A vast expanse of blue, green and pink organic shapes unfolds on the canvass. The leaves, rhizomes and trees weave together a complex space. On top of the biologic forms is a abstract, geometrical rectangle of black and red, adding visual contrast to the piece. It’s hard to stop looking at the image.
This is one work from the Charles Geiger exhibition, Quasibotanics: From Apocalypse to Now, currently on view at Vassar’s Palmer Gallery. The paintings will be on display until Nov. 30. There will be an opening reception on Thursday, Nov. 5 at 5 p.m.
Quasibotanics is the term Geiger coined for his unique visual vocabulary of adopting biologic, botanic forms. The artist elaborated, “A few years ago my painting process shifted to become a more affirmative gesture toward nature. I chose to use leaves, trees, rhizomes, and biologic forms in a metaphorical way. They would become a language set that acted as visual agents within an imaginary surrealist space. An in-between space that is fluid, microscopic and macroscopic.”
According to Geiger, he seeks to explore and utilize the symbolic significance of these vegetation structures. “I am interested in the symbolic energy of a newly sprouting green leaf, and the unique interconnectivity of rhizomes and rhizome systems. The continuous process of breaking and recovering of rhizomes are of interest to me. So for my practice, leaves and rhizomes are a set of botanically derived linguistic symbols, and with them I do paintings about environmental and health issues,” explained Geiger.
Over time, Geiger has internalized this organic, visual language. “The botanical grammar set became a part of my ritual of painting that I call “Quasibotanics,” he said.
In addition to nature, Geiger takes inspiration from other artists. With their pastoral landscapes and serene atmospheres, the Hudson Valley School paintings allowed Geiger to look at the world in a new light. Based on this new vision, he then developed a contemporary use of the subject matter.
Geiger recounted, “I looked at nature here in the Hudson Valley and at the Hudson River School of painters who were deeply moved by the spectacle of raw nature. Painting a landscape today needed a different approach, one using the shapes of nature within a completely different spatial context. Looking from the smallest outward, then back again.”
The other part of the title, From Apocalypse to Now, suggests the conceptual themes behind the visual. With vivid colors and botanic shapes, Geiger seeks to express his reflections on environmental and health issues. He commented, “I work to affirm the possibility of renewal. Some of the paintings deal with invasive species, some with stresses in bird and bee populations. Others may be about health and certain obstacles to perception.”
He continued, posing a pressing question. “I was thinking of the age of Anthropocene that we are now in, and the idea that we are in the sixth period of mass extinctions. There have been many apocalypses, and our influence on the planet is now significant, and so what are we to do Now?”
Living close to campus, Geiger has had a long-lasting connection with Vassar. “I live only a block and a half from campus and have a great studio built in the 1930’s used by the artists C.K. Chatterton and Lewis Rubenstein [both artists who taught at Vassar]. It is great to be a part of the legendary aura of campus community.”
It was a mutual effort by both Geiger and Vassar to put together the exhibition. Associate Director of the Palmer Gallery, Monica Church, visited the artist’s studio and discussed work selection with Geiger. “This show was organized by Palmer Gallery Director Teresa Quinn. She and I made a studio visit to discuss what body of work Charles would exhibit. Given the physical properties of the gallery, we opted for an exhibition of most recent paintings rather than a retrospective,” she recounted.
The curators then set up the works according a layout plan created by Geiger. Church elaborated, “Charles is methodical and put lots of thought into how the exhibition might look in advance of delivering the works to the gallery, including making a layout of the space and mock-ups of his paintings to assist in selecting which paintings went well together. His planning of the installation went smoothly with only a few changes from the plan.”
Working with Geiger’s paintings closely, Church expressed the particular styles that interested her. “I respect his work and am especially fond of the more open paintings on paper that use transparent ink washes and iridescent paints,” said she.
Jose Erazo ’16 is one of the gallery guards who sits at the front desk of the Palmer, and possibly who spend the most time with the works. Erazo is very excited about the life and spirits embodied in the multitudes of colors. “The works are absolutely beautiful. This might be my favorite exhibit here this year. They are all so colorful and very complex. I love the vibrant colors and the focus on nature. I don’t think I have ever seen so much color in this gallery and I have been working here for two years now,” he said.
With all these colors, organic shapes and conceptual considerations, Geiger hopes to share his thoughts in environmental issues with the campus. “Perhaps some of the topics within the paintings are of shared interest to students and faculty. I am not a scientist, nor a specialist in any of these topics. I am just an artist using a traditional visual medium to hopefully create poignant signposts that reflect our time period, and perhaps bring a little magic along with it,” he concluded.