Brand new oil paintings by Arizona-based artist Geoffrey Gersten are now on display at all of our galleries! Geoffrey’s works are romantic and nostalgic, allowing you to step away from everyday life for a moment to bask in their charm. Though he paints contemporary and mid-century modern subjects, Gersten is particularly inspired by the works of the old masters. A self-taught painter, Gersten immersed himself in the techniques of Dutch and Danish painters, fascinated by the history and technical aspects of oil painting.
We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Geoffrey over Zoom to get some insight into his creative process and influences. Check out a few highlights from from our chat below.
Seeing in Black and White
I started to discover black and white photos from antique stores and places like that. Something about removing the color, reducing them to just tones got my attention, but I didn’t know what to do with it. So I was just buying all these old photos and just putting them in folders.
I remember reaching this point when I was so frustrated with what I was painting at the time. For some reason it just didn’t feel natural or organic or honest. I was looking through my old photos and I just had this moment where I decided I was going to paint one of these black and white pictures. It was so explicit, and that was a jumping off point for me.
A Flood of Ideas
I’ve talked to a lot of artists, and they always say their number one issue is they don’t really know what to paint. For me, it’s like a constant stream, a flood of ideas all the time. And I can’t get to them all; I’m always making notes and saving folders in the computer and doing mock-ups.
But then I’ll go on eBay and buy 40 slides—large format film, Kodachrome slides or Ektachrome—and there’ll be one picture that’s just so beautiful. And it’s original, amateur photography that someone just happened to take in 1950. And I’m like, “This kills all the ideas. I have to do something with that image.”
It’s a Sign
The first time I saw a real 1950s neon sign, I was standing underneath it looking up, and I saw how the sun was sparkling on the neon tubes. The tube is sort of offset from the form of the figure; it’s isolated in the air, catching the light and casting a shadow. Suddenly, I was just in awe.
I sent a painting recently of the neon sign diver in the daylight sky. [Lady of the Lake] That particular one is in Mesa, Arizona. I’m like a quarter mile down the street from the sign, and I lift my giant zoom lens. It zooms in right on the face of the diver. From where I was for a moment, the way the neon turned, it looked like she was smiling like the slightest bit. Then I realized it’s almost like this spirit of the woman diving is still kind of alive inside of there. Like it’s elucidated somehow by the movement of the line, just like a Matisse drawing.
Best Quality Ingredients
I buy paint from New York and Chelsea called Vasari. They use beautiful earth minerals and those metallics [that you see in the paintings] aren’t actually metallic pigment. The different earth minerals shine in different ways because they’re actually all different sizes. Some of them can’t build to a powder; they have to be more like a little tiny grain of salt. So then depending on which one goes into the palette, it will look like it’s sparkling and shining.
When they come out right, they look so good in the gallery and people are always asking me, “How did you do that?” Well, first of all, I work hard at it, but also it’s just because I buy really high quality paint. You hear that everywhere—you’re driving home and you pass by a burrito shop and it says “best quality ingredients.” And then you go somewhere else and it says “best quality.” So here we go: “best quality ingredients in the painting.”
Breaking the Cycle
How do I say this without sounding really corny? It’s almost like when I’m looking at these old photos and one of them stands out because it has this magical, ethereal quality that kind of transcends the banality of everyday life.
Life is like cyclical. It’s boring. We live according to the circadian rhythm. We do 24 hours and then we do seven days in a week and we do 365 days a year. It just repeats itself. I want someone to look at the painting and be lifted just a little from the banality of everyday existence.