gutoskeyJohn Gutoskey’s “Magic Theater”

John Gutoskey’s art boxes embody the interior worlds of an extrovert; meticulously organized in overlays of “found” imagery, color-wheel fancy and fractured multiples that include Renaissance portraiture, sacred heart iconography and lives of the saints, the circus, Buddhism, and the body Gutoskey’s assemblages proclaim miniature universes. Flea market and cathedral reliquary collide. Shrine and game board vie for attention; enigmatic messages lurk beneath happy coincidences and bizarre juxtapositions in an attempt to make some sense out of all the chaos from the detritus of the world.

John Gutoskey was born and raised in Wickliffe, Ohio, the seventh of eight children. Tamed of his hyperactivity with a constant feed of “craft abuse,” he gravitated towards a career in costume design, earning a BFA in Theater Design with a minor in sculpture from Webster University. As a design assistant in New York City and on movie shoots and at regional theaters around the country, he haunted fabric stores, flea markets, thrift stores, and every store in Manhattan from Bloomingdale’s to Canal Street for period-perfect items. Along the way he continued to amass an eclectic stash of collectibles, a habit begun in his teen years. Moving to Chicago to pursue his own line of clothing and hat design, labeled “Head-On Collision”– he was then courted by the University of Michigan Department of Theater and Drama to run their costume shop. Coming to Ann Arbor in 1987, he designed costumes for numerous university and local dance and theater productions and for the dance works of his partner, Peter Sparling.

Pursuing an interest in the healing arts and spirituality, he began to apprentice with Linda Diane Feldt, a local holistic body worker and to study meditation and Buddhism under Barbara Brodsky. Eventually, he left his position at the university to devote himself full-time to a therapeutic bodywork practice. Frustrated with the limitations of free-lance costume design, he gave it up and began working alone in his basement studio on his own art.

Whereas the collaborative demands of costume design had left him feeling the desire to speak more in his own personal voice, Gutoskey’s newfound interest in making art on his own terms resulted in an outpouring of new work. Exploring the media of assemblages, “found” objects and shadow boxes, he was inspired by the works of Joseph Cornell, Betye Saar, and other assemblage artists as well as Pop Art, ancient art, Mexican, Brazilian, African, and Italian art, outsider art, sideshow graphics, Art Brut, the Surrealists and religious art to evolve his own unmistakable style: a perfect mirror for his gregarious, highly animated personality. The obsessive collector in Gutoskey met the trained visual artist half-way. In a short time, the home he shares with Sparling, his partner, was filled with a dazzling collection of “art boxes.”

Although no longer involved in the world of the stage, John Gutoskey continues to play in that rarified universe of illusion and fragmented narrative, presenting his own vision of a personal “magic theater” that speaks to the imagination and the spirit with wit, humor and a multiform but coherent sense of courage.