Night & Day: Carl Bretzke & Viktor Butko
October 14th - November 12th, 2023
The Grenning Gallery is pleased to announce our new exhibition: Night & Day: Carl Bretzke | Viktor Butko, a two-man exhibition of masterful plein-air & studio paintings from both near and far. Artists who paint from direct observation understand that scenes change depending on the time of day, and their commitment to their craft demands a level of endurance. Time is limited to capture a shadow, or perhaps the scene is more interesting now that that shadow has moved…Night & Day is an ode to the many colors of light, and how these colors change throughout the 24-hour cycle. This exhibit will be on view through Sunday November 12th, 2023. Please join us for an Opening Reception on Saturday, October 14th from 5:30-7:00 pm.
Carl Bretzke (b. 1954 - Minneapolis, MN) returns for his 9th consecutive year exhibiting as a Grenning Gallery artist. Born, and currently based in Minnesota, Bretzke is an emotionally accurate and observant chronicler of urban and rural plein-air scenes. He is most comfortable painting the Midwest scenes he intimately knows, and his eye for American life is recognizable to any viewer. Having been a surgeon for 30 years before becoming a full-time painter, Bretzke reflects: “In medicine, you see what you know. In painting, you paint what you see. You must know it, to see it, to paint it.” His work explores the prismatic palette, and he is constantly concerned with the effect of light (perhaps an upshot of his scientific background.) Bretzke’s paintings perform tricks for the eye as he explores the subtle shifts of the different colors of light within the composition.
He is particularly adept at scenes which ooze in darkness, reminiscent of Edward Hopper. Bretzke remarks: “What most people don’t notice is, as the light drops off, the color of light changes. You must see WHERE the color changes and where the light is coming from.” In Division Street at Night Bretzke illustrates several light sources. The brightest being a pair of oncoming headlights – two glaring white orbs which cast luminous beams up to the dark sky and reflect against the road. This stream of white light allows the viewer to see the rich blue within the blackened night sky. Streetlamps adorn the perimeter of the road which radiate spheres in a burnt yellow-orange hue. An ornamented flowerpot adorns a triangular isle of grass, backlit by another pair of headlights, and a bright storefront window.
Bretzke’s work also exudes a cinematic quality that evokes a more positive and connected iteration of Edward Hopper’s deep dive into the American experience. In Waiting for the Check Bretzke places us at the historic Sag Harbor fixture, The American Hotel. A thriving establishment since 1846, this local institution holds a place in every heart that has visited our small village. One may feel complete contentment, having a late dinner on the porch, with heat lamps radiating warmth through the colder months, observing any and all Main Street movements from their treasurable seats. A waiter stands in the doorway, eager to assist with any needs, gazing directly at the viewer – a reassurance that he is prepared to serve.
Bretzke moreover delivers a series of seascapes, with colorful clouded skies, and urban scenes with recognizable contemporary automobiles parked along nostalgic neighborhood streets. His winter landscapes sing with the silence of snowflakes; the only sound being footfalls atop fresh powder.
Viktor Butko, (b.1978, Moscow) was our great find when we invited 8 Russian painters to Sag Harbor in 2016 to paint with the Grenning-Gallery-formed Russian American Painting Alliance. Not only were Butko’s eyes fresh to our landscape; his attention to light and shadow was searingly satisfying. Butko’s use of soft pastel colors unifying in the sky juxtaposed with thick, heavy outlines of the backlit trees are all at once transfixing and yet, comforting. Since his first visit, Butko has planted himself on Shelter Island for 6 months out of every year, painting the local landscape, making friends with locals, and even being invited onto a few properties to capture and preserve their prevailing brilliance.
Butko also painted the fork of Division St and Hampton Road, during his first visit to the village in 2016 In Village View. Unlike Bretzke, Butko painted this scene during daylight. The painting’s intrigue is less about the colors radiating from light sources, but instead the subtle shifts of hues found within natural light. Dappled light amidst a shadowed lawn draws our eyes to lighter shades of green. The steeple at St. Andrews Church bisects the blue sky with a strong white—naturally radiating the structure’s prominence along the village skyline.
Butko is not limited to daylight; he also paints after-dark. However, he is still most concerned with natural light sources. In April’s Moon, Shelter Island Butko shows us a pond surrounded by tall, bare trees, underneath a glowing full moon. The bright creamy orb lightens the entire sky, and shimmers delicately onto the pond’s surface.
In this exhibtion, Butko paints the same location at only slightly different times of day - resulting in two very dissimilar works. In "Sunset Over the Islands" Butko shows a seascape from a hilltop adorned with evergreen trees. The sky high-above is a creamy gold, with streaks of purple clouds. The sky evolves to a pinker hue as it falls to the horizon. The surface of the sea appears a silver, lilac color, reflecting the subtle hues in the sky above. In "Fiery Sunset" Butko presents a sky with bold, saturated colors - still true to life! This is peak sunset, where the sky is canary yellow, the clouds are glowing a fiery pink and backlit with a deep lilac hue. The sea below reflects these colors loudly. Just a few minutes separate the point of view in each composition, yet the paintings are drastically different. A prime example of the importance of timing for a plein air painter.
While Bretzke is fascinated by man-made light-sources combatting the darkness of night, Butko paints the natural, sprawling light of early, mid, and late day. Together, both artists remind us of how light shapes our world in the course of 24 hours.
Hello, my name is: Anthony Mastromatteo
September 16th - October 9th, 2023
The Grenning Gallery is pleased to announce our latest exhibition: Hello My Name Is: Anthony Mastromatteo, a solo exhibition reintroducing the contemporary realist painter to our clients after 18 years. Bemusing and brilliant, he is a classically trained painter creating philosophic compositions. Irony is never lost on this artist, who cleverly declares that “Trompe L’Oeil was the first Modernist movement” and proves his claim via his own hyper-realist oil paintings which force the viewer to dive deep into their psyche; discerning reality from artifice in various subjects both foreboding and sometimes hilarious. This exhibition will be on view through Monday, October 9th, 2023. Please join us for an Opening Reception on Saturday, September 16th from 5:30-7:30 pm.
Anthony Mastromatteo (b.1970 | Talmadge, Ohio) grew up in the American Midwest, where big-box stores took root in towns surrounded by miles of cornfields. A simple, sometimes lackluster lifestyle propelled him to leave the quietness, enroll in Princeton as an undergrad. After graduating with his Bachelor’s Degree in Art History, he moved to New York City, where he landed a job with Christies Auction House. His experience in the Art World grew in synchronicity with his interest in Art Making. After enrolling part-time at the Art Students League, he discovered one of the first classical ateliers in NYC The Water Street Atelier, headed by Jacob Collins, (which is now known as, Grand Central Academy). We met Mastromatteo here in the early 2000s, as he was one of the early students sopping up this hard-to-come-by training. While devoted to realist painting techniques, his works stands out among what is now a sea of fine painters. Mastromatteo’s knowledge of art history and philosophy informs his cleverly contextual compositions. At first glance, one might label him as a Pop-artist, yet his work has highly intellectual undertones that elevate his style to new peaks.
In preparing for his first major exhibition at the Grenning Gallery, Mastromatteo was inspired to introduce, or, re-introduce himself after years of only painting for his most dedicated patrons. Hello My Name Is features a scattering of the typical nametags we all know, with big red borders and simple, matter-of-fact text in white, and a blank white space for one to write their name. A black sharpie is situated amongst these tags, anxiously waiting to be picked up, capped-off, and penned down. This composition is not only a grouping of familiar objects that are expertly painted; It is also an ode to the struggle of an artist, as he gets ready to make a new painting. How will he fill that white space, or canvas, and what will it mean for his identity? This anticipatory anxiety is elaborated with droplets of condensation atop the marker – it’s sweating – literally. Furthermore, the placement of the black sharpie is deliberate, referencing traditions of a famous Supremetist in art history, who importantly shaped the attitudes of Mastromatteo’s work.
In 1994, Mastromatteo saw the retrospective for early 20th Century painter Kasimir Malevich at the Guggenheim Museum. Suprematism valued non-representational art to the extent that paintings were void of all imagery.
Mastromatteo was struck with the collection of Malevich paintings, claiming “They really made sense to me. There’s a cleanliness to them.” The black square was the most impressive, and he learned that in 1915, Malevich had first exhibited it installed above the door, on the left…which reflects the Russian tradition of placing a religious icon over the door. Mastromatteo mused: “There is something spiritual about the black square…it represents profundity via a high amount of simplicity. It projects the feeling of reverence. When you look at it, you can hear a stillness, and that is when it’s right.” This profound feeling Mastromatteo felt while observing Malevich’s black square stuck with him and informs the majority of his work. A realist painter inspired by a movement of non-representational painting, is an oxymoron – and a highly contemporary concept.
“Is it intellectual bullshit? Or does it spark a feeling in you?” asks Matromatteo. His answer is found in the last 20 years of painting… “YES, it moves me deeply."
In Being and Nothingness Mastromatteo pays homage to Malevich’s black square, and even positions it at the top left quarter of the canvas. The modernist symbol is austere, and formidable, yet it lays flat on the two-dimensional plane. Outside the square, amidst a wall of white, are little butterflies. Their angled wings cast shadows on the wall, elevating the fluttering creatures to the third dimension. A playful blending of the severe, and the beautiful – results in a tongue-in-cheek composition paralleling the flat modernist icon with a hyper-realist representation of a fleeting aesthetic entity from nature.
Continuing his affinity for Malevich’s geometric paragon is Felix Culpa or ‘Must be a Woe,” this time, in red. Three red squares hover above Christ suffering on the cross—one of the most recognizable images in art history—yet here, no wooden cross is in sight. Christ simply floats against a white wall. The three “Red Squares” map the edges of the invisible crucifix, and an old violin, a vessel for creative expression, reaches upside-down, forming the end of the (invisible) holy wooden structure. Mastromattteo provides the schematic for the symbol he knows we will form in our mind. The canvas is bisected in two, where a jigsaw-puzzle seems to have taken shape—Mastromatteo’s way of showing us that the violin exists on another spatial plane from the top of the canvas. However, there doesn’t seem to be room for the violin underneath this puzzle—poking a little fun at the flatness of Modernism. The color red finds its way from the Suprematist squares to the edge of the puzzle intercepted by the violin. The red puzzle piece turns into dripping blood. We look back to the red squares and see the three bloody stigmata instead of an ode to Modernism.
This composition has less to do with religion than it does with the aesthetic struggle of a creative. The “religious verbiage”—as Mastromatteo puts it—is one way of explaining this struggle. The title must not be forgotten when meditating on this painting: Felix Culpa, or ‘Must be a Woe.’ The first part is the latin for “happy fault.” The second, the title of an Emily Dickinson poem:
Must be a Woe— A loss or so— To bend the eye Best Beauty's way— But—once aslant It notes Delight As difficult As Stalactite A Common Bliss Were had for less— The price—is Even as the Grace— Our lord—thought no Extravagance To pay—a Cross-
Both the “happy fault,” and the “Woe,” force us to look at something so familiar with different eyes. This is the artist’s job, and job well done—to help us see anew something we all think we know.
Although deeply imprinted by Malevich, Mastromatteo also finds inspiration from other mavericks in art history, as well as pop-culture. In Ideal he compares Piet Mondrian’s infamous grid painting of 1942, “Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue” with comic book scrap image of Superman, who is also circa 1942. Each muse is not ornately placed on a pedestal or chiseled to perfection. On the contrary, the Mondrian appears to be printed on a postcard, and Superman was torn from an old comic book; its paper yellowed with age. The two papers are taped up to a grey non-descript wall, divided by a thick piece of white tape, giving each a proper, symmetrical space - like the slides in Art History classes—a comparative study. It’s clear why Mondrian would appeal to Mastromatteo, as his affinity for clean lines sing music to his precision-flocking ears. Superman, on the other hand? Well, first, he is from Cleveland, an Ohio city not far from the artist’s hometown. Furthermore, he is a hero who doubles as an ordinary man, Clark Kent. The immeasurable excitement one can find from the possibility of living near, or working beside a superhero in what seems like “no-where’s-ville” USA, will endure from childhood long into late adulthood.
There are eerie similarities though that brought Mastromatteo to place these icons side-by-side. The primary colors and simplified vision of the “Ideal” that has been mass-produced (one on a post-card, the other through comic books) unite the “serious” art with the entertainment figure.
Another familiar Superhero is found in Wonder, or the Plane of the Invisible. Wonder Woman is another mid-20th Century American Icon, with a perplexing means of transportation. Her “Invisible Plane” was always of course, invisible, and the silly way she sit’s in an imaginary seat flying through the air would force the artist to wonder, “how do you represent an invisible plane”. Here, we see a bright blue canvas, sprinkled with glittery paillettes; an outline of an airplane beneath an outline of the word “SKY”, an infantile depiction of the sun made of masking tape, and finally, the hero, Wonder Woman, her comic clipping taped onto the invisible plane. A very believable, naturalist blue sky with puffy white clouds is visible through the letters and the invisible airplane. It feels like we can reach into the invisible plane to find the natural world…yet atop the plane is an old cartoon of the first female superhero. She overlaps the realistic atmosphere, and even casts a shadow onto it. The planet’s orbit is dedicated to the sun, and all living things need the light to survive…yet this most important element is made up of a crude array of tape strips, asymmetrical, and even torn in-half. This sun refers back to Pablo Picasso’s sun in his painting “Don Quixote”. And finally, the rich blue backdrop that makes up 90% of the painting, is coated in glitter – a medium which children adore, and artists are ashamed to use. It creates a sense of kitsch – because what realist painter would dare to utilize glitter? Yet, this painting is a meditation on the concept of Wonder. Although the image is perplexing and forces one to search for meaning, ultimately the viewer will feel the phenomenon. Aristotle said that “Wonder is the start of all Philosophy”. Upon reflection we find the word SKY leaves a sense of wonder on our tongue. And even when you turn the lights off, and the image goes away, this canvas will still glisten.
In Non-Virtruvian Man we see a faded cardstock cutout of Batman set within a circle, inside a box, made up of white tape, of course. The hero is frozen in motion, his cape’s wings fly upward, extending his form outside of his taped boundary. The title of this painting informs us of Mastromatteo’s inspiration: Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (c.1490). The notable study of DaVinci’s makes claims on human proportions, however it is a lie that humans are made of divine proportions. We are not perfect, in our natural most primitive forms, as DaVinci depicted. Nor is Batman exactly who we claim him to be—a miraculous superhero skilled with supernatural capabilities. The truth is that he is a wealthy man, an ordinary human, who uses technology to allow him to be a super-human.
One of the most confounding paintings in this exhibition is “The Painting, As Seen by the Wall”. Mastromatteo depicts a bare canvas, framed in reverse, turned-around. He presents the back of the painting to the audience, meticulously portraying the wooden stretcher bars, and neatly affixed staples, which hold the canvas taut in place. The overall image pique’s the logical side of our brain, forcing us to investigate what might be on the other side, but the painting has no front. Conversely, it has two backs! The artistically rendered image doesn’t exist, or perhaps it resides somewhere in the center, inaccessible to the viewer. But in actuality, this painting is about nothing. Similar to Seinfeld, the overall generalization of the content forces us to consider the objective from a variety of perspectives. Mastromatteo’s composition is abstract in context, where a big ornate frame should be surrounding a majestic portrait expertly crafted. It’s a very old-fashioned style, affixed to a contemporary glorification.
Interestingly, Mastromatteo is also acknowledging the 20th century master Claudio Bravo, with this painting. Bravo made auction history in the late 20th century when a small painting of a wrapped canvas went to the MOMA for over $1m. Later in 2011 Bravo created a triptych of the backs of three canvases.
Lovely Mary Jane is a candy wrapper, taped to a blue wall. It’s trash, glorified. But this is not a political statement about commercialism or recycling. This painting was inspired by one of the top 10 banned books across the country, Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” which is about a young black girl who wishes she had blue eyes, an envy shaped from her love of her favorite candy, Mary Jane. It’s a heartbreaking notion caused by an ideal of beauty perpetuated by a marketing campaign for a sweet treat. Classical painting also hails a certain ideal of beauty… and one wouldn’t usually find something as insignificant as a candy wrapper as the focal point of their pièce de résistance. However, Mastromatteo is asking us to see that here is power in idealization, especially in something so seemingly throwaway. He’s prodding us to be more aware…to make people aware of the significance of the seemingly insignificant. The one power an artist possesses is that of forcing the viewer to look at something of his choosing…and in this case he’s asking us to look at something that may be garbage. Consider Maurizio Cattelan, whom in 2019 taped a banana to the wall with duct tape, and it later sold for $120,000…art forces the viewer to consider something that everyone is telling you to look at. Mastromatteo’s candy wrapper is taped up to the wall in a similar fashion as Cattelan’s banana…if we look long enough at the tape, we’ll notice it’s resemblance to the “not-equal” sign…bringing our thoughts back to Morrison’s distressed little girl. Another fun point to mention, Morrison also hails from Ohio’s Cleveland.
Toni Morrison continues to act as muse for Mastromatteo in “White Picket Fence (Aspirational Memoir)”. The focal point is a bright green square, encased with a picket- fence made of white tape. Inside the square is an old page torn from a “Dick and Jane” reader. These books were prominent in public schools from the 1940’s through the 1960’s, shaping the minds of America’s youth for decades. The page shows a family, together tending to their garden. The text reads: “This is the family you are, that is as happy as can be, that lives in the house that father made.” Here he unveils the seeds of what became 20th Century American Dream. Meanwhile, outside the fence, is an ominous black void, and represents the rest of Morrison’s story, which centers on a black family in Lorain, Ohio not far from his own hometown. Mastromatteo realized that his life WAS like this idealized family in the clipping – happily living within his own white picket fence, unfamiliar with the struggles and suffering that occurs outside the fence. Here, he is asking What are the consequences of this mass marketed image of the American Dream? Does one care for neighbors who don’t resemble them visually? How is it possible that something as innocent as a “learn to read” book could engender racism? Would one rather live in ignorance to these disparities, inside the fence with their perfectly mown green lawn? Or should one cross the fence and venture into the black unknown area where they may be confronted with the reality of deeply discriminated against neighbors. What’s worse?
The ideas behind Regarding Prometheus, or I Will Not Play with Matches are about rules, following rules, and transgression. The top-most item placed closest to the viewer’s plane, is the triangle ruler – which measures limits, and within it appears a yellow legal pad – the metaphorical ruler of law. Beneath the ruler is a number two pencil and a three-hole-punched piece of lined paper annotated with one repeated inscription: “I will not play with matches”. This resonates with any young juvenile who was caught breaking the rules in the in the 196os and 1970s. Further down the page, a Suprematist’s square re-appears, not in the famous red, or black, but instead - it’s been burned away – the outline creating a scorched window frame to the scene below. Within the burned hole, a single Joker card from a 52-deck pokes his head into frame. Adorned in red and black, as most classic playing cards are…but also perhaps a nod to the lost square. The Joker represents the figure in history who CAN transgress, and also his purpose is to be the one to tell the king the truth. He is ancillary in the deck of cards, as his truth is optional to authority. However, any average person learns by breaking the rules, either they learn how to get away with it, or they learn what not to do again. This painting invites the viewer to play with fire and receive the punishment from the gods.
Furthermore, in Greek Mythology Prometheus, who’s Ancient Greek name can be translated to mean “Forethought”, is sometimes referred to as the God of Fire. This stems from his story, of defying the Olympian gods by stealing fire from them and giving it to humanity. He is punished by Zeus for his transgression, with an excruciating daily cycle of torment. Nevertheless, Prometheus became a figure representing human progression, furthering society’s quest for scientific knowledge. His risks resulted in great benefits for mankind.
Mastromatteo’s collection of paintings express his never-ending fixation with reality. His paintings are so realistic that at first glance one is forced to question their eyes. Another, deeper look, sways one to consider other viewpoints; some current, others ancient. What are the norms that society has blindly accepted, and how long has humanity lived happily in ignorance? If a painting depicts a Northern White Rhino, one will assume that the Rhino in the image is attributed correctly, right? Is the anatomy of the creature, correct? Why would one question it? Does a comic book provide entertainment to the average American teenager? Or does it leave a multitude of American’s out entirely? Mastromatteo’s paintings are mysteries to be deciphered. He gives us clues as to what he was thinking while creating these paintings, but of course, there’s always room for external analyses.
Ben Fenske Solo Exhibition
August 11th - September 10th, 2023
The Grenning Gallery is pleased to announce Ben Fenske’s Annual Solo Show, on view from Friday, August 11th through Sunday, September 10th. We invite the public to our Opening Reception from 6:30pm - 8pm on Friday, August 11th.
With more depth and ease than ever before, this year Fenske paints his muse Amy Florence, and others in and around his home in Chianti. Fenske’s latest figurative work shows the people closest to him in their daily life—seemingly oblivious to him painting them—rather than posing like academic models. Amy, Buddy is the perfect example of this. After sunbathing, Amy reaches down to pet a happy Buddy, as he rolls on the grass in delight. The magnificent Tuscan landscape, chock-full of tall cypress trees and a typical stone farmhouse, proudly sits atop the upper third of the canvas, crowning the composition.
Simple moments are heightened and romanticized in Fenske’s work, which recalls an important tenant of 19th century impressionist movement. They often sought to elevate the everyday person in their work-a-day life, to offset the prior centuries when artists eyes were mostly focused on wealthy and powerful clients in their finery. In the compelling life-sized canvas, Amy, Buddy, Fenske creates an image that celebrates inter-species affection—a moment almost every human can relate to. Fenske’s commitment to the universality of the human experience, regardless of temporal rank is just one of the many ways his work is profound and timeless.
As another example, in Kitchen, he presents a largescale painting of a cucina interior, where a meal is being prepared. A connected and loving exchange is preserved in the foreground, where a young girl gives a begging dog a little reassuring scratch under the chin. She is neatly dressed in a white and green button-up frock, yet she has clearly found comfort, her bare feet standing on the cool terracotta floor. The composition is masterful, with the incandescent light suspended over the table allowing the top 1/3 of the scene to recede into mystery. This forces our eye into the action in the middle foreground. The bold color combination of the red floors, the green walls and the yellow table and ceiling create a richly pigmented environment rarely found in the works of classically trained artists. Both scenes are reminiscent of 17th century genre paintings’ simple and fleeting moments, but with the ease of Fenske’s loose strokes. They are familiar scenes that can feel like nostalgic memories or dreams of our own lives, as they are or as we wish they would be.
In Lilacs, Coffee, Wine, the flowers appear to bloom in front of us, taking over the table. The composition is plentiful yet balanced. One healthy green bean hangs over the precipice of the wooden table. A knife on the cutting board performs the same balancing act. Fenske’s foregrounded objects are moving closer to the viewer than his previous kitchen table paintings. The narrow drawer is pulled open, inviting the viewer to take a playful reach into the painting. At the same time, he adds more visual intrigue to the background, including a towel draped over one of the chairs. He has deepened the picture plane without compromising the casual nature of how each object has been placed. Even without any figures, Fenske composes a humanistic painting, revealing traces of the artists who live around this table.
In Winter Table, Fenske captures another bountiful moment in time. A golden hue soaks the entire canvas, signifying that late-day early-evening wintertime light. The artichokes and oranges signify Spring is close. One of the chairs appears to be slightly pulled out, suggesting someone has just left their espresso… maybe to paint… or prepare the meat—no doubt Bistecca Fiorentina—on the cutting board. Familiar objects reappear in this composition, as in many Fenske paintings; the yellow teapot, the olive oil beaker, the tumbler with a finger of red wine left to drink, and of course, the silver Mokka pot. Vivacity permeates even the quietest of Fenske’s still life’s.
The ‘woman in front of a window’ as subject has captivated Fenske’s imagination and his gaze for years. The juxtaposition of a backlit woman, daintily posed, beautiful and smartly dressed, placed before the glory of the framed, illuminated landscape out yonder is an image one can behold endlessly. In Window, the woman (Amy Florence yet again) is seated at a table with her hand placed upon an open book. Yet, her eyes are not held by the book. Instead, they are turned outward to the window behind her. As she looks out, we feel her sense of wonder, a yearning for all possibilities that may exist out beyond the hills.
Finally, Fenske delivers another set of lovely floral still lifes. Sunflowers face us with yellow lashes spread wide against a blue and white backdrop. Poppies, Chamomile are painted so delicately, they seem to float away from their stems. Although both bouquets are weighted down by their vessels, Fenske’s loose, buoyant brushstrokes breathe air into the atmosphere, allowing vibrations into a subject which is meant, literally, to be still.
Please join us for the Opening Reception on Friday August 11th to meet the painter and rejoice in his new work! Fenske will be here in the Hamptons for the first time since 2021 and will have the use of a studio space out here for the first time ever; so, we are excited to see what he will create over the coming months! Please check in with us regularly between now and mid-October, as the new sought after paintings will be surfacing as he finishes them.
Laura Grenning, Megan Toy and Katie Pepi
July 15th - August 5th, 2023
The Grenning Gallery is piously pleased to unveil Prophets, a group show featuring Hunt Slonem, Kristy Gordon, and Daniela Astone. Like prophets, the three artists of this exhibition deliver insightful messages about our world, as well as other realms from reality to the mystical. In each of their authentic voices, Slonem, Gordon, and Astone reveal to us what we sometimes cannot see by ourselves. This exhibit will be on view through Sunday, August 6th, 2023. Please join us for an Opening Reception on Saturday, July 15th from 6:00-7:30 pm.
Few Realize that Hunt Slonem (b. 1951, Maine, USA), the anchor artist for this exhibition, is tapping into his own spiritual life when he is creating his iconic paintings of bunnies, birds, butterflies, and flowers. Although some viewers quickly write off Slonem as a fashion-forward, pop artist, most are unaware that he meditates and prays for hours before he starts painting every day. When he is working, he considers the paintings to be like mantras. Each painting carries its own inflection when it's created.
His subjects are not simply likenesses of creatures; however, they are chosen with reverence and intent. For instance, Slonem was born in 1951, Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese Zodiac. Not only does it have personal significance, but the rabbit is an icon with multiple cultural interpretations. In Christianity, the rabbit represents rebirth, fertility, and resurrection. Yet, in Buddhism, the rabbit symbolizes humility, kindness, and compassion. Slonem identifies with an all-encompassing spirituality, that would invite boundless elucidations. The meaning of his work, like any artwork, can be determined by the viewer. The artist leaves the door open for whatever conclusion one wants to make. And he's smart, because this candor has built a massive following and an incredibly in-demand market. Not to mention, Slonem has created a global reputation; having had his works placed in over 250 museum collections world-wide.
In this show we have several classic signature Bunny paintings, but we also feature some of his newest major creations, involving Irises and Hummingbirds. Slonem's Irises, or to be more specific, "Catelayas" are executed in lush royal purples above a grand gold backdrop, and of course, set within an elaborate gilded frame. The Catelaya is a very rare genus of orchid, native to Costa Rica and South America, an area the artist knows well from his childhood. Although, like the entire Orchid Species, these flowers are incredibly fragile in temperament, needing only a minimal amount of water and a fair amount of light, Slonem has shown them in full-blossomed glory. These violet, buttery florae are singing in celebration. It's unquestionably fitting, that the Catelaya are a symbol of beauty, and elegance.
Another new series we're excited to present from Hunt Slonem are his "Colibri & Trumpets", a fete of joyful hues of pink, fluttering birds, and stretching flora. Colibri is Spanish for Hummingbird, the widely-loved bird who's tiny form weighs less than a dime! Known for their ultra-fast heartrate, and wing speed, these charming little birdies are welcomed as messengers of joy, love, and good luck. This mighty little bird is also a symbol of beauty, playfulness, and resilience. The "Colibri Hummingbird" is a sacred symbol for the Taino Indians, because as a pollinator, the bird is therefore a disseminator of new life. Slonem's painting showcases this important ecological method. Tiny green birds attracted to vibrant trumpet flowers, which are known to be copious producers of nectar. This rejoice of pollination is so crucial in today's society, where the environment is at risk from the grave effects of climate change; rising temperatures, infrequent rains, invasive species overtaking native species, and of course, the desolate recurrence of deforestation.
Kristy Gordon (b.1980, British Colombia, Canada) articulates perplexing, yet ultimately critical messages about the world we live in today using techniques and configurations of the past--both grounding her assertions in an artistic tradition and reminding us that history repeats itself.
Gordon continues to develop the current series of mystical paintings which reflect her deep dives into her philosophic dreamscapes. Inspired by 15th Century to 18th Century compositions, this series is both prescient and reminiscent. Her latest work The Crossing, recently won second prize in the Belsky Museum's "Hope Out of the Darkness" exhibition. It is clearly based on famous triptychs of the past; from Robert Campin's The Merode Altarpiece to Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Historically, triptychs tell a story, where each panel holds an essential moment in the narrative. In Gordon's The Crossing, although at first it is unclear what exactly the narrative is, it's evident that the mood of this chronicle evolves from despair and darkness on the left, to climactic revelation in the center, and finally to buoyancy and light, on the right. This theme is easy to decipher, yet the viewer must inspect each feature up close to discern what other wisdoms Gordon may be disclosing.
Further metaphysical theories continue in Gordon's smaller scale works. Death and rebirth, the emotional response to motherhood, our constant fixation with the meaning of life, redefined spirituality, and the stories we tell ourselves to understand the mysteries of life and consciousness. Few classical realists are able to use compositional choices from bygone eras yet pack them with so many layers of contemporary life. Gordon's dreamlike paintings are not only fascinating, but they are also an aesthetic visual feast.
Finally, we are thrilled to include several new works by Daniela Astone (b. 1980, Pisa, Italy), a notable figurative artist who has primarily sold her works in Europe until recently. Although emanating from one of the finest classical ateliers in the world, the Florence Academy of Art, wherein she learned to master austere bravura of academic realism, Astone's work is evocative and carries an other-worldly quality that is uniquely astute and unforgettable. Astone conjures a spiritual universe that forces one to pause and ruminate in front of her canvases.
In Milky Way her figures seem to be traveling in outer space along a channel of light. We see the influence of contemporaries like Odd Nerdrum in her glowing figures, yet these seraphs floating high within an opulent blue galactic setting brings to mind frescoes from 14th Century masters like Giotto. Are they traveling through one of Einstein's worm holes? Are they drifting from one life, into the next? Is this an enquiry of science or spirituality?
A common subject one might find within Classical Painting Ateliers is of a woman holding a red thread. Daniela's "Red Thread" is an exceptional depiction of this classic subject. In Greek Mythology, the story of Ariadne helping Theseus slay the minotaur and escape the Labyrinth by giving him a ball of red yarn to unroll which led him out to freedom. In Eastern philosophy, red thread symbolizes, good luck, protection, and Yue Lao, the lunar, matchmaker God, charged red thread with destiny for love between soulmates.
Here, Astone shows a seated nude woman entwined within a thick wool thread. There's a possibility that she is tangled, or trapped, within this knot-prone strand. Red is a widely known symbol of danger, so our instincts drive us to that concerned conclusion. However, there may not be any need for distress. If we look at her through another lens, she is determined, and very much in control of the yarn she weaves. There is order to each action, and rationality in her thoughts. Red is also known as a sign of love, or passion; a close connection to the beat of our hearts, and the blood in our thread-like veins. Each supposition is up to interpretation, similar to the way that the impulses of heart are so often in contrast to the requirements of our thoughts.
In Astone's smaller-scale works, consisting of landscapes and tranquil still lives, we see her deft facility lending spiritual weight to everyday items and settings. This is like the Amish tradition of seeing and finding spirituality by taking great care in one's everyday tasks, holding reverence for the environment surrounding us as well as the structures we as men, have erected, and live within.
Fine Art Connoisseuer | September 2023
Five to Watch
There is a contingent of contemporary landscape painters whose works could easily be mistaken for those of 19th-century Russia's renowned "Itinerants," but Viktor Butko (b. 1978)'s educational lineage can literally be traced back to one of that movement's leaders, Isaac Levitan.
HC&G | September 2023
Hampton Designer Showhouse
Darius Yektai's "Falling Stargazers" painting graces the cover of HC&G's Fall 2023 issue.
Dans Papers - January 2023
Laura Grenning Shares the Magic of Dan's Cover Artist Ben Fenske
On this week's cover of Dan's Papers, we have the 2020 oil painting "Girl, Morning" by Ben Fenske. Born in 1978 to a working-class Minnesotan family, Fenske dreamed of becoming an artist and was greatly inspired by the works of major Russian painters that he was introduced to in his teens. He sought classical art training at the Bougie Studio in Minneapolis, founded by former students of renowned artist Richard Lack, and continued his studies at the Studio of Joseph Paquet and the prestigious Florence Academy of Art.