The "Savage Mind" of Artist Gary John Gresl
Mt. Mary College Hosts A Final (?) Exhibition
A poignant afternoon marked Gary John Gresl’s exhibition opening at Mount Mary College’s Marian Gallery. On display in “Gary John Gresl: An Assembler (Possible Solo Finale),” new and old works, both large and small drew a captive crowd on Sunday afternoon in tribute to the revered grand artist of assemblage.
Gresl created six new works for the exhibition, which astonish and inspire those who walk through the gallery. This "finale" requires adequate time to appreciate and possibly several visits to explore Gresl’s complex and detailed assemblages that loosely refer to rural Wisconsin.
The long time artist’s hallowed medium revolves around collecting and assembling assorted objects, stemming from his career as an antiquities trader. Fishing flies and hooks, hunting tools, seedpods, seahorses, and seashells while perhaps vintage coins or materials put together with animal oddities, antlers, bear skulls, fish heads and even a goat’s head demonstrate Gresl’s exceptional ability to construct relationships between seemingly despairing and disarming objects. His so-called “savage mind” develops a narrative by using color, composition, form and texture to reflect his individual bricolage, or the postmodern reference to reusing articles from what’s on hand to create an alternate structural context.
German artist and Gresl’s friend Michael Kutzer mentioned “the savage mind” in his speech to Gresl, an afternoon surprise for those people filling the gallery. The term derives from the French anthropologist Claude Lévi Strauss who considered the savage mind similar to “untamed or wild thoughts,” or “any spontaneous action that symbolizes patterns of mythological thought. A thought based on imagination and personal experience that develops from pre-existing images in the mind.”
Does that all sound too sophisticated? Kutzer further explains that Gresl was a collector and an assembler in the spirit of the savage mind, a sophisticated interpreter of humble objects. That he reconfigured these disparate objects into picturesque installations, disposed and recycled objects that could tell a story like the “murmurings of a creek." Where the viewer needs to actively participate in envisioning their own narrative by remembering personal memories. Revisiting Gresl’s artwork each time would rekindle fresh narratives completely separate from a previous one, a new story for the individual mind’s eye.
Pegi Christiansen, chair of IN:SITE public art, hugged Gresl affectionately and immediately on site in the gallery. Her devoted voice noted that, “Gresl became the Father of the Milwaukee and Wisconsin art community as an incredible artist, citizen and encourager of others.”
She continued by explaining, “The art community found themselves richer knowing Gresl, a man generous with his art and his heart that wanted art to thrive in Wisconsin.”
While Gresl appreciated the compliments, he spoke sparingly at the opening In between giving hugs to all his well wishers. Was this his final solo exhibition? “Probably, “ he answered softly, “because the physical demands of a solo exhibition become prohibitive. It cost me $1200.00 to do the show, and another $250.00 a month to store my various collections, and it’s becoming unrealistic."
He also added with candor and hope, “I would certainly do group shows with smaller standing pieces or wall hung work. And I’m moving into photography. Installations I create on site, often in nature, photograph, and then they disappear.”
Numerous photographs from Gresl’s series Document Ephemera were interspersed between the assemblages on the gallery walls. Several images pictured a plastic. female nude form placed in a barn, a stream or other unlikely places to evoke those untamed thoughts in print, for the artist and the viewer.
During this emotional exhibition opening, Gresl had volunteers don werewolf masks and then photographed them for his own artful initiatives. A spontaneous "art happening" that will emerge as his Werewolf Project. A print series based on this collection of werewolf portraits.
Fortunately for Milwaukee, Gresl’s “savage mind” continues to produce Images where another medium unleashes those spontaneous patterns based on personal experiences and imagination that constructs a mythological narrative. Visit “Gary John Gresl: An Assembler” because these new and old works, large and small installations might only be seen, survive this one time. Afterwards to be dismantled, broken apart and reclaimed for another purpose and life. While in the future Gresl attempts to transcend his superb collector and assembler personality into another artistic presence.
Mt. Mary College presents “Gary John Gresl: An Assembler (Possible Solo Finale)” through October 27 in the Marian Art Gallery located at 2500 North Menomonee River Parkway. Gallery hours: Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.