Adventures in Abstraction: Philip Gerstein at Galatea

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Open System 2 36x36 adj
Philip Gerstein, “Open System 2,” oil stick and acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36″ All photos courtesy the artist.

By Olivia J. Kiers

In a world dominated by conceptual and installation art, Philip Gerstein is an abstract painter, loyal to the modern pioneers of abstraction and color perception, for example, Wassily Kandinsky. “Perceptual art is so emotive,” says Gerstein, echoing Kandinsky’s voice in key works like Concerning the Spiritual in Art. “It moves you, similar to music.”

Gerstein’s current solo show of recent work, Wild at Heart: Works on Paper and Other Adventures, in Boston’s SoWa district at Galatea Fine Art—of which he is a founding member—is a riot of color and form. Gerstein’s dynamic abstractions resist stasis, and I found myself glancing from image to image. The show is energetic, joyous and intellectually demanding; alas, it is also overwhelming. This is hardly a judgment on the paintings individually. As Gerstein says, “each piece holds its own weight.” It is unfortunate that they are not quite given the surrounding negative space they require in Galatea’s cozy gallery.

Universe in a Grain of Sand 20x30 med
“Universe in a Grain of Sand,” oil stick, acrylic, and mixed media on wood panel, 20 x 30″

Yet this is a small hiccup in what is a masterful solo show. Gerstein’s works reveal a compelling hand, with mark-making that is as continually searching and varied. Gerstein points to Universe in a Grain of Sand as one of his favorites, its diffuse bursts of color and short, antic strokes “a summation of the things [he’d] been doing.” Meanwhile, on the same wall, Metamorphoses is an organizational balance of subtle variations, where a blue rectangle of shimmering, horizontal strokes leans against a vertical yellow stripe. What unites both of these works (and indeed a number of the paintings in the show) is their fractal quality. In other words, the viewer can find in each, singular element of these works some expression of the work’s entirety, and vice versa.

“Metamorphoses,” oil stick, acrylic, and mixed media on wood panel, 40 x 30″

Whether this effect is intentional or not, it is hardly surprising that something of the sort should occur, given that Gerstein paints so deliberately, yet instinctively. “I probably belong to a minority of people who don’t imagine what they are going to paint before they paint it. Once I imagine a painting, it’s done for me… I don’t know where the piece is going… Sometimes, when I see something really interesting and new to me, I keep working and the piece keeps pushing me. Other times, I have to hold back, to put it away and wait while working on something else. At some point, things reach equilibrium—a balance. At that point, I ask myself questions like, Could this go further? Often times, the answer is still maybe a little bit!” Gerstein can take years to complete a painting.

And so, bright colors notwithstanding, it is understandable that each of Gerstein’s paintings, whether on paper or canvas, makes serious demands on the viewer’s time and attention. “Perceptual art is not just about what you see,” Gerstein explains. “It’s about how you communicate to others. It takes time and you have to allow yourself to adjust to what is there.” As a viewer, give these works time and attention—it’s an investment that is sure to be rewarding.

Wild at Heart: Works on Paper and Other Adventures is on view at Galatea Fine Art through April 30.

Marvelous review -- well earned!
Posted by: Linda J. Hirsch    On: Apr 28, 2017 4:10 pm
Stunning work! I am a huge fan of Schiele, Nolde, Dubuffet, Soutine, and Philip's art seems to evolve from each of them, in integration, but establishing its own, unique presence and statement. If I were rich, I'd buy his all, and steep in it for the rest of my life.
Posted by: Thomas Kennett    On: Apr 27, 2017 12:31 am

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