Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Meeting Gerik

Recently, I featured a local artist known as Gerik in two separate blog entries, one depicting presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, and another piece titled American Zeitgeist. The blog created an opening for me to meet the anonymous artists behind the graffiti.

Apparently, a Gerik relative living in another state found my blog through an internet search and forwarded the link to the artists. Sometime later, a tiny Gerik icon appeared on my blog after they became “followers.” Feeling somewhat unsure, I wrote a rather tentative email and introduced myself. They responded very graciously and invited me to visit their studio. Surprised and immensely honored, I accepted the invitation and arranged a time to meet.

A few weeks ago, the Inlander also published an article and gave the false impression that Gerik is a collection of three artists, when in reality, they are only two. During our brief visit, they describe themselves as “brothers and best friends.” They told me their names, but for the sake of convenience and their continued anonymity, I will adhere to the precedent set forth by the Inlander and refer to them simply as Gerik One and Gerik Two.

Gerik One had given me directions to their studio and when I arrived, he greeted me at the door with a warm smile and a handshake. He ushered me inside away from the cold, and introduced me to Gerik Two and to his wife. If first impressions mean anything, I found the entire clan to be very amiable, good-natured, and sincere. Conversation came easily.

Gerik One seemed to take the lead and gave me a tour of the studio. We visited several rooms and discussed a large collection of art in various stages of completion. Again, if first impressions mean anything, their art made a definite impact through its thoughtfulness and technical quality. The brothers work collaboratively, often completing the work of the other. They paint the same canvasses and even share many of the same ideas.

The notion of America as a “shining city on a hill” appears in several pieces. A small history lesson may help at this point.

The “shining city” concept claims a long and notable lineage beginning from the words of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament: “Ye are the light of the world.” He said, “A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, KJV).

Puritan leader John Winthrop called forth this image in his famous sermon “A Model of Christian Charity” in 1630. Said Winthrop, “We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken... we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world.”

Modern American presidents also used this imagery to evoke a sense of divine destiny for the United States. John F. Kennedy mentioned the shining city on a hill in 1961, and Ronald Reagan followed suit in his farewell speech of 1989.

In a similar spirit, the Brothers Gerik propose a vision of America established not upon force or military intervention, but upon the power of example. They seem to suggest that if we build a beautiful and noble society, the world will follow.

Ultimately their art leads to the essential question of what it means to be American. Up to that moment, I mostly listened, but I interrupted and asked more pointedly, “What does it mean to be an American?” Gerik One didn’t respond directly, at least not at first.

He paused and returned the question, “What does it mean to be human? People are no different today than they were 2,000 years ago during the Roman Empire. Human nature has not evolved much.” He later went on to say their art “is more about the question than the answer.” In the end, they remained true to form. Their art reflects upon deep and enduring questions of human experience, but avoids casting easy villains or heroes.

A portrait of George W. Bush moved me the most. It shows him at the very moment he received word of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

They allowed me to photograph a portion this piece for the blog.

The eyes intrigued me. I’ve never admired Bush as a president, but somehow, the way Gerik painted his eyes made me consider our former leader in a different light. Perhaps for the first time, I saw the human face of George W. Bush. What was he thinking in that terrible moment? Did he allow the attack, as some conspiracy theorists might suggest? Did he react with the same surprise and shock as every other American? Did he feel anger, grief, uncertainty? The painting offers no clear answer. It simply presents those compelling eyes and leaves the viewer to wonder.

This is the power of art.

Gerik moved me ponder my own questions in life, and yet unlike the many ominous voices of our time, I experience their questioning as an invitation to know myself and the world more deeply. Never did I find such comfort in my doubts.

Many thanks to my new friends. May we continue the conversation in days to come.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails