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Exhibition featuring husband and wife team opens at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery
James Kelly, Xochimilco, 1963, Oil on Canvas, 66 x 77.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Anita Shapolsky Gallery is presenting “A Non-Objective Couple”, an exhibition featuring husband and wife team Sonia Gechtoff and James Kelly. This exhibition features some of the remaining works of these artists’ oeuvres.

As prime examples of the San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism’s raw, unique influence, Gechtoff and Kelly’s experimental approaches are exemplary of the collective coolness of the Bay Area. A focus on smooth, otherworldly strokes permeate their works, in contrast to the faster movements and more vibrant palette of New York, where much of the cultural dialogue came from and where they eventually settled. Inspired by poetry, particularly by their contemporaries of the Beat generation, Gechtoff, Kelly, and their peers viewed painting as the visual component of literature, yet unlike their New York counterparts, emphasized this duality through allusions to distant figuration, swirling motifs, spiritual encounters, and visual representations of verbal expression in their paintings.

Originally from Philadelphia, Gechtoff and Kelly married in 1953 in San Francisco and moved to a loft on the legendary Fillmore Street, where contemporaries Jay DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, and Michael McClure also lived. They were active participants in the Beat scene, and exhibited at King Ubu Gallery on 3119 Fillmore Street, one of the several locations where the heartbeat pulsed.

Both had a deep affection for the tactile qualities of paint, and a sensual connection to its application, sometimes utilizing their palette knives much like a pastry chef would apply icing to a cake. Sonia Gechtoff was a close friend of Ernest Briggs and Deborah Remington, two acclaimed second generation abstract expressionists. Gechtoff’s later works include loose horizon lines, which the artist says were inspired by her proximity to nature. Her strokes evolved into forms evoking flickering flames, combining her tactile palette-based strokes into more contained compositions.

Kelly’s first encounter with Van Gogh catalyzed his obsession with impasto techniques, which earned him a solid place in the cannon of the time. His handle on physicality, playfulness, and movement, tied to his continuing references to poetic culture, enmeshed him into the dynamic group of second generation abstract expressionists. Many artists in their network would, through sustained exposure to New York’s booming network, relocate eastward towards the end of the 1950’s. They also moved to New York City in 1958.

At 90 years of age, Gechtoff continues her painting and resides in New York City. Throughout their careers, the couple participated actively in not only contributing to the dialogue of 20th century visual art, but cementing the importance of the how influential the West coast Abstract Expressionist scene was to the movement as a whole.

Sonia Gechtoff (b. 1926) is considered one of the most influential female abstract expressionists. Her father was a painter, and introduced her to socialist realism at a young age. In 1950, she completed her BFA at what is now the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and moved to California the following year to study lithography with James Budd Dixon at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute. She was greatly inspired by Clyfford Still. Through her exploration of the movement crafted her signature style; using a loaded palette knife to create vibrant, gestural strokes at large scales. In 1957, she was given her first solo exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.

In 1958, Gechtoff won a place at the Brussels World’s Fair. She was a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 1989, 1994, and 1998, and received the Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. Gechtoff is one of the twelve women featured in the traveling Denver Art Museum exhibition, “Women of Abstract Expressionism”, curated by Gwen Chanzit. Gechtoff is part of numerous museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, New York, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Denver Art Museum.

James Kelly (1913-2003) had a career which spanned nearly seven decades, including paintings and graphic works. While his work in his native Philadelphia had more of a geometric quality, inspired by Piet Mondrian, his move to California in 1950 changed his style to more gestural, using thick impasto oil paint and swirling motifs common of the San Francisco scene.

Kelly studied at the School of Industrial Arts, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia, as well as the Barnes Foundation and the San Francisco Art Institute. He has exhibited widely throughout the United States, and received grants from the Ford Foundation in 1963 and the National Endowment for the Arts in 1977. Kelly’s work is part of many permanent collections including the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Art, the Harvard University Art Museum, the Pasadena Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

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