Friday, April 12, 2013

Happy Birthday, Professor Hero

It's not often one gets to meet one's hero, but I'm particularly fortunate to be able to say I've gotten to meet master California painter, Gregory Kondos, three times.  It's the trifecta of art geekiness, I know, and last night I was privileged to hit the trifecta of Kondos art, to bask in the California sun-lit canvases of his it-never-rains-in-sunny-California (or Greece, either). 

It started out with his giving a talk at Sacramento City College, where he taught for many years, and where the gallery which now bears his name is featuring a stunning show of his drawings and sketches.  This photograph is likely the only one I'll ever have the opportunity to get with him, and it was taken right after he'd personalized one of his prints for me.  We were both giggling, me because I was star-struck and him because, well, 90-year-old geniuses are entitled.  Do they need a reason?

The drawings are notable for revealing that the underlying stability of his compositions comes from a sure-handed, almost muscular understanding of his subjects.  To see them is to understand that his brilliantly colored landscapes succeed first because they're built on brilliantly conceived craftsmanship.  Never having seen any of his black-and-white works on paper before, I went on to his painted works with a deeper appreciation of his personal typography.

The second course for last night's art feast was at the Kennedy Gallery Art Center, where their Spring Flowers show is now hanging and ready for Second Saturday.  Who knew Kondos did florals?  I suppose the magnificence of his wall-sized landscapes probably takes center stage in the art-loving public's imagination, but the florals are not to be missed.  They are every square inch a Kondos, but unlike the landscapes, they exude a wistful tenderness which is almost playful in spirit.  Go see them while you can!

Finally came the climax of the night, the retrospective at the Crocker Art Museum entitled "A Touch of Blue".  When we went, we approached from the outside hall where the first painting I encountered was another of his ethereal flowers.  Up and down the hall are a particularly well assorted collection of smaller canvases showing many of the Greek landscapes, including a Byzantine church that made me want to embark on retreat.  But the plunge into the main gallery was like a plunge into a huge sunlit baptism of blue and white, green and gold.  Vast planes of Sacramento River Delta, Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite, and California vineyards create an alternate reality of reflections, shimmers of light and color.  The show is only open for a few more weeks.  I wonder how many more times I'll be able to get over there and imprint those colors into my retinas.

Kondos isn't just a genius painter who has been lucky enough to live to be ninety.  Kondos is a force of nature.  Do your art and spirit a favor, go and soak up some of that baptism.