To Cross the Rubicon
The Art of Philip Gerstein

We all start somewhere.

I did not really start until I was studying half-time at the art school. I realized pretty soon that I had, for some reason, a deep affinity for color. I also had a feel for compositional arrangement, which is that interval, that staccato movement -- always implied in the presence of form/non-form, or what the Classic Chinese art connoisseurship called "the empty and the full". Landscape came to me easily… . Interestingly, non figurative elements began intruding almost right away. A stray geometric figure would crop up – a triangle here, a circle there, a straight line appearing out of nowhere, but fitting into the composition for some internally satisfying reason.

"Landscape from the East"
44in x 30in (112cm x 76cm) , Acrylic and oil on prepared paper, ca. 1986


At that time in the life of Art, Abstraction was regarded as something of an apex, a proud achievement of our domestic school of painting, and an encompassing, enticing, even transcendent goal to achieve myself. But how to get there?.. My early homespun experiments looked way too random and rudimentary to my eye, already trained to some sensitivity by the most elegant and persuasive art historical references.

Keeping my color advantage in reserve, I took the art courses that would help me with the depiction of volume, of sculptural form, of light and shade – and drawing intensely from the nude for quite a few years. After a while, these figure drawings began combining with landscape as their background, the location changing from the interiors to the outdoors. Some years later, when working on a particularly bright and richly pigmented figure, I distinctly remember feeling, no – knowing, that it was the last figure I was going to paint. It became clear as day to me that I was way more interested in the textures and freedom of those background landscape planes and forms, than in that one prominent "object" that was supposed to be the focus.


"Last Figure"
25in x 19in (64cm x 48cm), Oil stick on prepared paper, ca. 1992


You may notice (even from this imperfect reproduction, taken from an old slide), how happily I found myself entangled in that velvety rich background. A couple of years later, on the subway from Cambridge to Boston, I had something of an epiphany – though at the time akin more to a mental shock. A beautiful face of one of the riders beckoned to be rendered on paper… but as I started drawing it in my mind's eye, I suddenly realized that I no longer seemed to care at all whether her eyes will end up even, on the same, correct level in my imaginary drawing!.. I was stunned. After years of rendering, hand-eye coordination, caring intensely that the figure appeared just right – this. I could feel that a Cubist approach to the figure, so persuasively laid out by Picasso, was not for me. The figure was simply not the point any more. That train has slowly and almost silently left the station, and was picking up speed.


I had crossed the Rubicon towards abstraction, and I had no desire to turn back.


"The Early Riser"
16in x 23in (41cm x 28cm) , Chalk, w/c stick, pastel
w/c on handmade paper, ca. 1996, Private collection, Cambridge MA


It will take many years for this effort to bring the results I knew I would be happy to share with you, the wise, learned and grateful audience.

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Philip Gerstein | Scene4 Magazine | @David Lee Black-2019

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Born and raised in Moscow, USSR, PHILIP GERSTEIN began exhibiting his work in the 1980's with the Boston Visual Artists Union, after pursuing a PhD in Art History at Harvard University.  He studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Japanese calligraphy with Toshu Ogawa. Philip has been exhibiting in NYC, Provincetown MA, and very extensively in the Boston area, as well as organizing and curating painting and photography shows. His work has been reviewed, reproduced and praised in numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, ArtScope Magazine, and Art New England, and he is the author of the prize-winning essay, "Art of Color: Beauty in art comes in so many forms; art of color is a special case of it." International Painting Annual 4. 1st. Cincinnati: Manifest Press, 2014. More at: http://www.PhilipGerstein.com
For his other work in Scene4, check the Archives

©2021 Philip Gerstein
©2021 Publication Scene4 Magazine





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