Catalog essay for the exhibition

Gary Komarin: Mexican Thoughts

Published by the Gail Severn Gallery

Ketchum, Idaho, 2007


"...We're passing through time and space,

Our ears are in excellent condition..."

John Cage

Gary Komarin has been called a "painter's painter", which may sound like a cliche until one realizes how precious few contemporary artists fit that description. His status in this regard is based on the authenticity of his work, it's deep connection to the painting tradition as well as it's sustained individuality as an utterly personal voice. Patently indifferent to prevailing trends, Komarin's work draws its relevance and its edge from his distinctive style of engagement with the world, his openness, his humor, his intelligence. Like many of the best artists of his generation, Komarin is indebted to the painters of the New York School, as well as to Matisse before them. But he has filtered their legacy through a potent private iconography that is as insistent as Morandi's, as pervasive and flexible as Bonnard's. Like a prodigal heir, he has assimilated and enlarged the aesthetics and vocabulary of the elder painters with much skill and apparent ease to develop a singular and inclusive idiom in which it seems "anything goes"; with a level of casual facility and clarity that can accommodate any impulse.

Komarin's paintings present a freewheeling inventory of devices that seem to reference the entire history of Modern painting, and yet always contain elements of surprise. He has successfully merged drawing and painting into an amalgamated process of perpetual shaping. Large loosely brushed and drippy color fields bisect the canvas with a horizontal division or flood the whole surface with a single color, with previous marks and colors always visible underneath. Charcoal and painted lines diagram images that float in a soupy painting space, or anchor themselves to the edge of the canvas. Painted shapes are scumbled in one color, painted out, scumbled again in another color, held in a suspension of painterly incident on the surface plane. Shapes of different colors, some linear some planar, huddle together hugging an edge of a color field, or disperse as though charged with opposing magnetic forces.

Preferring non-art materials, Komarin often paints on industrial canvas tarps and drop cloths, and builds his layered surfaces with latex house paint mixed with a sludge of spackle and water and who knows what else, applied in a thinned out state or caked on in globs. Compared to traditional tube paints, the house paint offers hybrid colors that seem just a little "off", and the spackle makes beautifully matte, almost chalky surfaces, reminiscent of fresco, but with the weave of the canvas often evident. These materials give Komarin's paintings a gritty and earthy elegance, an appearance that sometimes evokes the sun bleached architectural landscape of the Mediterranean.

The myriad shapes that animate these works seem vaguely familiar, but lie just beyond recognition. They sometimes look to be "things", but are always presented as if in a point of transition from one state to another. They come in quite a variety of appearances: flat geometric, organic and impastoed, large geometric spacial divisions, linear diagrams of 3-D objects, oval chunks with phallic protrusions (or are they handles), solid and diagrammatic vessel-like shapes. What is most striking is that the shapes are always left open, their complete identities undisclosed, unnecessary. As though the artist is making private notes to himself, these personal images remain as fragments, fleeting suggestions of actual things.

Ultimately, of course, these shapes are indeed simply shapes, articulated with the uncanny offhandedness that distinguishes every aspect of Komarin's paintings. With a Cagean ability to accept the ramifications of every intuitive action, Komarin holds no apparent hierarchies. The first mark is as important, and as unimportant as the last. Each new element added either remains on top or eventually gets partially buried into the cumulative richness of the surface. The complexities of shape, line, field, surface are sustained miraculously from painting to painting by a remarkably consistent integrated working method that embraces a perpetually shifting focus and validates every nuance of the process, but favors none. One suspects in fact that what appears to be a constantly changing focus may actually be a total and equal focus on everything simultaneously.

Komarin's studio is a revealing embodiment of this fluid improvisational process. An environment of action and perpetual mutation, resembling a private ritual space, it is packed with canvases of all sizes in various states of "completion". They are stacked deep against every wall except the one reserved for viewing a single work which is flanked by a long work table covered with open cans of paint. On a small white table is a randomly placed group of whitewash-encrusted found objects that relate directly, but not literally, to the shapes seen in his paintings. As if Morandi became playful, there is a chunk of a house gutter, a PVC elbow, various hockey puck shaped boxes in different sizes, old paint brushes caked with dried paint, a warped grid of wire. In several corners of the space, works on paper are piled high like newspapers, and smaller canvases lean in groups everywhere. In this charged space one can easily imagine how Komarin goes about his work, moving constantly and freely from one canvas to the next, making a mark here, painting out an area there, turning a canvas upside down and continuing with a new orientation, changing the color or placement of a smudge. Every canvas in the studio is open to dialogue at any time, offering an arena of never ending possibilities.

In this physical and psychological place, Komarin's zone of continuity, his inheritance, a total commitment to inhabit the unknown is nonchalantly built into every move. It is all one seamless activity. It is all one painting.

Steven Alexander 2007