The Scene Online: Local Artist Profile
by Tom Breuer, from The Scene
Listen to Milwaukee-area artist Gary John Gresl describe his sculptures
and you will sense that they're intensely personal expressions.
What he rather modestly describes as "assemblages" or, more to the point,
"visual short stories," do indeed resonate with the artist personally.
Made up of artifacts and items that often hew to a nostalgic theme,
or place the pieces in the context of a period, there is nevertheless
much more to his work than just allowing folks of a certain age to get
caught up in reminiscences.
"Many will have a theme," said Gresl. "I see them as sort of visual
short stories, and they incorporate all sorts of objects that out of my
experience have hit a chord. They could be things I recall from my childhood
or things I've dealt with as an adult in some sort of context."
Still, there is an appeal to his work that's undoubtedly universal.
He recalls one sculpture -- made up of pine cones, mounted deer heads,
deer antlers, fossil shells and a rock crystal specimen -- that at one
of his exhibits evoked joy from a group of very young fans.
"The kids just sat there and danced around the sculpture and laughed
and pointed, and they were just enthralled," said Gresl.
A Manitowoc native, UWStevens Point graduate and a former resident
of Brillion, where he taught art in the public schools, Gresl will exhibit
Mementos and Earthly Things Feb. 6 through March 15 in the Gail Floether
Steinhilber Art Gallery in the Reeve Memorial Union, UW Oshkosh.
It's part of a busy schedule that's kept him very active in the art
world in the last two decades. The 59-year-old artist had a personal renaissance
of sorts in the early '80s, coming back to art after taking a break from
it. He started out painting and joined Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors,
an organization for which he currently serves as president.
"I started in '83 with painting and soon found that was not satisfying
enough to continue, and I started adding 3-D elements and assemblages,"
said Gresl. "The work at (the UW Oshkosh exhibit) is for the most part
stuff I've done in the last five years."
Fascinated by objects, Gresl can both reference a period with his art
and create pieces with an undeniable aesthetic appeal.
"I did one that's called 'The Yellow Cottage on Lake Poygan,'" said
Gresl. "When I was a kid I stayed in a cottage there a couple times with
my parents, and a year ago I began pooling elements of memory together
and incorporated objects out of those weekends, including hickory nuts
and chalkware, and branches that might be found on the property, and fishing
materials and lures; there's even that famous pose of Marilyn Monroe from
the first Playboy magazine that's included in it. And even though someone
may look at it and say, 'What do these things have to do with each other?,'
they all clearly reference a time and place for me."
But there's more to his pieces than just placing the viewer in the context
of a certain time or place. While objects and artifacts are his business
as well as the focus of his art -- he is co-owner of the Milwaukee Antique
Center -- assembling them into art is his passion.
"In the end all those things can just lie on the floor and there's nothing
appealing about them, so putting them in relation in an artistic fashion,
using all those themes from Art 101 when you have to deal with line and
texture, composition and color, I think it makes them more interesting
to look at," said Gresl. "It's looking at a level and a sense of what
these things mean, and it's also creating an interesting visual object
to look at."
In the end, though, Gresl is simply happy to be involved in what he
considers a calling.
"I don't pretend I'm Picasso or Rembrandt, I'm just doing what I'm motivated
to do," said Gresl.
For more information on Gresl's exhibit Mementos and Earthly Things,
call (920) 424-2281, visit www.reeve.uwosh.edu or go to www.gresl.com.
There will be an artist's reception for the exhibit from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb.
Back to Reviews