The art of Charles Katz is intensely personal and mystical, and possesses a spiritual kinship with primary as well as archaic art. Some of these paintings are startling in their concentration of feeling. The mystic tone in some of his works is pronounced and very moving. There are mythological themes in his paintings, as in his painting Tartarus (1992) (which in Greek Mythology is the deepest and most secured place in hell). With or without its title the painting is moving piece of art. The bars running vertically look like Greek columns but we can tell there is something less pastoral than ruins before us. Yellow, the medieval symbolic colour for radiance is over represented to an almost schizophrenic glare in an intense middle horizon. Reds of dark blood intensity occupy the place above our line of sight where there is a patch of blue which reminds us that this is not open sky. The proportions of colour are not harmonious but expressive of emotional weight. With the title we feel the mythological hangover of our collective cultural memory which makes this piece that much more powerful. This well known myth has inspired artists in Europe and North Africa for over two thousand years. This is a painting of the place, where among other ancient celebrities, Tantalus, the Titans, and Sisyphus were placed for their various sins, wars, or less forgivably for asking the wrong questions. It comes on recommendation of Rilke, in his famous advice to young artists, to not attempt great themes that have been tried many times before; Charles true to himself, ignored convention and the famous advice, leaving us with a very fine painting.
In the autumn of 1992 Charles was diagnosed with leukemia. After enduring a partial treatment of conventional chemotherapy, he embarked on a path of self-healing. Charles tried to cure himself from his illness with unorthodox and experimental treatments. He painted about some of these treatments in Monoatomic Gold and Coral Bacteria. He took monoatomic gold, which is the non-metallic, non-toxic, zero-valence form of gold. It acts upon the pituitary gland often increasing the production of red blood cells in bone marrow. Its other side effect (appropriate to the reputation of some artists) is that it increases the production of semen. This is originally a non-Western treatment referred to in ancient Ayurvedic texts1. It appears to be first introduced to the West when it was used by the medieval Gnostic Cathars2 in alchemical3 elixirs. It has been pointed out by Maria von Franz among others that alchemical-like myths are part of many other world traditions: and the alchemical myth, an almost yoga of the West in spiritual terms, is what is psychologically missing from our accepted mythic tradition. Charles, very aware of this imbalance, addressed this in his painting MonoAtomic Gold. This is an intensely mystical painting, almost assaulting the senses with its vision. It is balanced in its proportions of blue and orange-yellow just shaded enough that the colours are a chromatic complement of each other as well as the proportions of other darker colours surrounding the central combination. It has surface layers built up in places with crushed marble and sand. Parts of the picture seem to be reaching out of the painting itself. As a whole, it seems otherworldly, an inspired transformation frozen at its most fertile moment.

Coral Bacteria is another painting inspired by a substance he was taking to cure his illness. It is a painting of powerful blues with bursts of flowering yellows in a host of variations on the same two colours with clumped blotches that really look like bacteria in the shape of a lopsided x toward the middle lower left of the painting. Its balance of complementary contrast is stimulating and soothing at once. This makes sense, as it is exactly the proportions of colour that together would mix to a neutral chromatic grey.

There is a considerable variety of work in different styles that will be on display, including a series of his grid paintings and topographical abstracts from the air some of which are like early aerial photographs of the English inter-war countryside. There are large format abstract paintings as well as a series of figurative pen and ink drawings he was working on in his final months. These are skillfully executed, tightly framed yet still playful. These final pieces and his unfinished musings are some of his finest work, which like some of his best paintings extend from a personal expression to reach toward a universal expression.

Charles’ paintings are non-representational but they were always about things. It is fortunate we have some of the titles of his later pieces. It is also fortunate that we have a few of his very large early works represented in this show as they underscore the development of his expression and experiments with materials.

In the months before he passed away, Charles, in a playful spirit, conceived of making an installation piece tilted The Bar Mitzvah Machine. He had dyslexia and was unable to have a Bar Mitzvah during his youth, as he could not complete the language requirements in Hebrew. It was a considerable disappointment to him at the time. Charles’ Bar Mitzvah Machine would be very similar in size and appearance to the photo booths that were once common in train stations and shopping malls. It would be about twenty square feet and five feet high and would welcome the viewer into its space. A person who wishes to have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah would place a coin in the machine that would prompt him or her to recite the sounds of a Hebrew prayer. A camera would record the incantation and add stock footage of a generic ceremony to the blue screen background. The data would be transferred to a computer and a certificate, a DVD copy of the ritual, and a photograph would be dispensed by the machine. Charles’ brother Daniel expressed that Charles intended this piece to be for fun and in no way did he intend to offend anyone by it. This installation piece will be completed by The Friends of Charles Katz to Charles’ specifications. It will be shown at Toronto’s all night art festival Nuit Blanche in October 2008.

- Ewan Whyte

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