What’s a Contemporary Artist to Do?

By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin, freelance writer and art enthusiast

dontcursethefool
Art, it’s everywhere, and yet how often do we really pay attention to it? The industry behind the thought-provoking pretties is a $66 billion (yes, that’s billion with a “b”) behemoth that is traditionally a very exclusive, relationship- driven, face-to-face business. Pieces range in price from a few dollars, to a few hundred million dollars and can be difficult to sell, regulate or even understand. Much like the music and publishing industries before it, the future of fine art may be changing.
Divided into categories, art is what you hang on the refrigerator, buy at an art fair and purchase at Hobby Lobby, to differentiate your first apartment from your old college dorm room. Then there’s the gallery-find known as “fine art.” Smart fine painters and sculptors are turning to the internet to boost gallery business or bypass galleries altogether. Just like iTunes and book self publishing, artists can now erase the gate keeper AKA the broker and break the gallery mold by posting directly online.
“Most gallery owners [and artists] only know the old model,” according to artist and author, Kris Gebhardt. Gebhardt has been immersed in the art industry for the last ten years or so. As an avid painter, he needed somewhere to display — and maybe sell — his large format pieces. Following that archaic system, he and his wife, fellow artist Angela Gebhardt, opened a gallery in the NuLu district of downtown Louisville, Kentucky. For the Gebhardts it is not just about the sale, but “it’s about getting the art to the right person.” Online art means better service for the aficionado and a much wider audience to appreciate, connect with and admire pieces.
The Gebhardts found gallery ownership came with a high overhead. Many are little more than a tourist attraction. Urban areas and trendy downtown districts have been known to subsidize galleries as a destination to bring people for art trolley trots and something to do on a Friday night. But few galleries have this arrangement and even fewer visitors make purchases, being more interested in the free canapés and a moment of Zin.
So what’s a contemporary fine artist to do? Websites like Saatchi Art, Artsy, artnet, Artspace and others have come on the scene and showcase high end art for sale. When asked why he posts online he said, “We just needed to get [our] work to a broader audience.” Internet art sites, Gebhardt says, “… are more international — urban even.” It no longer made sense to operate a gallery in NuLu when he could post to the Saatchi site and reach people all over the world, 24 hours a day. In addition to digital displays, the Gebhardts have increased their social media presence, as well. Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn have all proven to be successful means of sharing their art. “We have 7,260 connections on LinkedIn alone,” said Gebhardt.
The art sites by themselves may not sell paintings. The artist must be marketer, publicist and social media strategist all wrapped up in one. It doesn’t hurt to be a bit of a salesperson, too. There’s still a need to take the product where the buyers are. That’s why the Gebhardts also display in prestigious shows like Spectrum, Red Dot, Art Miami and Pulse. It’s not a cheap endeavor, but a potential buyer will hear angels begin to sing when standing five to seven feet away from a painting that “gets” them. While the art enthusiast might have a moment with your masterpiece on the five inch screen of an iPhone — if the fruit of your labor stands over five feet tall — like many of the pieces by both Gebhardts — nothing beats seeing a powerful piece in person for it to be truly appreciated.
As far as Kris and Angela are concerned, the future of the art industry for painters and sculptors who want to build a brand that they control and build a following at the same time includes digital and traditional exhibition. All roads that put their work in front of potential collectors are fair game. Like the music industry and publishing, the art world’s time-tested avenues aren’t always the best route, but new paths can be forged to create awareness and maybe even sell a piece or two.
Don’t Curse The Fool Thats Willing
By Kris Gebhardt
Mixed media 37″ by 41″
On Exhibit Red Dot Miami – Nov. 30 – Dec 4 – During Art Basel Week 2016

Amerika  (To Old To Live, To Young To Die)

amerika medsizeMixed Media 63” by 40”
On Exhibit @ Red Dot Miami Nov. 30 – Dec 4 2016

Kris Gebhardt’s painting entitled Amerika is representative of the USA’s last bastion of hope — the generation that came of age between the 1940s and the 1970s. Walking onto the “canvas” emerging from the mist like Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in Casablanca, the star of this painting looks like a dapper dan from the 1940s. Suit coat, hat and the tired feeling of a bygone era dappled all over his face.

With the blue skies literally behind him, he worked hard and was loyal to one company. He paid taxes, raised children to be productive members of society and was good to his neighbors. He labored for all that he had — two cars in the drive, white picket fence, a wife, kids and perhaps even a dog, named Scout. But it’s slipping rapidly from his grasp. Unemployment is at an all-time high. Taxes are off the charts, the military is stretched like a hamstring and civil unrest dominates the nightly news. Broken, worn down and definitely the worse for wear. Much like the country, our hero has seen better days and isn’t able to keep up with society. With dwindling resources he’s too old to live and yet too young to die.

According to Gebhardt, we owe this generation of fathers, grandpas and uncles who built our Great Nation by working in the factories and fields, fighting our wars and serving communities both large and small. We must NEVER forget to honor them in this technology evolution by providing for them new and honorable paths to live comfortably — both physically and financially — for what is supposed to be their golden years.

This mixed media work was produced on a trashed bathtub shipping crate, not unlike one that may soon serve as our hero’s home. “It just didn’t seem right to use a shiny new canvas for this piece,” said Gebhardt. The very thick, corrugated cardboard is torn and Gebhardt intentionally distressed it even more, adding an aging process to the nicks and scrapes that came with the box.

This figure’s Amerika is no longer the idyllic dream it once was. He has seen our flag burned, the streets bombed and lawlessness pervade our cities and now he feels it’s happening all over again. Problems can’t be addressed if they aren’t identified. The only way to curtail a generation full of beleaguered souls is to learn from our past and forge ahead.

KRAIGO Skulls Upon You

The Kids (series by Kris Gebhardt) Painting 1


Kraigo: Skulls Upon You Mixed Media 78″ by 50″

 Gebhardt’s son from his first marriage, Kraig, has a spirit that fills a room, making it nearly impossible to depict him on anything smaller than this 78” x 50” canvas. In the Gebhardt standard mixed media, Kraig appears as a gunslinger. A no-nonsense, ass-kicker with a database of names on his bad-side and the sensibilities from another era. A clear-cut vision of what’s right and wrong. 

Born in 1985, Kraig’s early life was filled with the turmoil of his parents’ failing marriage and subsequent financial troubles. From the ashes of conflict arose a numbers-smart, tough kid, armed with the will and the skill to persevere through launching his own business that was eventually consumed by a failing economy, then resuscitated with a never die determination. The figure exhibits broad shoulders to do the heavy lifting that his life has required, and a sidearm for an extra dose of muscle. Don’t cross him or his family unless you want to “swing from the rafters” — note shell of a man literally hanging in the background.

Ain’t No Crying To Your Momma

aintno

Ain’t No Crying To Your Momma  Mixed Media 73″ by 46″

This Kris Gebhardt painting is a picture-book pep talk in mixed media. Whether looking for life-skills, business advice or lessons in endurance, this work fills the bill. No matter the situation, Ain’t No Crying To Your Momma is the nudge (read: kick in the ass) needed to fight back and persevere.

Gebhardt didn’t really have anything in mind when he stood in front of the 73” tall x 46” wide canvas. As he worked on the background, slowly the “90 pound weakling” began to take shape. Lithe and muscular, the subject’s eye patch and missing tooth indicate that he’s been beaten up. Perhaps he started his own business, began an acting career or just got his first job out of College, only to realize that life is never as easy as it seems. “Early failure,” according to Gebhardt “is far more valuable than early success.”

Like many of Gebhardt’s heroes, our fighter is dressed in the marquise pattern (or jester’s clothing) and clearly has some choices to make. Is he going to be the fool and get clobbered? Probably, but what he does with this experience is what matters. Does he go in for round two, or does he go “crying to his momma?” Each person faces this same dilemma after failure, heartbreak and disappointment. Is it time to back it up and start all over? Maybe time to pack it in. But, wimping out — as evidenced by the title — is never the answer.

Featured @ Red Dot Art Show Miami Nov 30 – Dec 4, 2016

Red Dot Miami

Coldplay By Angela Gebhardt

coldplay1

Coldplay By Angela  Gebhardt Mixed Media 80″ by 84″ $19,750 Featured @ Red Dot Art Show Miami Nov 30 – Dec 4, 2016 https://www.facebook.com/Red-Dot-Art-Show-84330846839/

 

 

Echoes Of Breath

echoesfullcover.jpg

Echoes Of Breath

By Kris Gebhardt

Mixed media 57″ by 43″

In severe cases of cardiovascular disease and other illnesses, when the heart is weak and the lungs fill with fluid, breathing becomes desperate and shallow. This is a raspy hiss instead of a seamless, white noise. Artist Kris Gebhardt is familiar with this tightrope walk between life and death — these echoes of breath resonate from his physical training days with recovering heart attack and cancer patients. The angry imitation of taking in oxygen portrayed in this painting haunts the viewer, while offering some solace at the same time.

Reminiscent of a broken reed on a wind instrument, these Echoes of Breath, each fighting not to be the last, were recorded in the subconscious of Gebhardt, until one day the cadence manifested as a frail beauty dressed for a party. Unclear as to whether she is celebrating her victory or embarking on a battle, her strong chin and upright posture contrast with her ashen skin and gaunt face. Is that a wig with hastily drawn eyebrows or merely a festive scarf to hide her loss?

She is depicted on a scrap of canvas that stands 57” tall x 43” wide and is smaller than many of Gebhardt’s works. This piece symbolizes his non-art career — his other passion — rebuilding the broken, the beaten and the dammed. Once again revisiting his gritty style and somewhat sinister overtones, Echoes of Breath is dedicated to all those whom Kris Gebhardt has helped regain life, mobility and strength.

Mothers Worry When Vision Gets Blurry

mothersworrycurrent smMothers Worry When the Vision Gets Blurry by artist, Kris Gebhardt, is whimsical and carefree when compared to some of his earlier works. Straying from his usual gritty style, this 58” tall x 49” wide blend of charcoal, pencil, oil and acrylic paints was created in May 2016 as a Mother’s Day present for his wife, fellow artist, Angela. Rife with symbolism, it represents three generations of the artist’s family in a precise and clean manner, with a nod to the concept that motherhood is ever changing and never finished. Quite unintentionally, Gebhardt started with a blank reclaimed canvas when the heel and leg began to appear. As he moved throughout the space the rest of the form took shape. The left shoulder is carved, crude and unfinished — much like motherhood. Part of the painting is sketched and looks incomplete or fading just like part of a woman fades when she becomes a mother and then again as her children venture further on their own.

Gebhardt loads the canvas with a compelling backstory and significant hidden meanings. The balloons represent each of the couple’s four children in varying degrees of floating away — or being on their own. The form’s posture is reflecting a sense of pride in a job well done — as if saying, “Look what I’ve accomplished.” She has extra long arms for hugging more children and elongated legs for chasing after them.

 It’s the bird’s representation of previous generations that fully rounds out the painting’s symbolism. After two of their grandparents passed away the children saw cardinals and believe that the bird represents their departed family members.The background is gray because so much of parenting is muddled — neither black nor white; sometimes even choosing to become a mother is not an easy decision and causes feelings of angst. The clown suit is another reference to Gebhardt’s lead playing the fool. Going along to get along. Being the scapegoat and playing the fall guy.

The title is from the notion that children are distracting as they are growing up and then a woman needs to find her way again once they have left the nest. Mothers Worry really hones in on the importance of a mother and of learning from previous generations. Parenting is very cyclical and family always returns to help the next generation.

Mixed media on canvas 58″ by 49″