James K. Kettlewell

Review for the art show at Ivy Associates Schuylerville NY – Oct. 06. 2008

Power and beauty reign at Ivy Associates, the new gallery in Schuylerville. However, it is the power of the art of Benno Kollegger that you should go out of your way to experience. It is the kind of art you encounter only in museums.

The artists of the upper Hudson, whatever their quality, and some of it is very fine, want to make nice charming landscapes mostly, the kind of scenes you want to escape to on the wall above your couch.

Kollegger, in examples from his Ten Commandment series, makes power, using the human form as his device. He is not new at this before him there was Michelangelo, Rubens and Rodin, but not too many others. Each bent the human form to his will and to his emotions in his own way: Kollegger’s art is utterly original in its effect.

In “Three,” a muscular male nude pounds with a hammer with explosive force, carving his own body out of ice.

In “I’m Above,” a mass of human flesh is jammed together, a coincidental recall of that most extraordinary example of found art in our time, the photographs from the prison at Abu Ghraib.

In “Fourth” a giant multiple hand of God, with eight fingers like the legs of a great spider, extrudes a descending human form of semi-liquid ectoplasm. These figures are naked, and we are reminded of how strange clothing is, in its effort to hide behind a curtain, the agony and the ecstasy of the human condition. Clothing is only the top layer of many layered humanity.

The skin itself is only a second layer, almost as superficial in what it can tell us. The real core lies beyond in the three-dimensional inner human which Kollegger exposes.

Beyond the skin lie the sculptural masses of the inner body, the muscles and organs; in the body positions are expressed the infinite spaces of the mind. This is the true humanity Leonardo da Vinci first revealed in his art. Leonardo explained how it works. He observed that the movements of the mind, which includes the emotions, reveals itself in the movements of the flesh. However, these movements of the flesh are normally too subtle to be read, so Kollegger, like Michelangelo and Rodin, manipulates the body parts, paints and compositions, to express that inner emotion and, at the same time, to provoke an emotional response in the observer.

Kollegger moves more than the figures in his paintings. He moves ourselves as well. Of course the message in these paintings has to do with the human condition — this art revels in it, in its dark side, which all our efforts fail to keep out of sight.

Gray backgrounds, unadorned except for large abstract shapes, play a similar role as do these colors and shapes in Picasso’s Guernica. Richly changing color tones and brushwork in the portrayal of human flesh, make that flesh both vivid and translucent.

Rather than abstracting it, the paint work exalts flesh, exalts its reality, literally slamming it at us with disconcerting force. But then step back a moment, breathe, and see how beautiful it is after all, how the paint work shimmers, how the picture surface is a strong design which reaches out to our aesthetic sense. Thus artists, true artists, use art not only to enhance the expression of their forms, but also to provide a pure kind of pleasure which mediates between the image and ourselves. In emotionally charged art, it is what makes the catharsis work.

I think of these power pictures as the true Benno Kollegger. Then we look across the gallery, and, surprisingly, Kollegger, quietly, makes nice also. We can relax in art where he demonstrates how well he has the beautiful under control…in delectable, richly colored abstract sculptures, or in paintings of female forms, shaped with the graceful lines of Art Deco abstraction, and set in environments of decorative patterns. Then his art makes another sharp turn. In a tough, straightforward portrait of the Indian Geronimo he puts on a display of transparent paintwork, in which the stolid form of the Indian, at least for me, becomes an incidental prop, while subtle surrealistic symbols faintly vibrate in the space around him

Elsewhere we encounter curious, shimmering street scenes, where the forms tremble on the edge of abstraction, drifting toward wonderful decorative effects. Or these sculptures and paintings in which we look directly, shockingly, at the face of an intense young woman, surrounded with an aura of powerful hair. We are reminded that artists are like ourselves, and should not be required to always present the same mood. Kollegger must find relief in these more pleasant works, from the emotional maelstrom of his classic style. At the same time he might be showing off, and the more power to him, with this dazzling display of how much he knows about what makes true art
— strong emotion married to great design.

James. K. Kettlewell

Professor Emeritus