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« Puzzle for the Day | Main | Movie Reviewing and the Web »

June 02, 2006

Provincial Gallery Scene (1): Kal Gajoum

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

There are parallel universes in the art market.

For example, there is the tourist market. I've seen this along the Seine in Paris, in St. Petersburg in Russia and on Greek islands such as Mykonos. The artist (or someone representing himself as an artist) sells (often unframed) oils, watercolors or engravings directly to passing tourists.

Then there are artists who motorhome around the country, flitting from shopping mall to shopping mall where a group of them will clutter the main aisle offering everything from hyper-realistic depictions of waves crashing on a beach to portraits of Elvis on black velvet.

At the opposite extreme price-wise, if not necessarily in terms of artistic quality, are the ultra-fashionable galleries in New York and a few other cities where works are sold for prices in the six-and-up-digit dollar range.

The "Provincial Gallery Scene" in the title of this post refers to none of what I just mentioned. My "parallel universe" of interest is the gallery that caters to clients willing to drop, let's say, five-digit dollar amounts for a painting. Such clients are probably fairly well-educated, though I'm not sure what proportion buys art based on their personal taste as opposed to relying on consultants, art critics or gallery staff to advise on purchasing.

By "provincial" I mean that these galleries tend to be located away from New York. I have seen them in places such as Carmel, California, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Scottsdale, Arizona.

My plan is to report from time to time on artists whose work I find in such galleries. This is art flying below the radar of the publicity/investment-driven gallery world noted above. But not far below. I consider this art to be more in tune with the tastes of educated Americans in general. Moreover, some of it might prove to be more enduring than what's currently hot in New York.

This series differs slightly from my Popular Artists series in that these artists are less well-known.

I need to add that I won't necessarily enthuse over what I'll write about, as you will see below. My self-appointed task is to report art that I find interesting, if not something I would buy.

* * * * *

Paintings by the subject of the present post were seen at a gallery in Whistler -- British Columbia's posh ski resort area that will be the site of outdoor events in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The blurb on a handout I grabbed at the gallery states:

Born in Tripoli, Kal Gajoum lived for extended periods of time in Malta, England and Paris, France before moving to Vancouver, British Columbia. During these periods Kal earnestly studied fine art at the knee of some of the greatest teachers in Europe where he fell in love with the postimpressionist style.

Painting in a style reminiscent of the postimpressionists, the master, Kal Gajoum paints with a passion. His unique and graceful style is refreshing. It embraces a warmth and power that has long been lost in the art world. His artwork is both contemporary and traditional, bold and subtle, simple and complex.

Ohhhkay. [Scrapes layer of sugar off computer monitor]

Let's look at couple urban scenes he painted.

Kal Gajoum - Downtown.jpg

Kal Gajoum - The Mistress.jpg
The Mistress

Gajoum also paints many still-lifes of bottles but examples are not included here in part because I couldn't find any with byte-counts within our posting guidelines and partly because I don't find them as interesting as his Parisian street-scenes.

Gajoum's signature technique seems to be use of one of those paint-mixing tools with a diamond-shaped blade to finish off his paintings; I suspect he uses brushes for some of the under-layers.

In person, his paintings are bright, almost shiny. This is because his finishing swipes with the palette tool are loaded with a high proportion of white paint. The tool's painting edges are about an inch long, making it a "blunt instrument" compared to most brushes. Each stroke is obvious, so it is clear that Gajoum employs a high level of skill to yield the effects he wishes to create.

I find Gajoum's paintings technically interesting (and as I've tried to make clear in previous posts, I tend to be swayed by the degree of technical skill displayed). Would I buy one if I had the money and wall-space? I'm not sure. Will history judge Gajoum as an important artist? I think not, because of his reliance on the palette tool. I suspect that, at best, he might be regarded as the early-21st century incarnation of Maurice Utrillo.



posted by Donald at June 2, 2006



There are also many realistic-type galleries in resort areas (in the west, ski resorts like Jackson Hole, WY, and Park City UT, and in the east along the toney coastal resort towns). I think, as you research, not only will you find a lot of paintings you like, but also wonderful places to visit.

Enjoy your travels! I am waiting to see/hear more.

Posted by: greybeard on June 2, 2006 5:15 PM

One thing I saw in the two streets scenes you showed, He doesn't deal well with people. There's no life in his paintings.

No life, no movement, no city dynamic. They are streets without purpose, without the context that colors and informs city streets. Were one an intentionalist one would have to say that Gajoum meant to depict an empty, lifeless scene, and thus illuminate his own darkness. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that he suffers from some degree of clinical depression.

Note how everything is composed to give the feeling, the impression, of emptiness. Empty grey with splotches of blood red, and stray threads of other colors. All formed and placed in a manner that obscures rather than reveals. He hides things. He hides things because he doesn't know his world. He doesn't know his world because he is not engaged in it.

Empty paintings from an empty man.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on June 2, 2006 11:03 PM

I don't see what's wrong with conveying emptiness. The problem is that Gajoum doesn't pull it off.

Utrillo on the other hand did convey emptiness, or a melancholic state if you prefer. That's why his work evinces a response to this day.

Posted by: ricpic on June 3, 2006 10:18 AM

Edouard Leon Cortes

Rather than Utrillo, this is who Gajoum reminded me of, but I guess mostly on subject matter rather than style. I like him, I don't know if it is technique or palette knife, but I like the angularity, lack of curves, like shards of light and form. Trying to think, the Italians, some Futurists worked with straight edges instead of curves.

Also a little, Maurice Prendergast, I think for the liberties taken with the human form in a natural setting.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on June 4, 2006 12:54 PM

These paintings don't knock me out. I think they are gimmicky and depend as much on the atmospherics of the color as anything else. I do like some palette knife painting.

These remind me of the very popular Bernard Buffet pictures that used to be everywhere. Very spiky, tall and thin stuff, quickly done. They caught on for a while -- then disappeared like big-eyed kids and Red Skelton clowns.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on June 4, 2006 7:11 PM

The gallery had perhaps a dozen paintings by Gajoum, and none had people as subject-matter. Doing portraits or even Caillbotte-like boulevard scenes with a paint-mixing tool would be tricky work, so perhaps Gajoum figured his signature style couldn't handle humans. Or maybe he can't do people well even using a brush.

To be charitable, artists tend to find themselves specializing in genres due to personal inclination or skill limitations. Even the mighty Picasso didn't do landscapes (well, I can't recall seeing any; he might have done a few).

I suppose the reason I featured Gajoum was because his work did stand out from the other paintings in the gallery. They were flashy, yet interesting. I'm a Paris fan, so that might have heightened my interest. Nevertheless, I think the "holy cow" or "gee whiz" or whatever reaction is important when confronting an unknown (to you) artist for the first time. It doesn't mean that artists is truly great or that his work will withstand the test of time. But it is something to factor into the equation.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 5, 2006 10:56 AM

I like these paintings. Don't be so hard on this painter for not being someone else.

His theme isn't emptiness, but (it seems to me) the sky and the light in it, and the emotions these can evoke. Clearly his fascination is with how light expresses itself through the clouds in an after-the-rain context, and how this makes him feel.

I don't understand why people focus on the buildings and the people in the paintings. They aren't the subject. Does someone look at the Mona Lisa and say - DaVinci was an empty man, because the landscape in this painting is so dull.

Ya have to know what to look for. Composition is a clue. (The sky dominates both pictures compositionally.)

Keep smiling

Posted by: David R on June 14, 2006 11:47 AM

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