Joan Cobitz

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I have reservations about characterizing Larry Connatser and his paintings

on the basis of personal experience as a permanent record. However, having

had the privilege of knowing Larry, watching his work unfold, and been

involved in selecting the work for the retrospective, I hope that my

observations will be of some value.

In 1963, after painting for a year, Larry thoughtfully and realistically

considered the social, economic factors of living the life of an artist – a

commitment he made and upheld for his lifetime. This, and what follows, are

impressions I've had of Larry and his work.

Attractive, tall, slender, angular, and graceful in appearance, Larry was a

complex person. He was intense, vibrant, and lively, with a sense of theater

and humor – in addition exacting, and both strong and weak (as artists often

are). Fiercely moral, he also wildly pushed boundaries. Enthusiastic, at

times – then alternately, darkly, finding the demonic side – he was able to

create complex dimensional views. He read passionately, spoke well, at

length, developing lines of thought over a period of time. "Being with him

was as good as reading," I'd been known to say.

Atlanta, Larry's home, is in piedmont country, where traveling through hilly

terrain there are constantly shifting views. He loved walking, noting the

landscape, as well as cityscape, and would sometimes traverse the city for

long distances. Maps, with land masses surrounded by water and carved by

rivers, were a subject he thought about, even at times when going to sleep.

Continents, states, even tilted map-like diagrams of landscape appear in

some particular works.

With parents of rural background, who were of German, Welsh, English, and

Cherokee extraction, he grew up in the warm, colorful south. His paintings

seemed to reflect these roots with crystalline, gothic, faceted forms –

singing musical colors with dots creating luminous, rhythmical notes seen in

time sequence. Brilliant hues suggest mental, emotional states rather than

local color. These qualities are similar to medieval art in the use of

gothic forms and symbolic color, as well as the different areas of meaning

Larry created in the same picture, which are experienced in time – as are

those of musical compositional movements.

Music had for Larry a significant everyday meaning, usually accompanying him

while he painted. His taste ranged from blues and jazz, country and folk, to

classical. He played the piano with disciplined, expressive power, favoring

Bach and both French and Russian early 20th century composers. Billie

Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache" was a song which affected him. Could one

characterize Larry's painting, in which he improvised so well, as having

jazz equivalences?

His diagrammatic drawing, done surely and quickly, encompasses panoramic,

complex compositions include closely seen intricate detail – so that the

macrocosm and the microcosm often seem to appear simultaneously in the

paintings. Ideograms, where words and images combine as in Chinese

characters, as well as words themselves, are inserted into the visual

narrative at times. The effect, then, seems to be that one is reading

written, ideogrammatic, and symbolic visual vocabularies together – a

"mental landscape."

An intense immediacy coupled with a formal sense suggest the possibility for

exploring both inner states of being and compositional aspects in his

painting. Larry imaginatively improvised throughout the process of

completing work. "I have to begin again each day," he once said, and I

sometimes wondered if that were a factor in his creative working methods.

Landscapes and cityscapes, both generalized and contemplative portraits,

sometimes lyrical as well as formal, reveal the tensions of reality. Larry

appears to have combined both geometric and biomorphic forms to express the

geological, vegetative, and "human" landscape where conflicting forces

affect growth, to create a language of forms. Figurative scenes with people

in uncomfortable, conflicted states of being, which comment on themes of

power, desire, and love – are viewed with wry, affectionate humor. Perhaps

the 20th century theme of the anti-hero in literature was made visible in

his work.

Deeply, privately religious Larry brought to those "tensions of reality" a

steadfast sense of hope, celebration of life, and spiritual joy which

illuminate existence. His painting hopefully offers, as art can, a sense of

life as worth living – a contribution.

I wish to thank the Telfair Museum of Art for making this retrospective and

catalogue possible. These will perhaps be the only documentation of Larry

Connatser's work for some time to come. Angel Medina and Chris Rodie have

made the invaluable contribution of essays, representing the first critical

evaluations of Larry's work and career.

As a member of the Larry Connatser trust I want to acknowledge the other

members: Robert Cain, Andy Currie, Harry Haisten, and Tom Ramsey, whose

efforts and support, both caring and financial, have been considerable and

have also made the retrospective and catalogue possible. I want to

particularly thank those people, many of them friends of Larry's, who

generously lent paintings without which this exhibit couldn't have been

realized. It is with special gratitude I mention Diane Lesko, the Telfair's

executive director, whose valiant work has brought the museum into the 21st

century, with a new building of architectural merit and increasing numbers

of varied ongoing exhibits, of which this is one. Additionally I'd like to

thank Holly McCullough, curator of fine arts and exhibitions, who with good

energy undertook this role late in the planning stage and endured my

impatience and more; Nancy Hooten, Telfair board member and friend of

Larry's, who was the co-curator, for generously initiating the idea of the

retrospective and devoting her time to its development; Beth Moore,

assistant curator of exhibits, who has with admirable skill dealt with the

myriad details relating to the show; and Harry Delorme, senior curator of

education, who donated time with his critical visual and written skills. The

efforts of Barbara Archer, museum educator and gallery owner in Atlanta,

were crucial to this exhibit. I don't want to end without noting my

gratitude to friends and relatives who supported me throughout the years,

listening to the ongoing details which led to this retrospective.

A prolific artist, Larry Connatser left a legacy of some 2500 paintings and

at least 800 drawings, of which this retrospective is a partial, but

hopefully representative, selection.

Joan Cobitz