Abstractly natural works at Gallery MAR
Some natural abstracts will be the flavor of the night when the Gallery MAR hosts an opening reception for artists Shawna Moore and Michael Kessler on Saturday.
While the two artists live far from each other, Moore lives in Montana and Kessler lives in New Mexico, they are good friends who have known each other for 10 years.
The two spoke with The Park Record during separate interviews that covered their art, influences, careers and coming to Park City.
"When I first got my start with art-gallery representation, Michael opened up his studio and experience to me and has always been very kind in sharing his wisdom and experience as an artist," Moore said. "I have tremendous respect for him."
"We showed in the same gallery when she lived in New Mexico," Kessler said. "And here we are 10 years later, showing together again."
Art came very naturally to Kessler while he was growing up in central Pennsylvania.
"I grew up in a religious, fundamentalist household near Gettysburg, and was forced to go to church," Kessler said with a laugh. "So, drawing became a way for me to cope with church. I would sit on the hard wooden pews hour after hour and some maniac would be up pounding the pulpit and going off, and I would zero in on my drawings.
"I was entranced by both drawing and color and I have powerful memories when I would spend hours coloring when I was three or four," he said. "I would draw the world I knew, which was a farm I lived on."
In elementary school, teachers noticed Kessler’s talent.
"Whenever there was a project, I was the guy who did the bulletin board and things like that, so my identity as ‘the artist’ was defined early on and I didn’t have any problem with that," he said. "As I went through school, I did okay with academics and sports, but I always excelled in the arts and kept it going."
Then he discovered the work of Andrew Wyeth, who is known for the painting "Christina’s World."
"I found Andrew Wyeth captured the world I grew up in," Kessler said. "He lived only 75 miles from where I grew up, so there was a coincidence that spoke to me in images and the poetry in the way he painted.
"I knew the light, the animals and the places he painted, and it was if our minds had melded, and I became a young Andrew Wyeth and started to paint like him and study his works with a magnifying glass," he said.
In art school, Kessler’s style shifted. While he attended Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, there was a professor named James Carroll who had formed a visiting artist program and would invite art-world people from New York City.
"They included artists and art critics from New York Times and Metropolitan Art Museum curators and art collectors," Kessler said. "A handful of us would sign up for the program and spend several hours with these people and have one-on-one consultations.
"While I had a very strong provincial traditional foundation, I suddenly was steeped in avant-garde contemporary art," he said. "It was phenomenal. I spent a good many years in the program and it gave me an inside look at the art world, and it opened my mind to contemporary art and to the importance of innovation."
Innovation is the key to creating good art, Kessler said.
"I’m not interested in just making pretty pictures of nature, which some people do very well," he said. "I’m interested in advancing abstract painting, and I want to make a contribution to the history of abstract painting. I know that’s a high-flown idea, but I think anyone who has advanced the history of abstract paintings has tried to do that."
To attain his goal, Kessler challenges himself to approach his works in ways he was taught not to.
"I try to do the wildest, craziest imaginable things with paint I can think of," he said with a laugh. "I welcome any kind of taboo, and I like accidents and random combinations."
Still, within the experimentation, Kessler knows what kind of art he wants to create.
"My work, like Shawna’s, is nature-based abstraction," he said. "If you look at what I do, you will see lots of textures and colors and forms.
"My work will remind you of a myriad of things in nature, whether it’s coral, fossils, tree formations or sky and pieces of ice, but done in different ways," he said. "It’s like a ballet dancer dancing modern dance. The rules are broken to create something totally new."
"I’m excited to see Gallery MAR’s new space," Moore said. "I’m proud of (owner Maren Mullin) for taking a financial leap of faith to make the move, because I wouldn’t say things are easy for artists and galleries."
Moore will be bringing in 15 new pieces.
"Ten of them are medium-to-big size," she said. "There are also a couple of 40-inch by 60-inch works, which are the biggest I work on. They are pretty accomplished and commanding pieces for me."
Most of the works were completed within the last six months.
"They’re all new, and because Maren is my favorite gallery owner, she gets most of my best and newest works now," Moore said. "Park City has been great in terms of markets for me. It’s my best market in the nation for me, and I consider it a gem because it has positioned itself to be a real cultural hub, and people really know it."
Moore also knew she needed to send in some of her best works because of her respect for Kessler.
"Also, I needed to do some commanding pieces, because I’ll be showing with Michael and he’s a real heavy hitter, and trying to hold my own with him is a little daunting."
Moore’s mother, an art teacher, introduced her to painting.
"I was brainwashed," Moore said with a laugh. "No, really, I was lucky, because my mom opened the doorway to the recognition to European art and American painters.
"I also went to the same university – the University of Oregon – she went to, so a lot of ways, as I became a young woman, we had the same vocabulary."
Through her mother, Moore established early references about the works of Paul Cezanne through Time and Smithsonian magazines.
"I sort of marched through, what I called an abstract expressionist paintings, which I consider Cezanne’s works," Moore said. "Also, I learned Jackson Pollack was fair game and Helen Frankenthaler’s non-representation artworks were introduced to me, so I didn’t have to unwind any perceptions about what was art and what was not art when I went to school."
Still, art, for Moore, is a never-ending journey.
"Here I am, 47 years later, still trying to find which patch of dirt is mine to dig," she said. "You spend your whole life trying to find your truest artistic voice, and, hopefully, at some point, you hear a whisper and by the end you have a symphony."
Moore is also very grateful to Kessler for the advice he gave her.
"I spend a tremendous amount of time working alone, so to hear the stories from other artists, I can see I’m not alone and can plow through," she said. "You see it going two ways, because there are some artists who shut down and get very secretive, but I gravitate towards artists who are more open, because I’m one of those artists who feel if you join forces, and if you use your collective resources and cooperate instead of compete, then you’ll be better served."
Sharing information is what Moore considers the new paradigm for the starving artists.
"We’re working together more than we used to, and we’re sharing ideas and suggesting galleries and talking about ups and downs," she said.
Gallery MAR, 436 Main St., will hold an opening reception for abstract artists Michael Kessler and Shawna Moore on Saturday, March 17, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Admission is free. Both artists explore linear movements in their new works. Kessler uses acrylics while Moore works with the encaustic style. For more information, visit http://www.gallerymar.com.
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