Work of the Week – March 24, 2014
by Adrian Etheridge
Gerald Geerling (1897-1998) was an exceptional artist who spent much of his life working outside of the arts. Though his portfolio only contains 60 works, they are full of life, showing his personal style of nostalgic architectural cityscapes. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Geerling was one of the few artists to serve in both World Wars — as a 2nd Lieutenant in WWI and Captain in charge of the 8th bomber in WWII. Following the wars, Geerling enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and studied in the School of Architecture.
Although Geerling worked primarily as an architect upon graduation, he began a printmaking career when he traveled to London to study etching at the Royal College of Art. The architect worked in with various media to create different moods in his work. Primarily he used pen and ink for tight, sharp lines — reminiscent of traditional drafting work — charcoal to create nostalgic scenes and watercolor to show energy. When the depression hit in 1933, Geerling’s printmaking career was interrupted. However, he returned to the arts late in his life in 1975, producing lithographs of New York City and Paris.
Geerling’s architectural background adds an interesting dynamic to his cityscapes that few other artists of the same subject matter possess. While cityscapes often deal more with the streets (adding interest through scenes of busy people) or of the skyline (showing the dynamic beauty of the city as a whole,), Geerling’s work focuses on the buildings themselves, illustrating the beautifully ornate and character-filled buildings of the 1920’s. In this architectural boom, working in New York City, Geerling had a front row seat to the construction of arguably some of the most theatrical and gritty buildings the city as seen.
The artist’s etching work, Olympus (New York 1929) demonstrates Geerling’s methodical drafting ability paired with his keen eye for perspective and dynamism. In choosing such a vantage point, Geerling illustrates the view of a building from the streets, portraying it as a statuesque masterpiece standing tall and solid. The architect’s attention to detail adding in many windows, moldings, and a cascading facade show his skill as a draftsman. Not to mention, adding the detail of the shadow of another building, much smaller than the one he illustrates, adds to the grandeur of his drawn building (again showing his reverence for this grand construction). The most interesting part of the piece, however, resides in the shadows, the silhouettes of the ongoing construction. In showing the finished building in conjunction with works in progress, Geerling illustrates the continuing growth of the city, not as a bad thing as many modern artists do documenting the ills of civilization, but as romantic in its growing beauty. Framing the building with the construction adds a sense of life and movement to the work that the sole unmoving building does not have, and the juxtaposition creates an atmosphere admiring the permanence of structure as well as the excitement of growth.
Artwork above: Gerald Geerling, Olympus (New York 1929), 1929, Etching, 9.25 x 6.25 inches. Gift of R.K. Benites. Permanent Collection. 2009.01.08.63.