Artist Garry Kaulitz brings a lifetime of ideas to his OFF Arte Contemporáneo gallery exhibition
By Stephen Vargha
A three-month long art exhibit just opened up in Cuenca that Boris Ordóñez considers to be the most important one his curated gallery, OFF Arte Contemporáneo, has ever had.
“Of all of the artists that have been exhibited here, Garry is in a class all by himself,” said Boris. “Making it even better is that Garry lives in Cuenca.”
Boris is talking about Garry Kaulitz, an American expat who has resided in Cuenca for seven years. Garry has been in over 300 exhibitions across the world and in over 60 one-person shows. His latest, at OFF Arte Contemporáneo, will have 85 prints on exhibition.
“We brought at least half of his works from Alaska just for this exhibit,” said Boris.
Shipping the artwork 5,800 miles to Cuenca may be the shortest part of the journey for the prints by Garry. “I grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, but left home when I was 16 years old,” said Garry. “I moved to Rochester, New York to live with my older sister.”
Garry received a scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology, one of the top universities in the United States that combines technology, the arts, and design. “I got a great deal with the university,” said Garry. “If I took 21 hours per semester for three years, they would give me two degrees.”
Fifteen hours of classes is considered a full load and most college students take four years to graduate. Garry fulfilled the agreement and graduated from the university with honors. He ended up with two master’s degrees: Art Education, and Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking.
Upon graduation, Garry chose to be in education. “I taught high school for three years in Rochester. It was my purgatory,” said Garry with a laugh. “I loved the kids, but I was always in the principal’s office.”
Being the 1960s, his style for his art classes was definitely unorthodox for that time. “I was brought in one time for wine bottles,” said Garry. “The principal asked me if I thought this was good idea. I asked him why he asked that, and he told me the kids will think I drank all of that wine. I told him I did! And that the bottles are beautiful.”
Leaving the wine bottles behind, Garry went for the bourbon bottles. “I used to hang out with a bunch of Kentucky hillbillies who would get drunk all of the time on bourbon,” said Garry. “I was out of control with alcohol. I asked my doctor for help, and he said he would not see me until I stopped drinking.”
The life of booze was during his time at the Louisville School of Art. It was founded in 1942, continuing until 1983 when it closed and was absorbed by the University of Louisville. From 1969 to 1982, Garry taught printmaking and all facets of drawing.
“It was a school that did not have many rules. People were sleeping in the attic,” said Garry. “Despite the lack of rules at the school, I got fired for alcoholism.”
His firing was eight years before the Americans with Disabilities Act which mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees and offers guidance on what conditions qualify as disabilities. That includes alcoholism.
Immediately upon being fired, Garry sought help with Alcoholics Anonymous. “I am now a liberated man,” said Garry. “I quit drinking in 1990 and have not had a drink since.”
The “liberation” helped Garry set up his own contract printing business in Louisville. He ran it until 1993 when he received a call from The Last Frontier. For Garry, it was just the beginning of a rewarding arts career.
“I was offered a job at the University of Alaska Anchorage,” said Garry. “I really did well in Anchorage; I can’t complain.”
While at the university, Garry was well aware of the ultimatum that is known to academics about original research. It concerns risk damaging your reputation or even losing a professorship. “The university world is ‘publish or perish’,” said Garry. “My artwork was my publishing so I quickly rose through the ranks.”
“Because I was not drinking, I got grants to go all over the world,” said Garry. That included a half-year in China.
During his time at the university, Garry instilled the oldest, and still the most powerful teaching tactic for fostering critical thinking. “I am a Socrative teacher. I enjoy nothing more than interchange with adults to pass on knowledge and to gain knowledge,” said Garry. “I was a hard teacher, but a fair one.”
He gave only one assignment per semester. “It would be something like, ‘Tell me who you are’,” said Garry. The goal was to prompt the student to express themselves through their artwork. It was what the professor was doing with his prints.
Garry never gave out grades during his time at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He felt that was not the right approach so at the end of the semester, he would hand each student a seven-page report on their progress.
He retired from the public university as a Professor Emeritus. It is an honor by a university for distinguished contributions to academia. The status is not conferred automatically based on the fact of retirement alone.
“Printing seemed to be a second way to make a living and enjoy life,” said Garry. “I like to say I never worked in my life. It was very satisfying.”
Having “never worked” had produced 1,500 prints of numerous styles in his lifetime. “I never tried to develop a style,” said Garry. “I would take an idea and milk it before moving on to another style and milking it.”
One of Garry’s styles involves “The Seven Deadly Sins of American Foreign Policy.” It is seven separate 60-inch by 30-inch pieces with two layers. The bottom layer was printed at his university’s press while the over sheets were drawn by hand with Chinese and English words for the seven deadly sins, which are Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth, and Wrath.
On his website, Garry said, “I am an American and have spent the entirety of my political life believing in the strength of our constitutional form of democracy and in particular the Bill of Rights. Though I am not so naïve to think that inequalities, injustices, influence peddling and other wrongdoings weren’t going on I did believe, however, that our system had developed the tools, checks and balances to keep us in an overall ethically upward path.”
The prologue for this powerful set of prints’ exhibit at OFF Arte Contemporáneo said, “I have always believed in the American Dream and always thought it was in an upwards path. But I no longer believe that.”
It was this group of prints that started the artist’s journey to Cuenca. “Between knowing that Donald Trump was going to win in 2016 and that the American Dream was dead, my wife and I moved to Cuenca,” said Garry.
Though retired, Garry’s work did not stop. He opened a print shop that he closed in 2021. “I did a lot of printing in those years,” said Garry. “I taught classes during that time to a mix of expats and Ecuadorians.”
Health has slowed Garry down, but not stopped the 80-year-old. “A year ago, I was in the hospital, and they told me I have two weeks to a month to live,” said Garry. “Now every time I see my doctor, she tells me I am a (frickin’) miracle.”
Though his days of printing over, Garry still presides over his exhibitions. After Cuenca, some of his works will be at an international printmakers’ exhibition in Guayaquil, where he is the only guest artist.
When not exhibiting, Garry enjoys the slower life in southwest Cuenca. “My wife and I live in a complex of eight houses down a dirt road. It is very quiet,” said Garry. “The only thing I truly miss is El Centro.”
OFF Arte Contemporáneo, Av. 10 de Agosto 4-364 y Federico Proaño, Cuenca, 099-944-5088, firstname.lastname@example.org, Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Facebook: Garry Kaulitz
Photos by Stephen Vargha