Opening Sept 5th, 2014 at Garis & Hahn
By KURT MCVEY, SEPT. 2014
Max Teicher, a young and influential character in an ever-expanding art world, casually stumbled into a group show at Bridge Gallery NYC on Orchard Street in the fall of 2011. It was there that he first became familiar with the work of mixed-media artist Colin Kilian, an avid surfer and graduate of Pratt Institute in 2003. He personally reached out to Kilian and the two struck up a friendship, one that would carry them through a riotous three-year odyssey, centered around this story’s antagonist, a painting no less titled “Push” an undeniably potent oil based vortex of swirling grays, heavy and dim, like the eye of some great and ancient whale, and culminating in a new, fifteen piece solo-show by Kilian titled, Paintings, Drawing, and Sculpture, opening September 5th at Garis & Hahn.
After the Bridge Gallery show came down, Kilian began working with the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Company on an immense installation project. Kilian fashioned the mixed media sculptures (which invoke Da Vinci’s aeronautical sketches) as if the long-limbed strokes of his paintings had leapt off the canvas. “I felt pretty good. I could say I did a big project, which was nice, but I had this overwhelming feeling of, now what?”
Strangely enough, it was an impromptu “butt-dial” that catapulted Kilian to the next stage of his artistic journey, an artist residency at Kalani, a spiritually minded resort on Hawaii Island or as the locals call it, The Big Island. “A guy I knew was there, and he was talking to a receptionist who told him about an art residency, when from my pocket, my phone went a selected a picture of one of my sculptures and texted it to him,” says Kilian.
Shortly after this exchange, Kilian was Hawaii bound with surfboard and paintbrushes in tow. Also accompanying Kilian, a stowaway of sorts, was a growing tension mounting within the artist’s mind, body, and soul. When he arrived, he found that he wasn’t the only one at the resort with existential baggage. “Everyone was there for a reason, whether it be a medic from the war in Afghanistan who needed to chill to people who had attempted suicide, or people who had sold their business and were now in the process of reinvention. It was about unconditional acceptance and supporting each other in transformation.”
Things came to a head when, several weeks into the retreat, Kilian was sucked into the Pacific by a merciless and unrelenting riptide near Big Island’s infamous Waipio Valley. “I was barely wading in the water, with no physical way to swim against the current. I couldn’t touch the bottom, waves were crashing over me. I was panicking. I thought I was going to die. I had this strange knowledge of reincarnation, that this could be the end of this life.”
Fortunately, Kilian survived the experience, not only by relinquishing physical control, as ocean lovers are taught from an early age, but by deciding that sticking around Earth for a few more years was a worthwhile endeavor. At the behest of the island’s Kahuna, Kilian partook in a ceremony later that same evening with a masterful female energy worker involving eight others at the top of Mauna Kea Summit, near the island’s famed observatory built on the foundation of a temple ruin. It was there he made a startling discovery. “I was carrying a demon for many years. A really dark spirit inhabited me and I knew then that it had influenced me in a painting I had done.”
Max eventually received a phone call from Kilian, now in Puerto Rico (the artist also split time in Bali), explaining that “Push” was in fact a portal through which a dark entity could pass between our respective dimensions. Much to his dismay, after a year and a half languishing in storage, Max had helped facilitate the sale of the work at “The Young and Starving Exhibition and Silent Auction” at Christie’s (March of 2013). Max clarifies, “I was a board member of ‘Young and Starving’ then. I worked on the exhibition and facilitated sales to benefit artists.”
Max quickly boarded a plane to Puerto Rico hoping to dissuade Kilian from attempting to destroy the work. Max stayed for a few days, ate fish that Kilian cooked himself, all while aggressively employing his skills as a proven salesman, kitchen sink included, all to no affect. Kilian wouldn’t budge. The artist explains, “I didn’t want the woman who owned that painting to be affected by it, especially when Max told me it was hanging over her bed.”
Before returning to New York, Max sent an email to his old friend Tyler Mayo, also from his alma mater, Sarah Lawrence. After a deep depression years earlier, Mayo travelled the world, from England, to Nepal, to Mongolia in order to become a practicing Shaman. “We have a situation,” the email read. Mayo was intrigued to say the least. Though he had worked with Max before, primarily to help him reduce stress and also to force him to stop and smell the roses once in a while, he was a bit apprehensive about performing an exorcism on a possessed painting. “I had done work on inanimate items before, but usually in a positive sense,” Tyler admits. Max in turn helped Mayo approach the idea in a practical sense. “Tyler, you’re the doctor. The painting is the patient. Let’s try open heart surgery,” Max offered.
It should be noted that Max’s father collected African art and often brought work back that had bad reputations, or as Max overheard as a youngster, “bad luck works with bad juju.” Max actually concedes that weird things did happen near these pieces in his house growing up, things that allowed him to entertain the situation with a fair balance of skepticism and genuine alarm. “On the one hand it was like, wow, this is what I’m doing. [laughs] On the other hand I had to ask, what if he’s right? In the end, I felt a social responsibility and a responsibility to Colin as a friend.”
Kilian, while still in Puerto Rico, spoke to Tyler on the phone and the two came to a deep mutual understanding regarding the logistics of the situation: Max would retrieve the painting on foot from the buyer, under the pretense that it was needed for a referential photo shoot. The face of “Push” would be covered with cardboard, wrapped in a blanket and taken discreetly and silently to Max’s apartment where it would wait for Tyler.
“I brought everything. I completely deconstructed my altars. I typically bring different shamanic tools and even if you don’t use them, they have power; idols, my drum of course, all my beads, and salt was really important. I used it to form a protective ring around my body. With the help of certain inter-dimensional beings; spirits, angels, gods, whatever you want to call them, I brought it out, but I didn’t want it to just go into me or something else, especially because Max has a lot of art work in his apartment. It was not easy.”
After meditating with the piece for several hours, Tyler allowed Max to return to his place. They called Kilian and told him the good news. He trusted Tyler’s judgment and the piece was returned safely to its rightful owner. For the assurance of casual gallery goers and serious buyers, Tyler was there every step of the way for this latest show, Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture and promises that all works are certifiably free of demonic possession. The paintings on display are light in tone and palette, but maintain the kinetic grace and oceanic fury that made Kilian so damn interesting to begin with. Just to be safe, the two will perform a cleansing ceremony in the gallery directly before the opening to assure that good juju continues to flow. WM
All photos in this article by Sam Monaco