Paintings, artisanal prints, and drawings by Joseph Paul Gerges leverage a deep foundation in classical figure drawing in a series of human and animal portraits with distinctly modern, allegorical twists. In moving tributes to the humanity we perceive in nature and the connectedness to nature available in human emotion, Gerges offers works of gestural realism that get at something deeper than likeness. Richly detailed, reserved in palette, and melancholy in their contemplation of mortality and adversity, Gerges nevertheless finds the beauty in all things. He currently has a piece in the Forest Lawn Museum’s survey of contemporary glass art from the Judson Studios family of artists, the result of an innovative collaboration.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
JOSEPH PAUL GERGES: About twelve years old. The drawing bug was always in my system for as long as I can remember. I was an odd combination of athlete and artist. I played baseball for almost ten years, soccer, basketball, rode bmx, skateboarded, and then at 15 years old I shifted all that energy into art making when an opportunity to attend the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts opened up.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work explores human emotions as derived from my own personal experiences and observations. I survey the damage and the repercussions of our choices in hopes to excavate dialogues that touch on life’s difficulties, challenges, its victories and triumphs, and I ask the viewer to face those questions head on.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Pediatric Surgery, Venture Capitalist, or Professional Mountain Biker, no joke. All things I am interested in even today. I teach anatomical figure drawing (among other classes) have a furious curiosity of the financial sector, and am an avid Mountain Biker.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I was lucky enough to get a jump start at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, went to Art Center College of Design, took some time off to work in animation and then returned to grad school after a few years. I’ve been creating art and teaching ever since.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I’ve been all over the country and Los Angeles just feels like home. The symbiosis of culture, community, and environment is pretty unique. I am an outdoor kid at heart, so being able to jump on my bike, go for a hike with my daughters, or head to the beach and head back to the studio the same day — it’s hard to find a place in the country that can offer that up.
When was your first show?
My first show was while I was a student at Art Center. I’ve been making work ever since. During my time in the animation industry, I would stay up late nights to prep for the next group show or opportunity that came my way. It finally became apparent that I wanted to create more than I wanted the monthly paycheck, so off to grad school I went!
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
I am currently in a breathtaking show of glass work entitled Judson Studios: Stained Glass from Gothic to Street Style. The opening dates are still TBD due to Covid, but the Forest Lawn Museum will open as soon as state and county regulations allow indoor museums in L.A. County to reopen, so stay tuned! [While the show’s public opening is still TBD, a launch event for the show and related new book happens on Wednesday, December 9.]
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
I am a sucker for the Old Masters. To show alongside Rembrandt, George Bellows or Kathe Kollwitz would be a gift. The feel of their marks and their brilliant compositions creates an emotional relationship to the subject that elevates the work to a level of mastery. In contemporary art, I feel like Julie Mehretu’s work, although abstract in nature, walks me close to that same sensibility.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
I am an audio book or podcast type of listener. Currently on the podcast feed is This American Life, RadioLab, How I Built This, The Knowledge Project, Freakonomics, Design Matters, Broken Record, and many, many more!
Website and social media handles, please!