Last Friday evening Savannah was abuzz, woken from its winter hibernation, ready to share in Adam Kuehl’s photographic celebration of painter Troy Wandzel. The work, ‘FixedFlux,’ was exhibited at Oglethorpe Gallery and marked the completion both of Kuehl’s three-year artistic journey into the studio of Wandzel and Kuehl’s thesis project for his MFA in Photography from SCAD.
Kuehl smartly laid out the show, inviting the viewer to enter Wandzel’s studio through the front door, then slowly descend further into the nooks of the space and Wandzel’s artistic process. The studies slowly revealed the space, showing paintings folded on the ground, ripped and stacked, and Wandzel at work – but conspicuously never the painter’s face.
“The viewer doesn’t need to see him eye to eye,” Kuehl said, “I wanted some mystery.” Instead, Kuehl said he often chose to shoot the artist from behind, showing the viewer Wandzel’s point of view. He further skirts the reveal of Wandzel’s face by documenting the painter at work using a long exposure, making him appear as a fury of creative motion.
“Troy was my inspiration. For 18 years he’s painted his portrait almost daily. He inspired me to challenge myself.” This challenge resulted in photographic persistence and exploration of Kuehl’s own medium.
“I kept shooting the same thing until it seemed right.” This dedication to capture the right moment is seen throughout and is truly on display in two images that splice together strips of photos taken in the same spot over time. The show the way the studio and light shift through the course of a day and seasonal shifts.
The challenge to Kuehl put to himself also resulted in the use of a variety of photographic techniques in his documentation of Wandzel “all [of which] recontextualize the studio in its own unique way.”
He used various medium format cameras, including a Holga stereoview camera, an 8×10 view camera and even digital cameras to document Wandzel’s paint brushes and to create a time-lapse video of Wandzel painting Kuehl’s own portrait.
The 511 brushes were displayed in a quadruple gatefold book; when opened they are reminiscent of a canvas brush organizer. The portrait of Kuehl by Wandzel was displayed beside the time-lapse video of its creation. A stereoviewer was on display as well, allowing viewers to explore the studio in ‘three dimensions.’
Kuehl’s approach is very formal – not surprising considering his background is in architectural and landscape photography with some forays into formal portraiture. It brings stillness to the methodical disorder of Wandzel’s studio.
Still, there was an odd tension between the messy and manic content of the images and the sophisticated presentation of them on clean white walls, hung in beautiful silver-lined, linen-covered frames – a nod, it seems, to the artist’s canvas.
Kuehl himself said, “This white cube is a funny culmination of it all, a necessary benchmark.”
His point resonated. Watching Wandzel stand in the middle of the gallery, comfortably uncomfortable, trucker hat askew, armed crossed, staring at this presentation of his artistic life.. Even in the formal setting, much like Kuehl’s depiction of him, he was completely himself yet somehow impenetrable.
Looking at this body of work it is hard to determine if it is mostly about the man, the studio, the artistic process, or the compelling filth of it all, but seeing Wandzel in the center of the gallery – somehow that question seems to be fitting of Wandzel’s aura and Kuehl’s artistic goals.
“It’s about portraiture. You hear people talk about ‘the true portrait’ but no one portrait can capture someone. The true portrait is a farce.”
The work is a reflection of Wanzel as seen by Kuehl, perhaps through the painter’s stained mirror. Normally reserved for his daily contemplations of his own image, the mirror was presented as a work of art itself, hung on the stark white wall, inviting the viewer to wonder how much what it reflects really reveals.
“Fixed Flux” will be on view till February 25th at Oglethorpe Gallery, 406 E. Oglethorpe Ave., open 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. daily or by appointment. For more information contact Adam Kuehl at email@example.com