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"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 artist's creations.

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.. Gresl’s 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, October 2000.

In many ways, Gresl is much ado about Wisconsin—a 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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