Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Visionary Art of Dov Gertzweig

I have come to consider ‘New Age’ art as the latest addition to the rich corpus of self-taught visionary art, which includes the work of such luminaries as Sister Gertrude Morgan and the Shaker sister Polly Collins. Like all visionary artists, New Age artists construct alternative worlds detached from yet intrinsic to our own. These worlds are homiletic worlds, created to instruct, admonish, and enrich the world of the mundane; in no way, therefore, are we to imagine these worlds as merely autistic fantasies created for the artist’s own delectation. Although the worlds created by New Age visionaries are often incomprehensible to those on the outside, their images must nonetheless be read as texts, as visionary literature meant to communicate truths thought worthy of universal comprehension.

Gary “Dov” Gertzweig of Southern California is one such New Age artist. Born in North Hollywood, Gertzweig recalls how a visit to Yosemite in his youth awakened the environmental consciousness that would come to permeate his work. Initially trained as a musician, he has found outlet in the visual arts as well, in murals and "cosmic paintings;" thus, to Gertzweig, art and song seem to spring from the same visionary impulse, much as they did to Sister Gertrude Morgan and the Shakers.

Indeed, this intertwining of art and song seems to imbue his paintings with a distinct rhythm, but it is neither as frenetic and feverish as in the work of Ody Saban nor as jubilant as that of Sister Gertrude Morgan, two other self-taught visionaries Gertzweig's work recalls. Instead, his paintings seem to shimmer with the pulsing electricity that trickles through the veins of living plants. It is no wonder, then, that he imbues his paintings with heavy doses of vibrant greens and shimmering blues.

Gertzweig incorporates realistically rendered animals, archetypal human figures, swirling stylized plants, and the ubiquitous deep blues of sea and sky into his teeming compositions. He plants these Edens with botanical forms evoking redwoods, coast live oaks, and tropical plants, recalling California’s native landscapes and the exotic pastiche of the luxurious SoCal gardens all around him. Perhaps in response to the expansive views off the California coastline where sky and sea become one, the air and water in Gertzweig’s paintings often flow into each other, creating an uneasy sense of horizon loss and collapsed perspective. This results in works that are simultaneously flat and vast, as if the viewer is gazing in upon the moment of Creation. Asserts Gertzweig: “art can make a moment become eternal.”

Out of Southern California’s brown and brittle chaparral and L.A.’s smog and congestion, Gertzweig has created an alternative world filled with gardens of green, living things and sparkling air and water. Where tired urban postmoderns isolate themselves, trudge, and kvetch, the beings in Gertzweig’s world are radiant and harmonious. “Imagine our world,” the dolphins of the Astral Ocean told him, “where there are no possessions, no countries, abundance and no greed. This is our gift, our consciousness, and we wish to share it with you.”

Gertzweig’s response to his Southern California homeland, therefore, is the same as that of every other visionary artist dissatisfied with sin or vice in their communities. Where the Shakers recorded the whisperings of angels and spirits and Sister Gertrude Morgan captured visions of the New Jerusalem, Gertzweig has here created an alternative world that seeks to demonstrate both how our own world was and the way it could be. Collapsing perspective, time, and place into images of concentrated meaning, Gertzweig has created potent yet seemingly innocuous polemics against the political, social, and biological status quo.

(Image: "Cosmic Egg." Dov Gertzweig, begun 1990)

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