Local entities to feature artist Lennie Kesl’s work and music

Gainesville artist Lennie Kesl, who died Friday at age 86, is shown at center in a 2007 photo with artists Kimberly Wilcox, left, and Kevin Nordhausen, right. (File photo)

Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 12:04 p.m.

The influence of Gainesville artist Lennie Kesl, who died Friday at age 86, may be, as limitless and undefinable as his artwork. Kesl influenced students at both the University of Florida and at Santa Fe College during a teaching career of more than 20 years, and for decades he influenced area artists and musicians in North Central Florida in ways they will also remember.

An annual exhibition featuring Kesl’s work will go on as planned in January and February at Satchel’s Pizza, 1800 NE 23rd Ave., while the Gainesville-based online radio station, Growradio.org, is this week featuring some of Kesl’s music, which includes three albums recorded over the years with area musicians.

Artist John Tilton, who collaborated with Kesl on ceramic projects for more than 32 years, says he was always impressed by the depth and breadth of knowledge that Kesl brought to their work.

“His work seems very comical and humorous, but he was always serious,” Tilton says. “Once, he was working on a large platter with two birds flying toward one another, their beaks nearly touching. He turned to me and said, ‘Look at that. That’s God touching the hand of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,’”

Gainesville singer/songwriter Cathy DeWitt, who performed on-and-off in jazz settings with Kesl for 30 years, sang in an early incarnation of the group Moondancer that included Kesl on drums. DeWitt also sang over the years with Kesl, whose distinctive voice struck DeWitt as memorably unique as his artwork struck artists.

“Lennie was just so unique and one of a kind,” DeWitt says. “And really nobody else sang like Lennie.” At the Red Onion, 3885 NW 24th Blvd., DeWitt will pay homage to Kesl on Friday with Moondancer, and on Saturday with pianist Frank Sullivan and drummer Rob Rothschild.

Kesl’s infectious zest for art and life were felt by local artists in a variety of ways, says painter Anne Gilroy.

“Lennie bestowed upon us a steady stream of goodness and of excitement for all things wonderful, from (jazz singer) Blossom Dearie to (Italian Amedeo) Modigliani. And always, odd little gifts and treats. I’m pretty sure the Leonardo’s 706 budget for complimentary mints will show a surplus now that he has left us here, bereft.”

Painter and sculptor William Schaaf describes Kesl as an “international, universal archetype,” someone who exemplified the kind of creator who simply had to make art. Kesl, Schaaf says, was “bigger than life, unable to contain himself ... colorful, so enthusiastic; a superb eye for art, a mentor, a lover of life.

“We will miss him, and we keep him alive in our hearts with our own love, passion, compassion. Thank you, Lennie.”

Kesl’s inspiration not only influenced multiple generations of artists but also in a multitude of genres, says Gainesville photographer Randy Batista. “Lennie never failed to provide support and guidance to every artist he met,” Batista says. “His artwork and encouraging spirit will continue to inspire each of us and our community.”

Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at bill.dean@gvillesun.com, and follow on Twitter @SceneBillDean.

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