1 of 2
2 of 2
Chris Kassak painted this self-portrait of himself and his dog, Chopper.
ALTON — Oscar Wilde once said “a work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.”
One-of-a-kind local artist Chris Kassak embodied that statement completely, both in artwork and temperament, and the evidence — his art — will be on display from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, in the fourth-floor penthouse of the historic Kendall Cracker Factory, 205 E. Broadway.
Kassak, who passed away Jan. 24, was a beloved friend, brother, uncle and son who will be missed by many people — myself included. I met Chris in the mid-1990s and count myself lucky enough to have been in regular contact with him until his death. I am just one of many, many people whose lives have been positively impacted through Chris’ love and friendship.
But love and friendship were not his only legacies to the Alton area; he was also a brilliant and eclectic artist.
“My brother and I had a special bond. We shared art as a passion and obsession,” Kassak’s sister, fellow local artist Laura Blair, says. “Chris had a foundation in many areas of art — painting, drawing and printing.”
Emeritus Professor Mitch Clark was head of the art department at Blackburn College when Chris Kassak entered the art program there in the 1980s, and Clark quickly became a mentor to Kassak.
“I found him to be an incredible student, really spectacular,” he says. “I sort of saw him as one of the key people in the department in terms of being creative.
“One time we were doing some photo shoots, and he arrived with some bits and pieces of lighting equipment, like a light for a parking lot or something. It had a bulb the size of a football. It was basically the kind of lighting equipment they used in cinematography. It became this incredible lighting system. He was always coming up with things that were useful to the art department.”
Kassak’s work often focuses on modernism and abstract expressionism.
“He was (also) highly influenced by his location,” Blair says. “He spent time as a student in Mexico and carried that with him. His main home was Alton, and the natural geological features were the focus of his Bluff series of collagraph prints.”
Blair added that Kassak’s most recent body of work “became very personal. He did prints based on family, friends, neighbors, and of course he had a very special bond with his dog, Chopper.”
Kassak’s partner, John Puckett, said following Chris’ passing, he found himself looking at Kassak’s artwork in their home, and it occurred to him that as far as he knew, Chris had never had an art exhibit all his own.
He realized that the most suitable memorial for Chris would be an art show.
“We (chose) the Cracker Factory because it was a beautiful, non-traditional place to hold both a memorial service and an art show,” Blair says. “It has beautiful lighting (and) a very welcoming and relaxing atmosphere.
“The true tour de force of the Eagle’s Nest Penthouse is the windows. There is a gorgeous panoramic view of the river that includes the Clark Bridge. When I walked in, I knew my brother would have approved wholeheartedly.”
While the exhibit is open to the public, Kassak’s loved ones ask attendees to remember that this is not just an art show, but also his memorial, a chance for those who loved him to say their goodbyes.
“There is no doubt that this event will be a success,” Blair says. “This is not so much a farewell, but a celebration of his life, his work, and those people whose lives he had touched, which were so many.
“I don’t think he would have wanted us to mourn him; I think he would have asked us to celebrate the here and now while remembering the ephemeral quality of life.”
• • •
Guests are encouraged to step outside of regular mourning attire and wear color as a celebration of Kassak’s charisma, warmth and love of life. In lieu of flowers, organizers suggest a charitable donation to the Crisis Food Center of Alton, www.crisisfoodcenter.org/donate-online; or the Oasis Women’s Center of Alton, (618) 465-1978.
Facebook page for memorial: www.facebook.com/events/436363966563183
Follow @NewsAdVantage on Twitter