February 12, 2011 - 10 AM til 4 PM - Bonner School
George Gogas’ Judith Basin Encounter: When Charlie Met Pablo on the Open Range, acrylic on canvas, 1987.Courtesy Missoula Art Museum
Hooked on Art is privileged to feature George Gogas on February 12, 2011. Gogas, a student and contemporary of Walter Hook joined Dick Bush, Rudy and Lela Audio, and Janet Hook Julin at the first Hooked on Art presentation honoring the Hooked on Art namesake in 2005. He will give a Gallery Talk which is open to the public.
Also on display will be M-M Cocktail: Ingredients: 1 Part Missoula Air, 1 Part Milltown Water, acrylic on masonite, 1990, shown courtesy of the Missoula Art Museum.
Go west, young Picasso: George Gogas' intriguing new show combines Western aesthetic with modernism
This article, written by Joe Nickell, first appeared in the Missoulian Entertainer on Thursday, December 20, 2007.
George Gogas knows the history of modern art as well as anyone.
The retired Missoula County Public Schools art teacher can wax eloquently about the revolutions brought on in the early 20th century by painters like Picasso and Kandinsky and Kline, pointing out subtle yet defining characteristics of each artist's work. His knowledge of Western art is equally voluminous: He knows many of Charlie Russell's paintings by name, and is similarly adept at pointing out the stylistic signatures that differentiate the work of Remington and Russell, Ace Powell and Fred Fellows.
Gogas knows art from the inside, as only a painter can see it: How different varnishes affect the luminosity of colors; how to smooth out the weave of a canvas in order to lend a flatter texture.
Indeed, maybe Gogas knows modern art a little too well. That's the best explanation for his attitude toward the series of paintings currently hanging in the main gallery of the Missoula Art Museum.
"They're nothing new or earth-shaking," he says of the 18 large, colorful canvases neatly arrayed along the walls.
"This is nothing but old-fashioned paint on canvas with the idea of early-20th century modernism behind it."
That might sound like a rather sniffy dismissal of three years of an artist's efforts, if it weren't for the fact that Gogas himself painted those canvases. The series of paintings represents the latest evolution of a lifelong body of work by Gogas, who - despite his demure assessment of his own work - stands as one of the most celebrated living western Montana artists.
"When I'm his age I want to be able to create work like that," says Steve Glueckert, curator of the Missoula ArtMuseum. "It's an inspiration to artists and to our community; and so it's absolutely the kind of work that we wantto celebrate at the museum."
Count another feather in the cap of Gogas, who now counts two shows at the local museum, plus a large retrospective
show at the University of Montana's Montana Museum of Art & Culture in 2002, among his many accolades.
In a way, the current show reflects on themes that Gogas was just beginning to develop when he was celebrated in his last show at the Missoula Art Museum (then called the Missoula Museum of the Arts), back in 1994. That show focused on a series of paintings that he called the "Judith Basin Encounters." In those paintings, Gogas took familiar paintings by Charlie Russell and reinterpreted them through the lens of Pablo Picasso's cubist style.
"Since Picasso and Russell were contemporaries from very different artistic worlds, but both were household names, I thought they could symbolize the two extremes of contemporary art in Montana," explains Gogas. "It seemed to me that there were the wildlife painters and the abstract painters and never the twain did they meet, so I wanted to try and bridge that gap - to create those encounters in my paintings."
In a 1994 Missoulian story about the show, Gogas asserted that he probably would only paint one or two more canvases for the series, which at the time consisted of six paintings.
Thirteen years later, Gogas finds himself with 48 "Judith Basin Encounter" paintings under his belt, and more to come.
"That series will continue, because I continue to like to do those things," says Gogas. "I think there's always probably going to be more that you can do with that encounter. I enjoy playing around with that, and the series has been pretty popular."
Popular indeed. At the Missoula Art Museum's annual Benefit Art Auctions, paintings from the series have commanded ever-increasing prices over the years, consistently selling for thousands of dollars and placing among the priciest items sold at the auctions.
But as Gogas continued to work on the series of paintings, he found himself wanting to branch out and try new things. Realizing that his "Judith Basin Encounters" series had always drawn Picasso's influence into Russell's world, Gogas decided to reverse the approach and place Russell in one of Picasso's paintings. The result was "When Charlie Joined Pablo's Rock and Roll Band," a large-scale imitation of Picasso's famous 1921 painting, "Three Musicians," with Russell inserted as the band's guitarist.
Ironically, it was that direct imitation of Picasso's painting that finally freed Gogas to launch into his new series of visual improvisations.
"Doing that painting gave me the freedom, I felt, to move totally into a formal, abstract relationship of the visual elements, with no narrative, no symbolism, no social message," explains Gogas. "This new series aims for a pure relationship of shapes, colors, and lines, according to my aesthetic at the present time. That's what this show is about."
Because the resulting paintings are decidedly non-representational, Gogas turns to another art form to explain his approach.
"I compare this with instrumental music," he says. "In instrumental jazz, there are no words, it's just sounds playing off each other. How do you explain that or make a story out of that? Louis Armstrong said if you have to explain jazz you just don't get it. How do you explain in words a Bach fugue? It's just relationships of sounds.
Well, these paintings are relationships of visual elements. There are no hidden images; I'm not trying to cover up symbols or anything. It's just pure painting."
"That's what's so tough to talk about," he adds. "Modernists of the early half of the 20th century were saying that what they were creating is a purely visual experience, and that's enough. That's what my focus has been here."
According to MAM curator Steve Glueckert, Gogas' new paintings prove that there's still plenty of beauty to unearth through the visual language of abstraction.
"We can insulate ourselves in a tiny little world and think that a particular kind of art or a particular new medium is the only vital or new way to communicate; but in reality, just like in verbal language, there is so much left to say using the same words that we all know and use every day," says Glueckert. "This show represents an incredibly tight body of work - each painting is fully resolved, and they gain in impact from seeing them all together. To me, that's the definition of good art, and so I think this show could hold up at any museum anywhere."