Angel Medina

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I wish to revise and correct the Atlanta newspaper's characterization of

this extraordinary man in its routine obituary as a "local artist." Much

beyond the spirit of that characterization, which is tinged with

implications of Larry's artistic and personal destiny, the obituary should

have indicated the pride that ought to be felt in his place of habitation

about the lifetime achievement of Larry Connatser. When united with the term

"artist," the term "local" means more than its vulgar use suggests. "Local"

is what a universal artist is and should be, and I want to state, as a

belated recognition of the value of his life and work to us, that Larry

Connatser was "local" only as all truly universal artists are.

The proof of Larry Connatser's universality as a painter easily emerges out

of the theme of his artistic life, which was, in one word, Modernism. But

before reflecting on Connatser's artistic Modernism, it is necessary for us

to understand his professional Modernism. The traditional artist was a

craftsman that tied the use of craft to a communal purpose; or was a servant

of a patron. The modern artist, especially the painter, in attempting to be

something other than a craftsman or a servant, has only one alternative: to

be a professional. The professionalism of the modern artist, like that of

the modern writer or intellectual, is a very precarious state; it contains

no clearly defined functions, thus it tends to identify, as it did in

Connatser himself, with conditions only marginally associated with the

professions, such as the condition of the person of "independent means," or

that of the bohemian, or that of the teacher.

Insofar as they border a craft, these marginal "professions" have close

similarities with the pre-modern crafts of the monk and the sailor, whose

skills in praying and traveling addressed themselves to pushing the

boundaries of life rather than facilitating survival. I have always been

moved by the maxim of the ancient sailor: Navigare necesse est, vivere non

necesse (to navigate is a necessary thing, to live is not). In this tenor,

it would appear that all of these marginal "professions" are no "chosen ways

of life"; one is rather thrown into them by a desire to influence, within

the limits of one's power, the shape of the world while transcending

specific social roles. As a way of life, the status of the modern artist is

so fragile that, except for persons of exceptional temperament or lucky

circumstances, it regresses, as it surely has for the most part regressed

today, to the condition of the craftsman or to that of the servant to a

patron, be it a corporate patron, or a gallery owner, or the grant-giving

welfare state. These were conditions largely avoided by Connatser, and it is

not difficult to perceive the crushing effect of this avoidance on his

fragile professional life.

Larry Connatser lived his entire life very much like Picasso lived one short

period of his in Montmartre, or Cézanne, off and on, in the solitude of the

"Jas de Bouffan," or the early Klee in his little Munich apartment.

Connatser's relations with the public, with his fellow artists and with the

art world at large were as inglorious, even as infamous, during his whole

life as those of the three suggested precursors during limited periods of

theirs.

Unfortunately, such persistent obscurity does not always lead to a wider

ultimate success and fame. Yet, it can be said that, with the same

enthusiasm as his predecessors, Larry Connatser quickened, again and again,

his professional life by walking, at the cost of extreme self sacrifice,

within the avenues he understood to be available for him to remain a

professional. Thus, beyond limited relations with friendly galleries and

museums that respected and understood his talent, he sold his own work; and,

in order to sell his always changing and freshly inspired paintings, he had

to remain in contact with his buyers, whether or not they were art

connoisseurs, and transmit to them the formal and thematic excitement that

had led to each particular creation.

These reasons explain why, in spite of being a universal artist, Larry

Connatser does not belong to the world; rather, he belongs only to those who

have experienced or will experience the connection of his work to the

various particulars of our culture, in Atlanta and in the South in general.

His work, more than one of our possessions, is an important part of our

development and of the best years of our (good) lives.

To reflect on Larry Connatser's artistic universality is to enter into a

polemical territory circumscribed by the very large issue of whether, after

the supersedence of the Renaissance paradigm of painting as a "window on the

world," that is, after the abandonment of the illusion of perspectival

representation as the equivalent of the faculty of seeing, the art of

painting may have disappeared as a separate art form. If this were so,

Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, and Klee might have believed, like

Columbus, that they had discovered "the Indies" but what they in fact would

have found was an entirely different world whose nature and depth they did

not understand. This would be the brave new world of Duchamp and Warhol, of

Pop and Performance, in which painting must disappear and give way to more

complex media for the description of, or intervention in, the worldly

environment. In that new art world Connatser's work, a "minor" extension of

the discoveries of the Modernist masters in the art of painting, would then

be a futile exercise in exploring a continent that presumably does not

exist.

In order to bear witness to the full magnitude of Connatser's actual

enlargement of Modernism, it will suffice for now to mention some important

aspects of his connections with universal masters. With Cézanne and Picasso,

Connatser explored the monumentality of objects as seen. This monumentality

involves the way in which human sight correctly interprets the limited data

offered by touch and movement and makes it possible for us to apprehend the

miraculous strength and fluidity of bodies. Monumentality in painting is

thus explicated as the emergence of expanded, or greatly contracted, space

and time settings in which proper embodiment (the "flesh of the world"

analyzed by Maurice Merleau Ponty) effectively materializes. Think for

instance of Cézanne's Mount Ste. Victoire; and think concurrently of

Connatser's enormous early landscapes that rhythmically generate themselves;

or think of his middle period's experiments in the turning inward, instead

of outward, of space.

Such pictorial insights led in Connatser to the contiguous design of objects

as tapestries, to the metamorphic perception of objects through objects, and

to the introduction, in the latest works, of mysterious holes or chasms

charged with the energy of the surrounding masses. The above are substantial

developments of the de-composition of three dimensional space initiated by

the Cubists and of the construction of space by means of graphic signs

initiated by Matisse; those developments, to a large extent peculiar to

Connatser, will not be further explained here because they call for the kind

of detailed study of his intentions and techniques that may be possible only

after a properly focused exhibition such as the present.

As an elaboration of the graphic space of Matisse, Connatser insisted on

pictorial form and materials as the creative ground of thematic visuality;

thus, with Paul Klee, he explored the way in which line and color patterns,

and departures from pattern, can become the approach to the generation of

entirely new subject matter. Klee appealed to chanting and to some internal

emulations of dancing in order to arrive at a state of emotional and

conceptual lucidity, which ultimately allowed him to "name" his theme. In

the sixties and seventies, the years of structural analysis of myths,

Connatser instinctively adapted the visual codes of some ancient narratives

and folk myths in order to give the sharpest visual presence to myths of his

own. Such adaptations as, for example, his recasting of Plato's myth of the

cave in the figure of a television set, simply bring down to the present the

old mythographical methods of Western pictorial iconography. In other

examples, Connatser offers us enormously uplifting personal visions of the

present spirit of cities such as Chicago, Atlanta (notably, in the murals of

Saint Joseph's Hospital), and Savannah; or he gives us unprecedented

renditions of the genius loci to be found in Greece, in the Caribbean, or in

his home in Highlands, N.C.

Inspired by the "changing lights" of the Highlands landscape, Connatser

began in his late years "to reduce to a minimum the gradations of light

between the different colors in order to separate their suggestive light

value from their degree of luminosity" (Werner Haftsmann, The Mind and Work

of Paul Klee, London, 1967, p. 186). As Haftsmann has shown, this technique

was discovered and perfected by Klee. Connatser had begun his own

experiments with dots just to make color more intense and thus to create an

illusion of luminosity; such is the basic method of Seurat with which

everyone is familiar. But very soon after he began to tinker with Seurat's

method, Connatser rediscovered Klee's much more ambitious creative sense of

the visual. In the best of his late paintings, Connatser amplified and

diversified Klee's results; indeed, in those paintings, "the effect of using

dots was that neither the color of the background nor that of the dot itself

stands out separately; together they produce colored light. Thus a

background color, a linear scaffolding and a pullulation of colored dots,

combine to produce something new and material which did not exist before,

that is, colored light space in which all three elements are fused into a

continuous spatial effect created by light" (Haftsmann, p. 187).

By means of such theoretically ambitious procedures of creation, Connatser

has, with a modesty that honors and distinguishes him amongst contemporary

artists, helped preserve, while redefining it, the domain of painting as a

distinctive art. As clearly as with some Modernist masters, painting

constitutes in Connatser's work a spontaneous access, through making, into

the-world-in-the-making. It constitutes, most of all, an access to areas of

existence and value that cannot be reached electronically, and, even as

importantly, a means to recuperate, in the inner eye of the artistic

creator, life values and communal values hidden within worlds presumably

lost in the distance or in the past.

We should see then this "local" artist as Wallace Stevens saw the Modernist

artist, that is, as the "soldier of time." For all those who have

experienced or will experience the connection of his work with the riches of

life in the various communities of Atlanta and the South, Connatser may

endure as one particular "soldier of time" who assures them that while

contingency and change are as painfully present in art as they are in all

other cultural achievements, nothing good that has ever been achieved may be

completely lost. Such assurance is the ultimate gift of the monumentality

that lives on so comfortably in the creative visuality of the art of

painting as handed down to us by Connatser. His paintings indeed, without

trying to be morally or politically edifying, deliver to us the possible

good that existentially finite and fallible beings can find and enhance,

though not without suffering, through the cultivation of beauty.

Angel Medina