Student, Intern, Overall Life Enthusiast
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the premier of the gallery's Mel Strawn exhibition. Mel Strawn is fifty shades of awesome. He looks like he could be your kindly, white-haired grandfather, but bets are that your grandfather is not nearly as cool as this guy—an artist creating masterful works for more than half a century.
Strawn is ever an innovator--and it evident in his almost experimental pieces of art—which play with lines, with shapes and colors, and with light and darkness. Paintings like “Genie”, “Negentropy” and “Series Last” were part of a fourteen year artistic odyssey of investigation and invention—using only four shapes he created perfectly chaotic yet contained and restrained structure compositions. Strawn explained the process of painting these complex canvases to me as “made by probability and chance”-- highlighting the mathematical intentionality of his shape experiments, but moreover, that these pieces are a reflection of the nature of experiments in and of themselves—delving into the unknown and unpredictable, unsure of all possible outcomes.
While his work is intricate, daring, and beautiful, I am drawn to the essential simplicity behind Strawn's works, breaking the way we perceive our space into it's essential pieces. Four shapes are the building blocks of the world he creates on a canvas, like a scientist breaking down every known substance of the universe into a periodic table of elements. His more recent works use prints and solar exposure (in the vein of old fashioned photography) to create tangled webs of illusions (and allusions as in “Vulcan's Forge”).
My personal favorite in the exhibition is Strawn's “Tree Stump”, drawn to the romantic notions surrounding its creation. Noticing that I was particularly drawn to this piece, Strawn told me the paintings story: In 1966, Stawn and his wife were living in an ancient manor house in the French countryside. While it was a beautiful, esoteric place to inhabit, it also lacked certain seemingly basic amenities—such as heat. Seeing as it was winter and the cold was pressing down upon them in the drafty old house, Strawn was constantly collecting wood to fuel the simple stone fireplace. He started making sketches of the wood pieces he encountered, this stump being one of the many that filled their hearth that winter. Perhaps the most aesthetically diverse from the rest of the collection, it is also the earliest of his works represented in the gallery.
And while I may have been quick to identify a favorite, Strawn is more reluctant. His philosophy on his works? “They're like kids. I have to love them all...Or hate them all given the day.”