"Of all the young painters whose evolution I have been able to follow in NY during the last years of the war, Gerome Kamrowski is the one who has impressed me the most by reason of the quality andsustained quality ofhis research. Among all the newcomers there, he was the only one I found tunneling in a new direction, with a praiseworthy disdain for the "gallery" whether it should appertain to painting or a mine ... Kamrowski's ambitious enterprise is to establish the cosmography of man's inner woríds, which can only be undertaken, of course, by having constant recourse to the observation of the movements ofthestars ... Kamrowski . has been entirelyconcemed with the functions of absorption and liberation of energy which largely determine bodilystructures. And, unlike those who limit themselves to presenting us with the rind of these structures, Kamrowski allows us to be present at their formation ..." - André Breton, 1950 This is what André Breton, the acknowledged leaderof Surrealism had to say about Gerome Kamrowski in an essay for his show at Galerie Creuze in Paris. It was later published in his book Surrealism and Painting. Now, you might think that such a compliment coming from the "Pope of Surrealism" would bring instant fame and fortune to young Gerome Kamrowski when, in fact he remains to this very day , very largely ignored by the general public. As a matter of fact, the irony of the situation is such that he has been living here, in Ann Arbor, for 50 years although most people I talked to (outside of a few collectors or artists) had ne ver heard of apainter named Kamrowski. It is not ironie that the "art world" as well as this community often utterly ignore our very best talents. Of course if you were mentioning the names of say Warhol, Lichtenstein or Stella, the reactions would be quite different. And thus, I decided to pay another visit to the "patriarch" of painting in Michigan. I met him on a snowy day in early March, in what he calis his "cottage," an old converted garage or barn where he can peacefully do what he loves best: créate, make art, think, away from the mundane brouhaha. The place is packed to the rafters (literally !) with an amazing collection of artworks: paintings, sculptures and his most recent creations, colorful and whimsical "creatures" of all kinds. They are usually made of wood or metal and many of them are covered with beads, glass or mosaic. There is a beautiful glow in these pieces and Gerome Kamrowski is rightfully proud of this joyful "menagerie." Just as impressive is the garden, in back of the house, facing the cottage, where many of his finished pieces reside. It was lightly snowing the day I visited Gerome Kamrowski and his beautiful outside collection of mobiles, sculptures and "beaded beasts" was glowing. Gerome Kamrowski was born in Warren, Minnesota in 1914, one of nine children. He studied art at the St. Paul School of Art in 1932 and then in 1933 in New York at the Art Students League. After going back and forth between St. Paul and New York he finally settled in New York in 1939 where he was on a Guggenheim Fellowship. He attended the Hans Hofmann School in Provincetown, Mass. and began to participate in group shows in New York. During the next decades, Kamrowski created the work that most people consider to be his very best. New York was an extraordinary city during World War II as some of the greatest artists emigrated there to escape the Germán occupaüon. Just to name a few, you could at some time or another meet: Breton, Ernst, Matta, Gorky, Lam, Masson, Chagall or de Kooning. But Gerome Kamrowski made history one winter night in 1939-1940 when Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes (two young American painters) came to nis studio and started to paint together. There is one untitled painting (in a private collection) left from that glorious evening. The description of this historie event is described as follows in Pollock by Ellen G. Landau: Foranumberofyears, Kamrowski had been involved with Surrealist image-coaxing techniques. In a lettertoB.H. Friedman, Kamrowski recalled that one day he, Pollock, andBazioteswere fooling around' with quart-cans of lacquer paint. Baziotesaskedifhecouldusesome 'to show Pollock how the paint could be spun around.' He then looked around the room for something to work on, anda canvas that Kamrowskihad 'been pouring paint on and was not going tve' was handy, so Baziotes began to throw and drip' white paint on it He next gave the dripping palette knife to Jackson, who vithHs intense concentration' started flipping the paint with abandon. ' According to Kamrowski, alter all had a chance to play, Baziotes identrfied the spiral forms ne had created as 'birds' nests, ' but Pollock refused to interpret his spots. This painting has special importance in my opinión since it is a pivotal work showing the transition from (and fusión of) Surrealism to Action Painting and Abstract Expressionism. It is the mixture of these styles that makes this painting so appealing to me with its darker background and highlights of brown and white. Biomorphism and Abstract Expressionism collide in a most mysterious way. Kamrowski says: "Energy is a process, and the process of evolution is the most creati ve thing in the world. This goes back to automatism and random association. It is like blind chance or quirky behavior. There is always a great risk of failure in this kind of direct experience but like someone once said, 'It's better to fall on your face than fall backwards.'" This is the type of direct experience that was used by the Abstract Expressionists. "They were not doing reruns or copies," Kamrowski explains, "they were doing very meaningful things, they were creating their own reality . You want to get rid of previous patterns, which is a very hard thing to do. You want mystery - surprise - but in most cases you might have failure." In this milieu, artists were very well aware of what everyone else was doing. I asked Kamrowski what (SEE NEXT PAGE) ftté CTmnrm ftih Gerome Kamrowskï (FROM PREVIOUS PAGE) he thought of André Masson, the famous surrealist (and a favorite of mine), "He was the freest and most liquid, very close to what we were doing. Every one was aware of Masson. His work was shown in New York galleries. He was very sophisticated and he had some idea of pictorial structure as he had done cubist paintings before. He was not an 'idiot savant.'" Kamrowski is obviously very fond of that great New Yorkperiod of his life. Hesaid, "Surrealism was the integration of the real world and the functional one. We were commanding the scène. We commanded the highway . People were pay ing attention." And so, Kamrowski left New York in 1 946 to take a teaching position at the University of Michigan. He does not seem have any regrets although he admits that "teaching is a mixed thing." He also told me, . "Michigan has been good to me, don ' t misunderstand me, but on the other hand I have a certain amount of contempt for it." He does not seem to be very fond of the Detroit Institute of Arts, for example: "The DIA is very weird. Strange people rule the contemporary art field. They are more bureaucrats than curators. Detroit has not had a show commanding national attention in 20 years. They are not in the ball game." Kamrowski has, not surprisingly, a great passion for architecture. His two favorite architects are Antoni Gaudi (from Barcelona) and Simon Rodia (from L.A.) who built the strange and amazing "Watts Towers." It is interesting to note that both of these artists can be categorized as "outsiders." One can teil the influence of these artists when observing Kamrowski's current work (his garden for example) and his use of materials such as mosaic or glass. Kamrowski's geodesie domes of the '60s are influenced by European cathedrals or palaces, where "architecture and art are one." He seems to understand the failure of Euro-Disney near Paris: "Why would people go see a plastic castle when people can see the real thing; you can see better gardens and plenty of palaces; it is part of history." But he regrets that "in our culture we don't have cathedrals or castles, no grand architecture like in other cultures. No matter how oppressive the political regime may be, they have the 'Blue Mosque' or the 'Alhambra.' The domes are inspired by the cathedrals. Here most people get pictures for their fireplaces or a dentist's office, but not for the ceiling. In other cultures, the ceiling has the most fantastic paintings like in mosques or the Sistine Chapel for example. In our country giant corporations have someone buy the artwork. It is not integrated. You don't get the whole environment." There is a definite cosmic and organic side to Gerome Kamrowski ' s way of looking at art. His idea of art is grandiose and harmonious. It is why his "environment" is perhaps his greatest work of art. It has a grand scale and it is all at once colorful, free and peaceful: it is one. I have the impression that Gerome Kamrowski is happy with his current life. He tells me how much he loves Jean-Jacques Lebel's book, Master of Gratuitous Time. He says, "I'm amasterof gratuitous time. It' s gi ven to me at retirement and I' m able to play with it." And as we were talking, he didn't stop "playing" with small pieces of glass being prepared for future work. Kamrowski does not plan to stop. He is continuing his labor of love: ART. It seems to me that Gerome Kamrowski has a healthy sense of humor. He nevercared much about money , fame or fortune. But magie and freedom have always been important to him. In my opinión he will certainly be remembered for his biomorphic paintings of the 1940s. They are brilliant compositions, full of invention and magie. They shine in the firmament of Surrealism and it's why Robert Motherwell called him: "The most surrealist of us all." It is a most fitting appreciation. P.S. Gerome Kamrowski will have a show of his workatU-M's Art School, North Campus, nextfalL He willpresent hisnew mosaic and glass stulpt 'ure s.
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