Paul Masterson
March 2013 issue of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Docent Digest

Ron Kosek: Artist, Teacher, Docent

After retiring from a 37-year career teaching art, Ron Kosek moved to Milwaukee to be close to his family including his four grandchildren. He quickly immersed himself in the city’s artistic life, joining the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center’s (MGAC) board of directors and the Wisconsin Visual Artists as an associate member. He was immediately elevated to that organization’s highest status of Professional. At the same time he had just completed Bridging the Gap, a series of abstract paintings based on photos he had taken. He has since exhibited that series as well as other works at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, the Polish Cultural Center, and Alverno College. Ron also joined the docent ranks of the Milwaukee Art Museum, graduating in May 2012.

Born and raised in Chicago, Kosek studied art at DePaul University where he received a BA in Art Education. His MFA was earned at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Ron has held teaching positions in Illinois, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada. His artistic output includes printmaking, sculpture, photography and painting.

Asked if he considers his work to be Neo-Abstract, Ron briefly ponders before replying: “I don’t oppose that word. In fact, I like it because it alludes to my being part of a development and I like seeing myself coming from a tradition. I studied the work of many visual mentors.” Those mentors include Kurt Schwitters, Edward Hopper, Piet Mondrian and the Canadian, Alex Colville. These artists fed my initial love of structure within a painting. Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe and especially Richard Diebenkorn added to Ron’s exploration and movement from “realism to abstraction”. He studied and saw how these artists developed their work from realistic forms through simplification and eventually into pure abstraction. These sources fired and inspired Ron’s own search and discovery of how to make the transition from one to the other for himself. “Some made a grand leap,” he says. Others, like Mondrian who with Kandinsky, Kosek considers to be the fathers of our present forms of abstraction, went through the evolutionary process described. Two decades ago Ron wrote a paper “Kandinsky and Mondrian – Two Pioneers of Modern Art” in which he reflected on the artistic contributions of these men. “They were both convinced of the universality of the arts, a total art that integrated music, dance and nature” Kosek observes. “Mondrian saw things through the prism of his Calvinistic upbringing in Holland, taking the images of his environment, the canals and windmills, simplifying them into verticals and horizontals which were the precursor of hard-edge and color field minimalism. Kandinsky’s folkloric Russian background was the impetus for his emotional expressionistic art that led him and others toward abstract expressionism.

Liking the passing from realism through simplification into abstraction, Kosek’s own progress to abstraction is similar but very personal. “I felt an affinity with my mentors but had to learn my own way into the abstraction I really love. The leaps from realism through simplification into abstraction occurred as the new Millenium began. Finally I was able to create a series that developed the techniques I needed to lead me there. I don’t see my work being connected to American abstraction as seen in the work of Jackson Pollack or Mark Rothko. New York abstraction derived its impetus from sources other than Kandinsky and Mondrian. Still, Kosek does admit he has an American mentor. “I’ve admired Robert Diebenkorn since 1977. He used the view of Ocean ParI< to inspire nearly 200 paintings. One can imagine the artist seeing reality and rearranging it into lines and strips of color. His work is the culmination of putting together everything all at once. He’s not just applying lines or throwing paint on a canvas.”

Ron’s technique emulates Diebenkorn who said, “The idea is to get everything right—it’s not just color or form or space or line—
it’s everything all at once.”

Ron’s current work brings him back to realism. A cityscape that is part of a “gestation period”. The cityscape is a homage to Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day. That painting depicts a multiple street intersection where Caillebotte once lived. Kosek’s homage is a multiple Toronto intersection where he once lived and both compositions have similar architectural structures. Caillebotte’s painting is sparsely inhabited by vehicles and pedestrians, while Kosek’s version will be busy with contemporary life. Another added dimenesion is the inclusion of an “old friend” that Ron has been visiting for many years in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That “friend” is Ingleside a simplified painting by Richard Diebenkorn.

Article by my Docent Mentor, Peetie Basson

Why I Bought a Painting from Ron Kosek

Serendipity, to start with. Ron was my first docent mentee, and as we got to know each other, we discovered we had a few things in common. He had retired from a career teaching high school; I, the same. He enjoys being with his grandchildren; I, the same. He had spent some time at Cranbrook, the art school north of Detroit, he as a graduate art student, I as an English teacher in its secondary school division. Furthermore, like Ron, I love the work of Richard Diebenkorn; Ron goes beyond admiration, though. He sees Diebenkorn as his visual and artistic mentor. When Ron had a show last summer at the Polish Center in Franklin, I went to see it. And I loved it.

Let me describe my painting to you. The piece I bought, Number 7 from the HPSeries, 2005, is acrylic on paper, 28″ by 40″. What drew me to this work is its bold geometry. Beneath two transecting lines on a white background, a large charcoal line makes a circle in the center of the piece. The circle is white laid over with a gold shape and on top of that an orange triangle, almost as though two transparent films had been laid atop a section of the circle. The surface texture of the piece is irregular; in fact, a painted-over smashed soda can sits within the circle. To the left, a large green and purple shape like an inverted comma cozies up to the circle, held there by a wine-colored band on the far left of the painting.

I like the fact that Ron began this series with his class of high school students. The project started as a teaching exercise but grew to have its own dignity and individuality. I find the piece interesting. The colors are clear but complex and inviting; they welcome me into the space. For me, the large white circle suggests infinity, and the orange and gold overlays are more like temporal interruptions, limited and fragmentary. The formal geometric shapes provide focus as my eye wanders in the interior, balancing the tensions of the known and the unexpected, the infinite and the finite, regularity and irregularity holding the composition together.

And that’s why I bought Ron Kosek’s painting.