What’s all the buzz about?

The Wayne County Arts Alliance presents art by John Kascht

Posted 5/15/24

HONESDALE, PA — The energy spilling out onto the sidewalk pulls you into the brightly lit gallery. People are talking and it’s all about the exciting art exhibition now on display at the …

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What’s all the buzz about?

The Wayne County Arts Alliance presents art by John Kascht


HONESDALE, PA — The energy spilling out onto the sidewalk pulls you into the brightly lit gallery. People are talking and it’s all about the exciting art exhibition now on display at the Wayne County Arts Alliance (WCAA) in downtown Honesdale until Saturday, June 15.

As I’m wandering into the gallery, I am drawn in by the beautifully displayed illustrations and panels. Life-size portraits of Bill Murray, Whoopi Goldberg and Toni Morrison, done in India ink and watercolor on paper, line the walls. I am greeted cheerfully with a glass of wine. People are actually talking to each other and sharing observations. How refreshing this feels—enjoying art on a beautiful day.

The exhibition features illustrations, sculptures and sketches by John Kascht, taken from four decades of publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, Esquire Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, the Washington Times and many others. 

Many of the illustrations are caricatures; they are portraits that easily convey the celebrity persona peeking underneath. 

Kascht says that caricature as an art form emphasizes the “crucial role of observation in the making of a likeness.” 

As I move further into the gallery, a clay sculpture of Conan O’Brien’s head under a bell jar catches my eye. There, standing with his hand on the glass is the artist, John Kascht. He is gracious and welcoming, chatting with everyone. Kascht signs his book, which is titled “Making Faces”—it’s a collection of Kascht’s iconic portraits. We get to talking about the exhibit. 

“This piece is one of my favorites in the exhibit,” Kascht tells me. He teamed up with Conan O’Brien and photographer A. Greg Raymond to create the film “Funny Bones: Anatomy of a Celebrity Caricature” for the Smithsonian’s educational division. “The fact he uses his distinctive appearance as a comic prop places him in a tradition of physical comedy that stretches back to vaudeville and silent film, when comedians cultivated a look, and the look itself was inseparable from their comedic style.”

So who is John Kascht? Kascht wears his long white beard like a cloak, puffy and long, perhaps protecting him just a bit. His deep blue-green eyes sparkle, vibrant and aware of his surroundings. 

He is originally from Waukesha, WI, and Kascht remembers his love affair with drawing people started around fifth grade. Given an interest in anatomy gleaned from watching his father’s work as a pathologist, Kascht gained an interest in people. 

He presents a concentrated version of the person he is drawing; his intent is not to alter but to amplify. “The point is not to distort a person’s appearance but to present an intensified picture of precisely what makes the person unique and recognizable. That’s why a carefully observed caricature can seem more like someone than a traditional portrait or even a photo. The most successful examples capture a glimmer of the personality living beneath the surface. 

“It’s paradoxical: For all its irreverence and humor, a caricature aims to get it right,” he continued. “As far as I can tell, my drawings make observations, not judgments. I’m not interested in pushing my point of view. What I may think about the individuals I draw is far less interesting than what they say about themselves through their own outward appearances.”

Indeed, Kascht is the celebrity caricaturist. “No red-carpet stalker has observed celebrities more closely than caricature artist John Kascht,” writes Wendy Wick Reaves in a post on the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery website. 

The walls of the WCAA gallery depict drawings of Abe Lincoln, Mick Jagger, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Martin Scorsese, Burt Lancaster and many others, along with information about the artist’s process. When asked about that process, Kascht said, “As far as I’m concerned, caricature isn’t about distortion at all. It’s not a funhouse mirror. It’s a mirror. When you caricature someone, you isolate what makes the person an individual. How that person is unique is the subject matter, and it gets amplified. That’s why a strong caricature can seem more like the person than the flesh-and-blood person.”

As Kascht welcomes other visitors to the gallery, I meander past a group of people chatting over freshly made bread and cheese. That’s one of the wonderful things about this small town. Walk into any shop in Honesdale and you’ll get to talking and soon make a friend. “Have you seen Kascht’s new book?” my gallery friend Jay asks me. 

“Yes—I actually own a copy.” 

“Then you’ll really enjoy the exhibition upstairs,” Jay says. “It’s all about the book.”

Upstairs are Kascht’s illustrations and clay models from his latest book, “The Mysteries.” Written by Bill Watterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) and illustrated by Kascht and Watterson, the best-selling book is a fable that reminds us of the relationship between fears, superstitions and human suffering. The black-and-white illustrations are dark and ominous, lending a haunting quality to the story within. 

The five-year collaboration gave both artists the ability to shift from their usual drawing styles. The finished illustrations are pieces by two artists with very different approaches. Watterson described it as “driving a car with two steering wheels.” The juxtaposition of Kascht’s detailed work with Watterson’s fluidity created a work that is like a dream, one that will appear many times with a different meaning each time. The 3D clay pieces are models for the book and they beg to be scrutinized: each one a tiny puzzle of scraps of cardboard and metal, wood and clay. Kascht “envisions something where there is nothing and gives it form.” 

Working on “The Mysteries,” Kascht rediscovered a simple joy he knew as a child. “I love making detailed things out of cruddy materials and glue.” 

The John Kascht “Turning Pages” exhibit provides a window into the process of the art and the artist and is on view at the Wayne County Arts Alliance Gallery through June 15. The gallery is located at 959 Main St. Visit the website at waynecountyartsalliance.org. Learn more about John Kascht at www.johnkascht.com

Annette Kulick-Hickey is living her life with passion and the enjoyment of art, writing and gardening. She and her husband, Robert, are currently restoring their 200-year-old Colonial house in Honesdale.

wayne county arts alliance, honesdale, gallery, portraits, John Kascht


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