A Retrospective at Founders Hall Art Gallery
Arie Galles’s first works of art were the trains he drew using his father’s tailor chalk on the red floor boards of the family’s Lubawka, Poland, apartment, when he was 4 or 5 years old. His artistic exploration continued over the next seven decades as he lived in Israel, Chicago, Philadelphia, Madison, WI, Rome, Italy, Madison, NJ, New York City, and now in Orange County.
After a fifty-year career as an artist/educator, the recently retired Galles is Professor Emeritus and Artist in Residence at Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo. The 2004 westward move was a timely one as he taught painting and drawing, and served as Director of Soka’s Creative Arts Program. While leaving the east coast was a huge change, it joyfully brought him and his wife, writer Sara Nuss-Galles, closer to their children and now grandchildren.
Galles’s exhibition at Soka University’s Founders Hall Art Gallery, “Transformations, A Retrospective,” is a journey of artistic metamorphosis and evolution. The monumental show captures the arc of Galles’ iconography in works from his youth and early and mid-career, such as “Heartland,” his unique Reflected-Light paintings, and the “Sinister Drawings,” “PepperTree,” “Return/Powrót,” “Galicja,” “Orchard,” and “Winter,” suites.
The exhibit includes two of Galles’s “Fourteen Station/Hey Yud Dalet” drawings and accompanying poems by Pen Award winning poet Jerome Rothenberg. The suite consists of fifteen large-size charcoal drawings of aerial views of World War II concentration camps. Galles culled the source images from thousands of aerial photographs taken by both the Nazis and Allied air forces. The research and creation took a decade and his work changed from color and vibrancy to the starkness of charcoal and conté crayon. “I feel that under no condition can art express the Holocaust,” Galles says. “However, to withdraw art from confronting this horror would assign victory to its perpetrators. Survivors must affirm their humanity and existence.”
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner and guest of honor, spoke of the project’s importance and artistry at the premier exhibition of Fourteen Stations at Galles’s hometown Morris Museum in Morristown, NJ. Galles recalls the poignancy of standing beside Wiesel as he peered into the drawings of Auschwitz where he and his family were first imprisoned, and at Buchenwald, where he was liberated.
Living in post war Poland, before moving to Israel in 1956, Galles knew the history. “Growing up among the ruins l heard accounts by neighbors, Jews and Christians, of the suffering during those dark years. The land where members of my family were turned to ashes in the slaughterhouse of Bełżec was also the flowered fields where my friends and I ran and played.” As an artist, and child of Jewish survivors, he was committed.
Galles’ work, including the Fourteen Stations, which is looking for the perfect permanent home, has been exhibited in solo and group shows in museums and galleries in the US, Canada, and abroad. Galles has lectured in the US and internationally, and his works are held in private and public collections. Visit https://www.ariegalles.com for an overview.
Galles was born in Uzbekistan, and the family moved back to Poland in 1946. He earned his BFA from Tyler School of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, in 1968, and his MFA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1971. Galles previously taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Visual Arts, New York City, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, University of California at San Diego, and Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ.
Reflecting on his current work, Galles says, “Considering where I came from, and how I spent my life getting to this place, I feel extremely lucky. In my latest paintings and drawings I want to use my appreciation of life and light to reveal a universe full of vibrant color.”
All are welcome to the Founders Hall Art Gallery, Soka University, Aliso Viejo, CA, Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm. Admission is free. The exhibit continues through January 6, 2023.
Sara Nuss-Galles is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.