The Vault Gallery: For 15 years, Marilyn Kalish’s showcase of eclectic creativity

Great Barrington — For artist Marilyn Kalish, it’s all about focus, and her focus is not just on making art. “You can get weird,” she cautions, without an outside focus, which, for this Great Barrington resident, she finds scouring estate sales and auctions. The result is an eclectic mix of acquisitions, from gilded mirrors and crystal chandeliers to tasseled pillows and richly upholstered furniture, that reflect not only Kalish’s creativity but also her keen response to “stand[ing] in front of blank surfaces: she must make something happen.” This something, for Kalish, has come in both the guise of a lifelong career as an artist as well as an entrepreneur. In April Kalish celebrated her 15th anniversary as founder and owner of the Vault Gallery where she has built a venue in which to showcase her artwork and to “connect with people out of absolute authentic curiosity.”

Kalish “grew up in [art] studios” and all she knew growing up was how to be a writer, an artist or a sculptor. “My senses perk up–[and I] know I’m home,” she says of the smell, in particular, she associates with her early studio experiences. Kalish feels at home with clutter, noting that the eclectic feel of a salon is what she has sought all along. “I never wanted Chelsea chic,” she explains, noting the unique and different stamp she has put on her gallery located in the historic Mahaiwe Bank building at 322 Main St. Kalish wanted to “see [her] art juxtaposed against something beautiful” and she has done just that.

“Mediocracy is not something I can live with,” says Kalish, who is constantly seeking momentum and an answer to the ever-present question “What’s going to make me show up?” Kalish describes herself as “very specific – not a vague human,” which presents itself through her creativity. She is hardly boastful; rather, she sees herself as “a big machine [that] must keep going.” Kalish works in series which keeps her disciplined. This approach also allows her to follow a line of investigation, noting that “something will [eventually] inspire me.”

Clad in classic black pants and an accordion-pleated tuxedo blouse, Kalish sports a fantastic pair of red slip-on shoes that espouse the juxtaposition that permeates her approach to all things. She points to a red velvet armchair with a complementary yellow throw pillow; and in her paintings, echoes of red so often allow the viewer an invitation to “catch glimpses” of other elemental interplay. It is in this vein that Kalish has the ability to “generate an insane amount of work.”

Kalish sees the creative process as constant. “As I’m dozing off, [my ideas] are incubating” she explains.  “I wake up with resolution, occasionally, of things I’m struggling with,” but that is not always the case. For Kalish, who lives a life of ritual, she is always struggling with something. She views cracking the proverbial code – either with regard to material, content, technique, size, texture or color – as part of the ongoing creative process. Kalish has found great success in her artistic pursuits.

“My intent is to throw out something lighter into the world, not to decorate the world,” she differentiates. However, in the midst of the frenetic pace she keeps, there is an admission: “There’s a lot to be said for sitting still. When in doubt, sit still,” she divulges.

In her studio, located on Railroad Street, Kalish gets “down and dirty” with her creative process. She uses the word “gritty” to describe the space and the process where she can be found working on 10 to 15 pieces at any given time. She works on all surfaces – including canvas, paper, wood, and glass panels – “anything, really,” she says, noting that she likes to work directly on the wall where her large pieces are quite literally tacked up. She works in all mediums including encaustics (commonly known as hot wax painting) but favors oils, noting that “they never invented anything better.” This process of having her hands quite literally in multiple pieces at once leaves little room for getting stuck.

Kalish quotes a Zen-like proverb that states, “do not seek what your sages found; seek what they sought.” Historically there have been two approaches for artists: reinvent the wheel or accept the baton. The latter resonates most clearly with Kalish, who pays close attention to what came before her in the world of art. She has an extensive collection of art books, which she looks to as her teachers. She has a pragmatic approach and cites Leonardo [daVinci] as her favorite artist when asked to pick one, pointing out his skill as a draftsperson. “I know how to draw,” Kalish says, spiral-bound sketchbook open on her lap, noting the importance of “mark-making, actively,” even if those lines are never seen in a finished work.

Kalish, in her journey as artist and entrepreneur, has embraced social media: she has made connections around the globe, evidenced by the gallery in Sussex, England, where she is currently showing, and a French poet who used her images in a collection of his original work. “’Make bold moves and powerful forces will come to your aid,’” quotes Kalish; suffice it to say that the opening of the Vault Gallery is one such bold move. For Marilyn Kalish, the gorgeous figure drawings and landscapes that fill the old bank vault on the corner of Castle and Main are just a sliver of the treasure that awaits anyone who takes the time to stop in and fill their senses with the experience of “l’art pour l’art.”