"The End (Rough & Tumble)." Oil on canvas, 30 x 48 inches. Photo: Altamira

JACKSON, Wyo. — Late on a Saturday night, Geoffrey Gersten came to a gnarly realization: the painting on his easel was ugly. The colors he’d mixed for the polka dots were too disparate, the effect too discordant. The realization stirred a tempest within him: regret over all the other things he could have been doing with evening, not to mention the materials and the effort wasted. “It’s easy to say you have to fail to succeed, but picking yourself up is so hard,” he remembers of the moment. “Recognizing that that canvas was garbage, that I could have been doing anything else — it was really hard for me to accept that lost investment of time and life. It took me a while to get out of that rut, but it’s been worth it.”

From that midnight turmoil, an epiphany emerged: if he eschewed references and mixed colors one at a time, focusing on the chromatic relationships as they emerged, he could find a “pathway to harmony” — a term that resonates with every layer of his complex practice. Ever drawn to challenges, ever known for being “all-in,” Gersten tackles simultaneously all forms of chaos in his studio, from contrasting colors and concepts to jarring subjects and genres. “By juxtaposing so much, I’m trying to find pathways to harmony within all these disparate things.” 

Once Upon A Time. Oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches.

By his brush, the closing credit of a 1930s flic finds contextual equipoise within a canyon-scape; and a glowing cowgirl comes into her own amid a sky of rainbow spots. These two scenes tease the characteristically sweeping scope of his exhibition at Altamira, aptly titled “Silver Screens and Cowboy Dreams.” 

A gallery owner once observed that Gersten throws everything at the canvas. “‘You could break them up and make five canvases, but instead you load it all into one,’” she told him. Bowled over by the observation, he agreed with her. “It’s my nature, my DNA. Every day is a wrestling match with life and it comes out in the paintings.”

Take Off. Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches.

Gersten considers his relentless pursuit akin to the survival instinct of Robinson Crusoe; as such, every painting places a stake for existence, an all-or-nothing claim to the meaning of life as an artist: to find harmony in chaos, and inversely, grit in beauty; the artist as a castaway, building a standalone world that may seem ugly (on some Saturday nights), but with dogged effort, finds resolution and revelation.

See Geoffrey Gersten in action during artist demos September 15 and 16 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort Jackson Hole, and September 16 from 8:30 to 10 a.m. during the Fall Arts Festival Quick Draw and Auction in the Jackson Hole Town Square. 

For more information about Gersten and his new paintings, please contact Altamira Fine Art by email — connect@altamiraart.com — or phone — (307) 739-4700.