a v i d
e i s e r
Essay by P e t e r S e l z
What I have done is a rather coarse reality . . . but it will have a rustic quality
and will smell of the earth
From disorder (chaos) order grows--grows fruitful. The chaos feeds it. Chaos feeds the tree.
William Carlos Williams
The initial impression of David Geiser's paintings is their physical appearance, the palpability of the work. These pieces reveal their manual construction, the process that brought them into being. In contrast to the carefully calculated synthetic surfaces that are so prevalent at this time, they are tough, unruly pieces, crafted by hand. Geiser paints his organic images on hand-laminated paper, on boards, tarpaulins or on unstretched canvas. Sometimes he will construct a work in incremental pieces of wood, which can be arranged in various ways and the organization altered. The parts are fastened together in disjointed compositions which retain their organic edges--their hand-fabricated appearance. Sometimes panels are accreted into polyptychs, or they are piled on top of each other like so many cobblestones. David Geiser creates the surface by applying paint in many layers, and he is then likely to agitate the heavy surfaces by pulling, tearing, gouging, scouring, sanding and drilling holes. The finished work is the result of making and unmaking, of growth and decay.
He uses the information he has gathered from biology and mathematics to create rough mosaics which dialectically fuse these areas of investigation into the actual paintings. The paint itself often looks like a chemical sediment, or it may resemble the tectonics of geological formations. It evokes not only the growth and deterioration in the natural world, but also the industrial waste created by the hand of man. Combined with his consuming interest in the world of nature is Geiser's daily life in the grind of the urban center. Much of his work relates to the waste and decay found in the modern city-especially New York with its garish energy and vernacular power. Geiser's work is as informed by the detritus of the gritty city as it is by natural configurations.
Basic to David Geiser's enterprise is his concern with biomorphic principles as well as with parallel mathematical structures. Aware of the connection between biological and mathematical systems, he seeks to create works of art which manifest a structural organic image. He probes the phenomena of nature: cloud formations, whirlwinds, anatomical structures. At the same time he studies thought processes such as predictability (and unpredictability) and chaos theory. At times we are reminded of the Mandelbrot Set and the work of Chaos scientists, who find the random order in clouds, trees, mountain ranges and the sea more revealing than the purity of Euclidian forms.
In David Geiser's studio, masks and weapons from Africa and Oceania and Mexican ceremonial masks share space with pine cones, dried spiny insects and animal skeletons. He learns from the morphology of plants and animals and admires aboriginal art. He also refers back to early Flemish painting, particularly the raucous iconography of Bosch and Breughel. And, as Robert Motherwell pointed out: "Every intelligent painter carries the whole culture of modern painting in his head." Geiser esteems in particular the frottages and decalcomanias of Max Ernst which suggest telluric fantasies without preconceived intention as well as the possibilities of automatic drawing. He is attracted to the hautes pates of Jean Dubuffet's art brut, of his pastes consisting of putty, asphalt, concrete and glue. He also feels an affinity for Atoni Tapies's heavy matter paintings which were done spontaneously on a geometric grid.
In his application of natural substances such as pitch, wax, encaustic graphite or powdered pigments in oil medium, David Geiser displays a preference for earth colors which are often interspersed with blue, silver, gold and black. Blue for him recalls relics, robes and vestments, and he sees it also as the color of intellectual pursuit. Gold and silver are metallic colors, and he prefers using them in their laminated state. Most of his pieces are dark. Black is the pigment which often occupies the central core of his large paintings.
Although objects, such as helmets, cages and weapons appear in Geiser's paintings,
most of his recent work takes reference to horns, wings, tubers, corals, and--above all--the form
of the spiral as found in the nautilus shell. The spiral has reappeared throughout history as a symbol
of growth and is found in many ancient tribal cultures as separated as the Maoris and the Celts.
Unlike the closed circle which has the beauty of symmetry, the spiral is the sign of the sublime,
the mysterious, the unfolding. For Valdimir Tatlin, when designing the "Monument to the Third
International," it was the positive symbol of a modern dynamic, revolutionary culture. For Robert
Smithson, on the other hand, the "Spiral Jetty" signified the laws of entropy, the constant and
irreversible loss of energy, while for William Blake, it was Jacob's Ladder, leading to heaven.
To David Geiser, I believe, it denotes the basic life force of nature, visible in biological structures
and manifest in the organizations of human thought.