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Sam Agres: Painted Life
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
The creative act has always been associated with abundance and strong sense of fertility and the essence of what makes life worth living. Sometimes, an artist converts this into a diligent work ethic and is able to produce such a large body of work that it because almost unthinkable that one person could be responsible for all of it. Other artists pour this creativity into finding unique ways to describe their experiences and ideas that pull their audience into a kind of relationship with them that could be described as the next best thing to telepathy. While these methods are not exclusive, like the “nature vs nurture” argument, it is very rare indeed to find an artist that equally ascribes to both of these camps.
Sam Agres’ work is truly something amazing to behold — in his solo exhibition as Wunderkammer Company, the viewer can take in hundreds of his paintings all at once, creating a gestalt experience of time, memory, color, and sometimes cubistic form. Agres’ work is a testament to artistic discipline, as he has produced thousands of paintings over the last few decades, and while there are subtle stylistic changes, the majority of his work is consistent. This consistency allows the viewer to get lost between in newer and older works, and a breakdown of time and space follows once they recognize that the imagery contained within each painting is a description of a precise place, but that each image is separated, sometimes, by thousands of miles. This is because Agres’ paintings have been accumulating throughout his travels and his many homes over the years in places as disparate as Fort Wayne and Mexico City.
No matter the location, Agres finds beauty in the every day and the unexpected interactions between people and places. His images are filled with people selling goods at local markets, bantering and bickering, or sightseeing along the way. Many of Agres’ work are produced in plein air techniques, or in laymen’s terms, Agres set up his easel and painted from life what he saw in these places. This is an important fact to consider when viewing this work because the skill needed to capture the quick interactions of people inhabiting these spaces is great, and the ability to manipulate the viewer in real time, understanding the push and pull of color and paint to construct mood within a plein air technique is expert.
Also included in the show are some of Agres’ older studio paintings of models and still lifes as well, but the majority of the work exhibited is of specific places. Agres actual painting style is also of great interest once the viewer takes the time to study it. While it is certainly representation, Agre’s work seems to be somewhere between Cezanne and Roger de la Fresne on the cubist spectrum, giving his figures and locales strong angles and forced dimension, while keeping their overall figure intact and without perspectival manipulation. Due to certain images’ odd choices of focus and scaling, there also seems to be a surrealist vein within Agres’ intentions. Not the surrealism of Dali, but certainly some subconscious humor and motivation coming out from time to time.
As the viewer strolls through the massive collection of untitled works, there tend to be clusters and associated images which come together and give rise to small narratives. Primarily within the work Agres created while in Mexico City, this narratives arises as a day in the life of the city, with descriptions of various forms of city life, from religious to economic descriptions, and characters come in and out from the anonymous figures which move along the scene and the stand outs from the crowds, like the ill-tempered merchants staring you down or the young workers trying to make their way. In these narratives, the viewing has a unique chance to see the world through Agres’ eyes through his travels. Like snapshots, the paintings convey a more believable narrative.
When Agres’ work is not taking the viewer on a trip, it is describing the beauty around them in his extensive photos of Fort Wayne throughout the years. These images include the iconic GE signs overlooking downtown, to the anonymous industrial building or area of commercial activity that may or may not still exist. In documenting our city, Agres uses the same tactics as he has in others and pulls out a unique view of what we consider important and how we live as a community. One of the more interesting images is an untitled painting of the Mark Di Suvero sculpture “Helmholtz” which was recently hit by a truck, much to everyone’s surprise. In the painting, which was produced years prior to this accident, Agres shows a number of people looking at and discussing the attributes of the sculpture while a truck in the distance is facing the sculpture and is in motion, which, to viewers who understand the circumstances, would see this as strong foreshadowing.
In all of Agres’ work, the viewer can see a strong sense of pride in the homes the artist has had and a need to document the lives of these places and the people who exist within them. By exhibiting his work en masse, Agres is opening up his memory and his life in a way very few artists have the chance to, giving his audience a glimpse of who he is and has been over decades of time.
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Now through August 1