Written by Domenica Farishian Saturday, 28 December 2013 00:00
With a childlike enthusiasm and zest for life, Paul Kolker can proudly wear the title of lifelong artist. Kolker has been creating art since his elementary school days in the 1940’s and now, at 78, his passion for art remains as strong as ever.
“Art to me has always been fun. It has always been a way to speak to people. Art is its own language,” explains the Old Westbury resident and Chelsea art exhibitor.
For most of his adult life Kolker has been a cardiothoracic surgeon by day and artist by night. His artistic craft became an outlet for the stress of lifesaving heart surgery in the operating room. “It was my recreation and a great stress reliever from my life-and-death medical career,” he states emphatically.
Kolker is one of a rare breed of people who pursued not one, but two of his life’s passions. His love of art and medicine both began in childhood, first as an artist when he convinced his parents to sign him up for art lessons. He dabbled in oil paintings initially, some of which are still hanging in his home today. By the time he attended high school he became art editor of the school newspaper.
In the classroom he excelled in the sciences, especially biology. His knack for science and love of animals helped determine his path to becoming a doctor.
“I just loved making sick animals better,” Kolker explains.
Ever the artist, his love of animals was the influence for some of his earlier works when he ventured into sculpting. His animal sculptures included frogs, dogs, and even a rainbow trout he caught in a stream at Heckscher State Park in Huntington. Kolker had the fish cast by a taxidermist and then sculpted his two and a half foot catch. Kolker’s fish sculpture remains displayed in his gallery to this day.
Similar to many artists through the ages, Kolker has been influenced by the time period in which he lives. In Kolker’s case, that would be the digital age. “We are living in a time period in which everything is made up of dots. Even though we don’t see them.
Everything is pixelated,” That, he explains is the motivation behind his “Pixelation Art”. He began the process as early as the 1970’s. “I was making circular canvasses that I would put together in different colors,” explains Kolker.
As his pixelation art evolved through the years, his works became of larger and larger scale. He eventually outgrew the studio in his Old Westbury home, and in 2001 decided to immerse himself in the art world. “Chelsea has created its own little art universe,” Kolker explains. Like a surgeon practicing among his peers in a hospital, he wanted to be where other artists, exhibitors, and curators were, breathing in the life of the art world.
His journey from Long Island to Manhattan, or as Kolker describes it, “Crossing the Jordan river into the promised land,” is the inspiration for his current exhibition “Crossing Tenth Avenue.”
It depicts the trek he and other artists have taken into the Chelsea art world. The exhibit is a menagerie of his pixelation art, videos, and another art form influenced by our high-tech times: his light box sculptures. With the use of two-way mirrors and LED lights, the two and a half inch deep sculptures give an infinity effect through optical illusion.
To date Kolker has done 40 solo exhibitions in his Chelsea Gallery, while remaining a surgeon and Emeritus chief of cardiothoracic surgery at North Shore LIJ hospital in Glen Cove, until his recent retirement just after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. “After the hurricane I decided that one career would be sufficient,” he said. In his “spare” time he acquired his doctorate in Law.
With his continued love of both art and medicine, Kolker is busily working on his latest exhibition, set to open February 2014, entitled “Speak to me… about healthcare,” an artistic message about the current state of the healthcare system.
For more information about Kolker and his works, visit www.paulkolker.com.