Karen Ganz
Karen Ganz , Guns and Money, Boston Globe 2006

Boston Globe THURS 11.16-11.25 2006

Gushy, drippy abstract expressionism meets the graphic punch of early 20th-century cartooning in the big, darkly comic, and engaging works of Karen Ganz at Kidder Smith Gallery. She builds her paintings, including ‘‘Stuck #8’’ (above), over several canvases that hinge, jut this way and that, or overlap, cleverly breaking up images and toying with her viewer’s assumptions about space. Most feature a hapless figure or two getting stuck — they grasp for greenbacks, or get their heads trapped in buckets, as the paint flows and soaks around them. Even though the theme is futility, there’s nothing futile about Ganz’s brawny, freewheeling work.

A Visual Q and A session

A VISUAL QUESTION-AND-ANSWER SESSION Author: Cate McQuaid, Boston Globe Correspondent Date: December 27, 2002 Page: D20 Section: Arts
Peter Buchman and Karen Ganz make an interesting pair at Kidder Smith: Both have a retro sensibility, pulling images from the early and mid-20th century into their work. Ganz patches together large canvases that combine painterly abstraction with a figure from( the )1920s known as the "company man," drawn in bold, black gestures.
She cleverly makes "Backbone" out of two large canvases: One is ell-shaped, on its side, and the other is square and at a diagonal. Sprawled over this construction, the company man bends over backward. Slick washes of olive and pale brown further break up the space, threatening the figure's already precarious position as he tries to hold everything together.
Using the company man, Ganz aims to raise questions about the individual versus the community or corporation; he seems more threatened than taken care of by his company. Ganz falls short in that she represents the company only by implication. Despite that, these are strong works in the way they combine disparate elements, from the figure to abstraction to the shaped canvases.

Art in America May 2000/Karen Ganz at Grover-Thurston by Matthew Kangas

Karen Ganz at Grover/Thurston
by Matthew Kangas

Karen Ganz's art transforms 1920s comic strips into large-scale canvases with bold color and dripping paint. Beginning with the informality of small studies on paper, Ganz alters the images of workers, businessmen and soldiers. Some paintings appear to be constructed of several pieces of paper; they allude to the tacked-up casualness of the drawings. This is a humorous conceit, and it enables Ganz to retain a remarkable degree of spontaneity. Color is applied to parody sloppy registration in the newspaper printing process.
Ganz's process is not one of faithful appropriation. Rather, the early funny papers are a leaping-off point for the construction of open-ended vignettes of desperation and confusion. Figures may sprout more than one head, as in Balance #2, Balance #3 (both 1999) and Attachment (1998). Men in checked trousers seem fused together or suggestive of a single figure spinning with two heads. Boldly outlined in black, the figures fill the entire picture as if they were boxed in. The effect of dynamic motion is countered by a sense of claustrophobic captivity.
Float (1999) contains three similar figures falling through the air using umbrellas as parachutes. Visibly corrected underpainting reinforces the sketchy aspect of the imagery, but also forecasts a disaster about to occur when the figures hit the ground. In Smot (1999), two canvases of differing sizes are abutted horizontally. They contain a single overlapping male figure fallen face-first in a puddle, but with amusingly upturned eyes. Nevertheless, it is a glance of fear and resignation. Ganz manages to convince the viewer of the immediacy of her characters' dire situations as she creates works of art not solely dependent on the history of popular culture.

Hackett, Regina. “Ganz’s Highly Refined Slapdash Is Full Of Energy.”SeattlePostIntelligencer,Nov 12,1999

In her oil titled "Smot" , painter Karen Ganz presents this stumblebum immediately after a fall.

Ganz's Painterly Grace Raises The Lowly To A Heavenly Place

Karen Ganz. Grover/Thurston Gallery
Friday, November 12, 1999

In American mythology, the go-getter rarely turns into the goofball. Anybody who is up and at 'em can count on cashing in stock options in the not-too-distant future, which is why American comic strips celebrate the cult of the loser.Laughing at bunglers is the best way to keep them at bay, looking down from an Olympian height at their hapless struggles to improve.These comic strip fools and fall guys are rarely allowed to rise to the level of tragedy, and yet the best strip artists, from George Herriman to Robert Crumb, play with the formula by forcing the audience to acknowledge -- at least unconsciously -- a kinship.

Seattle's Karen Ganz paints goofballs of the comic-strip variety, giving them the benefit of her expressionist, flagrantly beautiful paint handling. They are low men still, but low men who at first glance appear to have earned a place in paradise."Smot," Brooklynese for smart, is the title of a mismatched pair of 1999 rectangular oil paintings tacked together like Mutt and Jeff to make something resembling a whole, 60 inches high by 102 inches wide.Across its broken surface slides a victim of his own poor planning. For this stumblebum, walking is too great a challenge. Ganz presents him after a fall, sprawled across the space of the canvas. Heels in the air with the toes of his fat shoes still in contact with the pavement, his body rides on the up and down motion Ganz gives him: backside, coattails, thumb and eyebrows up, shoulders and chin down. The figure seems to have been sneezed into place, a sloppy green bubble pushing its loopy envelope into darkness. Inside the envelope, outlined in fluid black, is a man who doesn't own even the colors he's made of. Beige slides off his face, leaving his forehead green, and sprawls beyond his extended hand. He has rhythm, but it doesn't save him from the awareness of his own erosion.

Those who are made of paint are subject to decay. Ganz accelerates the process with colors that jump, sizzle, leak and fade. Her powerful slapdash suggests more than the ordinary threat of mortality, however.What Cindy Sherman did with cool insouciance in the late 1970s, Ganz does with a more complicated and demanding vulgarity.She suggests that her rugged little individual is only one choice among many at her disposal. At a whim she might paint him over or scrape him out. While he lies helpless, another painting opens underneath him and spreads into the forefront, a powerful black-and-white abstraction full of calligraphic scribbles. Left to its own devices, it will shrug the figurative element off its shoulders and inherit whatever space is left vacant.

"I've learned from my mistakes," the English comic Peter Cook once observed, "and I'm sure if given the chance I could repeat them exactly."In Ganz's world, presented here in seven oil-on-canvas paintings, six acrylic and ink-on-paper drawings and a small suite of collaged books, mistakes are repeated until they acquire the polish of a ritual.Figures slip, slide and crash into each other. They rely on inside-out umbrellas, carry dead weight in their suitcases and compete with their shadows for canvas space.The paint handling redeems them with its fierce grace and threatens them with the short attention span implied by its spontaneity.Out of this chaos, this clotted sea of competing cross-purposes, emerges a withering critique of American individualism wrapped in American charm, a vision of all the failure that ensues when a young, still resilient nation of strivers is looking out for Number One.

P-I art critic Regina Hackett can be reached at 206-448-8332 or reginahackett@seattle-pi.com

review#5/Gary Faigin Radio review/kuow/2001

(exerpted from full text)
For many people, the artist’s life seems a picture of freedom. It is easy to image that the rules that run the work day at the office, warehouse, or factory are gloriously absent in the artist’s studio, where creativity and spontaneity reign.
The reality is that most artists also find it preferable to work in a world of strict limits. After a period of trial and error, painters generally reduce their field of inquiry to a particular style, a particular subject, and a particular realm. Within their territory some artists leave themselves a great deal of wiggle room; others prefer to keep very narrowly focused. Creativity emerges from the struggle to encompass a world of meaning within a miniature range.
In the case of painter Karen Ganz, a single book of cartoon characters she acquired years ago has long defined her artistic terrain. She paints the misadventures of a monumentally scaled comic strip everyman
In the current exhibit the whirling forces in Ganz’s painted adventures have literally pulled the canvas apart, and nearly every work in the show is composed of off-kilter multiple panels precariously cobbled together and balanced on the wall, like a, say, tipped house after a trembler. In the midst of this tilted landscape poor Dagwood seems trapped like a rat in the rubble...

What sets Ganz’s work apart is the exuberant things she does with paint. The figures in these paintings are attacked by broad strokes of pure color applied with a quick flourish, poking them in the heads, hands, and knees. The overall painted surface is as complicated as a talmudic text, featuring areas that have been scrapped, sanded dripped, pasted with gritty crumbs, or polished to a glossy sheen. The drawings of the comic men are applied over the top, at times painted over, then repainted. Previous poses are often visible through the murk.
Most successful is the giant, hilarious Backbone. Easily the most energetic painting in the show, this picture features another sad sap being literally given the boot. With a swift head kick the life-sized figure is beginning to buckle at the knees. Right at the small of his back the painting splits into two panes, and the east half of his body tilts one way, the west half the other. Fortunately, we have the luxury of smiling, since Mother Nature - in the form of the Nisqually Quake - seems to have given us Northwest saps more of a wrist slap than a kick in the pants — this time. Don’t laugh too hard Seattle, Ganz seems to be saying — you could be next.
Gary Faigin
Broadcast March 2001
KUOW FM Seattle

Gary Faigin


Description: Karen Ganz's ``Grifter" shows the signs of a doomed journey: ``pieces of human capital badly invested."


Friday, September 13, 1996

By his stubble we know him: He's a crook.but in the painted world of Karen Ganz's pulp fictions - now on view at the Francine Seders Gallery - one clue is never enough. There must be others and those others must repeat themselves without end, just as the neon lights ringing the word beer must never go out in a bar.

The thief with stubble, the worker drones, the heavies and has-beens all have their origin in American comics. Seattle's Ganz is tipping her hat to George Herriman's Krazy Kat and Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff; to Robert Crumb's Mr. Natural, H.A. Rey's Curious George and Dr. Seuss' poker-faced straight men - the children the animals are bamboozling.

As Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik demonstrated in their illuminating and unfairly panned exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1991, ``High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture," artists have been drawing from comics and advertising for at least a century.
Ganz is breaking no new ground in source material, but that's not where new ground matters. In painting, what you're doing matters less than how you're doing it.In the Northwest, Ganz is one of the medium's exhilarating practitioners. She's a master of messy paint handling, a cagey composer of chaotic spaces and bungling figures. Now working primarily in oils on canvas, her sad sacks have acquired new elegiac weight. Her coarse palette has a furious new energy, her strokes new muscle.

In ``Workers" (72 inches high by 91 1/2 inches wide), the thief with stubble is caught in a circle of his own making. Behind him red light pours through a white grill in alternating, horizontal lines.Beyond the circle, a heavily painted black void fills out the rectangle, but that's not where the thief is looking. As a yellow, third-degree light splashes across his features, he glances nervously to his left toward an adjacent panel where two women are domestically employed.The ladies' long, vertical panel is lushly black and white. Plump as pigeons, their chins double and their expressions blank, they could be assembly-line homemakers about to make nice at the scene of a crime, or they could be stand-ins for the painter herself, mixing up batches of black as others might bake bread.Big, luscious, horizontal reds contain their space, one line leaking down from the top and another forming a thick lip on the bottom. The white ground the black/white women move through is embossed under the paint with a decorative flower motif, the frilly form of the feminine.As the eye plays over the painting's formal qualities - the red and blue outlining the thief, the thick and thin of the color, the push and pull - viewers can appreciate anew the blunt end of representation where Ganz has staked herself.

``The Monkey Puzzle" (72 inches square) has four fat men running pell-mell and higgledy-piggledy into each other. Drop them, they'd bounce.

``Grifter" (64 inches high by 144 inches wide) is two misaligned panels, sign of a doomed journey, a modern reading of Bruegel's ``Parable of the Blind."On the right, shadow men march off the bottom end of the canvas, falling off the flat edge of the world. The seam between two panels cuts through the backside of the pivotal figure, all red. He reaches for a dollar, floating just out of reach. The figures in front of him drudge on, big feet, thick shoes, stale sweat. They are what Saul Bellow in ``Herzog" called ``pieces of human capital badly invested."

The hearty vulgarity and sad undertow of Ganz's work brings to mind others who have distinguished themselves in this vein, from Philip Guston to Elizabeth Murray and Keith Haring. That Ganz's paintings don't lose force when mentioned in this company is high tribute.

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