Hard work. Putting in the time. Rigor and discipline. These are the themes that emerge when talking with artists — those who have chosen to live a life dedicated to creating, to answering their inner muse.
Whether in the early or mid-stages of their career — or well established — we found that the uniting factor is commitment.
Here we check in with a range of artists working in Buffalo — and also some art world professionals, who place them in the pantheon. With styles and media that vary dramatically — and ages that range from 33 to 80 — they are four local artists you should know more about.
For SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus Harvey Breverman, 80, art is “an obsession.” Breverman grew up in 1940s Pittsburgh; born to a working class, orthodox Jewish family, he lived in an “ethnically and racially mixed community,” he said.
Expanding upon his early discovery of drawing, he said, “It came naturally; I persisted. In high school, I took art courses…and got decent grades in everything else.”
Six decades later — with an MFA, countless exhibitions, and international renown —Breverman is a master printmaker. His work is represented in over a hundred museum collections. And he still “persists,” humbly, diligently, working.
“The list of institutions that hold Harvey’s artwork reads as a catalog of the world’s major museums,” said Gerald Mead, a curator, writer, collector, artist and educator who meticulously documents artists working in this region.
After high school, Breverman tenaciously tested into the Carnegie Institute of Technology (where a young “Andy Warhola” had recently graduated).
Receiving practical training in the arts, he was inspired by “articulate and intelligent people living [a] life of constant art-making,” as well as the challenging assignments, and the encouragement to “develop your own voice.”
His work ethic and an appreciation for engagement were more deeply ingrained during the years following, when he worked as a commercial artist and served in the Marines. Another lifelong tenet was to do everything “to the best of his ability,” he said. Stationed in Japan, Breverman also had his eyes opened to the benefits of travel and living abroad.
Upon returning, he attended Ohio University in the late ’50s, where he met his wife, Deborah, a relied upon partner in his work. (Ohio University has established the Harvey and Deborah Breverman Print Study and Research Center). Of his trust in and reliance upon her, he said, “Debbie is not an artist; through osmosis, she can ‘see’ things.”
His philosophy, still in practice today, is fundamental. “I look carefully at the world,” he said. “Visual phenomena are fascinating. Drawing is the underpinning of everything; learning how to use the simplest, most ordinary tools, like pencils or pen and ink. In the act of drawing, you look and transcribe. You start inventing, adding in an element of mystery.”
He began teaching at UB in 1961; charged with enhancing the drawing program, he shaped an academic and artistic life whose effects are still felt.
“Harvey is doggedly passionate and committed to the craft of his practice. He is an inspiration to scores of artists,” said Mead. “He also is a chronicler of the artistic, academic, and literary legacy of WNY, through his portraits and drawings of colleagues, and of visiting poets and lecturers. One of the things that his work comments on is the idiosyncrasy inherent in academia.”
Having come full circle, Breverman has no intention of stopping. “The making of this stuff is pure obsession,” he said. “It’s rigorous activity that has no beginning and no end…until it ends. When I go out and shovel, I think that I’m making a work of art, so I take it seriously. Then I come in and go to work.”
Buffalo native A.J. Fries (pronounced “freeze”), remembers the birth of his interest in art. “My sister had an art survey book in high school,” he recollected. “I remember seeing an image of Ed Kienholz’ ‘State Hospital.’
It scared the crap out of me — I’ve been hooked ever since.”
“I bought my first art book — ’60s pop art — when I was about 9,” he said. “I loved Andy Warhol, mostly because we had the same first name. I was a self-involved 9-year-old, and now I’m a self-involved 41-year-old.”
After graduating from SUNY Buffalo State with a BFA in painting, Fries said, he was “still clueless.”
“I wanted to figure out how to paint on my own,” said Fries. “I was doing these morose elongated figures. I taught myself glazing, composition, and started making pop-ish paintings of pie.”
“A.J. is a great painter, and he’s getting better,” said John Massier, visual arts curator at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. “Like all really good artists, he makes studio time, no matter what. He is committed to and dogged about that practice.”
“A big turning point was my giant painting of a package of Twinkies,” said Fries. “I envisioned the series referencing relationships. The Twinkies were the ‘crush,’ shiny and new. The final one, just the wrapper and the cardboard, represented the end.”
Fries’ artwork has evolved. The early 2000s found him turning away from processed pastry. “I painted large paintings of sex toys and childhood toys,” he said. “I was expressing desire; regardless of the type of ‘toy,’ the same feeling is manifested.”
A running theme for Fries is moping — post- and pre-painting ennui. “After the ‘toy’ series, I got very depressed,” he said. “Then somebody dropped two stuffed animals on me. I painted them as isolated objects.”
“After the stuffed animals, again I had no idea what to paint,” he mused. “I was staring at water dripping in a sink. I began painting what’s in front of me. I am still doing that; I’m attracted to not-pretty, dull things…that’s where the interesting stuff is. Anyone can paint a sunset.”
“When A.J. paints an empty warehouse floor, or rain on a window pane, while representational, it’s more about the sensation of that moment — being present,” said Massier. “There’s a fullness; even though he’s depicting ordinary, banal things. With them, he’s creating a bit of magical atmosphere.”
“I have no idea why I paint what I do. I’m lazy and this takes a lot of work,” Fries said. “I paint paintings that I would want to see. Painting is so great; it’s hard to describe. It is drug-like — sometimes, while I’m working, eight hours goes by as if it was a minute and a half.”
“Not all the time,” he added. “It’s like golf, at which I’m horrible, horrible, horrible. I’ve hit maybe seven good shots in my life. But those shots, that split second, that feeling lasts a week.”
Up until the mid-2000s, Fotini Galanes was an unknown in the fine arts world. Then, like a “shot out of a cannon,” she emerged, full-blown onto the regional scene. In quick order, her work was acquired by and shown at the Albright-Knox, Big Orbit Gallery and the Burchfield Penney, among others.
Galanes’ childhood set the stage for her emotional and artistic journey. As an 11-month old toddler, she was severely burned by hot coffee spilling all over her. Now 48, the Buffalo native endured multiple surgeries and long periods of immobilization for the first 14 years of her life.
“I was given a lot of things to do with my hands,” said Galanes. “My artistic talent was noticed, encouraged and nurtured by my entire family; my grandmother said (in Greek) ‘God blessed her hands.’”
When Galanes was able to rejoin her peers, she found an occasionally cruel world — yet one in which she had to learn to survive.
“People were shocked, curious and scared,” Galanes recollected. “One of my reactions was a fascination with textures and with human response. I liked applause; I didn’t want negative responses. Everything had to be perfect.”
“When I wasn’t drawing or painting, I wasn’t happy,” she continued. “I learned a lot through working at my father’s restaurant, but I believed that I had something more to do. My seventh grade art teacher was the first to call me an ‘artist’ — I knew that’s what I was. My guidance counselor encouraged me to go to art school.”
She studied illustration and graphic design at Pratt Institute, returning to Buffalo in 1986, and worked as a freelance illustrator.
As a child, she had been treated frequently at Children’s Hospital; in the mid-’90s she decided to begin donating her time to paint murals there.
“With the murals, my work started affecting people — they would share personal stories with me, in turn affecting me,” she said. “I stopped doing the murals when I got pregnant. After my son was born, there was something missing — I needed to start working again.”
“The most important point in my career came in 2008, when I abandoned representational work,” she said. She started going to coffee shops, where she’d sit and “draw distortion and disfigurement; manipulate form to the point of unrecognizability — devouring space.”
“Fotini’s work embodies dynamism within the personal — between precious and beautiful, and painful and abhorrent,” said Gerald Mead, the curator and arts writer. “The fact that much of her work represents scars allows the public to be privy to this deeper meaning.”
“As I got to understand the inspiration and references for Fotini’s work, I became amazed and astounded by its exquisite, complex nature,” added Mead. “She also has a very strong work ethic. Artists have to make work. For Fotini, it’s more than a passion, it’s like a compulsion.”
“My work has become an amazing experience — people will ask about it. I tell them the story; they may relate through discovery or confession,” she said. “I feel blessed that through the travesties and ugliness, I still see beauty in humans and in the world.”
“I got into ceramics in high school, and I’ve been focused on it since then,” said Krull, 33. “I have ‘tunnel-vision’; when I find something I really like, that’s all I want to do. I quit everything else, like dance and piano, when I discovered ceramics. I’m comfortable with the medium: it allows me to work in three dimensions, and it is so malleable and versatile.”
Krull holds a BFA from SUNY Buffalo State and an MFA from RIT. Her subject matter is strongly influenced by her upbringing.
“All of my work involves the natural world. In earlier work, I formally explored objects, using things like seed pods or insects as models,” she explained. “Our society is disconnected from nature — I was trying to create beautiful forms that would be impossible to overlook, that brought viewers closer to the natural world.”
Now, her work focuses more on our relationship to nature as seen through pets.
“We are distant from nature, but intimate with domestic animals,” she explained. “My parents have an intense love of and affection for animals and pets. We also had to have an unsentimental mentality about farm animals; seeing chickens beheaded.”
Krull is married to sculptor Jesse Walp. Their son Wesley was born in April, and they have a cat.
“Relationships with pets combine affection and dominance,” she said. “I’m examining the juxtaposition of those two things in our culture’s relationships with animals.”
Michael Beam, curator of exhibitions and collections at the Castellani Art Museum in Lewiston, showed Krull’s work recently.
“Bethany’s work is strong on different levels,” he said. “Her message about humans’ relationship to nature is attractive…we like certain animals, but not others. We have yards, where we attempt to deal with nature on our own terms, picking and choosing what ‘nature’ we want.”
Krull’s newer pieces feature an unsettling commentary when closely examined. “I’ve gotten feedback that people are most attracted to the work’s underlying darkness. If something is too ‘cute,’ I kind of push it away. Its strength is its combination of repulsion and humor.”
“Another reason I find Bethany’s ceramic work appealing is that it’s monochromatic,” said Beam. “Most of it is white — she doesn’t rely on decorative glazes and colors. It is also so interesting structurally; the detail and element of pseudo-realism.”
Her work is paying off, while not yet in the sales she’d like, certainly in exposure. In addition to the Castellani exhibit, recent museum shows include those at the Burchfield Penney and the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, La. Through representation, she also participates in fairs, like Art Toronto and Art Miami, where she hopes to build sales and connect her artwork with collectors.
The muse doesn’t always strike when needed. “You have to get in the studio whether you want to or not,” Krull asserted. “It’s not always ‘my creativity is blossoming right now’—though that does happen. It’s also ‘show up every day and work it out.’”