May 27 – Sept. 20, 2016
A double exhibition honoring two of Gainesville’s renowned master artists: Jesse Aaron and Lennie Kesl.
FACES OF KESL
Lennie Kesl – Portrait Artist
Drawings of familiar faces by Gainesville artist Leonard E. Kesl (1926 to 2012) in the Mezzanine Gallery, along with photographic portraits of the late artist by his daughter, Charlotte Kesl. This exhibit commemorates the anniversary of Kesl’s 90th birthday.
While selecting drawings for this exhibition of my father’s work, I studied the manner in which Dad represents faces. The collection here is a reflection of how much he truly loved people and the human connection.
In the process of cataloging and organizing his work, I found portraits of the same style dating back to the late 1940s. These simple line drawings are undeniably Kesl – he maintained this style for over six decades.
He acquired many of these paperboards from other artists, who used the perimeter to frame their own work and passed on the center for him to fill.
He would indicate ‘100% rag’ on the backs of some, frequently drawing on both sides, and at times he sketched the portrait first with graphite before securing the lines in black. These drawings are a sliver of all that he produced in his lifetime and illustrate just one of the mediums that he perfected over his career.
When I was growing up, I remember observing Dad as he fluttered around the room embracing friends and strangers alike with his never-ending energy. As he would say, he ‘got a kick’ out of discussing all realms of art and jazz. He simply ‘got a kick’ out of life. His public persona was charismatic, zestful and he exuded happiness.
He was like this as my father as well, but it’s the quiet moments I remember most. I photographed him because that’s how we silently connected. Although he could spout off the whole history of photography and recognized it as a powerful artistic medium, he never was a photographer himself. I believe it was for that reason I chose photography and picked up a camera at an early age. I photographed Dad to document his incredible presence and influence in my life. And I photograph people because of my love of faces – a love I share with my Dad.
This show is a loving tribute to L. Kesl, who cherished cadmium red light and the faces around him.
Charlotte Kesl, 2016
Kesl enlisted at age 17 and served in World War II, first as an infantryman and later as a drummer in the US Army Band. He received a BFA from Wesleyan University in 1953 and a MA from Michigan State University in 1957. He also studied at L’Atelier Leger in Paris, France and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Before settling in Gainesville in 1968, he taught at numerous institutions in Ohio, Montana, and Alaska. He was a professor at the University of Florida and Santa Fe College until 1991. Kesl has received numerous national awards and exhibited extensively throughout the country.
Throughout his life he performed with and befriended many of the great jazz musicians and maintained friendships and collaborations with visual artists around the world. His art is included in collections including the Samuel P. Harn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Charlotte Kesl (b. 1987) is a documentary photographer who has worked for humanitarian organizations in East Africa, West Africa and South America. Her work in post-conflict countries focuses on public health, girl education, and women’s issues.
She received her BA from American University in Washington, DC and a Masters from the London School of Economics in 2012. She helped launch Project Cordillera, a sustainable adventure tourism company in Peru in 2014, and she is an instructor for international photography workshops for Momenta Workshops.
She also offers family photo sessions in Gainesville and surrounding areas. For more information, please visit: www.charlottekesl.com.
TREE OF LIFE
Jesse J. Aaron – Sculptor
“I never try to second guess the Lord,” said Jesse Aaron when he felt he had been called by God to carve wood. Sculpture by Aaron (1887 to 1979) featured in the Main Gallery, previously the kitchen of the Hotel Thomas, where Aaron worked for a few years as a cook.
When Jesse James Aaron heard the voice of God commanding him to carve, he immediately complied. At seventy-nine years of age, he took up tools and embarked on the work he would do for the rest of his days.
Aaron was neither trained nor credentialed by an academy. He did not seek permission from the outside world or need approval from the art world (although he would eventually receive both accolades and appreciation from both). He simply began carving.
It’s impossible – and perhaps irrelevant – to parse the difference between Aaron’s faith in God’s directive and his confidence in himself. It is the audacity of his decision, not the source, which commands our admiration. Aaron was propelled forward past hesitation or doubt, past the perceived limitations of his advanced age – and the very real limitations of his social position in a racially conflicted world – by the boldness of his vision.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. – Goethe
Anne E. Gilroy, Thomas Center Galleries Curator