What abstract art means to me

by Jonas Gerard
River Arts District • Asheville
Published in: Rapid River Magazine’s Arts & Culture
July 2019 • Vol. 22, Number 11

Abstract art is difficult to define but fascinating. After an extremely long progression stemming from the Impressionist movement beginning in mid-19th Century France, the “Abstract Expressionist Movement” as we call it today, came to fruition in 1940sNew York City

Artists in that movement fully understood what the very act of painting was about. It was clear and simple, an expression of art that came directly from the creative energy of the universe and channeled through the artist onto canvas. They were strongly motivated to dive into the process of uncertainty and agreed singly, as well as collectively, not to use their intellect or reasoning for the purposes of creating art. It was a wild and never-before-attempted art form that shocked the art world. This is how I paint. 

The time it takes to create an abstract painting is irrelevant. Franz Kline finished a very large canvas within an hour; as do I (with music). This abstract action painting movement was so powerful that it offered complete painting freedom with no end in sight. 

This is what my work is about. With a mesmerizing explosion of color, contrast, movement, and strong music, my paintings aim to bring new life to the tradition of the abstract expressionist movement of the New York art scene as described above. 

My abstract work began in the 1970s in the middle of a nationally-recognized portrait painting career. It was an honored opportunity to present a monumental round canvas to President Ford, which was accepted as our nation’s bicentennial portrait. “We the People” remains part of the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection. 

My big challenge was to let go of the financial success of realism and portraits to pursue the need to be true to myself regardless of any financial concerns that would arise due to this drastic shift in style. This shift was a lifesaver to my true self and my progression as an artist. 

I finally gave up figurative painting and dove in fully to the world of abstract painting and joyfully embracing the excitement of being faced with uncertainty. The secret of true abstract expressionism is to be able to let go — to the point of feeling what it would be like to be willing to jump off a cliff without a parachute — and become very comfortable allowing uncertainty to take over. You will not die! Instead, you will experience a new way of doing life, acting, and being uncertain at the same time. That’s very exciting, to be sure about not being sure. Just think about it.  

Fluidity of Grace     | 72×56     | Jonas Gerard

In 1966 I met a great spiritual Master who transformed my life and taught me how to meditate. My life and my painting completely changed. I started to create from deep within me, learning to deal with the interference the mind can create with all its interruptions tricks and its various laws of duality. Now, after 52 years of meditation, my process is slowly becoming freer and involving less personal judgment. Another excellent resource for me has been Stuart Cubley’s Painting Experience workshop (www.processarts.com). 

After all these years, it’s like my soul is doing the painting and I allow it, much like the way a three or four-year-old paints — totally free of trying to look good. When I let go, the creative energy of the universe comes in at hurricane force, and I have no choice but to surrender to it without a goal or plan. Without it, paintings can end up looking very lifeless and often predictable. Then there’s no juice! 

Jonas Gerard      | Photo by Tim Barnwell

That state of letting go and allowing the energy to take over becomes a unique and magical experience as if my inner eye were looking into a reflection of itself. That’s the positive force that people, who set their eyes on it, become fascinated and are moved without knowing why. 

At its best, that’s how powerful abstract art can be. There’s nothing like it because it’s just pure energy without a subject, without a purpose, without a message — and it’s very appealing. The heart is touched. A comment I hear often is, “I just can’t relate to abstract art, but I just love this painting.” It becomes a heart experience, bypassing the logical mind and all the duality tricks we are all familiar with. 

For me that fascination with this process is very addictive, it’s a high, a state of pure bliss, and the wonderful thing about it is that it’s always there ready to capture my attention, no matter what my mood. From the first stroke, it kicks in. Over the years, I found that the best thing I could do to relate to others what my experience is like is to do it in front of a crowd. Each second Saturday at my Riverview Station location, in the River Arts District, I feel as though I put my life on the line with full confidence as I paint like a madman and do what I call a Painting Performance with rhythmic music. Everyone is welcome. 

For the last 12 years, I have been, attracting other artists, visitors, clients, and folks from all walks of life to experience how fascinating life can be when you plan less, fearless, trust more, and feel comfortable with uncertainty.