Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chuck Connelly: Resurrecting the Champ

"Even while torpedoing his relationships with dealers, collectors,curators, and critics in the midst of the neo-expressionist surge of the early 1980s, Chuck Connelly was turning out some of the most compelling and best painted images produced in America."
-Peter Frank, Museum Curator/Art Critic
September 2009

Round One//From Rags to Riches

After graduating from the Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania in the late1970s, Chuck Connelly (a guy from a working class family in Pittsburgh) moved to New York City.1

CHUCK CONNELLY, 1014 Oak Lane (Mailman), 2005. Oil on Canvas, 54 x 50 inches.

Settling into a small apartment in the East Village between Avenues B and C, he arrived just as the art scene was transforming the area with eccentric performances by Klaus Nomi, Colette and Gracie Mansion.2

Font sizeCHUCK CONNELLY, The White Flag, 1992. Oil on Canvas, 80 x 60 inches. Signed

During a surge in the neo-expressionist art movement of the 1980s, Connelly became a favorite of the American art world and an icon in New York City’s booming art scene. 4 His paintings were frequently compared to those of Vincent van Gogh’s 5 -- and like van Gogh’s work, Connelly’s paintings made millions.

CHUCK CONNELLY, Vogue, 1992. Oil on Canvas, 36 x 24 inches. Signed

Round Two//Success

Connelly’s paintings were represented by some of the most significant galleries in New York, including the Lennon Weinberg Gallery and the “Annina Nosei Gallery where [his] paintings were exhibited alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Rauschenberg and Julian Schnabel.” Connelly’s paintings were also acquired for the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) and Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (MET) permanent collection. In 1989 Nick Nolte played Connelly in Martin Scorsese’s film "New York Stories: Life Lessons"-- a collection of short stories originally written by Richard Prince. At the height of his career, Connelly showed “promise of becoming one of the next inspiring heroes of art and American art culture as a master class American painter.” 6

CHUCK CONNELLY, Artist and Model, 1982. Oil on Canvas, 70 x 49 inches. Signed

Round Three//The Knock Down

However, as Connelly’s fame and fortune increased throughout the decade, he began acting out his own admiration for such hard-drinking legends as Vincent van Gogh and Jackson Pollock. Connelly’s self imposed ruin alienated those around him and ultimately destroyed his professional contacts with collectors, curators, and gallerists.7

CHUCK CONNELLY, The Drain, 1985. Oil on Canvas, 66 x 78 inches. Signed

Round Four//The Count

The HBO documentary, The Art of Failure: Chuck Connelly Not For Sale, can be seen as a continuation of Scorsese’s 1989 film. The documentary chronicles Connelly’s effort to re-enter the art world of the 21st century though subsequently reveals how the artist’s disturbing personality, verbal abuse and alcoholism caused his exile in the first place. However, despite the Art of Failure’s depiction of Connelly’s abrasive personality and alcohol abuse the film is in many ways as Director, Jeff Stimmel describes a story about “a working-class outsider who is fighting ageism, elitism, and cronyism”. 8

CHUCK CONNELLY, Roof Top, 1983. Oil on Canvas, 62 x 48 inches. Private Collection

Round Five//Getting Up

With a recent mini-retrospective of his work at Chelsea's DFN Gallery (June 21-July 18) and a larger retrospective of his work currently on display at the Trigg Ison Fine Art Gallery in West Hollywood (October 30 - November 24, 2009). Connelly hoped that the documentary would not only lead to sales but cause others to see a different side of the New York art scene. “In contrast to the 1960s, when art indeed served a strong political cause, the multitude of genres and styles that typified the 1980s is still sorting itself out. The Reagan era paralleled both the expanding art market and the growth of pluralism, pushing artists to find new ideas in a series of drug-induced phases that involved either cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, or alcohol--to name a few.” Surviving these pharmaceutical solutions proved critical in the fight against artists like Connelly’s impending historical irrelevance.9

Connelly attributes the stalling of his career to the stock market crash of 1987 and the art market's subsequent shift from neo-expressionism to neogeo, (short for ''new geometry''). The Art of Failure examines the purpose of being an artist at a time when the art market’s success relies heavily upon the strength of auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's to sell the artist’s work. More importantly, it asks the question of how can art dare or attempt to achieve something meaningful, given the large number of bold and edgy artists who were either casualties of the era or simply passed over? 10

CHUCK CONNELLY, Is Vanity Fair?, 2008. Oil on Canvas, 60 x 48 inches. Signed


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Connelly

2. http://www.hbo.com/docs/docuseries/artoffailure/index.html

3. http://www.triggison.com/connelly/connelly.html

4. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Chuck+Connelly.-a0190890221

5. http://www.triggison.com/connelly/connelly.html

6. Ibid

7. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Chuck+Connelly.-a0190890221

8. http://www.hbo.com/docs/docuseries/artoffailure/index.html

9. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Chuck+Connelly.-a0190890221


Chuck Connelly Links: