Aug. 10, 2017
The Saint Vincent Gallery at Saint Vincent College will present an exhibit of oil paintings, “Mountains, Gardens, and Sky: A Walt Labys Retrospective,” from Thursday, Sept. 28 to Sunday, Nov. 5.
An opening reception with the artist will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, in the Gallery. Both the reception and exhibition are free and open to the public.
Walter C. Labys retired after a successful career as a university professor and international economist. His interest in painting began before he graduated from the former Saint Vincent Preparatory School in 1955. Working in the early mornings for a relative who had a professional house painting crew, Labys would prepare paints by mixing base colors and glazes with white lead. He was also intrigued by the cartons of paints and canvases his mother regularly sent to her uncle in Poland and the many paintings of his which she received in return.
Labys’ real beginning, however, occurred while he was an engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He tried to balance his demanding engineering studies by auditing an occasional drawing, painting, or sculpture course in the Fine Arts College. This experience really captivated him, and he connected his painting interest with a physics course in optics that explained how eyes react to different colors. Although these interests were largely interrupted by his graduate studies at Harvard, he managed to take several drawing and pottery courses at the Cambridge Center for the Arts. About this time, his fascination with Europe also began and several summers abroad introduced him to the world’s great art museums, cathedrals and works of art. This experience was further reinforced by his work with the United Nations in Geneva, which sent him almost everywhere in Southeast Asia.
While in Geneva, he began painting oil canvases that reflected his aesthetic experience of living in Europe. His choice of large format was due to the large wall spaces that needed to be decorated in the family apartment. He also developed a life-long interest in oriental rugs and their brilliant colors, which stemmed from the use of natural dyes. Labys continued painting when his family moved to Morgantown, West Virginia, although rebuilding their old house found him devoting several years to furniture design and construction. Because of his occupation with color, he was attracted to the style of Jackson Pollock, who juxtaposed color splashes of different frequencies to create excitations that the eye can’t seem to avoid. This interest was enhanced by his investigations of modern physical theories of light and how they had affected the advancement of art from the end of the 19th century. Some of the post-Pollock art experiments involving color became known as “action painting,” although the most recent New York movement that Labys’ style seems to resemble has been termed “abstract graffiti.”
Labys paints not only because of his obsession with color rhythms but also because of his need to express beauty in a complex world. In the end, Labys paints because the colors make him happy, and he hopes that viewers of his works might have some fun, too. His portrayal of the “summer season” with jungle friends and the “little prince” certainly have been a hit with his grandchildren!
The Saint Vincent Gallery is located on the third floor of the Robert S. Carey Student Center on the campus of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and by appointment. The Gallery is closed Mondays. For more information, contact Br. Bernard Cline, O.S.B., administrative director, at 724-805-2107.
Photo A: Sunburst (oil, 41 x 41, 1976)
Photo B: Mountain Wildflowers – Above Lucerne, Switzerland (oil, 42 x 42, 1971)
Photo C: Mt. Blanc – Gland, Switzerland (oil, 48 x 48, 1974)
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