review

Bernard Gerson Exhibition
Natural Abstractions

Woodstock Times -November 18, 2004
by Paul Smart

Bernard Gerson moved from France to the New York City borough of Queens at the age of four. His parents - mother French and father of Austrian background - were classic immigrants, seeking a new start in a New World. As a result of the early shift in his life - a phenomenon beautifully rendered by many of the greatest writers of this and other times, including such local luminaries as Kingston-based Luc Sante - Gerson has always considered himself apart from the world he inhabits. Not quite American, yet also not quite European, he was drawn toward the arts from an early age.

An exhibit of Gerson's singular photographic works, "Natural Abstractions," will be up at Woodstock's Art & Soul Gallery through Thanksgiving Day weekend, November 29. Stark and quirky, ambitious and yet simple, it represents an impressive maturation of the artist's personal métier: a body of work that's been building, without a whole lot of outside influence, for a number of years now.

Those with an eye for the arts, and especially photography, in the region will likely be familiar with Gerson from his numerous entries into juried group shows in the Woodstock area - many of which have won a variety of prizes in recent years - as well as for a recent retrospective at the Coffey Gallery in uptown Kingston. Need a reminder? Think blurred, motion-focused portraits and atmospheric cityscapes from Paris and the like: moody, expressionistic black-and-whites, with a prevalence of blacks and dark greys. Most recently, as seen in the current exhibit, think oddly memorable landscapes of forest and swirling water that rest in the memory like emotional scenes from the great European art films of the Sixties and Seventies (Bergman, early Wenders, Tarkovsky...that sort of mood).

We caught up with Gerson recently, after a bit of hounding. Seems the quiet man has taken a leap with his work - and his entire sense of commitment to the arts - by taking over the Woodstock gallery in which he is now showing his work, as well as by deciding that the time has come to cast all aesthetic doubts to the wind and start pushing what he does, as full throttle as he can.

Gerson spoke about how he had studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York in two spurts - the first somewhat lackadaisically, as a means of beating the draft, and the second time with a fervor that found him taking extra classes as a means of getting extra time with the many fine teachers working at the school at the time. Eventually, though, life caught up with his artistic ambitions - as it does with so many in our area - and the photographer found himself making fine furniture as a creative outlet and basically abandoning his picture-taking and making.

Eventually, though, Gerson started shooting again. He had moved upstate and shifted his attentions, but then found that what drew him was what had always drawn him: fast work, close-up images caught with a zoom to capture the blur of motion, the detail of personality - and with it, a pride of working that he realized had never left him.

Gerson is quick to speak about what's individualistic about his work. He fairly craves the ability to discuss what he's seeing and trying to convey, and how the work fits into larger worlds of photography and, in his view, painting (and sometimes doesn't fit in).

Over recent months, the photographer says that he's gained sustenance and inspiration as part of a salon of fellow photographers being run monthly by the Center for Photography at Woodstock. Yet he also feels apart from anyone shooting whom he's met.

He spends what time he can out in the field getting images. A recent thrill occurred when, after years of trying, he discovered a way of catching the movement of water, including its elements of simultaneous grace and chaos. He shows off a piece and speaks about how he sees the paintings of J. W. Turner in its masses of sprawling energy. He spends what other time he has in his darkroom, working his way through plastic proofs to get to those images that he wants to bring up in size to fit the European papers he most enjoys printing on, for the ways in which they capture the dark tones to which he feels so akin.

So why the gallery? Gerson says he took over Art & Soul - something of a local fixture, poised between fine art and more tourist-oriented photographic aesthetics - not so much to push his own art, or even for any discernible cultural reasons. It was simply an opportunity that felt right.

Does he have a personal aesthetic that he wants to push in the famous location, once home to New York gallerist Howard Greenberg's first enterprise? Not exactly, Gerson says. Those are elements he'll work on slowly.

So does he feel any closer to fame and whatever brands of success the arts hold for the likes of him, now? And what would he say that his strengths are, as an artist, versus the many other photographers struggling alongside him in the area? "I do what I do because it's how I see the world," Gerson says, "and I think there's something beautiful about that way of seeing." He adds that he doesn't really see what he does as being of any intrinsic appeal to neophyte art-lovers. It's not the sort of work that he sees somebody buying for their living room - excepting, maybe, some of his newer landscapes, which he half-admits as being his "less non-commercial" work."

I work in abstract forms. It's like painting," Gerson says of what he does. "I do it for myself." In other words, because somehow it helps define him, poised as he is between worlds - just as all arts define all artists...and the rest of us who can capture what the artist is trying to convey to us, even for a moment. "I like to be on top of things," he concludes quietly - as do we all, in the end; as do we all...