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Portraits Reveal the ‘Woman Behind the Paint’

Colleen Kassner retrospective at Gallery Grand

Mar. 24, 2015
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Fifteen years and 15 minutes. A lot can happen in these periods of time. Both are significant measures in a retrospective exhibition by artist Colleen Kassner, featuring work intimately linked to her internal and external life.

“The Women Behind the Paint: Colleen Kassner and Friends” spans about a decade and a half. It is on view in Gallery Grand, a sunny space on the fourth floor of the Grand Avenue Club where Kassner is director and artist-in-residence. She is involved as a mentor for this organization offering a myriad of support services to people dealing with mental illness. Members’ work is on view along with Kassner’s paintings, which appear in this exhibition and throughout the building.

Portraiture is a solidly unifying aspect and demonstrates the artist’s keen sensitivity to individual personalities. Working in series, Kassner delves into emotional experiences, inspirations from travel and depictions of friends. The series “Wizened Women” is one of the most recent and shows artists familiar in the local scene. Another series is based on visits to New York and a stay at the Chelsea Hotel with its legendary characters.

Art is not just an observational activity for Kassner, done simply to represent people she sees. Her work is an important outlet for her own conflicts. Some of the most striking are part of the “Manic” series. Six large self-portraits stem from photographs taken over the course of fifteen minutes during her final manic episode. These canvases expressionistically relate the throes of turmoil with brave distortions of face and unflinching color. Light and shadow pass hauntingly over her fleeting expressions. These paintings are like stepping on air for a moment, over the precipice when the self is lost. Yet like Dante safely guided by Virgil, we can be drawn back before gravity takes over and we fall. 

Catharsis, inspiration and even humor all find places in Kassner’s art. Some more lighthearted depictions are romantic, playful compositions of courtship and amorous pursuits. These varied subjects reveal the woman behind the paint in multifaceted reflections recorded through the agency of the artist and her friends. 

“The Women Behind the Paint: Colleen Kassner and Friends” continues through May 1 at Gallery Grand, 604 N. Water St., Fourth Floor.

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