November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Walter Gurbo/The Drawing Room

Snowman II, Walter

The Drawing Room Revisited

Walter Gurbo − painter, sculptor, illustrator, muralist, set designer, set-painter and most recently filmmaker, known to reshape and transform any medium he can get his hands on. Gurbo is probably best known for his 12 years of weekly surrealistic drawings known as the “Drawing Room” on the back cover of NYC’s TheVillage Voice. Along with this, Gurbo continued to exhibit in NY Galleries and had shows at area colleges.

His most recent series it has been said “reinvents the still life.” All of Gurbo’s work typically has a thought-provoking humor which is evident even in his most abstract work. A just released book titled, “All The Art That’s Fit To Print (& Some That Wasn’t)” by Jerele Kraus (Columbia University Press) includes a drawing series from Walter’s New York Times days where he contributed more than 300 drawings. He also shows extensively in many upstate N.Y. venues. Following the exhibition at Anthony Brunelli Fine Arts in July, Gurbo exhibited his recent still-life series at the West Kortright Centre in August 2011.

August Lodge door

Walter Gurbo’s most recent monumental project was a commission by August Lodge of Cooperstown to paint all 60 doors of their beautiful new Adirondack Lodge. Given complete freedom, he transformed the entire lodge into something out-of-this-world. Guests wander around gazing at door after door creating an outdoor art gallery. For over 20 years Gurbo has been designing and painting sets for NYC’s “Theatre For The New City.” He is continuing with sets for this summer’s Street Theatre production. Walter recently returned from Japan where he had a very successful one-man exhibition at Hishio Museum in Katsuyama.
Originally from NYC, and a graduate of The High School of Art & Design and Pratt Institute, he has called Upstate N.Y. home for the last 12 years. Living now in a converted factory loft, he has recently established a huge exhibition space, “Art Central New York” in New Berlin, N.Y.

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Walter Gurbo/The Drawing Room I

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credit

Walter Gurbo working in his New Berlin, New York studio.

A Room With A View

For over a dozen years, from 1977 to 1989, on the back pages of downtown New York’s former preeminent local crier, The (Village) Voice, was a picture window.  An oddity by not any standards today − already then more an atavistic throwback to the underground press of yore − its curious fit within the low-end commercialized zone of this once radical weekly seemed with each passing year ever-more like some out of time eccentricity, a past whimsy that by the grace of its wit somehow continued to survive on amidst pop culture’ pernicious progress.

Thinking back on it now, Walter Gurbo’s Drawing Room was not just a weird hole punched into the wall of babble, but something of lost strand connecting the impoverished means and grand illusions of New York City at its late Seventies economic nadir and creative apogee to the rising bottom lines, escalating cost and rising expectations that have only grown exponentially since then.

So playful, these drawings never grew up, got tired or sold out.  Nothing can surprise New Yorkers it’s true, but that’s a good part of why they make a perfect audience for the absurdities that made the Drawing Room such a comfortably familiar fixture among all the other cropped views and mini- dramas glimpsed like prurient snatches in the tenements, towering offices, migratory street corner socials and (of course) subways of Gotham.  In a maze of walls, canyons that make anything  above gutter level seem like big sky country and a compartmentalized nexus of endless boxes, you get used to looking through window.  I’m not sure we could have ever really understood or collectively shared Gurbo’s vision if it were not inherently blinkered.  It’s not a picture unless it has a frame and it’s not a view unless that frame is a window.
Nearly thirty years since they were first dreamt the drawings remain here, but the room is gone.  That sort of space can hardly exist when neither the premium of real estate in the media nor the city can afford such follies.  Also lost is this peculiar kind of disjointed view, now all but obliterated by the new tide of luxury high rises.  But to remind ourselves that we are still a tribe of urban eavesdroppers, it’s only when you listen rather than look at these pictures − perhaps hard to do as they remained staunchly wordless in their slapstick pantomimed anarchy − that the artist’s voice sounds oddly familiar.  Yes, this is the absurdity of the overhead, the accidental and random that yet echoes with all the feverish distortion of an ever-looping feedback.  And to hear it here you have to remember what could be said before computers and their proliferate effects, in companionship with art
directors, photo editors and ad-marketing-sales departments, wiped out illustrations, cartoons and comics off the pages and into the margins.
Walter Gurbo belongs to a longer lineage of American vernacular, with the same bizarre twist and acerbic distortions forged by Mark Twain and Thomas Nast as literary and visual traditions of irreverent mayhem.  It’s enlightening to think now how hilarious life could be when you gave an artist a pen, an audience and a regular space to work their imagination.  It’s more than a small pleasure as well to see how in Gurbo’s  case the results could be so consistently rewarding.  Filled with pictorial puns, rife with New Yawk smarts, and loaded with autobiographical traumas (like failed relationships and housing insecurities).  Gurbo has an uncanny access to the subconscious.  Every week for a dozen years he did what he could to raise people’s consciousness just a tiny bit at a time, and if that meant warping our consensus reality along the way, so be it.  Here then is the strange evidence of a true peripheral visionary, or as Walter told us, “what you don’t see out of the corner of your eye.”
— Carlo McCormick | New York City, 2006

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Walter Gurbo/The Drawing Room II

View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.

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Editor’s Note:

More of Gurbo’s work can be seen at www.waltergurbo.com.

Singular animated videos can be viewed on YouTube:

http://youtu.be/mR54w4A5M5k

http://youtu.be/9_Hm0OZTOhE

This presentation of Walter Gurbo’s work was assisted by The Anthony Brunelli Gallery, State Street, Binghamton, NY.   Gurbo’s work can be purchased through the gallery. Contact: John Brunelli.