By Emily Sachar
For Cowboys & Indians
Greg Gummersall, portrait
It is the juxtapositions and ironies of life that most captivate artist Greg Gummersall. The wide open serenity of the family’s 80-acre ranch find a space opposite the more energetic movements of city life he craves from time to time. The chaos of diurnal existence in urban Los Angeles nearly 10 years ago now seems a vital antecedent to the appreciation of a more bucolic existence today.
Even the need to journey to metropolitan areas to keep his art career alive seems a justifiable trade-off – an inspiration, at times – for the serene and graceful life he and his wife, fine arts photographer Jenny Gummersall, 47, have created as their arts and family base.
“Being located in the rural, pastoral setting of a Southwest Colorado
ranch suits my needs for space in which to make art,” says the bearded Gummersall, 59, whose years working as a ranch hand still show in the way he ropes a steer or rides a horse. “Our travels to the urban areas on art business provide for shots of stimulating urban arts viewing and needed cultural interchange.”
Gummersall’s paintings, primarily in bold primary colors that echo the work of the New York School abstract expressionists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Willem de Kooning draws on iconography and philosophies from all manner of Western and Eastern traditions. From the massive sky expanses he eyes from his studio each day come the rich lapis blues that figure into nearly every painting. From Buddhist cultures, a deep crimson red has found its way. The sun brings yellow into Gummersall’s palette. Birds deliver a crisp white. And the cottonwood he spies each morning, and the horses, must have imprints in the palette, too, though he can’t specify how or where.
“These primary colors resonate with me. They deepen me,” says Gummersall, born in Idaho, raised in the Bay Area and for the last 30 years a Durango man who did his obligatory turns in Los Angeles. “I like to work the balance. If my art is too chaotic, it’s incomprehensible. If it’s too ordered, it tends to be lifeless and boring.”
Gummersall candidly admits to an antagonistic streak that pervaded his art during those days in Los Angeles at the time of the Rodney King riots, a streak that nonetheless earned him countless patrons, gallery showings and corporate art purchases, as well as a handful of museum acquisitions. The riots coincided with the toddlerhood of his son Tyller, now 16, and led to a triptych, “Affirmation with Chaos,” meant to affirm the resilience of children amidst chaos.
Gummersall’s work today hangs in dozens of corporate locations around the world, among them the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago, Fordham University Museum and Lincoln Center in New York City, and Coronado Island Marriott Resort in San Diego, as well as in the home of Palm Springs architect Guy Dreier and in the Palm Springs Desert Museum.
A wide range of art collectors also have snapped up Gummersall’s work over the years, among them Ruth Horwich, a noted Chicago collector of Calder sculptures, and Jeffrey D.J. Kallenberg, New York playwright and Columbia University professor.
Much of Gummersall’s art drips color, literally and figuratively. He prefers, he says, to work in series, exhausting a subject in every way imaginable – with color, light and imagery. Yet, a vividly colored series of expressionistic series gave way in 2005 to a monochromatic paintings emphasizing fields of color and, at times, simple geometric forms. The array of styles in his art once concerned him, he admits. “In the past I had fears that my art might appear to be ‘immature’ or unfocused,” Gummersall says. Counsel from Gerald Nordland, former director of the San Francisco Art Museum and The Milwaukee Art Museum, allayed these anxieties, he says. Nordland noted that artists over the decades have assumed widely divergent styles as their personal circumstances changed. Gummersall quotes from a letter Nordland sent some years ago: “As you know, life doesn’t always unroll in a neat and orderly fashion. Surprise, interruption and catastrophe are all part of the process.”
Collaborations have evolved with his wife, whose photographic images of Western iconography – horses, eggs and other motifs — have found their way as collage elements into Gummersall’s work. And he also has poured his soul into a series of modern-style totem pole arrangements, thin cylinders he marks off in bands of varying widths in primary colors and decorates with winsome banners and ties that dance in the wind.
All the while, Gummersall speaks of loving his simplified life painting along the light-filled Colorado-New Mexico border.
“Painting daily makes me happy,” he says in a voice that resonates with urbane polish. “I’m told by my wife that gaps in painting that are too large make for a grouchy husband. Balancing painting with the business of art become easier with experience. My painting has now surpassed any youthful ‘star’ ambitions and the painting itself has become the vital process.”
What next for an artist whose urban upbringing and New York influences now share space with a cottonwood tree beside his log studio? Two of his sons are squarely launched – Josh, 29, is a producer in Los Angeles; Devon, 27, has a successful acting career in place following his co-star role as Brian Krakow in “My So-Called Life.” And Tyller is fast becoming an accomplished singer/song-writer while wife Jenny’s career flourishes.
“As I evolve, and I hope I always will,” Gummersall says, “my art will continue to evolve, too. It’s so hard to predict what’s next.” But it will always, he says, merge the restless urban sophisticate with the mellowing Colorado ranchman.
To find galleries representing Gummersall’s art and more information on his work, visit: http://www.gummersall.com