Critique 1: Jonas Gerard Gallery

12 Mar

I visited the gallery/studio of artist Jonas Gerard. Though he was born in Casablanca, Morocco, he established his studio and gallery in the River Arts District of Asheville, NC. He is essentially a self-taught artist who utilizes a variety of media, including acrylics, found objects, wood and steel to create a plethora of works whose subject matter ranges from abstract sculptures to self-portraits. His subject matter varies with his individual works, and many of his abstract works are non-representational. His works can be seen in such venues as the Bass Museum of Art in Miami, FL, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC and in a permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
According to his artist statement posted on his biography in the gallery, he ascertains that art, particularly abstract art, is a way to set one’s inhibitions free and unleash a world of infinite possibilities. This philosophy not only manifests itself in his work, but it also lingers in the atmosphere of his gallery. However, his affinity for bright, bold colors and equally valiant brushstrokes are obvious. Most of his abstract paintings follow a similar polychromatic color scheme that include audacious shades of pinks, starlets and oranges that contrast beautifully with the slightly subtler, yet no less profound, shades of purple and indigo.
Yet, he also possesses the ability to exercise restraint and create aesthetically flawless, realistic works. Sketches and paintings of his daughter and other family members are simplistic in form and traditional in medium choice (charcoal on paper), but clearly have significant context. The importance of the people in particular that he paints is revealed in the delicate details of the otherwise unsophisticated works. The sketch of his daughter, for instance, illustrates her kneeling on the ground, carefully plucking flowers from a pasture. The pasture itself is merely a few tufts of gray sprouting from the white background. In the space above the girl, though, is a shadow-like image of her in a slightly different position, with her face more exposed as she selects her flowers. This almost divine representation suggests that he views his daughter as angelic.
Origin and history are critical components in many of his representational works. One such work is We The People, which is probably his most famous. It summarizes two hundred years of American history in a single, unified vision. He manages to synthesize sensitive images of war and strife with symbols of patriotic strength and freedom. It is because of this incredible fusion that this painting is considered the nation’s Bicentennial portrait and is on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute. His deeply rooted connection to history also displays itself in a number of paintings that depict village countrysides. The rural scenes portray quaint parishes nestled amongst lovingly green hills. The Mediterranean-like white washed houses with cheerfully colored roofs are settled neatly against one another, implying a sense of community. This reflects Gerard’s fondness for Morocco and his childhood memories.
Geography, too, is a focal aspect for many of his works. The mountains surrounding his gallery are depicted in a number of acrylic landscapes. Here again he splatters almost shockingly brilliant warm colors alongside a cool cobalt or sapphire to play up a luminous sun against a mountainous horizon. His use of starkly contrasting color brings an almost supernatural quality to such a humble subject.
His sculptures differ widely in their physical attributes (e.g. size, shape, material, functionality, etc.); hence, their conceptual meanings are likewise varied. Some reflect his trademark use of color, such as his collection of heart-shaped pieces. The swirling patterns indicate a hint of lightheartedness while the heart as a subject is symbolic of intense passion. These types of elemental contrast are what characterize the work of Jonas Gerard. His functional sculptures include several styles of bowls and other serving vessels, mostly made of wood. They, too, employ intense, flowing color and enjoy similar aesthetics to his series of abstract works. His abstract pieces are somewhat materially complex—many are composed of wood, steel, and found and painted objects—and are consequently artistically perplexing. The jumbled form and frazzled mix of textures and shapes create a slightly overwhelming experience. The sensory overload could come across as extraneous, and it would be easy to dismiss the deeper connotations of these pieces. They are intended to be expressions of creative zeal and to allow each viewer to obtain a different interpretation.
His use of formal elements varies with his media and type of work. In the abstract pieces, for example, the use of line is viscous and indistinct. Instead, strati of color insinuate fluidity and limitless boundaries. Specific spatial structure is absent in this type of work, suggesting it be regarded as an abysmal continuum that neither begins nor ends in a particular place. His representational works, on the other hand, employ precise lines to establish purposeful shapes and clear boundaries that together form a definite, recognizable image. Color plays merely a supporting role in these pieces. In fact, some sketches are done only in pencil, which generates a monochromatic scheme. Explicit spatial relationships guide the eye through the picture in a predetermined fashion. A softer, more meticulous approach to formalism is used in these pieces. Infinity and spontaneity are central to his work because they echo his initial instinct regarding art and its purpose: to free the mind and soul from prejudice, criticism and judgment.
Iconography is used sparingly in his work. Perhaps the best example is We the People, in which he tells a visual story of the United States with iconic American symbols, people and colors (e.g. the bald eagle, George Washington, and red, white and blue). Hearts are a reoccurring motif throughout his work. A collection of paintings as well as a series of sculptures features the heart as a symbol of endearment and genuine passion.
Jonas Gerard is an incredibly diverse artist whose creative gifts are undeniable. His assortment of works in a variety of media reiterates his astonishing range. As a gangly, awkward adolescent growing up amongst international anxiety, he was able to sense a changing world and channel it visually through art. He utilizes his talent to unite the elements of life and create masterpieces that bring people together. His works both delightfully confuse and definitely please viewers of all kinds. His gallery and studio is akin to an all you can eat buffet for art folk: There’s something for everyone.


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