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Transitory Moments

Artist Ed Trask talks about his new exhibit at Glave Kocen Gallery and how he started having fun again with studio painting.

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In the pre-internet days, the only way to see what was happening artistically in other places, whether New York or Europe, was to go there.

So when Ed Trask graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1992, he hit the road.

And if he was sometimes inspired to paint an image of, say, composer John Cage on a building near the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, he did so. It was all part of his continuing arts education.

Fast forward to present day and Trask, often called the godfather of the local mural scene, now finds himself on panel discussions about street art and just as often, on a panel where younger members have no memory of living in a less-connected world.

His response is to tell stories of his illegal art activities from the late '80s and '90s —invoking activist artists such as the Guerilla Girls as inspiration — partly as a means of explaining the regionally focused scenes in which he thrived.

"I explain how we weren't creating art to have a long shelf life, we were creating a transient conversation piece," he says. "We were using the illegal act itself, along with color, line and graphics to get a point across, knowing the piece would be buffed, painted over or removed, but the legacy of thought would reside."

He reminds them that when the piece was gone, all that remained was perhaps one photo or even just a memory, as compared to fellow panelists who benefit from thousands seeing their work via social media "with an appeasement-based set of checks and balances." 

But not all Trask's work is on buildings. And his new show at Glave Kocen Gallery, "Transitory," allows him to flex different artistic muscles while reflecting on the fleeting nature of time. He explains that his wife Kelly, a yoga teacher, doesn't hesitate to remind him to slow down, take a deep breath and exhale, the better to recognize and experience life's transient moments.

"I watched my kids take their first breaths and watched my father take his last," Trask recalls. "These paintings, these moments, these times we create will be gone so fast, but the next generation we inspire will hopefully perpetuate yet another generation of selfless, egoless people who love art-making."

Readily admitting that not all the paintings he's created for this show will appeal to buyers, it's important to Trask that people see them and know where he is currently in his artistic journey. And if he gets some commissions as a result of the show, all the better.

For inspiration, he tries to run every morning, either along the trails, beside the river or through different neighborhoods, to experience what he might want to paint. When he sees what he thinks might make a great painting, he snaps iPhone photos.

Once in the studio, he'll do a quick sketch for flow of image, mix colors, then work from the photos straight to canvas. Although he's worked en plein air in the past, he now prefers to revel in reliving the experience and emotion he felt when he first encountered the scene and how that gets reinterpreted later in the studio.

"The re-telling of the storyline is always better for me," he admits. "Like any great story, I can exaggerate — even slightly lie — about what I saw sometimes."

Glave Kocen gallerist B.J. Kocen describes the works in Trask's new show as depicting fleeting moments of change, love, light and color.

"Ed has always evolved as an artist, but this exhibit is a sea change incorporating muted palates, intense line work, and dissolving imagery," Kocen explains of works depicting Belle Isle, the Wetlands, that caught Trask's attention on his daily forays.

Many of the changes in Trask's studio process were informed by the mural painting process he has honed over nearly 30 years. In the past he'd start a studio session by mixing a wide range of colors, then blend within that field of color. Whereas with mural painting, he'd dissect the image of all of its hues and mix them, leaving less to blend at the site.

"For this show, I started focusing not just on the color range of each image, but on the emotional and kind of rhythmic feeling I had when I took the photo or experienced the place I was painting," he says.

So instead of eight colors, he mixed dozens and tried to keep himself from going to other mixed color sets to go darker or lighter. By freeing up some of the blending time, Trask found more time to abstract certain spaces by creating a kind of surface war between what's flat, what's representational, what's abstract and what's patternlike. He began using squeegees to move paint around and sand it, leaving ghosts of past gestures.  

"Honestly, I straight up started to have fun painting again," he says. "Like mural painting, instead of getting mired by trying to make things look perfectly rendered. I worked on giving just enough information so the viewer can finish the image for me."

"Transitory: New Work by Ed Trask" opens Friday, May 3, 6-8 p.m. at Glave Kocen Gallery, 1620 W. Main St., glavekocengallery.com.

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