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Art: Elizabeth Ann James, Columnist
February 2007
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Magical paintings by Michael Secrest
pm gallery

Yellow Sky/Blue Rainbow, by Michael Secrest

pm gallery, 726 N. High, is exhibiting paintings by Michael G. Secrest for the next few months. Secrest has imagination to spare, but when it comes to landscapes, he celebrates where he lives. He has painted Goodale Park and Newark’s Dawes Arboretum in lively acrylic and pastel strokes. And, in ways I can’t fathom, he mixes water, acrylic, pastel and pencil in multiple layers on an undercoating of modeling paste, and he often scrapes, rubs, and repaints. His paintings are actually mixed media, and there is always an undercoating of modeling paste.

Goodale Park, a long narrow canvas, presents a bold, calm, wide-stroked autumn. It is autumn. A neat row of trees writhes without wind. Secrest is able to express energy through vivid oranges and greens, the leaves. On trunks, charcoal scrawls are evident. Sometimes you see pencil lines. The sky is a mere dust, barely evident. Everything works together.

Secrest makes his painting look easy. The sedate well-managed park exudes spontaneity, yet becomes kind of a pattern.

Secrest’s economy of attack allows him to blend the boundaries of high art and décor. His art looks good on display walls and in McMansions. Yet it’s never trite!

In Goodale Park we see Dennison Avenue houses, if dimly. Tree energy prevails. Dawes Arboretum is also a long canvas blooming with trees, but it’s more restrained, more delicate as to colors and scrawls. There is energy in nature, and Secrest knows how to capture it. He is an impressionist with a punch.

Secrest is unafraid of using bold upbeat colors. His pinks and lavenders sail like happy balloons. His blues are “rainbowy,” like a songwriter’s sky. Although he is Mr. Spontaneity, his composition is solid, no matter how it dances. In his upbeat abstract Yellow Sky/Blue Rainbow, colors swirl and squiggly lines dance in cloud-like sections. Of Yellow Sky, Secrest said, “Here you see yellow ochre over cadmium yellow. The whitish color lights it up. If you’re afraid of color, better not look at my paintings. I have 74 pastel chalks, and I want to use them all.”

Tarantula Moon is much more geometric than Yellow Sky. And it’s darker. The huge half moon rises in black frames. This striking somber piece, around 36 inches tall and 24 inches wide, is glossy. The black is glossy. The big in-your-face moon is glossy, so are the frames and bars and various hues that form a long color bar.

“I take my painting seriously,” Secrest said “but not necessarily my paintings. I’m playful. But I’m not Mondrian who kind of played board games with his shapes and colors, and I like controlled accidents. See, that’s where I used a paper towel.”

Michael Secrest’s childhood home near Cambridge, Ohio, is gone now, but it lives on in at least one large painting and a couple of smaller canvases. Secrest has access to heirloom photos which he’s still considering. The house is a two-story white frame with a minimal front porch, two poles and a roof. The door is empty, black. This is a weathered house, sad, yet lovely, and it fills most of the canvas. Built to last, around 1900, this house is not, as Malvina Reynolds would sing, “made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.”

Secrest lived there until he was at least 5 years old, when Mom and Dad separated, and Mom took the family to live “in town,” Cambridge. Michael can remember the fifties, can remember when electricity came in, when there was an outhouse and certainly no central heating. Years later the lot was sold, the old house torn down.

Secrest retains an affection for the place, and you will too when you see his first-class renderings of it, large and small.

An Artist’s Life
Michael G. Secrest is a wonderful and unassuming conversationalist. While we sat side by side on rocking chairs in the marvelous art space that is pm gallery, I felt like I was conversing with the American folk singer Pete Seeger – and that’s a compliment.

“I love painting,” Secrest said. “I’ve had almost 38 years of practice. By the time I was 10, I was telling my friends I was going to be an artist. I didn’t know exactly what an artist was, but I knew I wanted to be one. However, I didn’t actually begin painting until I was 18.

As a boy in Cambridge, Secrest loved sandlot football, loved “the skill and the speed of sports, but never the anger or fighting. I loved the speed,” he said. “The speed got into my paintings.” And, yes, speed provides an impetus for Secrest’s paintings, including his landscapes.

When Secrest majored in art at the Ohio State University, his fear of being an artist and “all that negativity” drifted away. Despite blisters from carving woodcuts, he enjoyed all his classes, and he was at last able to “go public” as an artist. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Ohio State University in 1972, began to work as a furniture refinisher at OSU in 1974 and married Maria Galloway in 1982. The couple opened pm gallery, the longest lived gallery/boutique in the Short North art district, and they have two sons.

Jacob, 17, prefers comic book and graphic art. Eli is 8 and does some origami and likes making things with his hands.

Wanting to foster the Short North neighborhood, Secrest volunteered at ArtReach, one of the first galleries in the area. He held down a real job and worked on his art whenever he could. Working as a furniture and seating system worker at OSU, he continued to paint, at least in spurts.

Jogging his memory, Secrest recalled some of the awards he received over the years: “I won first place in painting at the Cincinnati Summer Fair and first place at the Eastland Mall Show and a number of times I was juried into the Ohio State Fair show.” In 2006, he took Second Place in the big Salt Fork show.

Secrest retired from the Ohio State University a few years ago and was a full-time Union Steward during his last two years at OSU. Now he has more time to paint, and, he adds, “my colors have become less dark.” That’s for certain.

Secrest paints in the Now, but he honors tradition, especially Vermeer – “who worked like a dog,” Secrest said. “His paintings are gorgeous. I paint in layers. Sometimes I can make a thing seem transparent.”

“For fun I write songs,” he added, and began to quote the one about the peanut butter junky: “Peanut butter. . . it’s always on my mind. Some folks like it chunky. I like the creamy kind.”

Secrest is a highly skilled painter, and his lively, modestly priced work looks darn good on the walls. Placing and winning pleases him, yet he is emphatic: “I paint for the joy of it. I can hardly express that in words. Painting brings me joy.”

pm gallery, 726 N. High St., Columbus, Ohio, is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 - 6,
and Sunday 12-5. Call 614-299-0860 for more information.

Visit Short North Gazette June 2005 cover story on pm gallery.
email [Attn: Liz]

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