‘Dichotomy of an Artist’

Fred Gilmour explores the push and pull abstractions and realizations at Gallery425

As a child, artist Fred Gilmour loved to draw and paint. In fact, he can’t recall a time when there wasn’t something creative happening in his life. He calls the artist’s life a “never ending adventure,” and remembers a sign that he once saw that touched home for him: “Dad, I want to be an artist when I grow up.” “You can’t have it both ways, Son.”

Gilmour’s “Dichotomy of an Artist: Abstractions and Realizations” will be on exhibit at Gallery425, 425 Market St., for the month of January. Thirty-five pieces of art embody what Gilmour calls “an artistic struggle between the realistic and the abstract.” A gallery talk will be held at the opening of the exhibit at 6 p.m. Jan. 5.

“I have been formally trained to interpret real-world objects as technically accurate as possible,” he said. “As an illustrator, there was no room for abstraction or ‘creative interpretation.’ Generally, one can master the technical skills necessary to replicate an object or scene on a two-dimensional field relatively easily. Occasionally — and rarely — a fine illustration can be viewed as art.”

But, he added, abstraction can push the boundaries of creativity into uncomfortable territory.

“No longer is it safe to lay down the ‘technically correct’ texture or color,” Gilmour said. “And more often, a piece is almost expected to have an unusualness. For the viewer or consumer, the expectation is to be somehow annoyed, tricked or confronted with some esoteric profundity – an inner exploration of one’s deepest, darkest thoughts or feelings as it were.”

Originally from Johnstown, Gilmour has lived in Williamsport for nearly 55 years. Although as a high school senior, he expressed an interest in attending Pittsburgh Art Institute, his father saw things a bit differently. He felt it were best if his son learned a skill rather than become a “starving artist.”

“To that end, I remember a trip to Pittsburgh to see a friend of my father’s, who was a commercial sign painter,” Gilmour said. “We toured his grungy, second-story warehouse loft studio and I fell in love with the concept and lifestyle.”

Despite his father’s dismay, it wasn’t long after when Gilmour was introduced to the technical illustration program at the former Williamsport Technical Institute, now Pennsylvania College of Technology. He attended WTI and the former Williamsport Area Community College, and he received a bachelor’s degree in art education from Mansfield University. He went on to teach part-time advertising art at WACC and Penn College and retired as the executive director of the WACC Foundation and director of instructional technology and distance learning from PCT. Gilmour’s background also includes film and television production, digital photography, computer art, 3D computer animation, graphic and web design, and instructional program design, including one of the first college credit programs to teach drawing using the Internet. Several of his multimedia productions have received a number of national awards and international recognition.

Much of what Gilmour creates in his spacious studio is dependent upon his mood. He likes the precision and detail of pen and ink. Its’ lack of forgiveness presents a welcome challenge for him. But, on other days, it is the freedom of acrylic and watercolor and the technical aspects of three-dimensional works that presents itself to him.

“The Thought Collective,” a series of abstract assemblages, is dominated by the commonality of four general elements: feathers, photographs, metallic or organics, and words, all what Gilmour calls “found” objects — sometimes found as a collective and other times intentionally assembled.

Gilmour said feathers embody the ethereal, the unattainable free spirit of flight. The inclusion of them brings a textural element to the composition, but they also are intended to invoke whatever it is they represent to the viewer’s mind. Photographs capture the mundane, such as the face of a long-departed relative or those with whom we have no recollection. Metallic castoffs, the oxidized survivors of daily social progress, are gathered from a variety of locations. And finally, the words and phrases have been collected from professional journals, papers and other public sources. Individually, words can invoke incredible meaning, but, collectively, Gilmour said, can summon total confusion when gathered from a variety of sources. A special piece, “Her name was Mervine,” is a large assemblage of family artifacts that tells the story of the life challenges of several family members.

“Some words are left to rust and wane, some are used until they are no longer serve a function,” he said. “Some others express humorous or thought-provoking approaches to life’s dilemmas.”

He creates this type of art when he wants to escape the precision of illustration. Each of the elements have been manipulated, modified and massaged — many connected with deliberate bindings and residing on a non-objective abstract background reminiscent of a chaotic flurry of “unintentional caffeine-induced energy.”

Gilmour’s “Realizations: Architectural Archaeology” represents a collection of pen and ink illustrations focused on the visual preservation of rural architecture. Many of the buildings can be found in and around the greater Lycoming County region, demonstrating the structures that Gilmour described as utilitarian structures that have passed into uselessness. Exploring the play of light and shadow, the artist said purposely editing out much of the surrounding environment focuses visual attention on the subject, bringing the viewer simultaneously in and out of the scene.

“This is what I do when I’m suffering jet lag from a recent flight of fantasy,” Gilmour said.

This will be the first time for Gilmour to exhibit at Gallery425, but his work can be found in the Virgin Islands, Virginia’s Northern Neck, Upstate New York, Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania College of Technology and other venues in the city. He also is included in private and institutional collections across the region, and his photography can be seen in Pennsylvania state and U.S. congressional offices and governmental offices in Australia.

Gilmour currently is exploring work for several non-disclosure projects that involve three-dimensional or kinetic sculptures.

“I am always looking to expand my horizons and have recently become involved in designing and producing images for women’s fashion accessories,” he said.

Although Gilmour does not have a regular exhibition schedule, he is open to any opportunity to show his work, including commission pieces.

“For me, having the viewer appreciate one of my works comes down to the simple reality of how I choose a good bottle of wine,” Gilmour said. “‘You open and drink a particular bottle and you like it, it’s a good bottle of wine.'” When you look at my work, there is no trickery, no profundity. If you like it, then I’ve done my job. Conversely, if you don’t care for it or feel you don’t ‘understand’ it, then, I’ve done my job.”

Gilmour is married to Dr. Davie Gilmour, president of Pennsylvania College of Technology. He is the father of one adult son, who is a graphic designer for a large corporate financial institution and musician. He serves on the advisory committee for the Gallery at Penn College and the UPMC Susquehanna Health Arts Advisory Committee.

For more information about Gilmour’s work, visit gallery425market.com or gilmourarts.com.