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P29

For Mary and Everything Under Her, 6 ft x 5 ft, mixed media on canvas

Vessel 3, 30" x 23", oil on paper


Yarrow, 18" x 24, mixed media on canvas

Duke and Wigmore, 2001, Mixed media on paper, 22 x 30 inches


That She Had Wanted, Water based enamel paint, oil paint, oil crayon, pencil, and
charcoal on linen, 40 x 36 inches

Casseopia, 6 x 5 feet (72" x 60"), mixed media on canvas


Wall is Close, 7 x 6 feet (84" x72"), mixed media on canvas

If you have too much control, nothings going to happen. John Hoyland

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCmFhbUAHbU
Artist Gary Komarin feature in documentary "Still"

You have to be working on the edge of something. There has to be


tension. You give life to the painting, and it speaks back. If you can
write about it, then why do it? If you over-manage the painting, or
over-direct it, you take all the life out of it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSCyT_6WWr4
GARY KOMARIN - PAINTING WITH THE INNER CHILD

I dont have a process and approach each painting with no idea of


what I want to do. I let the painting lead me, to take me where it
wants to go, and I respond to it. Its liberating to change your mind
over time. I have a busy mind and I try and turn that off to
surrender to the painting.

http://www.garykomarin.com/
Fraser Taylor, Rose Twice, 1996, oil on canvas, 122 x 152
EDUCATION

MFA in Painting, Boston University, Student of Philip Guston, 1975-77


Brooklyn Museum School, 1975
New York Studio School
BA in Art and English Literature, Albany State University

Komarin, a New York born artist and former student of abstract


expressionist Philip Guston, reveals not only the creative process in
visually complete layered pieces, but hints at his origins. The son of
an architect, Komarin's work, while it implies a delicate human-
ness, suggests architectural form. His work speaks of the gray and
uncertain areas of life. A time caught between recognition and
definition where the images themselves become the zenith of focus.

Komarin is known for exploring shapes, at once strange and


familiar, seemingly imprecise yet eloquent. Komarin plays on a
viewer's capacity for childlike wonderment. His simple yet
sophisticated cakes, wigs and vessels beckon us to observe and
interact with their outrageous collective and identity.

Cakes, wigs and vessels are the common motifs of the pieces that
Komarin created at Tandem Press. Using a cartoon-like
expressionist style, he presents his objects humorously. The forms
are quite abstract, sometimes resembling a building or a chair, the
images are mysterious and serious, exposing the complicated
emotions associated with occasions for serving cakes and donning
wigs.

Born in Manhattan in 1951, the son of a Czech architect and Viennese writer
who fled the Holocaust, Gary Komarin received a graduate teaching
fellowship at Boston University where he studied with Philip Guston. Komarin
was offered his first University teaching position at Hobart & William Smith
Colleges in 1978. He has subsequently taught at The University of Oregon,
Southern Methodist University, and The University of Iowa. Komarin was
nominated for and received The Joan Mitchell Prize in Painting in 1999. Gary
Komarin keeps a studio in the wooded hills west of New York, where he lives
with his wife, three kids, and very large dog.

Gary Komarin does in his paintings what acrobats do on the high wire: there is
a constant balancing act between sophistication and simplicity, between
cartoon-like expressionism and eloquent abstraction. His images at first seem
simple and even awkward, but given enough time, the complexity of the parts
reveals itself and the viewer begins to see Komarin's relentless artistic
cunning. The gritty surfaces have a sense of urgency that is conveyed by the
way he uses quick-drying materials: tempera, waterbased enamel, graphite,
or whatever happens to be at hand. This groping, scratching, addition, and
subtraction serve to document the struggle between chaos and control. The
process points to this artist's ability to not only use 'painting-as-noun' to
describe the place he finds, but also how 'painting-as-verb' got him there. The
image that survives the process is determined by Komarin's search for an
indescribable "rightness." By relentlessly pushing himself in the studio, he
challenges the viewer with fresh paintings that feel pure and unrehearsed.
They are at once truthful and daring.

Each painting's unique palette extends the notion that a particular quandary
must be met with an ever shifting array of solutions. The colors of certain
expanses are arrived at by mixing one pile of paint into another, directly on the
canvas. His more labored-over surfaces have dense, savory planes while
either super-graphic-black or sharp, vibrant hues are used to describe the
most direct, unrepentant stroke. Komarin's mix of rich, subtly shifting colors
and the hot, acidic pigments help each painting produce a specific
combination of hues to create its precise flavor.

Like a vigorous game of Pictionary between Guston, Twombly, and


Motherwell, Komarin deftly uses shape and form to play with the moment of
recognition: when does a mark stop being a mark and become an object? The
viewer is left with the enviable task of sorting through the signposts in this
painterly landscape. The reoccurring shapes in his work - the wig, the cake,
the vessel -- lend themselves to different levels of interpretation. At the same
time, these images create a sense of absurdity in the painting: they are
imprecise, quirky, and even romantically fanciful.

Komarin's stalwart images have an epic quality that grips the viewer with the
idea that he or she is looking at a contemporary description of something
timeless. Even his smallest paintings have a monumental presence. Along
with other important painters, his work brings optimism to contemporary
abstraction, pointing to a blithe spirit in the house of beauty. Gary Komarin's
paintings are a celebration as well, highlighting a particular view of the world
and inviting us to re-evaluate our place in it.
Hamlett Dobbins , Director, Clough-Hanson Gallery , Rhodes College , Memphis, Tennessee

Video image
A wilder Blue, 2008/9, Mixed media on canvas, 183 x 152 cm
Ipso Facto, 2009, Mixed media on paper, 183 x 162 cm
An Italian Box Stitch, 2003, Mixed media on board, 182 x 122 cm
A Suite Of Blue Sea Laguna Beach, 2009, Mixed media on canvas,
182 x 152 cm
Dukes and Wigmore, 2007, Acrylic on paper, 57 x 76cm

Two Pair, 2009, Mixed Media on canvas, 153 x 122 cm


Gary Komarin (born, 1951 New York, NY) is a multitalented artist
that not only paints, but did encaustic paintings and prints for many
groups including Garner Tullis in New York and Tandem Press.

Gary Komarin was born in New York City to a Czech architect and a
Viennese writer who fled the Holocaust. He studied art and English
at Albany State University and later was the student of the abstract
expressionist Philip Guston. Hamlett Dobbins writes, Gary Komarin
does in his paintings what acrobats do on the high wire: there is a
constant balancing act between sophistication and simplicity,
between cartoon-like expression and eloquent abstraction.

He uses quick drying mediums like tempera, water-based enamel,


and graphite as well as scratching and on-canvas blending which
leaves his paintings with a sense of urgency, and yet a touch of
romanticism. Komarin likes to work with various motifs such as wigs
or vessels.

His idea for Cake Paintings on Paper can be credited to his parents.
His mother baked lots of homemade cakes when he was growing up
and his father was an architect. Komarin realized an excellent
opportunity to merge the domestic with the architectural. For
example, Italian Wedding Cake looks like it took a note from the
Coliseum.

His Duke and Wigmore series came about after a trip to London
with his wife and children. One day he was to meet up with her at a
pub on a street corner. It was at the crossing of Duke and Wigmore
streets, so to remember he repeated these names over and over all
day. The mantra did not fade out when he returned to the States so
he decided infuse the chant into a series reconciling chaos and
control.

*
ICONOCLASTIC ABSTRACTION
by Donald Kuspit

Published in the Bill Lowe Gallery Catalogue - Gary Komarin: Her


Dutch Shoes Treated Her Well
(April 2008)

Can abstraction survive? That's the question with which Mark


Rosenthal concludes his magisterial study of Abstraction in the
Twentieth Century (1). Now that abstraction has become
established, the issue is no longer whether it can maintain the
sense of 'risk' and 'freedom' that Rosenthal notes were its
hallmarks, but if it can avoid becoming 'hidebound' in the twenty-
first century. Now that it is no longer 'experimental,' can it continue
to be vital? Or, as I would put it, can it continue to evolve,
becoming something other than the labored formalism in which
Rosenthal suggests it threatens to dead-end?

Komarin shows us one way in which it can: he breathes quirky new


life into abstraction by making it witty. He takes what was once
'forbidding' and 'hermetic' - Rosenthal's terms for abstraction in its
heroic inaugural period - and makes it ironically lyric by making it
playful. He returns gesturalism to its origins in landscape, but the
abstract landscape is no longer 'apocalyptic,' as Kandinsky's have
been said to be, but whimsical. He takes what had become closed
systems of geometrical and non-geometrical abstractions and
interbreeds them. The result is a kind of hybrid abstraction, less
heavy-handed than traditional abstraction but still emotionally
serious. It is an overtly hedonistic abstraction, rather than
confrontational in the style of the Old Abstract Masters; there is a
power in pleasure they, in their Puritanism, could not appreciate.
Komarin also has the benefit of aftersight: he orchestrates the
whole development of abstraction, bringing its different musical
strands together in a sort of grandly ironical musical painting - an
ironically symphonic painting not unlike Satie's witty music.

The point is clearly made by 'Van Dyke's Van Dyke' (2007), not
simply by way of the clever title, which suggests that Komarin's
abstract painting has an elegance similar to that of Van Dyck's regal
portraits, but by way of the witty play of shapes. Some are quickly
and casually drawn, as though scribbled in a child's sketchbook or
on a writing pad. These shapes seem easily changed - they are on
the verge of being free form, yet also readable as images (a sort of
sailboat in the upper right corner, a kind of house in the lower right
corner) - and even erasable. There are also painterly islands of
dense color - seemingly solid ground on an otherwise quixotic field
of darkish gray, marked by little eruptions of bright color. These
eccentrically shaped forms - they seem to be slowly germinating,
however concentrated in themselves - are ironic reprises of the
patch (tache) that has been the mainstay of modernist painting
since it was first acknowledged by critics of Manet's painting.

Komarin's painting is a reprise of 'thin-skinned' color field painting


and 'thick-skinned' gestural painting, with geometrical odds and
ends added by way of linear drawings. But it is a delicately clever
reprise, opening up new expressive as well as perceptual territory.
The three painterly patches - pink and dark pink, capriciously
elongated into ellipses, and a squarish patch of pitch black - form
an eccentrically open system (a sort of orange colored cross-like
star emerges from the 'negative' space between them, marking
their center). They are counterbalanced by the closed system of
the green triangle on which the black patch is dubiously placed.
The triangle itself is precariously perched on the tower-like tip of a
flimsy rectangle. Hovering high above it is the sailboat, combining
the triangle and rectangle forms (both the same soft color as the
rectangle below). There is a gentle tension between the three
triangular units, as well as between the flat surface on which they
appear, like mirages in a void. For all its brooding atmospherics and
sensual touches, the surface remains peculiarly inviolable. It
supports the dallying shapes, innocently floating on its flatness -
linear and painterly jottings on a deep sea, visual straws for the
spectator to grasp. Komarin's shapes linger on his surface, inviting
us to enjoy their paradox: child-like drawings and painterly
markings in a witty arrangement. Innocence and sophistication
subliminally align in Komarin's painting.

'Dale' and 'A Suite of Blue Sea, Peter's Pond Lake' (both 2007),
make the landscape anchor of Komarin's abstraction clear, even as
they show it veer energetically towards ironical purity. There are
the same gestural patches, now compacted into a sort of composite
painterly material. But the drips, the seemingly slapdash
brushwork, the flowing together of broad fields of excited color,
have an ingenious flair. Purity is pushed toward its contradictory
limits - perhaps most evident in the abrupt difference between the
large plane of dripping black and the smaller plane of luminous blue
in the latter painting - reminding us of the conflicted consciousness
that informs traditional abstraction. There is much more harmony
in the glowing yellow field of 'A Suite of Blue Sea, Bishop's Gate'
(2007) - the same sea in an altogether different light? - but there is
the same irksome tension and peculiarly 'introverted' and sketchy
shapes, holding their own as they drift on the flat sea. Its strong
underlying current becomes explicit in the meandering lines of 'A
Suite of Blue Sea with French Wig' (2007), a sort of unraveling of
the drawn shapes, although the complex color patches remains
intact. The transparency of the drawn shapes and the opaqueness
of the color patches makes for another level of formal and
expressive tension.

One can call Komarin's abstract paintings quirky formalism, if one


needs a label, but I think it is better to think of them as a smart
synthesis of spontaneous gesture, geometric composition, and
iconic form, with a certain tendency to monochrome. These are the
four 'basic formal options' of abstract painting, as Rosenthal says,
and in Komarin's paintings we find them mixed to lyrically absurd
effect. 'Incident as Osbourne Grove' (2007) makes the point
clearly: its (near) monochromatic surface - 'Hill' and 'Rue Madame
in Red' (both 2007) are almost completely monochromatic - is
marked by spontaneous gestural 'incidents' that take more or less
geometrical form, becoming peculiarly iconic or emblematic.
Process painting and structural painting uniquely and inevitably fuse
to insinuating expressive instinct.

Some of Komarin's paintings are manifestly erotic, others latently


melancholy, but the point I want to make is that Komarin is an
esthetic fundamentalist with an ironic twist. The twist prevents this
work from becoming decoratively empty - the fate of so much
abstract art, as the theorist Max Horkheimer remarked. Komarin
engages the decorative but finesses it, as the critic Clement
Greenberg said Matisse did; Komarin has a certain debt to Matisse,
and to French 'luxury' painting in general, as Greenberg called it. A
good part of the irony is that Komarin's paintings hover
indeterminately on the boundary between purity and imagery. As
soon as they seem one-sidedly abstract, they become 'impressions'
of a natural environment. This doubleness keeps them fresh even as
it confirms their traditional modernism. For Komarin reminds us that
abstraction has its roots in Impressionism, and Impressionism is
rooted in the preoccupation with the painterly metier implicit in the
Realism of Courbet and Manet. Komarin is a modernist painter, that
is, he is acutely aware of his medium and takes a certain 'critical'
stance to the planar surface, but he is also aware that a modernist
surface that lacks a poetic charge becomes a shallow facade. One
might say that Komarin has re-organized increasingly mechanical
and self-sufficient modernist painting by reminding us of its broadly
based heritage in romantic naturalism, that is, in emotional
attunement and caring observation of nature. Indeed, Komarin
renews the fantasy of nature in which abstraction is deeply rooted.
Nature contradicts itself by way of changing atmosphere and light,
even as it remains self-regulating. The apparent randomness or
irregularity within its regularity suggests that nature is in subliminal
evolutionary process. I think that what makes Komarin's paintings
important is that they harness the paradoxical randomness of
nature, furthering the evolution of imaginative abstraction.
Abstraction had become too 'regular' and uninspired - set in its
ways - for its own creative good; it needed an infusion of chance to
arouse it from complacency, and renew its visionary power.
Abstraction is no longer revolutionary, but it can still be a breath of
fresh visual air. One might say that Komarin imaginatively searches
out fresh modes of randomness, as nature seems to. The
evolutionist Dean Keith Simonton notes that evolutionary change
begins with 'chance permutation' of 'fundamental units (in painting -
color and line) that can be manipulated in some manner... These
elements must be free to enter into various combinations" (2). The
elements are identical, but arranged in different ways, to what
Simonton calls 'iconoclastic' creative effect.

But then these 'heterogeneous variations' must be 'subjected to a


consistent selection process' if they are to make 'adaptive' sense. I
am suggesting that Komarin's witty abstraction, with its seemingly
chance interplay of formal elements in iconoclastic combinations, is
a creative way of adapting to and rejuvenating an abstraction that
has become decadent by way of becoming over-familiar and
comfortable with itself, and with that esthetically stale, emotionally
flat, and perceptually unchallenging. His paintings are a mutation of
abstraction - a necessary mutation if it is to survive in convincing
form - if it is not to become hackneyed and meaningless. Komarin's
abstract paintings are all the more engaging because they exist on
the boundary between subjective and objective statement.
Simonton writes: "On a subjective plane, the more stable a
permutation, the more attention it commands in consciousness; the
unstable permutations are too fleeting to rise above unconscious
level of processing." We process Komarin's painting simultaneously
consciously and unconsciously, experiencing them as both
ingeniously stable compositions - stabilized by their dialecticized
gesture and geometry, functioning as spontaneous figures on an
atmospheric ground, transcendentally distant yet intimate, like
nature itself - and unstable permutations of transient elements. It is
their fleeting appearance - their sense of being in timely process -
that makes them emotionally engaging, even as their combination
in an abstract composition gives them a peculiar permanence and
timelessness.

Notes:
(1) Mark Rosenthal, Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total
Risk, Freedom, Discipline (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum, 1996)
(2) Dean Keith Simonton, "Creativity, Leadership, and Chance," The
Nature of Creativity, ed. Robert J. Sternberg (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1988), 389-90

critical essay

by Hamlett Dobbins
Director, Clough-Hanson Gallery, Rhodes College, Memphis,
Tennessee

Gary Komarin does in his paintings what acrobats do on the high


wire: there is a constant balancing act between sophistication and
simplicity, between cartoon-like expressionism and eloquent
abstraction. His images at first seem simple and even awkward, but
given enough time, the complexity of the parts reveals itself and the
viewer begins to see Komarin's relentless artistic cunning. The gritty
surfaces have a sense of urgency that is conveyed by the way he
uses quick-drying materials: tempera, waterbased enamel, graphite,
or whatever happens to be at hand. This groping, scratching,
addition, and subtraction serve to document the struggle between
chaos and control. The process points to this artist's ability to not
only use 'painting-as-noun' to describe the place he finds, but also
how 'painting-as-verb' got him there. The image that survives the
process is determined by Komarin's search for an indescribable
"rightness." By relentlessly pushing himself in the studio, he
challenges the viewer with fresh paintings that feel pure and
unrehearsed. They are at once truthful and daring.

Each painting's unique palette extends the notion that a particular


quandary must be met with an ever shifting array of solutions. The
colors of certain expanses are arrived at by mixing one pile of paint
into another, directly on the canvas. His more labored-over surfaces
have dense, savory planes while either super-graphic-black or
sharp, vibrant hues are used to describe the most direct,
unrepentant stroke. Komarin's mix of rich, subtly shifting colors and
the hot, acidic pigments help each painting produce a specific
combination of hues to create its precise flavor.

Like a vigorous game of Pictionary between Guston, Twombly, and


Motherwell, Komarin deftly uses shape and form to play with the
moment of recognition: when does a mark stop being a mark and
become an object? The viewer is left with the enviable task of
sorting through the signposts in this painterly landscape. The
reoccurring shapes in his work - the wig, the cake, the vessel --
lend themselves to different levels of interpretation. At the same
time, these images create a sense of absurdity in the painting: they
are imprecise, quirky, and even romantically fanciful.

Komarin's stalwart images have an epic quality that grips the viewer
with the idea that he or she is looking at a contemporary description
of something timeless. Even his smallest paintings have a
monumental presence. Along with other important painters, his
work brings optimism to contemporary abstraction, pointing to a
blithe spirit in the house of beauty. Gary Komarin's paintings are a
celebration as well, highlighting a particular view of the world and
inviting us to re-evaluate our place in it.
*
Born in Manhattan in 1951, the son of a Czech architect and
Viennese writer who fled the Holocaust, Gary Komarin received a
graduate teaching fellowship at Boston University where he studied
with Philip Guston. Komarin was offered his first University teaching
position at Hobart & William Smith Colleges in 1978.

EXHIBITION REVIEW

"Gary Komarin"
Published in Art in America

Now in midcareer, New York born artist Gary Komarin makes works
that owe as much to Color Field painting as to his oft-cited mentor,
Philip Guston. While scrawled Guston-like tropes are definitely a
hallmark of Komarin's work, they are balanced by deep, thoughtful
breaths in between. Enchanced by an energetic use of color,
Komarin's images rely on the tension between the spontaneous and
the considered, the accidental and the consciously executed, for
their striking vitality. The artist hides nothing - his methods are
perfectly evidence as he covers and uncovers, delineates and
sweeps over the shapes on his canvas. And what are these
shapes? They could be things - boats, bottles, boxes and hats - or
they might just as easily refer to nothing in particular. Precisely
positioned on the border between image and abstraction, Komarin's
forms offer what John Elderfield, speaking of Martin Puryear's
sculpture, so eloquently referred to as a 'familiarity that resists
recognition.'

All of the paintings in this exhibition were from 2006 or 2007, large-
scale, often with a surface of acrylic paint on raw canvas, or house
paint mixed with spackle - combinations that provide a particularly
matte ground for Komarin's drips, scrawls and idiosyncratic fillips of
enamel, crayon, oil pastel and other assorted mediums. Rimmed
with hints of orange at the top and bottom, the black surface of 'The
Disappointed Mistress #12' (2007, 80 by 68 inches) is so flat that
it's almost like a blackboard - but an improbably transparent one.
As the eye adjusts to the dark, faint crayon lines, the ghostly layers
of under- and over-painting slowly come into focus, until what
originally looked like a very simple composition becomes infinitely
more complex.

Other works are not so reticent, but declare themselves


immediately with strident backgrounds of red, azure blue or grass
green, which are in turn overlaid with big blocks of strong,
contrasting color and bold, barely controlled gestures of crayon or
pigment. Sometimes delicate, other times crude, these shapes are
as confident as they are enigmatic. There is no narrative here, no
underlying message, except for the process, with its revelations,
both conscious and unconscious. Any single interpretation is by
design subject to change. In many ways, what you see is what you
get, except that the next time you look, what you get may be
completely different.

EXHIBITION REVIEW

"Paintings Do the Talking, Without Too Many Specifics"


New York Times (February 27, 2000), by Barry Schwabsky

Gary Komarin doesn't want to say too much about his paintings, but
he's not brusque about it. He's almost apologetic, actually, but in
the course of explaining why he'd rather let the paintings speak for
themselves, he ends up telling quite a bit.

Oddly enough, the paintings are very much the same way.
Seemingly imprecise in their imagery, austere in palette, self-
absorbed in feeling, their surfaces gritty and uningratiating, they
can nevertheless become eloquent, for those patient enough to give
them time.

Although abstract, Mr. Komarin's paintings sometimes contain


shapes that are quite legible - a wig or a hat, for instance - but
more often they tend to suggest many things without getting quite
specific about any of them. And in conversation, the artist is not
eager to make them any more specific. The forms resonate when
they are at once strange and familiar.

"I don't know what this form is," Mr. Komarin says, walking across
the gallery to indicate 'Estragon,' a painting from 1998. "Maybe it
reminds me of a bongo - but if I start to think of it as a bongo, that
calls up all kinds of associations that are irrelevant to the painting.
So I try to dissociate from that while I'm working on a painting.
"It would be misleading to put a name to these forms. As a viewer
you bring something different to them, depending on your own
experience - depending on what you saw last week, or what you
read, or maybe what you ate."

Often the forms echo the awkwardness of children's art. "Most


artists love children's drawings because they're so direct and free,"
Mr. Komarin says. But his nebulous, seemingly half-formed or half-
identified shapes are meant less to recall they way children draw
than their experience of seeing things without knowing what they
are, what he calls "a childlike sense of wonder and bafflement."

When asked whether a recurrent form in some of his most recent


paintings, a simple loop attached to a vertical line, is really meant
to be seen as a noose, Mr. Komarin acknowledges that he sees it
that way too, explaining that he'd been thinking of the child's word
game hangman. But he doesn't disavow the sinister overtones of
the image, speculating that the game's origins are linked to the fact
that hangings were once a form of public spectacle or popular
entertainment.

Although Mr. Komarin has lived in Flanders for the last 14 years, his
tough, somewhat taciturn manner still evokes New York City, where
he was born and grew up. He has been exhibiting his work
nationally since 1981, but 2000 looks to be his busiest year ever.
Along with this exhibition, he is also doing one-person shows this
year in Atlanta, Des Moines, Palm Springs, Calif., and Washington.

After studying at Albany State University, he went on to get a


master of fine arts at Boston University, where he studied with
Philip Guston, the Abstract Expressionist painter who shocked his
contemporaries in 1970 with the first of the crudely figurative
canvases that occupied him until his death a decade later. The critic
Hilton Kramer, for instance, derided him as "a mandarin
masquerading as a stumblebum," but Guston's late work turned out
to be enormously influential on younger artists.

As a teacher, Mr. Komarin recalls, "Guston made painting seem like


a door to the unknown - a way to explore yourself, the world, the
human condition. He wanted you to paint what you don't know
rather than what you know." Guston's lesson in cultivating the
unknown has clearly stuck with Mr. Komarin. And on a more
superficial level, the teacher's peculiar sense of form can also still
be traced in his former student's work - in the way Mr. Komarin's
bulbous forms can seem to echo, in an abstract way, the cigars,
cyclopean heads and naked light bulbs in Guston's paintings.
Of course Guston is hardly the only predecessor whose influence
has marked Mr. Komarin's canvases. The fact that many shapes he
uses resemble jars and vessels becomes more explicable after he
speaks of how much he admires Giorgio Morandi, the Italian
modernist best known for his austere, intimate still lifes of bottles
and other ordinary objects. "Morandi did so much with space,
forms, the way things touch," Mr. Komarin explains.

Mr. Komarin himself started out as a still-life painter rather than an


abstractionist. "That's because I like using what's at hand," he
says, and this is true as much of his materials as of his imagery. He
points to one painting and shows how a vertical line from top to
bottom is the seam that happened to be in the piece of canvas
tarpaulin he'd found in a hardware store and decided to use instead
of fine artist's canvas. Often buried in his paint are post cards and
other stray pieces of paper he's collaged onto the surface.

"Some painters can't work without special paints they have to order
from Holland," he says. "I like good materials too, but if I were
stuck in the studio with just brown and white paint and a box of
dried oatmeal I'd figure out something I could do with them."
A Suite of Blue Sea, Bishop's Gate, 2007
Bigger Pink, 2008

Abilene, 2010
He uses acrylic paint on huge raw canvases or house paint + enamel,
crayon or oil pastel.
Sarah S. King July 2003
At first viewing, Gary Komarins recent show of mixed-medium
works on canvas and paper seemed preoccupied with overt
references to the paintings and imagistic lexicon of his influential
teacher Philip Guston, for whom he also worked as a studio
assistant. Like Guston, Komarin deploys a set of singular
motifs and cartoonish silhouettes that appear frequently in his
works. These include a 60s-style flip-hairdo wig, stacked cakes,
lopsided vessels and an array of diagrammatic forms and geometric
volumes. In contrast to Gustons work, however, Komarins
compositions, which rely on a broader range of colors, are
elementally abstract, eschewing narrative components.
Painted in an energetic Abstract-Expressionist vein, the work seems
primarily concerned with interactions of light and color, as well as
depictions of movement and surface textures achieved through
diverse mediums and painterly techniques. These compositions,
which frequently feature patchworks of color within larger faceted
planes of complementary colors, are also instantly suggestive of
Richard Diebenkorns abstractions.
Their heavily worked-over surfaces, generally done in oil and
enamel, remain effectively flat, placing emphasis on painterly
gesture often accentuated by the creases and joins in the recycled
paper and paper bags that the artist frequently uses as his support.
(Komarin also incorporates small bits of found materials, such as
plaster, metal wiring and fabric, into his works.)
What She Said (1999), for instance, depicts a basketlike vessel with
an olive-green rim and white-and-gray striped interior that floats
above a grid of blocks delineated in red. Cut off at the canvass
edge, a blood-red box in the lower left corner of the picture oozes a
white biomorphic form. These elements are set against a large field
in shades of pink, swept with arabesques of grays and dashes of
white, sometimes with light impasto in the brushwork.
Komarins most successful works are serial - such as the Pop-artish
cake images - in which versions of a crudely outlined central
image are repeated against a succession of subtle lyrical
backgrounds.
This strategy deftly turns the viewers attention to the spontaneous,
sometimes enigmatic relationships between line and color within the
raw graphic contours of these emblematic motifs. In Cake Stacked
Blue (2001), for instance, the thick royal blue rivulets of paint
suggestive of gooey icing outline the top half of a multitiered cake.
They also serve to isolate segments of the backgrounds intricate
tonal and gestural orchestrations, which are rendered in both
frenetic patches and translucent washes of eggshell browns, pale
pinks, ochres and cream whites. Here Komarins poetic sensibility
and versatile technique show themselves to best advantage, and his
stylistic influences become less distracting.
Addison Parks, October, 1979

When so many seem to be out either to invent the next self-


cleaning oven of painting, on the one hand, or totally deny its
continuing evolution on the other, seeing the work of a young
painter exploring and expanding on broken ground refreshes with a
satisfying promise.
Gary Komarin has taken up his search behind painters like
Diebenkorn and Guston. At twenty-eight, his fiery energy and single
vision have helped him produce a large body of mature and
consistent work.
Each canvas is an adventure through one pair of eyes, one set in
the union that is the vision of Gary Komarin. These images are not
the product of careful rendering or some magical technique, but the
result of direct and simple devotion to the act of painting- painting
in the tradition of Abstract Expressionism: painting about light and
space achieved through color, shape and line.
There is little remarkable about a painter pursuing Abstract
Expressionist painting. After all, it is our only tradition. What is
remarkable is that he has accepted the peripheral limitations of a
valid but well-beaten course (many would say a dead horse), and
has not only taken us deeper into that frontier land but has also
managed to make fresh, unstudied paintings that are bright with an
almost clumsy frankness. It is this liveliness in spite of an
overwhelming tradition that makes them so exciting.
Pools of color, oddly shaped and ranging in size, are set with and
against each other like stones in wall, giving the paintings the
puzzle-like flatness of rectangular pieces of land as seen from
above. With little fences of different colors nervously containing
them, the effect is at once flat. Then they shift, with no accessible
perspective to guide space and with little obvious overlapping or
suggestion of diminishing proportions: just space felt out with color
and light within the ephemeral bounds of the picture plane.
Komarin achieves this space by overlapping transparencies onto
opaque underpainting and by painting so frantically as to allow the
underpainting to push through the thin or uncovered patches left
behind.
This loose brushwork accounts for an expansiveness which would
otherwise be lost in the geometric confines of the superstructure,
while the morning light quality of the color further allows shapes of
paint to jump beyond the bounds of their containment. Along the
contours of these shapes Komarin runs his emotional lines which
seem to be trying to get away with anything to avoid their job of
outlining and defining shapes. They backtrack, sidestep, skip and
sway their way along their paths. Occasionally they have to be
dragged and sometimes they break away and take off across some
open field of color. Their own color ranges from delightful
compliments to dutiful darks and surprising lights. Like the rest of
the paint, they are turpentine-thin without dimension but always
alive in motion.
The experience of these images recalls both the landscape and
interior space. As landscapes they recede into space across
horizontal beaches of color interrupted by earthly details: as
interiors they have a vertical geometry that suggests the more
intimate breakup of an architectural space defined by furniture and
man-made objects moving in and out of shadow. There is really no
distinguishing these two different types: only the subtle changes of
composition and color divide their experience.
Just what Gary Komarin has brought to the archives of Abstract
Expressionism with his first New York Show is hard to say. Good
painting, mostly. No inventions to speak of - just solid, sensitive
vision; a power and presence both modest and impressive; new life,
himself.

Collage Series XII, 1979, Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 15 x 17


incident at kit mandor, no. 2, acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 x 1

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the spanish bride, Acrylic on Canvas, 42 x 48 x 2

Born in New York City, the son of a Czech architect and Viennese
writer, Gary Komarin is a risk taker in contemporary painterly
abstraction. Komarin's stalwart images have an epic quality that
grip the viewer with the idea that he or she is looking at a
contemporary description of something timeless. For painter Gary
Komarin, abstraction has never been a formal dead end. Rather, it
has allowed him to challenge the limitations of the style -to make
painting 'include more' precisely because a recognizable image
excludes too much. Komarin has been called a "painter's painter".
His status in this regard is based on the authenticity of his work, its
deep connection to the tradition of Modern painting as well as its
sustained individuality as an utterly personal voice. Like many of
the best artists of his generation he is indebted to the New York
School, especially his mentor Philip Guston with whom he studied at
Boston University where he was awarded a Graduate Teaching
Fellowship. Komarin has been particularly successful at filtering
these influences through his own potent iconography. Guston's
influence is evident in Komarin's mergence of drawing and painting
often breaking the picture plane of his rich and elegantly composed
color fields with an assortment of private iconic cake and vessel-like
objects. Preferring non-art industrial canvas tarps and drop cloths,
Komarin eschews traditional painting media and materials. He builds
layered surfaces with latex house paint in a thinned out sluice mixed
with spackle and water. The house paint offers hybrid colors that
seem slightly 'off' and the spackle creates a beautiful matte surface.
Using color energetically, the quick drying materials allow him to
paint with a sense of urgency, which mirrors the tension created by
conflicting renderings of the spontaneous and the deliberate, the
conscious and the unconscious or the strange and familiar. The
resultant image is one that appears familiar but resists recognition.

Komarin lives and works in a house and studio in the wooded hills of
Roxbury, Connecticut.
Komarin shuns the traditional canvas applying a quick-drying
concoction of thinned-out latex house paints to industrial canvas
tarps and drop cloths. The quick drying materials are applied
urgently, but in carefully chosen colors and meditated compositions.
The resulting work mirrors a suspended tension between the
spontaneous and deliberate.
Komarin began a four-decade career under the mentorship of Neo-
Expressionism leader, Philip Guston. Guston, a contemporary of
Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, influenced Komarin to
merge drawing and painting. Consequently, Komarins layers
of paint are interspersed with whimsical iconography such as an
assortment of cakes and vessel-like objects.
Director of Cuadro Gallery, Roberto Lopardo, commented, At first
glance, Garys paintings appear child-like and one might mistake
these playful undertones as overly simplistic. Nothing can be further
from the truth. Genuine insight in art is often best expressed
through the ability to convey complex positions in the clearest
perspectives. Thus, good art is about finding an elegant vehicle to
carry an inelegant passenger. Every day life offers a commercial
onslaught of bastardized imagery that is corrupt, lacking truth and
depth. By contrast, it is an utter joy to sit and engulf oneself in
Garys work. The more time I invest pouring through Garys
canvases, the more I am rewarded with honest and profound
insights into the nature of line, color, and composition. Garys avant-
garde works are decidedly devoid of pretentious posturing but,
rather, are steeped in weighty visual truths.

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Said the Reader to the Rider, 72 x 48 inches, mixed media on
canvas

Harold and Stanley, oil on canvas, 80 x 64 ins


A Suite of Blue Sea, Laramie, 2012
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The Escape Artist:

It seems that Komarin finds nourishment in the visceral and repetitive


process he employs in painting. How else could he make and remake the
work ad infinitum? He may feel relief while working or escaping from work
or reality, and is thereby able to continue in this fashion without cessation.

Rothko writes,
When the artist produces something which is intelligible only to himself,
then he has already contributed to himself as an individual, and with this
effect has already contributed to the social world (just as we benefit
ourselves, and therefore also society, when we eat).

For while the artist indulges in what seems like a selfish activity, inwardly
massaging his private need to create, he in fact indulges the rest of us in
our need to ruminate, and muse over that which both soothes and
stimulates our bodies and minds.

Therefore, has Komarins process an end point, direction, purpose? The


work and the artist, never quite finished (here we speak of the sort of
painting that basks in the moment of completion as the motive for
completion), escape reality by denying the possibility of a finished
product.

The rejection of the finished work becomes the work itself, and in
repeating this process the artist perpetuates the escape from reality, it
affords. Komarin does not believe in the quick fix of formalism, of
resolution.

By postponing or displacing resolution, an exhilarating nod to


transcendentalism, Komarin offers us the kind of space in which to wonder
infinitely, suspending our need to quantify and thereby qualify our
speculative moments on earth.
Robert Otto Epstein | New York 2009

The Solace of Repetition

The vitality of abstraction today assures us that abstract painting


can bear a profusion of contemporary narratives. This sense of arts
ability to engage the present has encouraged a diversity of
practices, allowing cultural and social issues to coexist with abstract
form. Freed from the tyranny of labels and categories, the
conceptual nature of painting has re-emerged in the service of a
multitude of voicesfrom a techno-conscious generation
referencing unprecedented modes of communication to individuals
wishing to incorporate all manner of autobiography and identity.

To quote Komarins early mentor, Philip Guston, a recognizable


image excludes too much.
While Komarin is not the type to write a manifesto, he embraces the
philosophy that intention is but a small fragment of our
consciousness, that painting should be more
about experience than a statement of intent. For nearly three
decades Komarin has steadily produced a seemingly endless
reconfigured visionsaturated and loose color fields punctuated by
drips, splotches, and ghostly drawn geometriesindifferent to the
ebb and flow of taste. And throughout he has remained quite
content to allow each viewer to bring something different to his
work.

Throughout his career, Komarins repetitive, albeit improvisational,


method has resulted in the accretion of a childlike visual vocabulary.
Typical of this mannerism, for example, are the smudged, scrawled
squares and cubes, tictac-toe grids, and bulbous fishlike shapes of
the The Blinding of Polyphemus, playful elements that parallel the
deceptively uncomplicated character of his wigs and cakes. All these
elements share a quirky, unsophisticated quality that flirts
unknowingly with the potentially dangerous unknown, not unlike the
subversion to which his smaller, propped desserts and items of
masquerade are subject. In addition to this
array of shapes, Komarin reinforces the notion of innocence through
various stylistic tendencies: the repetition of form, or the retention
of drips and scumbled, gritty surfaces. Moreover, and perhaps the
most obvious, yet subtly childlike aspect, is Komarins penchant for
hyperbole, reflected in his painting beguiling titles.

What does all of this have to do with the real subject of Komarins
work? The answer lies in his own childhood experience and its
formative influence on him and his abstract language. Komarins
need to work from an instinctual, semiconscious state of mind is
critical to understanding the evolution of his style and its deeper
significance. One of his painterly goals is to create a work that is
formed, in a sense, as it is made. In other words, that the picture
not be preformed, that it reflect Wittgensteins distinction between
the way something says and shows what it means.

I think one has to work with everything and accept the kind of
statement which results as unavoidable, or as a helpless situation. I
think that most art which begins to make a statement fails to make
a statement because the methods used are tooartificial. I think
that one wants from painting a sense of life. The final statement has
to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statementTo be an
artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a
good artist. Jasper Johns
What begs investigation in this otherwise straightforward seascape
is the schematic repetition of form typical of Komarins work. The
triangular sail, for example, is re-articulated more than once,
literally extended, drawn out as though doodled into a tent-like
form, and, echoed, again, by another similar, though now looming
cone-like geometry, which, cropped by the left margin, encroaches
and dwarfs its counterpoints at sea. The additional presence of a
dark form behind the sail, perhaps another boat, a hulking barge or
freighter, easily morphs into a vase and as quickly into a still life.

Is not the essence of the compulsion to repeat fueled by the need to


play out over and over the traumas of childhood? Does not the
artists tendency to replicate a form and move it from one space to
another, such as happens in the unwieldy rocklike shapes in His
Mind Like a Greek Motel, derive from a lifelong preoccupation with
the fate of a man who did just that? There are many ways to view
and understand the dots that Komarin literally connects for us in
paintings like That She Had Wanted or Mrs. Langdon Afterward. We
need not plumb the deepest meaning that his paintings re-enact,
nor care whether Komarin is himself attuned to the specific
formative narratives that course through his psyche. What matters
is this painters vulnerability, his willingness to explore the act of
paintings as a process that ends in revelations both aesthetic and
psychological.
Mason Klein | New York 2007

The Drawing Pushes the Painting and the Painting


Pushes Back

The marriage of drawing and painting in Komarins work is quite


open and free flowing. He feels liberated by the free association that
occurs with crayon drawing. The artist draws and paints, back and
forth, embracing those qualities that paint or crayon or charcoal
contain. It is evident that the painter uses drawing to open up the
space of a painting when things go flat or the surface becomes
inert.
The space between things in his paintings is as important as the
forms themselves. Barry Schwabsky, a former New York Times art
critic, wrote for the Catalog Exhibition for Dubai, A painting
proceeds by steps from wonderful to less than wonderful and back
to wonderful in a matter of seconds. The term that painters often
use is that a Painting is working or not working. Mark making with
crayon or pencil or charcoal can set the painting in a different
direction. One, however, does not want to direct too much.
Dirty White Tapping Reeve 78 x 70 2012

In Komarins words, Like the Dada-ist painters, I will close my


eyes, draw something, draw anything and then allow the hand to
lead me where the painting needs to go. The drawing may look like
something or it may not look like something but the energy of the
mark making is apparent and keeps the soup of the Painting very
much alive. The drawing pushes the painting and the painting
pushes back. This is a good place to be. This is the best place to
be.
Where does Gary Komarin find ideas for his work nowadays? Like
every artist with a keen eye, he observes everything from a jerry-
rigged door in an elevator stairwell to a passing stranger in an
Italian caf.
A Suite of Blue Sea Georgia, 2012, mixed media on panel, 48 x 44
ins

Intuitive gestures form the background of his boldly colored


canvases, balanced, or unbalanced with an amalgam of scrawled,
spontaneous drawing, drips and cartoonish, child-like forms.

Rue Madame in Red, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 46 ins


A Suite of Blue Sea Cap, Ferrat, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 72 x
60 ins

The forms hats, bottles, pails sometimes recognizable,


sometimes not, are reminiscent of Martin Puryears sculptures so
familiar, they resist recognition.

Dry White 24, 2011, mixed media on canvas, 47 x 45 ins