming months, art-goers will have more opportunities to relish this Milwaukee
The 59-year-old artist, a collector since childhood, began making art
in 1964. Following a development that has taken him from painting to sculpture,
the artist has found delight in using objects that surround his world
as an also antique dealer and entrepreneur. A warm and friendly, but soft-spoken
man, Gresl is in search of something, but this is not a restless search.
His art is a running commentary on our world too.
Here...dinosaurs did dance features six large mixed media sculptures
that exhibit the artist at his best.. Gresls larger works consistently
seem to allow the artist to realize full use of his materials and convey
his concepts and ideas completely. Overall, the larger works are more
challenging, more colorful, more complex, and provide for greater integration
of materials, composition, and textures. These works achieve an impact
and presence that is helped by their scale.
The remaining seven smaller sculptures, those with dimensions typically
less than forty inches, while humbled by comparison, are not to be overlooked
as there is thoughtful sensitivity here. These include six wall-mounted
works and one freestanding piece. Of special note among the smaller works
is Excollection Minnie Wright, Shannon County, South Dakota, a
piece that incorporates a valuable skull of a saber-toothed cat enshrined
in a glass case. The title Excollection alludes to a former owner,
perhaps, but we are left to speculate and ponder the origin of this stately
and beautiful "feline trophy" elegantly adorned in pine cones
and framed by rows of silvery Liberty head nickels and other coins.
Another sculpture, Requerdo, Beach Glass, is reminiscent of finds
by beachcombers that might be held in a small curio cabinet. In this case,
the artist has carefully assembled a near religious shrine of shells,
a curious jar of green surf-worn glass, and a background of mystical heart-adorned
antique playing cards. A peaceful reverence emanates from this assortment
of sea-born and other found objects, almost as if it were plucked from
some underwater sanctuary. Requerdo received the highest award
for sculpture during the WP&S (Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors,
Inc.) "Centennial Exhibition" held at the West Bend Art Museum,
In many ways, Gresl is much ado about Wisconsina state that cherishes
its natural resources, its history and cultural heritage, and its Heartland
values. Painstakingly affixing thousands of tiny fossilized Turitella
shells onto John's Sand Crystal, along with antlers, wild game
feathers, and the heads of two deer flanking either side of the base,
the work references bodies of water such as nearby Lake Michigan and the
wild life "up North" in Wisconsin. Here the artist is paying
respect to mankind, the ultimate collectors of things. (Or is he simply
questioning our role as dominators of the great outdoors?) In either case,
it seems fitting that perched atop the piece, in a prominent but rather
unnoticeable location, sits a small ceramic nun in her habit watching
over that, which is below her.
It is when Gresl is most personal and introspective (The Yellow Cottage
on Lake Poygan and Confessional Piece) that his objects seem
to take shape spontaneously, naturally, and come alive with an intelligence
and artistic logic that flows intuitively. Works like From the Old
Boat House at Pike Lake, and Giant Bone from Widow Fisher's Quarry
are mesmerizing creations, surely, but seem to reflect more the artist's
(shall we say serious) academic background. The latter being more contrived
efforts at making art.
Gresl's sculptures are indeed stimulating, intriguing, and largely successful.
To his credit, these works are unique, reminiscent, engaging, sometimes
solemn, often entertaining, and always highly original.
Those naturally curious and investigative art lovers not familiar with
the artworks of Gary Gresl are in for a journey full of wonder when the
artist shows more of his works in a solo exhibition at the University
of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus, February 6-March 15, 2003. That exhibition
is entitled "Mementos & Earthly Things" and will be on view
in the Gail Floether Steinhilber Fine Art Gallery. In Milwaukee, Gresl's sculptures can also be seen at the Walker's Point
Center for the Arts (WPCA), April 4-May 24, 2003, along with sculptures
by Dan McGuire, sculpture professor from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater.
Kevin Cole is an arts consultant, free-lance writer, and independent
curator from Milwaukee.
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