Remembering artist Charles Kolnik

Mon, 07/27/2020 - 8:15am

Sylvan Gallery Sylvan Gallery in Wiscasset will be featuring more than 40 oil paintings by the late New York artist Charles Kolnik (1951-2020) Aug. 1 through Sept. 29. The exhibition features a wide range of his favorite subjects including landscapes, seascapes, figurative works and still life.

The exhibition will be across the street from Sylvan Gallery, at the Sylvan Gallery Annex, located at 52 Water St. in Wiscasset. Charles was a fine artist for almost 50 years. Sylvan Gallery represented him for only nine of those years, but his paintings resonated with me from the moment I first saw his work in the Wilson Gallery on Cape Cod. It wasn’t long before I reached out to him about showing his work at Sylvan Gallery.

Seeing a painting by one of the great masters of art is often what originally inspires someone to learn to paint. For Charles, the inspiration came from seeing a reproduction of a portrait by Rembrandt. He subsequently read everything he could on the techniques of the old masters, specifically, on Titian’s, who was a major inspiration of Rembrandt’s. Other artists whose work he admired include George Inness, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, William Turner and John Constable.Charles had an appreciation for the Barbizon and Hudson River School painters as well and listened to his favorite classical composers while he painted, which put him in a mood or emotional state that had a direct influence on his paintings. Charles’ style is identifiably his own. Using a limited palette of colors, transparent glazes, and thick opacities, Charles conveyed simple motifs: a lone fisherman, an egret in the marsh, a pair of swans, a figure in a field, a blue rooster, a stormy sea, dilapidated piers, a wrapped sail, the surf. Once he had a motif that he loved, he would often paint many different versions of it.

There is a “meditative” and “timeless” quality to his work which earned him many collectors over the years. His paintings often feel illuminated from within. I once had the lovely task of telling him that a client had just bought nine of his paintings. Charles said that on a few occasions he sold paintings to individuals who had bought as many as six of his paintings but never had he sold nine at one time to an individual. In a letter, he wrote to his new collector: “That is unique, and an honor… I have been a painter for 43 years (this was in 2014), and cherish those who support me.” He ended the letter with: “My heartfelt thanks for your kindness. It brings one strength.”

Charles had the unique experience of having one of his paintings inspire a ballet. He was honored and awestruck when he was notified that a painting that he had created of angels, which had turned up at a New York City flea market, inspired: Les Jeux Des Anges (The Angel Games), choreographed by Virginie Mecene and performed by the Martha Graham Ensemble at Theresa Lang Theatre in New York City.

It’s interesting that Charles’ signature has been the cause of so many comments by gallery- goers. I would guess that 95 % love it. The other 5% want to know why it’s red and is that a cross? To Charles, his signature and the placement of it compositionally was an important part of the painting. He explained that it was always red as a tribute to Corot, who had perfect placement of red within a painting. Charles loved Japanese artwork, so he created his signature to look like a Japanese stamp, a simplified “K,” which often was mistaken for a cross.

A number of Charles’ paintings are represented on the Sylvan Gallery website, but for those collectors who already know his work, they know that digital photographs can’t convey the quality and atmospheric depth to his painting. That was one of the reasons why Charles disliked having his work represented on websites. There are subtle color variations that simply can’t be captured by the camera.

I enjoyed my many conversations with Charles. He always used the old-school way to communicate, always by phone or letter, never by email or text. He was amazed that my moderate-sized gallery on the midcoast of Maine (“of all places!”) was so successful at selling his work. When my late husband, photographer Rick Scanlan, was diagnosed with ALS, Charles was devastated. He was an incredibly empathetic man who was also battling his own illnesses.

As long as he could hold up a brush, though, he continued to paint. I’ve always loved that Charles’ artistic mission was to express, or, as he insisted, “try” to express the natural world as he saw it, which, he recognized, is itself “perfect.” Charle’s paintings won awards whenever they were competitively exhibited. They have been sold by galleries in Boston, New York, Cape Cod, and the Hamptons and were shown as part of a resident artist display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. And they continue to be exhibited at Sylvan Gallery where it’s been my pleasure to talk with collectors and visitors about Charles’ paintings.

For more information, call Ann Scanlan at 882-8290 or go to www.sylvangallery.com

The Sylvan Gallery, at 49 Water St.,  is open daily, 10:30 a.m to 5:30 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Look for us on the corner of Main Street/Route 1 and Water Street., next to Red’s Eats.