Lenz Geerk’s figurative paintings are reminiscent of cinema in their reliance on atmosphere, their depictions of movement and stillness, and their ability to connect with the audience. Geerk creates mood and emotion with compositions and hues that feel inspired by memories. The artist’s muted color palettes capture indescribable, everyday moments filled with ambiguity and fear.
Melancholic beach vacations are the theme of Geerk’s latest solo show, Arrival, which runs through July 30 at Roberts Projects (representing the artist in Los Angeles). Swiss-born, Düsseldorf-based Geerk is also featured in the group exhibition Uncanny Interiors, which runs until August 19 at the Nicola Vassell Gallery. Anne Buckwalter curated the exhibition, which also features established painters Toyin Ojih Odutola, David Hockney and Kerry James Marshall. Like the works of these other artists, Geerk’s paintings are not committed to realism. Instead, Geerk uses figuration to depict interpersonal conflict and psychological whims that defy language.
While Geerk’s work feels personal, it is not autobiographical. The artist uses different starting materials and often paints over his own compositions. A single finished canvas can have many unfinished layers underneath, a technique that creates its own sense of memory and time. “I never know what the work is going to be like when I start this,” Geerk told Artsy. “Sometimes I have in mind a photo or a painting from a book or a museum that has a certain pose or mood that I try to nail when starting a new work, but often it’s the muted field of color that sets the mood , and I will start from there.”
Take beach couple v (2021) for example. The foreground of the painting is dominated by a reclining young woman in a cool blue one-piece bathing suit. She is reading a book, her heavy eyelids tilted to the glossy white pages. Behind her, another young woman in a similar bathing suit hangs in mid-flight before diving into a scenic lake surrounded by mountains. The color palette is shockingly muted for a beach scene. Muddy blues, browns and greens reflect more melancholy than the bright pinks, browns, yellows and blues that typically permeate summer beachscapes. Geerk manages to portray the riot as, he wrote to Artsy, “feeling scared on a nice day”.
Geerk assembles such compositions, conveying his themes through what he describes as a careful balancing act between elements such as color and line, motif and content, storytelling and secrecy. These elements come together harmoniously, suggesting the subtle way the body expresses desire. “I think the longing to be relaxed, to be on the beach with a loved one and enjoy being young and beautiful while experiencing inner turmoil found its way into the works,” he wrote.
In his previous solo exhibition at Roberts Projects, Mixed Blessings (2019), Geerk depicted figures in isolated interiors staring into space. in the Untitled (2019), for example, a woman in a floor-length black dress grabs one of her arms, looks to the opposite corner to avert the audience’s gaze, and presses against a wall so bright and yellow it could cause a headache. The strong color contrast radiates emotional intensity. Viewers get lost in the character’s psychology and are curious as to what’s going on with this grumpy character. In such cases, Geerk opts for ambiguity over clarity, leaving his audience hanging in a moment of mystery. His goal is to make art, he wrote, “that brings out beauty in dark places and vice versa. painting [that depict] a desolate situation that is nevertheless full of hope.”