A recent opening of David Jon Kassan's show at Gallery Henoch in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood had all the traits of a good one. The crowd–and it was a crowded opening, from the very beginning–was a promising mix of scrutinizing teachers, impressed collectors, young artists, fans of Kassan's artwork, beautiful people, press, family, featured models, and friends. The atmosphere was relaxed and celebratory, from the careful hanging of the pieces in a welcoming arrangement to the constant murmur of excited conversation in the room to the acoustic singer-songwriter crooning 70s songs. There were plenty of red dots already placed on the tags by paintings and drawings of people, ensuring that the show would be a financial success.
The buzz I heard around the show was all positive, and it was interesting to hear what people were paying attention to. Other artists commented first and foremost about the art, of course. Kassan's fleshtones were admired, the presence of his figures was noted, and his skillful use of hatching and cross hatching was hashed out, but it was his backgrounds that spurred the most discussion. They were textured, in contrast with the smoothly painted figures. They were gritty, urban, and evocative of weathered graffiti, which immediately spurred some ideas and questions in the viewer's mind. What was Kassan communicating? Some months ago, he told me that he was trying to use abstract, Franz Kline-esque backgrounds to contrast with his realism. Perhaps David will comment here and explain fully. David?
But the red dots that signified sales had people buzzing, too.
Artists' view of the current atmosphere in galleries around here could be summed up in two words: "doom" and "gloom." It seems like art purchases were one of the first things that people cut from their budgets when the economy hit the fan, and even artists with a strong following among collectors have been struggling to move their work through solo shows. And here's Kassan selling at least a third of his pieces before the doors even opened. The reason? Kassan has a lot going for him. He has the painting chops to execute what he wants to do, and he has ideas. He's young and up-and-coming. His models are beautiful. He is good at networking, and a lot of people know him. This latest series of paintings have contrasting backgrounds that give the pieces a slight edge that is appealing. All of this added up to a good show.
Oh, and one more thing made the opening so enjoyable. The modest artist seemed almost embarrassed by his good fortune and great paintings. It was charming.
The model for Kassan's drawing Grace stands in front of the piece. A version of the drawing was reproduced on the cover of the current issue of Drawing magazine. An example of Kassan's writing in Drawing magazine can be found here.