Local and national artist, Jonas Gerard, has always painted, lived and reveled in the “now,” and there is an earthy recognition of the present moment apparent in all his work. In addition, Gerard believes he is merely the instrument for the divine in whatever form the viewer wishes to envision, and one look at Jonas Gerard’s paintings will make a believer out of you. In short, his artwork is transcendent and that quality is apparent in everything he creates. In person, he is effusive, warm, and is a true pleasure to interview. In all forms of art, he believes artists ultimately create “self portraits” and that is equally true of literature, music, or painting. Jonas notes one “can always see the soul inside of any piece of art.” He stresses “the artist can’t escape the essential ‘self’ and “the essence of any artist’s work is a ultimately a deep dive into the psyche.” I thoroughly enjoyed diving into Jonas Gerard’s colorful and joyful psyche and felt very alive and welcome there.
Jonas’ life began in Casablanca 75 years ago. He was born in French Morocco and noted that despite all the American intrigue that city has often engendered, it was just an “average French city” to Gerard. His parents split up early in his life and Jonas assumed the job of “the man of the house” under the shadow of a domineering mother who wrote notes to his school claiming he was in bad health to keep him home. This reality was both good and bad for Jonas because his mother also became an early supporter of his painting, a skill he honed from an early age. Gerard moved with his mother and sister to New York when he was 13 and he still holds unabashed wonder at the whole experience, “the ship traveled through Gibraltar to Nova Scotia and finally arrived at Ellis Island. I saw The Statue of Liberty alone at dawn, it was magnificent.”
After high school, college, and a stint in the army, Jonas continued his art although it was changing. The first phase of his art was copying pictures and landscapes, and portraits would come later and abstracts after that. Gerard lived during an exciting time in Greenwich Village throughout the 1960’s. The cultural diversity only fed and deepened his desire to express the present through the expert and constantly changing stroke of his paintbrush.
But Jonas sought out a spiritual guide as well. After studying all major spiritual paths, he discovered the Indian Sikh master Kirpal Singh (the last name meaning “lion.”) Through Singh, Jonas found answers that were merely posed as questions in other forms of spirituality, “I wanted the experience of seeing beyond the promises I saw in other religions, I wanted a peek at the beyond.” Jonas was initiated into the organization in 1966. Intrinsic to his spirituality is daily meditation, which Jonas has practiced for decades and still devotes time to.
Gerard also danced in the Nickolais Dance Company and although his desire to paint trumped his late start, his dance teachers used Jonas’ interpretation of music “as an example of what it is like to be free.” After watching one of Gerard’s monthly live painting shows in the present, it is easy to see that that quality of “freedom” was and is of paramount importance to him. His paintings simmer and breathe freedom and originality. No piece is alike and that is part of Jonas’ creative genius.
By 1967 Jonas, married by then with a baby daughter on the way, moved to Fort Lauderdale. He had 25 dollars in his pocket and had to hustle to show his art. His first show was on January 1, 1968 at a racetrack in Pompano Beach. Gerard noted “my prices were not high and I had all kinds of art: representational, sunsets, sailboats, and people and it sold well.” After that show, Jonas became very popular in arts festivals up and down the east coast and continued this work in Florida for over 30 years and managed large galleries filled with his work. To this day Jonas Gerard has mastered every form of art from portraits of Picasso to street scenes in Cuba with classic cars to the abstracts he now excels at. His sculptures are equally alluring. He disdains any one “style” and is constantly inventing and re-inventing his art. Jonas paints and creates what he is feeling, and where his mood and the energy in the room (often enhanced by lively music and thoughtful onlookers) take him.
In 1975 Jonas was asked to render a piece of artwork on the American Bicentennial. He produced a stunning visual portrait with 40 different aspects of the USA and the artwork first adorned the cover of Fort Lauderdale magazine. Soon the painting received national interest and Jonas presented the painting to the White House where it was hung during the presidency of Gerald Ford who Jonas spent some quality time with. The painting was later moved to the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
After 30 years in FL, Jonas chose Asheville because it “has great charm and is the center of everything from food to art,” He states simply “I am very lucky to live here.” While he once had all the things money could buy, he now rents everything and concentrates on creating his art and being a good employer and a positive member of the community. Most of his paintings are presently abstract delights of color and now his diverse masterpieces and sculptures adorn his two galleries in The River Arts District in Asheville. Several times a year he holds live painting shows, which is where this author discovered his genius for the first time. The shows are free flowing and filled with music from many genres, all upbeat. Jonas still paints every day, and often well into the night, and has no plans to slow down or retire.
One of his pride and joys is his daughter who is head of the art department at East Tennessee State University and is an artist herself. Gerard glows with pride when talking about his only daughter.
Jonas’ art is alive and visceral and upon entering his gallery, signs are everywhere that visitors are allowed “to touch” the artwork. That simple interaction of “allowing” and openness makes Jonas’ paintings part and parcel of the present world. If every piece of artwork is a picture of the inner self as Jonas suggests, I would suggest there is wild abandon and freedom in the genius of Jonas Gerard that is present very rarely in any other type of art. A transcendence from the ordinary into another better, more colorful world filled with ethereal form and beauty. It is a world I want to live in.