University of Vermont

College of Arts and Sciences

In Tandem

Art Hop project reunites alumna and professor

Artist Bill Davison, screen-printer Leo Listi, and artist Gerrit Gollner discuss next steps on Davison and Gollner's collaborative project "tandem," which will be released in an edition of 60 prints at this weekend's South End Art Hop. (Photo: Grace Weaver)

It’s early August, and Bill Davison, professor emeritus of art, and Gerrit Göllner ’98, a former student, are in the early stages of a collaborative print project. As they look over initial sketches and discuss directions at the Iskra Print Collective in the basement of JDK Design on Maple Street, Davison is the first to shelve the notion that he and Göllner will labor under any sort of vestigial teacher-student hierarchy. That ended long ago, says Davison, as soon as Göllner graduated and began a stint as a teaching assistant in the art department. “At that point there was no sense that I was any different than she was,” Davison says. “She was just a young artist and I was an older artist.”

Incipient talent and a prodigious work ethic combined to drive Göllner’s rapid development during her student years and after graduation. A key milestone along the way was a 1994 exhibit titled “Rake,” curated by fellow alumna Rachel Comey ’94 for the Exquisite Corpse Gallery. Now known as JDK Gallery, the space is just upstairs in the JDK building where Göllner has been painting and printing during her residency over the past month.

Most of the pieces in “Rake” sold, and it drew the attention of many in the Burlington art community. Michael Jager and Giovanna Di Paola, founders of the JDK firm, bought one of the paintings, their first serious investment in art, and grew to be friends with Göllner and continuing supporters of her work.

“Giovanna and I both felt very connected to Gerrit’s work somehow,” Jager says. “For me, I just find her range of emotion is really dramatic. The paintings she’s working on right now are very optimistic and alive, and she’s being affected by the surroundings she’s working in. But I also think she’s done some very heavy, deep mood pieces that I really, really love and react to. On a formal level, the composition and rhythm of what she makes is absolutely incredible and just has stopping power to it.”

Göllner makes her living with her art and makes her home in Cologne, Germany these days. But a confluence of family, friends, and the Burlington art scene conspired to bring her back in August and September. Eleazer Durfee ’86, a member of UVM’s Fleming Museum Board, and John Bates, owner of Black Horse Art Supply, proposed bringing Göllner to Burlington for a residency leading up to a show during this year’s South End Art Hop. JDK stepped up with space for her to work at Iskra and the assistance of highly skilled printmaker Leo Listi, a JDK staff member who manages the Iskra Collective. And her longtime friend Janie Cohen, Fleming Museum director, offered a place to stay.

Göllner’s been at work since early August — undaunted by an Aug. 29 bike accident in which she seriously injured her right hand — and will premiere new paintings, drawings and the print collaboration with Davison at this weekend’s South End Art Hop.

Her show, titled “voiceovers,” opens at JDK Gallery with a reception on Friday, Sept. 7, beginning at 6 p.m.

From snow to paint

Gerrit Göllner left UVM as an artist, but she had arrived as an elite athlete, a varsity Nordic skier for the Catamounts. The grind of training and competition burned her out, Göllner says, just at the time that she was feeling a strong draw into her academic work and an emerging interest in art. She remembers Chip LaCasse, former head of the Catamount ski program, with fondness for the space he gave her to decide her course.

That led to leaving the team and taking time off from school, working various jobs, hitchhiking across Tibet. “I did some craziness,” Göllner says. When she returned to UVM, she was no longer a varsity skier, but Göllner brought that same athlete’s focus and intensity to her study of art.

One of her first stops was Bill Davison’s lithography class, already fully enrolled at fifteen. “She came in at the end and she just begged me,” the professor recalls. “I didn’t know who she was, and suddenly I had this sixteenth student that I didn’t want in the class. But within a month it was so apparent that she was so beyond anyone in terms of comprehending the process and making the most inventive work I’d seen in many, many years.”

Her talents included the ability to figure out ways to get into the Williams Hall studios after hours. When she later became a teaching assistant, a set of keys to the building was a major perk, Göllner says. Together with her professors and ski coaches, she includes the UVM security and custodial staff she came to know working those late nights as influences on her.

Reflecting on those years, Davison tells Göllner, “What you were was an extremely important model for the students for your work ethic. It was discipline. It was vigorous. And it required sustained involvement.”

Some fifteen years down the road, the two artists consider how this collaboration, the first they’ve shared, will work. Davison offered a potential starting point, an intriguing news photograph of shark fins lined up on a wharf in China. Göllner immediately liked it, and they began moving forward with a basic plan for a work structured with quadrants: two for Göllner, two for Davison, and the liberty to “intervene,” even “invade,” one another’s graphic turf.

As Göllner talks about recent collaborative work with other artists that create a dialogue, she lets slip with the word “fun,” the use of which in connection with art is a well fed pet peeve for Davison. He feels strongly that words like discipline, vigorous and sustained involvement (see above) are more apt for discussions of the creative process.

So Göllner stops herself, cracks a wide smile, and apologizes. “When I use that word 'fun,' I mean when you see connections happening,” she says. “You’re not sitting and thinking all the time, but you’re noticing that this flow is happening and connections are happening.”

She uses the f-word again, laughs, and says, “I can’t get away from the word 'fun' right now.”

It’s a measure of both friendship and respect when Davison smiles wryly and says with mock anger, “Go ahead, say fun all you want.”

Gerrit Göllner and Bill Davison’s collaboration — titled “tandem” — is being printed in an edition of sixty and selling for $300 each. For additional information about purchasing prints, contact william.davison@uvm.edu.

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