The Unlikely Artists Behind This Season’s Most Colorful Show
Gallery exhibitions in New York can sometimes feel like a continual recycling of the same few dozen artists’ names. But this week, Geary Contemporary in the West Village offers an antidote: a coupling of works by artists who operate well outside the cliquish gallery sphere. The show features paintings by Charles Andresen, who has worked for the Metropolitan Museum for 25 years — 20 of them as a security officer — and ceramic works by Jerry Torre, the former caretaker of Grey Gardens, who appeared in the 1975 documentary about Edith Beale (“Big Edie”) and her daughter, also named Edie, who were relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. (Torre worked at the house as a teenager, and the younger Edie nicknamed him — for reasons that remain unclear to all involved — The Marble Faun, after the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel.)
Torre and Andresen are united by an interest in exuberant colors — as well as their rather unorthodox career trajectories. Andresen grew up in Phoenix, Ariz., where, as a teenager, he began writing art reviews for the Phoenix New Times. Later, he attended the Pennsylvania Academy with the idea of becoming a Western painter in the realist tradition of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. But in the mid-’80s, he would take the train from Philadelphia to New York to see shows — and the Neo-Expressionism that was popular at the time pushed him toward abstraction. His job at the Met has also provided plenty more inspiration. Asked if he has a favorite work at the museum, Andresen compares the question to a comment from Leonard Bernstein’s Norton Lectures at Harvard. “He says, ‘Now Stravinsky’s greatest single piece, except for all the others, is…’” While working in security, he’s shown at places like the Green Gallery in Milwaukee and James Fuentes in New York City.
As for Torre, after Big Edie died in 1977, he went on to work as a gardener for the royal family of Saudi Arabia, a position set up for him by Aristotle Onassis. He’s held various odd jobs throughout the years, including as a taxi driver and a model for the sculptor Chaim Gross — whose work, Andresen notes enthusiastically, was recently put on view at the Met. Gross encouraged Torre to become an artist, and he’s spent much of the last 30 years working with marble. One of his sculptures, installed in the garden of his ground-floor apartment in Sunnyside, Queens, is a 400-pound depiction of the head of an Arabian horse he rode while working for the Saudi royal family. (“His saliva looked like confetti,” Torre says, “so I named him Confetti.”)
Andresen and Torre separately took part in a residency program at Elaine de Kooning’s old house in East Hampton, run by Chris Byrne, who also curated the show at Geary Contemporary, thinking their particular spins on abstraction might go well together. For Andresen, the residency posed a scheduling challenge — he had to build his time out east around his work schedule at the Met. He has Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays off, which he said is ideal for his practice. “I can fling a bunch of paint on a Thursday, do the weekend shift, and when I come back on Monday, it’s dry.”
Visiting East Hampton was a homecoming for Torre; Big Edie is buried about a half-mile from the Elaine de Kooning house. He made a point of going to her grave in the mornings to visit and “tell Mrs. Beale what’s going on with my life,” he says. On his visits, he’d attract squirrels and raccoons, which Big Edie was fond of, by leaving a trail of nuts behind him — “so when I leave,” he says, “she has company.”
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