By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin – Freelance writer and art enthusiast
One of the most popular questions that married artists Kris and Angela Gebhardt answer is in reference to “how it works.” How can two artists cohabitate without getting feelings hurt or egos bruised? Kris and Angela have two different styles and their work plays to separate audiences, but perhaps musician Lou Reed said it best, “I think it’s pretentious to create art just for the sake of stroking the artist’s ego.” This statement is at the core of what makes Kris and Angela tick. They make art for any reason other than stroking their, or their partner’s ego.
Kris Gebhardt, who has been painting for more than 10 years says that for both he, and Angela, art is an outlet. It’s another channel of expressing their mission of fitness, health and yes, beauty. Both physical and mental health are important to the couple and art is just an extension of their respective careers. Kris began using photography as an avenue to express physical fitness. His career is his inspiration. Not only training people to be healthy and make healthy choices, but also the clients he has worked with and his personal feelings and experiences influence what he puts down on canvas. He creates because he “just has to.” It’s another way for him to deliver his message.
Soon photography wasn’t enough. There was a deeper meaning to his work that he needed to “get out” and the pictures he took exploded with typed messages and added textures using computer enhancement. But, he found digital alone was boring and his offerings began to take on new life when he embellished them with paint and other three dimensional treatments to make them gritty. When this no longer “did it” for him, Kris bypassed the camera and went straight to the canvas. His large format works are home to crude figures, some exaggerated while others are left incomplete. It’s all part of telling the story and each of his paintings do tell a story. The central figure is representative of someone with whom Kris usually has a personal relationship — often himself. Because of the obscure meanings and rough nature and truthfulness of his work, he knows not everyone will like or even appreciate his art, and that’s o.k. with him.
Angela’s art on the other hand is abstract, fluid and beautiful. They don’t track who sells more — another key to successfully marrying two artists’ careers in one home. Kris says, “It’s kind of even…pretty close, but I’d have to say Ang sells more.” Her art, being abstract, is more appealing to the masses. It’s easier for a person to connect with a painting that is so open to interpretation. And her paintings will suit a variety of different settings like restaurants, homes, hotels, offices. It’s also easier for Angela to work on commission and paint something for a specific space. In fact, Kris’s art, audience and inspiration is so distinct that he can’t paint on commission. Kris’s paintings aren’t purchased they are adopted, like a pet, they have to go to the right home, the right buyer — someone who will truly appreciate them.
Getting from empty easel to finished work happens in opposite directions for these two. Angela’s process is to control her canvas. She makes painstaking decisions about what goes where in a piece. She agonizes over making changes and she endeavors to make the painting the culmination of the visions in her mind. Having had a challenging childhood with many ups and downs and no control over her surroundings, art gives her an arena to be precise and exacting. She paints what is honest and deeply personal to her, though taking few, if any risks.
For instance, her painting Layers of Life chronicles the constant building up and tearing down that each person faces in life. What’s visible is shiny foil paints on a beautiful canvas, but what is underneath is the ugly, the painted over, the covered up. She toils with a piece until it is what she wants it to be and this piece is no exception. Angela has “written” her autobiography on this canvas. In a brilliant effort, her mixed media tale of delight and woe chronicles mistakes, trials, tribulations, heartaches, do-overs and decades of wear. Angela poured her soul into this painting and it shows.
Because so many of Kris’s pieces aren’t “pretty” he often doesn’t use a fresh canvas, or even canvas at all. He begins thinking about what would make a good platform to work on. He has used everything from shipping containers to pallets and wooden slats from underneath a mattress and box spring as well as traditional loose and tightly woven canvases. The more rustic the topic on his mind the more roughed up his “canvas” will be. He then prepares it by applying primer to the work surface. While swirling on the gesso, he might begin to see a figure, perhaps an article of clothing. He just starts working the media — whether it paint, charcoal or lead until a vision is fleshed out. He smears, blends and ages the piece as he goes along. He has even thrown a glass of iced tea on the canvas before moving to the foreground. Somewhere along the line the painting begins to take on a life of its own and actually controls Kris.
Something from somewhere deep in his subconscious has escaped. At this point, Kris steps back and begins to ask questions about what he sees. He then fills in the blanks as they relate to his overarching theme that, “Time and health are the most valuable things we have as human beings.” This process is most evident in his painting Time Keeper. Peering deep into the swirls before him, Kris saw images of the clock, a puppet master and some poor schmuck spending his days working 9 – 5 in a suffocating necktie with absolutely no control over his own life.
So while Angela tames her subject, Kris encourages the unwieldiness of his. Approaching art from different perspectives, they both set the physical against the cerebral in their work. Neither of their pieces can be duplicated and they know it’s not a competition — between each other or with other artists. People will like what they like. To the Gebhardts, painting is equal to thoughts and emotions. As two different people they have varied thoughts and in some cases wildly different emotions. So through their similarities, differences and absence of ego, these two acclaimed artists coexist just fine. The one thing they agree on is that art is tiring and exposing. They both leave everything on the canvas when they finish a piece. Perhaps exhaustion plays a part as well. They say a tired dog is a good dog and perhaps two tired artists under one roof CAN work.
On Exhibit SPECTRUM Miami Nov 30 – Dec 4
During Art Basel Week 2016