Art preview: Joseph P. Gerges

“In God I Trust”

by Bondo Wyszpolski

Published February 8, 2007

Nancy Silverman-Miles, the executive director at Gallery C, has nothing but praise for the work of Joseph P. Gerges. His pictures now fill most of the space in the downtown Hermosa Beach venue, and “officially” go on view this evening with a public reception from 7 to 10 p.m.“This is a big show to me,” Silverman-Miles says, “because we don’t have a lot of representational artists, in a way that’s purely figurative, and I think he’s a big find for us. So many museums and other dealers just look at the work and go, ‘Oh my God, he’s brilliant.’”Although born in Texas and now settled in La Mirada, Gerges is an Egyptian-American artist who’s been exploring, through his work, the presence of God (and his own Christianity) in the context of current events. More to the point, perhaps, an early familiarity with Coptic Orthodox and Byzantine iconography seems to be weighed against images of tension and violence in today’s world.Without being over mannered or fussy in his details, Gerges executes his figures with precision. Silverman-Miles points out that Gerges is “an amazing draftsman,” and while he definitely is that, he also has the ability to provoke our curiosity with his work, to make us try and intellectually access the meaning or content of each picture.In “The Samaritan,” for instance, two boys stand apart from a young woman who lies on her side, facing away from us. Something has happened, but Silverman-Miles doesn’t necessarily see it in bleak terms:“It’s not like the girl has to be dead, it could be she’s passed out and the kids are good Samaritans; they’re trying to help out and see what’s wrong. It all depends on how the viewer sees it.”This jaded critic, however, can’t wipe away the tears fast enough: The girl’s the good Samaritan and has a bullet between the eyes to prove it. The boys behind her are strangely detached. For them, it’s just another night in La Mirada, or on Pier Plaza.Or maybe not! This picture and others like it invite us to explore the connections, the meanings – but also to take pleasure in the handling of the materials.Silverman-Miles notes how Gerges uses both oil and acrylic on his canvases, and in the case of “The Samaritan,” at least, he’s also varnished the figures so that they pop out, so to speak, and give the picture a sort of immediacy and motion. “It’s an artistic choice,” Silverman-Miles says, and it is clearly an effective choice.Gerges has been painting specifically for this one show for the last year and a half. It may be a huge turning point in his artistic career and will certainly attract a great deal of critical interest.