The Large and The Small of It


 

The Large and The Small of It

Artists Trudy Gerlach and John Bromberg exhibit two sides of the same spiritual landscape

 
The Large and the Small of It was initially conceived for a pitch to gallery in the Catskills, which unfortunately did not bite. But when ArtWorks facilitators Bill Teistsworth and Renee Emanuel responded to the recent works John Bromberg showed them, he explained an exhibit would necessarily have to include Trudy Gerlach.
 
“I never want to exhibit without Trudy again,” Bromberg told ec last week in advance of the show, which opens at the Lackawanna Avenue gallery on Friday, Jan. 3. The concept was inspired by a card Gerlach gave Bromberg featuring side-by-side photographs of the two artists standing outside a train tunnel at Nay Aug and the inscription “you tunneled into my heart.”
 

John Bromberg and Trudy Gerlach.


“He just loved it and decided he wanted it to be the announcement for this show,” Gerlach shared. “We’re giving an artist talk on Feb. 8 and I’m sure this idea of all that ‘the large and the small of it” means will be discussed then.”
 
Although she’s not a scientist, the artist is fascinated by science and has read deeply into a variety of disciplines including biology. Phyllotaxis, she explained, is the way plants grow.
 
“It’s actually quite physical. It’s geometric. The cell starts out with one cell and then when it grows another cell they have to fit together in a geometric way and that has to do with the way the plant wind up looking,” she said.
 

Phyllotaxis. Trudy Gerlach.


Her artwork based on this biological phenomenon incorporates both a detailed rendering of a specific leaf and geometric shape symbolic of its morphology. Similar corollary works juxtaposing a detailed graphite and/or watercolor rendering of a leaf or other natural element and usually some geometric form, have been her focus for the last decade. Before moving back to Pennsylvania in 1985, she had been working in metal. Pressed for time, it was easier to pick up a pencil and draw.
 
“I do an incredible amount of research when I do these drawings. It takes me forever. First I have an idea; I think about it for a long time. And then I start doing research and gathering material, most of which does not go into the drawing itself.”
 
She’s also entranced by ephemera like old geological maps from the late 1800s. One work in her collection traces an aquatic liverwort found in our region along the path of the Susquehanna River to Smith Island at the Chesapeake Bay.
 
“I’m always trying to connect things, trying to figure out what the underlying structure of things is,” she explained.
 

Arrowwood. Trudy Gerlach.


Designing the drawing is the most difficult part of the process, she said. The moments of rendering the drawing are when she is the most at ease.
 
“I’m sad when the drawing is over because I have to stop… the actual sitting there and drawing is like a form of prayer or workshop or just adoration, and being connected with something really beautiful.”
 
An untitled drawing featuring the chair in which she draws and an image inspired by x-ray crystallography was awarded first place in the mixed media category at the Northeast Biennial 2013 in October.
 
“X-ray crystallographs are beautiful. They are these geometrical and symmetrical structures and the background is kind of hazy. I have a book I got out of the library and I picked one out that I really loved and I put that at the top. Why? I’m not really sure. A lot of the way I put things together is intuitive. And there’s a central ray that comes down on to the chair.”
 
The work, said Gerlach, is symbolic of her or anyone’s relationship to the universe.
 
“We’re all made of these tiny little particles and we’re all part of this huge, incredible, whatever the heck it is, and it animates us.”
 
Gerlach is convinced her work is as spiritual as Bromberg’s even if it is more scientific and less expressive.
 
“Einstein referred to the laws of physics as ‘god,’ and if it’s all come to pass the way scientists say it has, it is an incredible, awe-inspiring mystery that scientists are as much in awe of as anyone who is a creationist,” the artist offered.
 
Or as Carl Sagan said, “science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
 

Alignment Series. 1986. John Bromberg.


We checked in with Bromberg via telephone after the artist returned from six hours of cross country skiing around his farm in Northern Wayne County. Such solitary communing with nature provides the basis for his paintings in the “Alignment Series.” Initially begun and then abandoned in the late ‘80s, the series was reprised in the last few years when the threat of hydro-fracking once again drew the artist’s attention to the earth.
 
Bromberg learned to “experience the dragon current just under the surface” during a brief apprenticeship with a Chinese geomancer in 1985, he reminded.
 
“Hydro-fracking is really bad energy and that’s what really torments me,” the artist offered. “I can witness the dragon current and see it being pierced by all of these probes and then toxic chemicals put into it … but I can’t go into a court of law and explain that this is a bad idea because it’s really disturbing the dragon current. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”
 
His first course of action was activism, but he quickly grew frustrated with the disregard for protestors.
 
“I don’t see them as protests. We go as ambassadors of truth. And it happens to be in opposition with what they are trying to bring across. And that makes me restless. We’re seen as the antagonists and we’re not,” he said.
 
“So I got burnt out doing that and I decided to turn it all over to spirituality. And that’s when I went back to these Alignments.”
 
His process is always the same. He takes a two or three hour walk reflecting on the teachings of the geomancer and then returns immediately home to “Beulah-land” (what others might call “the zone”) to start work on a new “Alignment.”
 
“Everything I’ve absorbed in those two or three hours goes into this Alignment. And if it takes two hours or all day or goes into the next day, I just stay with it. I don’t go away from it; I just keep at it,” Bromberg said.
 
Unable to work in the cold of his insufficiently insulated studio last winter, he was forced to scale down so he could work inside his small home.
 
Initially, he thought his small works would only serve as studies for the larger works he was accustomed to making, but Gerlach taught him to consider them precious in spite of their small size, he explained. “Bigger is better” had been drilled into Bromberg’s head as a young artist at Pratt that “I fell very drastically into that whole thing when I was younger. The market and fame and fortune were what drove me. I had a moderate success with my ‘bigger is better’ and it carried through all my life until I met Trudy,” he said.
 
“Trudy’s works are precise, precious and small. The obvious take is ‘Trudy’s work is small; John’s work is large.’ My work is large and bold and clumsy and I don’t care if I drip. I just have to get it out of me. Where as Trudy plans.
 
We’re at totally opposite ends of the spectrum, but I really feel that we are joined in a marriage of spirit and matter. Because Trudy’s work is influenced by science and mathematics … and my head is mostly in the clouds. Mysticism is what is important to me. But for both of us it is a quest for truth… we’re both enormously hungry for truth.”
 
IF YOU GO:
What: The Large and the Small of It
Where: ArtWorks Gallery & Studio, Lackawanna Avenue, Scranton
When: Jan. 3-Feb. 22 with receptions Jan. 3 and Feb. 7 from 6 to 9 p.m. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. An artist talk and discussion will be held Feb. 8 from noon to 1 p.m.
Info: Call (570) 207-1815 or visit www.artworksnepa.com.
 
 

Kevin Margitch, 527 Bogart Court

Also on the January First Friday Scranton circuit:

Kevin Margitch started painting animals when he moved to Upper Darby from Stroudsburg and started taking almost daily hikes to stay connected with the physical world, according to 527 Bogart Court.
A closing reception for Kevin Margitich: Born Under a Bad Sign — New Paintings will be held at the alley gallery, also during First Friday Scranton from 6 to 9 p.m. His hex sign series draws its inspiration from folklore and family.
 
“I have family in Berks County, Pa, where hex signs are everywhere. A lot of the myths and stories in hexes are in my paintings. They are somewhat welcomes and warnings all in one,” he shared.
 
A new exhibition of large drawings captured live during the AfA Gallery’s Drawing Socials series by Illustrator Ted Michalowski (top right) opens at AfA this week with a reception Friday, Jan. 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. The artist will offer a demonstration of his eye dropper drawing process at 5 p.m. before the opening which features live music by the Drawing Social Improvisational All-Stars (i.e. Jason Smeltzer on Theremin(s), Jamie Orfanella on didgeridoo and world instruments, Doug Smith on upright bass, and Bob Ventrello on percussion. The reception also features catering by Carl Von Luger Steak & Seafood served by the Love Ink Girls.

Live Ink, Ted Michalowski.