A conversation with Kamrowski
By Martha Keller
SUNDAY APR 6 1980
“Kamrowski has been entirely concerned with the function of absorption and liberation of energy which largely determine bodily structures.” - Andre Breton, 1950, “Surrealism and the Painter”
If the “absorption and liberation of energy” is what Breton saw in Gerome Kamrowski’s work, the reverse is also true.
“They (the surrealists) had a lot of energy then...the energy to keep things alive”, he says. “Then” was before World War II in New York, when Kamrowski met the surrealists who gathered there after the fall of France.
At that time, American painting, he says, “was dull...very dull.”
KAMROWSKI BELIEVES that within a society certain groups act like biological carriers. In this case, the surrealists acted like biological catalysts for energy transfer. Now, American art “has got the ball and is carrying it”.
Professor Of Art at the University of Michigan School of Art, Kamrowski has lived in Ann Arbor since 1946. He says he enjoys the freedom of working here.
His current work will be exhibited in New York at the Knolton Gallery.
KAMROWSKI FIRST studied art in Minnesota with Cameron Booth and then at the Art Students League in New York. Returning to Minnesota, he did murals at the University of Minnesota and had a painting in the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair.
He studied in Chicago at the New Bauhaus (now Illinois Institute of Technology) and then with Hans Hofmann, the great teacher of New York School artists, in Provincetown, Mass, before going to New York again, in the pre-war years.
My impression from, a recent visit to Kamrowski’s studio is that his current work still exudes surrealist energy, but the energy seems more controlled now, more distilled in contemplation.
IN HIS SCULPTURE, mythic winged beasts painted in brilliant color and festooned with studs and constellations of beads still show the energy of bodily structure Breton referred to. A strong lyric line exuberantly intermingles with edges of patterned forms in his drawings.
This edge/line is essentially organic; it suggests, with a heady earthy whimsy, an object/personnage that disperses into landscape. There’s a feeling here of kinesis between figure and ground, between form and non-form.
What Kamrowski says about sculpture and painting as media applies to his own work. Sculpture is more physical; and painting more like poetry, carrying more layers of meaning. His drawings have a multiplicity of meaning. The patterns there might stretch to infinity as in Islamic wall patterns, if they were’t intercepted by that form-defining line.
IN KAMROWSKI’S art, you can eye the tidal sweep of modernism; you can see his work as the inheritor of Matisse and Miro, even though, as he says of modernism: “Who knows what it is? Is it hard-edge? Photo-realism? Pattern-painting? Everything is acceptable...”
Kamrowski’s art is distinctively his won. Preferences to other artists simply flesh out a description. Miro is certainly nearest of kin now. Calder comes to mind obliquely, in Kamrowski’s use of primary color, the playful adventure of that big form-line, the delight in kinetic sculpture. Pattern-painters are cousins.
KAMROWSKI PREDICTS that the end of the 20th century in art will be quite different from the beginning. People are finding different forms of existence to be more meaningful than ones committed to high energy consumption.
“You don’t have to make sculpture out of chrome and steel; you can make it out of paper or leaves or twigs-disregarding permanence and high energy technology. Art either challenges reality or tests it or modifies it...with a fresh eye and a fresh brain.”