By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin, freelance writer and art enthusiast
One of Gebhardt’s personal favorites, Friction, is the picture of a larger than life gaunt character awash in black and blue. His left eye is swollen shut, cheek bruised and the dripping paint from his puffy mouth could signify a busted lip. Yes, this man has met with some adversity along his journey.
Friction can be good — generating heat — to build a fire and create a forward motion, fuel for winning. Or friction can be not so good, like “road rash” or a “blister” — painful irritations that are slow to heal. Friction is what happens when two opposing forces slide against each other. This man seems to have suffered a head-on collision with resistance. In Gebhardt’s own words this work signifies “the dark side of achievement.” It embodies a hard fought conquest, and to get to that triumph this man has suffered pain, discomfort, and has a voracious hunger to achieve. Like a speeding train, momentum can’t be slowed.
Friction is not pretty but an honest portrait of what it takes to not only start a lucrative business but see it through a recession, “run in the Olympics, star on Broadway or achieve any momentous goal.” Friction is the spark — the necessary energy to “go,” to win the gold or take home a Tony Award. There will be discomfort; after all, comfort aids complacency and that is a quick death to any dream. The unsatisfiable craving for success is what drives those who earn a spot on the Fortune 500 List, podium for the gold, and defeat the demons of mediocrity.
Mixed Media 50″ by 80″
On Exhibit SPECTRUM Miami – Nov 30 – Dec 4 – During Art Basel Week 2016
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.
By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin, freelance writer and art enthusiast
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
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
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.