High Drama
George Kozmon and Lawrence Krause @ Arts Collinwood

Even at this late date painters are often true romantics, in the old fashioned sense:
stubborn individualists bent on self-expression. Not for them the evasions of post
structuralism. “I am,” says the paint, whether shouting or murmuring, and sure enough, a
complex sense of the individual behind the brush duly emerges, at least in the case of
skilled and passionate practitioners.

The two-person, two gallery exhibit of long-respected Cleveland artists George Kozmon
and Lawrence Krause, held jointly at Arts Collinwood and True Art Galleries (located on
opposite sides of East 156th Street at the corner of Waterloo in Collinwood), proves that
point. And in the course of examining their works in close juxtaposition, it also becomes
clear just how temperamentally different and deeply individual these two painters of the
figure are.

Both artists depict human beings engaged in struggle, but Kozmon tends to show a single,
heroic figure, often in a pose that suggests strain and fatigue. Krause, on the other hand,
typically renders two or more figures, sometimes engaged in an ironic agon; one Krause
work titled Tethers (1994)at Arts Collinwood shows two men standing back to back, pulling
on ropes that disappear beyond the opposite edges of the canvas. There are other
obvious differences; Kozmon’s figures are nude, Krause’s clothed, Kozmon’s monumental
figures have an architectural feeling about them, as if they’d stepped out of a frieze or
down from an architrave, while Krause paints suburban men in shirtsleeves and ties who
look like they just got home from the office. And yet they may have more in common than
their differences suggest. Most importantly, they share a common concern with the
dynamics of isolation and defeat. Kozmon’s vision is overtly dramatic, tragic, and mythic,
while Krause aims for a more modern pessimism, above all emphasizing frustration. But
while each uses painting to create metaphors for the inevitable decline and fall of
individuals and nations alike, they also evoke a sense of wonder as they contemplate such
large subjects flickering at the edge of human vision. And angst-ridden as they are, both
are remarkably dynamic painters who pack their rectangles of canvas and paper with high-
energy images and technique.

George Kozmon has also been known locally as a gallerist, partnering with his wife Melissa
to mount a series of exhibitions at the now defunct Thrive Gallery downtown in the Galleria,
and as an active member of Cleveland’s Hungarian community. Many of his paintings are
inscribed with  Magyar Szekeley-rovás – ancient runic writing that some historians think
may derive ultimately from Sumerian and Egyptian sources. One large work shows a
female figure seated on uneven paving stones. Her face, barely visible, is cast downward;
her arms are clasped around her knees; beyond we see the surface of a river and the
arches of a bridge. As in all of Kozmon’s paintings the lighting is theatrical, at once
dramatic and wan. This is an intellectual, imaginative light – a strange, selective, historical
light, shining on an exaggeratedly muscular, mannered nude body that is also an
embodiment of History. The history in question here is no doubt that of Hungary, of the
ancient tribes of the Carpathian basin, and yet it could be an elegy for many other peoples
and nations. In another larger, very beautiful work titled Monument: Dreams, Desires &
Ambitions (2005) we see several blocks of ruined stone, rising from the still surface of a
lake bounded by mist-obscured trees. Standing erect on one of these ruined plinths, a one-
armed statue of a woman throws back her head and lets loose an arc of golden rovás,
barely visible against the dim sky. Both works bring to mind the haunting lament of Psalm
137: “By the waters of Babylon, there we wept.”

A long time instructor and now Professor Emeritus at the Cleveland Institute of Art (where
Kozmon received his degree in 1982), Larry Krause is a painter’s painter, as interested in
the subtle qualities of his materials as in thematic concerns. If a Kozmon is instantly
recognizable because of its unworldly illumination, a quality of visual vibrato is the hallmark
of Krause’s paintings. The two men pulling on ropes, for instance, aren’t situated in real
space or time, any more than Kozmon’s figures are; instead, they’re surrounded –
engulfed almost – and defined by a dense field of short, curving gray and white paint
strokes. It’s more like an energy field than anything, pulsing around them, as if the intensity
of their effort were churning and thickening the ait itself.

In his 2001 Rope Dancer(s) Krause depicts a man and a girl standing on what appears to
be a stage. Krause says he worked as a window designer at a downtown department store
early in his career, and the narrow proscenium typical of both window design and ancient
Greek and Roman painting is typical of his work. Like actors in a live performance, his
characters are visible from head to foot and often stand near the bottom of the canvas, as
if just beyond the footlights. In Rope Dancer(s) the man is seen from the back as he tugs
at one of many red ropes that dangle from a height beyond the top margin of the work. To
the right a girl in a leotard stands in a solemn plié, facing him. Behind them, running the
length of the canvas, a band of yellow strokes flickers and flares mysteriously, intersected
by the tangle of red ropes. These seem almost like veins, and the man and the girl like
symbols in an allegory – but what’s it really all about? Mainly, Krause creates a strong
sense of charged, intimate space that eludes any pat explication.

Among the attributes of painting as an art is its ability to evoke a highly personal range of
emotional responses that seem to measure the distance between the hand that made them
and the eye of the beholder – the immeasurable yet infinitesimal distances that separates
one human being from another. In their long careers both Krause and Kozmon have
rubbed such distances together with considerable finesse, building the exciting, perilous
friction that can warm and sometimes ignite a viewer’s gaze.

[Free Times 3/28/07]