Clinton Deckert: 25 Year Retrospective Exhibition
Oct. 6-Nov. 1, opening reception Oct. 6, 6-10 p.m., Paris in Plantsville Gallery, 15 West Main St., Plantsville, (860) 426-1149, parisgallerycafe.com.
Clinton Deckert is a self-described "hunter gatherer." No object is too small, too odd or too broken to go unbagged or excluded from his surrealist assemblages or mind-bending paintings. And seemingly no art venue is too far off the radar for the 53-year-old artist whose work is familiar to Hartford audiences from his long affiliation with the ArtWorks coop.
Deckert now has his sights set on Paris — Paris in Plantsville, Conn., that is, a pleasant pocket of mom and pop shops amidst the suburban sprawl of Southington. Paris in Plantsville (PiP) Gallery, set in the heart of the "village" beside the Quinnipiac River, was founded in 2010 by graduates of the University of Hartford Art School, including owner and resident artist Sean Michanczyk. The gallery is, like Deckert's art, an assemblage of sorts, having expanded into the vacant storefront next door and added a café since its opening. PiP is homey, inviting and devoid of the pretensions of art "industry." Classes are taught here, films are screened, discussions are held, kindred spirits gather. On a much smaller scale, it's a throwback to the old salon mentality perfected by Will Wilkins at Real Art Ways.
Though Deckert has shown all over the state, including New Britain Museum of American Art, he stumbled on PiP in his own backyard. After curating a popular group show here last year, he's going solo with "Clinton Deckert: 25-Year Retrospective," up until Nov. 1.
If the gallery installation is anything like Deckert's nearby home, it will resemble a mid-air collision between Joseph Cornell and Salvador Dali. Every corner of his home contains evidence of a torrential talent and an offbeat vision. All wall space is covered with his painting and nearly every piece of furniture and shelf cradles some playful object he has banged together from unlikely parts (e.g., a light bulb screwed into a hose nozzle). He knows where every piece of bone, shell, nut, bolt, wood and metal fragment comes from, what trip he was on when he picked it up, who gave it to him.
"I like to resurrect discarded items and give them a second life," he says.
He readily admits his fondness for Dali but adds, "I can't deny Dali but being compared to him is like being in a rock band that plays 'Stairway to Heaven' at every show. It's easy to get pigeon-holed." Other influences he readily cops to may be more telling: Ernst, Magritte, Matta, Bosch and Yves Tanguy.
The rock band metaphor is apt. After graduating from Southington High School, Deckert attended the "school of rock 'n' roll" as the drummer for Thrasher, a regionally popular rock band that had a 10-year run into the 1980s. "When the band broke up, I needed another creative outlet," says Deckert, who has also worked a day job at a metal finishing company for more than 30 years. "I had all this creative energy I had to put down somewhere. When people ask me where I went to college, I say ArtWorks. That's what opened my eyes. That's where I learned techniques."
The cut-off for Deckert's PiP retrospective is 1987, for good reason. That's the year he had what his calls his "ah ha moment." He'd been painting tirelessly and diligently for three years until then, but after he finished the painting "Curios" — what he called "my most pivotal work" — it's not unlike that moment in a rock concert where the drummer gets to do a 10-minute solo. In Deckert's case, it was a 25-year drum solo, with paint brushes as sticks and canvas and wood panel as his drum heads.
"Since 1987 I've created works that result from combining random abstract thoughts and surreal imagery," he says. "My technique is exploratory and spontaneous. I start by splashing thin washes of various colors of paint on the canvas and then blot them with rags…Then I take a step back to see what develops as the paint runs, drips and blends into one another. I prefer to think of it as a painterly alchemy…or a higher form of doodling, if you will."