“All art is a convector of revolution, eye soul mind. Art
Functions as revolution, as the means to convey the
Maker’s absorption pads, and squeeze it out enabling you
To enjoin in experience, silently or reactionarily. It’s the
Duty of the artist to create without boundaries, except
Those which are self-imposed. It is the artist who brings
To your consciousness, growth. It is the participants
Responsibility to remain open and fearless.”
— Bill Gersh
Outlaws, trailblazers, mavericks, outsiders and rebels. This is the league of iconoclasts and vanguard artists that enjoyed the company of the late Bill Gersh (1943-1994).
Works by Gersh will be showcased during April in the exhibit “Bill Gersh: Trailblazer,” at magpie in the Overland Complex, 1405 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado.
The Gersh estate plans to show a number of pieces from his collection. A reception is scheduled for Saturday (April 2), from 5-7 p.m. We visited with Georgia Gersh, Bill’s daughter and magpie owner, who said they were considering a somewhat different show.
“We were going to try and pair his work with some of the pieces of his collection of other artists’ work, but most of it is black-and-white photography, but they seemed so different compared with the colorful, vibrant pieces, so we decided on the outlaw theme,” she said.
“We do want to develop another show down the road of Gersh’s works on paper. There are so many monotypes, watercolors drawings, Xerox art – all of it unframed, currently. As we sell work, we’ll put aside some of the money to get the pieces framed,” she added.
Gersh, often called an outlaw modernist, was fascinated with Western and cowboy mythology of the Southwest. He produced a series of pieces exploring this archetype, using a variety of media.
Gersh played a major role in New Mexico’s art scene for nearly two decades beginning in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, his name was synonymous with the area’s avant-garde artists. His works were shown in Tally Richards’ Contemporary and later the Bareiss Gallery.
Gersh was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on July 15, 1943, and he grew up in Kerhonkson, New York. He graduated from the State University of New York in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in art education. After graduate studies in film and painting, Gersh moved to New Mexico in 1968.
Gersh was identified with and was part of what was one of the only schools of contemporary painting in Taos – “Junk Art.” When Gersh was visited up at his home in Lama for a 1991 exhibit, his junk piles were endless. His studio was crammed with treasures and stuff, some of it arranged in humorous juxtapositions, with items haphazardly posed with Dada-ist disregard for context.
According the late Taos art historian and critic Stephen Parks, most prominent amid the “Junk Art School” were Gersh, David Pratt and Otero Goodsky. They were characterized by rough edges, cheap materials, great energy and often psychedelic imagery. “These outlaw artists rejected the traditional aesthetics and ethics of fine art. Their purpose was shock,” Parks wrote in a short essay about Gersh.
By the late 1970s, the “Junk Art School of Taos” was all but dead. Goodsky and Pratt relocated to Santa Fe, but Gersh remained as a creator of raw, emotionally charged fine art dealing often with the mythology of the American West.
For Gersh, there was no romance about the West. He explored the dark, seamy side of the West. His paintings possess an exhilarating intensity and directness of focus.
He tested the frontiers of everything — two- and three-dimensional art, music and spoken word — even relationships and his way of living were out along the frontiers of “everything new.”
With his huge capacity for life and prodigious energy, Gersh absorbed many disparate art influences, digested them, then made them his own. His work is described as “visceral,” “raw” and “often confrontational.” Gersh’s pieces include found objects, painting, monoprints, sculpture, drawing and more.
Boundaries were never really acknowledged by Gersh. Lines were always blurred and the envelopes always stretched. Like in the pieces that dominate the show, the cowboy subjects — their two dimensions aren’t enough. It was always Gersh’s goal to cause his subjects to pry and twist themselves from the constraints of their surfaces. You get the feeling there weren’t enough dimensions available for a vibrant energy that outsized or towered over everything around it.
The cowboy sculpture in front of Centinel Bank’s main office seems to resonate in many dimensions — refracting colors before manifesting here in our dimension even though it is made of simple sheet metal. The years have taken a little of the sizzle away, but it still strains against the constrictions of this time-space reality.
Gersh’s studio and many of his junk piles were burned in the massive Lama Fire of 1996. Luckily, most of his work had been moved after his death from cancer in 1994.
“It’s hard to say what we lost in the fire. We moved most stuff into storage before it. But it’s funny, the things that didn’t get burned. We still have some of the little toy robots he used to collect.” She’s talking about the Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots Gersh used to put in odd scenarios and stages.
“The house has changed, though we work on it to keep it structurally sound. There’s still a lot of his stuff and a lot of his art everywhere. It still feels like his space,” she said.
Gersh’s work is part of the Harwood Museum’s permanent collection. His work is also included in the public collections of the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, the Albuquerque Museum and the Capital Arts Foundation in Santa Fe, as well as in the private collections of Joyce and Sherman Scott, Larry Bell, Mimi Saltzman and the late Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Taylor and Douglas Kent Hall.
For more information, call magpie at (781) 248-0166 or visit magpietaos.com.