American Art Gallery
A TRADITIONAL INNOVATION IN CARMEL
For Alec Elzafon, owner of the American Art Gallery in Carmel, California, his gallery is the culmination of thirty-five years of self-immersion in the high end of human endeavor.
That effort began several decades ago when, upon gradu- ating from the Institute of Cinematography in NewYork, he became instantly captivated by Oriental Art. Says Elzafon,“I walked into an art gallery once in the village and I saw this magnificent Oriental statue.” Immediately he began collecting and dealing Oriental art and from there, he says, it was just a short step into the modern and contemporary art with which the American Art Gallery deals.
By route of a story that the Israeli-born Alec intimates is too long to delve into, the gallery began in Texas in 1984. But, it wasn’t till Elzafon had returned to Gotham to settle the gallery in SoHo that his most engrossing relationship as a dealer began. He narrates,“I was walking down the street when I came across a painter.”
The painter in question was long time friend and client,Allen Hirsch. “He was painting outside his studio on Crosby Street about fifteen years back.And I just stopped in my tracks when I saw what was on the easel, you know. At the time I was so engrossed in negotiating for art by Cezanne and Picasso and then walked past this artist on Crosby Street and I stopped in my tracks,” continues Elzafon.What he saw was a small charcoal-dark cityscape of New York, oozing with the wetness of the city—simple but amazing.“So I looked at it and I said,‘can you show me more?’ And the rest was history,” he recounts.
What began was what Elzafon refers to as a “classic rela- tionship between painter and dealer,” one which resulted in several Time magazine covers and tenures in both the National Portrait Gallery in Washington and in the Smithsonian Museum. “I saw an artist that painted in the tradition of the great masters, one who had no fads or fashions. Unfortunately for him, he fell through the cracks at the time…here was an artist that was not Andy Warhol and not Basquiat and he painted in the tradition of really the great American and European painters,” Elzafon says. They bonded and when the gallery moved to Carmel seven years ago, Hirsh really took off.
Elzafon essentially considers Hirsch to be a classic painter, but he calls him a traditional innovator. “You see, he takes the old and puts his own contemporary interpretation, feeling and vibrations. He’s influenced by what’s happening all around him. It was the same with Picasso and Cézanne—they were influenced by photography and African art. Every painter is influenced by what’s around him,” he asserts. Elzafon says the human element present in Hirsch’s portraits is palpable—so much so, in fact, that he’s had several people come to the gallery who were in such awe that they started crying in front of his paintings. “It’s incredible,” he says.
A few years ago Hirsch came up with what are now known as canvas string paintings. Simply put, the technique behind these works uses the brain’s constructive ability to create images from the smallest traces of painted form.The canvas is cut into strips which are spaced apart on a stretcher and painted on. The artist delves into the “dark side” of the brain, forcing it to participate in our eyes’ process of image formation. This tech- nique has turned out to be a major breakthrough in figurative art and has brought into fruition a process the artist began thirty years ago.
Following that path, Hirsch’s fascination with surface and space has evolved into a new, advanced form of cubism. By using the palette knife and creating rectangles within rectangles, he reinforces the image and adds depth and texture to the subject. This body of works has proven enormously successful and has established a new artistic language.
The next goal for Elzafon is to get the forty-eight year old Hirsch into major museums. “We want to get him into auctions and get him the international recognition that he deserves. I really feel he’s a one-in-a-hundred years artist. Just like Van Gogh and Picasso.”