Thanks to an idyllic Mediterranean locale, abstract painter Greg Kessler explores his more naturalistic side
By John D. Adams
For much of the past decade, abstract painter Greg Kessler has produced a body of work that successfully commingled mythological images with historical or contemporary characters. Indeed, we profiled the painter’s work in a previous edition of South Florida Opulence. More recently, Kessler has been playing around with more “realistic” imagery in his series: “Marmaris.” This lovely series, which could be described as Kessler’s refreshing “Beach Period,” adds another dimension to Kessler’s work: a greater depiction of light and a more grounded yet just as playful study of the human form.
Grounded in water
Myriad hues of blue and gold bathe Marmaris, a stunning port town, which lies along the Turkish Riviera on the Mediterranean. It is a magical locale that Kessler has visited for many years. “Over the course of several summers on the beach, I would do sketches. I’d always do ink wash sketches on the beach and draw the figures I would see there. And then after a while I had accumulated this collection of sketches. So I decided to work from them to create finished oil paintings.”
The lapping waves of the Mediterranean seem to have helped carry Kessler to a more realistic form study while still retaining his work’s play with form and color. And he is seeing a positive response to the new work. “I think it is because I would work more from other images as opposed to a live person. And these figures are engaging in much more specific actions while appearing in much more specific light,” said Kessler.
Kessler’s composite sketches of women (or is it one woman?) fixing their hair are quite magical. While Kessler has decided to more or less adhere to the rules of gravity for this series, he still plays with perception and point of view. “Before, my figures were literally floating. I was losing gravity with the older works. But a figure can be dynamic by facing forward or back, twisting, performing actions, making physical gestures.”
Like Degas, Picasso, and a variety of artists, Kessler’s transition to beach scenes has produced a wider vocabulary to his work. Not relying upon cartoonish representations, these offer more nuanced depictions of form and landscape. “As far as water or sky, I have tried to create a more open feel, as in a sketch. I’ve tried to keep the paint loose and open. In the past I’d almost want to enclose the entire canvas in paint, where with these I’ve left the paint loose with a lighter application … The figures can go in and out of the background with the light and environment.”
Light and speed
Kessler’s work has always played with perception, and the “Marmaris” pieces continue that tradition into a new direction. Because his initial sketches had to be done very quickly with real people who are moving quickly around a beach and in the water, Kessler said: “There is a marked difference from the pieces I was creating years ago. I had a period where I worked from live models, then got out of that. But working from real gestures, with real sunlight moving across the landscape, it has brought about a different energy that is more evocative of familiar human gestures, movements or forms.”
Even with his changes in perception, Kessler maintains a singular, striking style. And whether his subjects appear more naturalistic or float towards mythology, the ultimate constant is Kessler’s exploration of what paint can physically do.
“Some people paint as photo realistically as they can, and that is fine, but I think one of the great things about working in paint is the ability to show tactility. Manet, for example, would show the variety of shades of white in a dress and the variations that come with reality. Some artists are happy just painting the same still life over and over again. I have a desire to paint whatever comes to me at a certain time. Natural or more cartoony and abstract, it depends on where I’m at mentally. I don’t always know where the journey is going to take me with the paint. And that is exciting.”
See more of Greg Kessler’s work by visiting www.gregkessler.net