Past reunites at SVAC show

MANCHESTER - It's almost like ghosts from the past have returned for a reunion, of sorts.

For anyone who followed the music produced by some of the biggest and most influential artists of the late 1960s through early 1990s - we're talking the apex of the pyramid artists like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles (individually), Elton John, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, among many others - a trip through an exhibit at the Elizabeth De C. Wilson museum at the Southern Vermont Arts Center - "Legends of Rock & Roll:" From the Lens of George Kalinsky - will likely summon a floodtide of memories. Collectively, the 40-odd photographs taken during concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden offer a view into a now vanished past, when these former titans were at their youthful peaks, the way those of a now "certain age" want to remember them, and ourselves, when catching The Stones, The Dead or Janis or Elvis was about as high up the food chain of life as it was possible to go.

But that's not all. Across the hall from Kalinsky's show is an equally intriguing, if different show of paintings and sculpture by portrait artist Joe Fig, whose unusual work manages to be both edgy and familiar simultaneously. And across the oval at the Yester House, home base for the arts center, a magnificent exhibit of paintings of flowers, titled "Stamens and Stems" is also underway. The three exhibits offer something for almost everyone. Kalinsky is the official photographer of Madison Square Garden, arguably one of the best known entertainment venues in the world, and he landed what many would consider a dream job in 1968. He literally got a front row seat - plus stage access - for some of the biggest and best talent of the era. More than 40 years later, he's still there, photographing the major concerts.

One of his best known pictures is a shot he took of Elvis Presley in 1972, the only time the King of rock 'n roll ever performed at the Garden. The black-and-white image of Elvis clutching a cape, Superman-style, was used repeatedly, on enormous billboards in Times Square and at Graceland, Elvis's home and now a major tourist attraction.

"That picture is just the defining image," Kalinsky said in a telephone interview last week. "The way his arms are up and his face is - it's like the ultimate moment of his performance. It was an instantaneous moment that I sort of got."

Interestingly, for all his fame and influence on contemporary music, Elvis was a little on the shy side off-stage, and needed his inner circle around him to boost his confidence, Kalinsky said.

There are more memorable pictures, like John Lennon performing with Elton John in a 1974 concert that was the last time the former Beatle ever performed before a live audience. The only reason Lennon appeared was because he had lost a bet with the British pianist who was on his way up to superstar status at the time. Elton John had made a wager with Lennon that if one of Lennon's songs made it to No. 1 on the charts, he had to perform at the Garden with him. "Whatever gets you through the night" prompted Lennon's unannounced appearance.

All four of the Beatles are in fact, part of the exhibit, but each as solo artists. The one of Paul McCartney has also been given a special painting treatment Kalinsky developed to enhance his photos.

After applying a protective coating onto the finished print, he paints over some of them with a dappled effect. It brings out his early training as a painter, which absorbed his artistic interests before he got involved with photography.

Times have changed a bit since he photographed a Jimi Hendrix concert in 1968. When the Rolling Stones performed there the following year, the stage was moved to one end of the arena, instead of being in the middle. That became the standard format afterwards, but that was the first time a touring show was set up that way, he said.

Access is a little different onstage too, he said. He used to be able to wander anywhere over the stage, but now it's more limited, since the advent of moving television and video cameras mounted on tracks. There's a safety issue there now that didn't used to be, he said.

And now it's a digital world, not the film based one of yesteryear. Kalinsky adapted easily, he said.

"It's made it more fun," he said. "You know if you did the right thing."

Across the hall from Kalinsky's collection is an exhibit of paintings and sculptures by artist Joe Fig. He's veered back and forth between the two genres; starting off his career as a painter, then turning to sculpture after about 10 years. About a decade later, he returned to focus again on painting. There's a connection though, between his sculptures and paintings. Some are small dioramas, others easels or recreations of artists' workspaces. "I was trying to find new ways of doing portraits," Fig said during an interview shortly before the opening of his exhibit. "I thought if I could see how they (the artists) worked, duplicate their process and duplicate the space they are working in, maybe I would become an abstract painter," he said with a grin.

"That didn't work, but it got me more involved than just artists and studios," he added.

Fig's paintings are impressive, and have a distinctive, unusual feel to them. One study of a now nearly forgotten French artist, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonnier is particularly striking, as well as one of Fig's personal favorites.

Meissonnier was a hugely successful and popular artist during the 1860s in Paris, and anyone who followed the art world of the time would have pegged him to be remembered as one of the most influential. But he was eclipsed by a then youngish group of Impressionists - Manet, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, and a few others.

This group is shown in another painting with a humorous twist, where six of the artists are portrayed as 20 something renegades instead of the old men with beards that history has left for us. The painting draws its inspiration from an early album cover of the music group "The Band" - those who wander over from the Kalinsky show will recognize it immediately.

Fig has portrayed Meissonnier in the course of painting a study of Napoleon. Meissonier was known for the great lengths he went to make his detailed paintings as accurate as possible. To paint the study of Napoleon, Meissonier waited for a snowy day in January to get the lighting just right. So when Fig went to paint the scene of Meissonier painting Napoleon, he did the same thing.

"I re-created the entire scene - got a mirror, built a wooden horse, waited for a snowy day in January and jumped on my horse," he said. A neighbor took photographs of it, and a helpful neighborhood dentist, who bore a remarkable resemblance to Meissonier, posed for the facial details, Fig said.

This will be Fig's first show in Vermont, and it will be on display at the arts center until Sept. 3. Kalinsky's show will be only on display until July 22, as will the Stamens and Stems exhibit of flowers.

For more information, call the arts center at 802-362-1405.


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