"First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is... "
-- Donovan Leitch
On the wall, Doyle Gertjejansen's new paintings seem to almost pulsate with bright colors and odd forms that loop and twist and generally defy easy interpretation. Of course, abstract art has always been about challenging our preconceptions of what a "picture" is in order to usher us into another world that comes to us courtesy of the artist's imagination. Which is probably why Wassily Kandinsky, the founding father of abstraction, compared his own work to music, an "art for art's sake" allusion that might apply to the later abstract expressionists as well. But Doyle Gertjejansen's paintings, like the work of other postmodern artists in recent years, are more flirtatious about depiction, teasing us with hints of things familiar while remaining elusively yet robustly abstract.
Take Brushstrokes, Mountain, Table, Anchors, Navel, Pour -- a 4-foot square painting that has, well, a little bit of everything. Most of the left side is taken up with streaks of peach fading into salmon, as well as pale shades of jade and azure, all of which look as if they were just sloshed onto the canvas as thin washes in a nod to the color-field painters of the 1960s. An intense red donut-shaped "O" like a life preserver, or a woman's crimson lips exclaiming "Oh!" is a pop touch that radiates like a beacon while some anchorlike shapes float amid amorphous oceans of red-orange and a deep sky blue. Some linear swatches of paint with exaggerated bristle marks set off the rest, and while much is suggested, none of this really looks like anything mentioned in the title. Instead, we see a composition that works on its own terms while quoting from art history in much the way that hip-hop artists "sample" other tunes. So those wavy patches of red and blue invoke art history by suggesting Ellsworth Kelly or Matisse's cut-paper compositions, yet the result is whimsical, buoyant, almost jaunty.
Another canvas, Color Theory -- a kind of incendiary graphic gumbo in varying shades of pink, gold, blue and green -- displays a controlled kinetic combustion that I found oddly reminiscent of de Kooning's raucous, early 1950s abstract paintings of women. Yet, despite some affinities in color temperature, no explosive Mae Westian vixens appear here, just manicured layers of pristinely applied paint suggesting, if anything, those odd agatelike rock formations where layers of geologic history appear preserved like flies in amber. Also noteworthy are some swatches of paint with distinct bristle marks like brush strokes writ large. For traditional painters, brush strokes define an artist's persona as much as a signature, but for minimal and conceptual artists, the brush stroke is an anachronism, a fossil in a fiber optic age. For his part, Gertjejanson uses his own unique technique to make some of the fattest and most graphic brushstrokes ever. Whether they celebrate or parody traditional painting is apparently up to the viewer.
It's a technique that assumes special prominence in The Great Wave 2, where those incised, super-graphic brushstrokes are used to suggest a crashing breaker even as the outline of an even larger wave, lifted from a woodblock print by the 18th century Japanese Zen artist, Hokusai, towers above it. In the original you can see a snow-capped Mount Fuji rising behind a tsunami-like crest overwhelming the fishing boats, a visual koan of the sort that inspired Donovan's early "There Is a Mountain" song. For Hokusai, insight ebbs and flows like Mt. Fuji appearing and disappearing behind the elements. But here there is no mountain --Ênot even our closest equivalent: the pointy white dome of the old Hibernia Bank building -- just big waves and strands of something like severed ropes, symbols, perhaps, of how water can cause things to come unglued. In fact, Gertjejansen's Gentilly studio was swamped when our own great wave came through and left much of the city inundated for weeks thereafter. As the chairman of the University of New Orleans fine arts department, studio art and art history are part of his natural habitat. By recycling all of those things into something fresh and pristine, Gertjejansen distills his own quirky new order from the all too familiar chaos that surrounds us.
- Doyle Gertjejansen's abstract painting, The Great Wave 2, distills elements from art history and natural disasters into a surprising new hybrid.