Gregory Van Maanen: A World We Cannot See, the first in a series of five exhibitions exploring the desire to escape the anxieties and pressures of contemporary living, is now on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wis. The exhibition runs through November 6.
While some artists interpret the idea of escape with an outwardly focused sense of adventure or a thrill-seeking impulse, others shift their attentions to inner worlds. Among the latter are artists such as Gregory Van Maanen (NY), who employs creativity as a means to survive the difficulties of civilian life as a Vietnam War veteran.
Van Maanen served in the Vietnam War between June 1968 and January 1970 and was discharged and sent home after undergoing severe physical and mental impairments, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After several years of traveling, Van Maanen began to paint voraciously—on surfaces ranging from found objects to scrap board—to help him deal with the difficulties of PTSD and exorcise the demons in his mind.
His paintings feature skulls, all-seeing eyes, open palms, glowing hearts, and a plethora of personalized symbols of protection. Some of the images may at first seem frightening, but the artist sees them as “good magic,” as talismans intended to keep evil at bay and signs of magic, of solace, and of survival.
In 2007, Van Maanen decided to move on from the Paterson, New Jersey, apartment that had sheltered him for nearly a quarter century. Over the years, the space had transformed into an environment dense with altars, symbols, and some four thousand paintings and sculptures.
The works of art comprised an enormous diary, a chronicle of pain and healing. With the goal of keeping this body of work intact, Kohler Foundation worked with Van Maanen to document his home before he moved. The Foundation acquired the contents of Van Maanen’s apartment, and gifted the entire body of work to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.
Van Maanen continues to converse with the spirit world and make art every day. The shrapnel lodged in his shoulder still plagues him, and he is frank about the reality of living with PTSD. Yet he remains a firm believer in the healing power of art for veterans and nonveterans alike. Painting provides him with the means to address his internal struggles. His art making—his escape—is a record of the thoughts, images, names, demons, memories, and hopes populating his internal world.
Admission to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is by voluntary donation. The Arts Center, located at 608 New York Ave. in downtown Sheboygan, is open daily except major holidays. Call 920-458-6144 or visit jmkac.org for more information.
Major support for Gregory Van Maanen: A World We Cannot See has been provided by Sargento Foods Inc., the Herzfeld Foundation, The Private Client Reserve at U.S. Bank and to Wisconsin Arts Board, with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
John Michael Kohler Arts Center
608 New York Ave.
About John Michael Kohler Arts Center
Founded in 1967, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is dedicated to making innovative arts programming accessible to a broad audience that ranges from artists and academics to families and youth of all ages. Central to its mission is promoting understanding and appreciation of the work of self-taught and contemporary artists through original exhibitions, commissioned works of art, performing arts programs, community arts initiatives, and publications. The Arts Center’s collections focus primarily on works by vernacular-environment builders, self-taught and folk artists, and works created in the Arts/Industry residency program.
Admission to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is by voluntary donation. Memberships, which support the free-admission policy, are available at the Arts Center, by visiting jmkac.org, or by calling 920-458-6144. Members enjoy discounts to ticketed events, on purchases in the ARTspace shops, and on workshop and class tuition. JMKAC is a 501(c)3 (nonprofit) organization; donations are tax deductible.
Arts Center Hours: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
John Michael Kohler Arts Center