Images and Words Collide in Artist’s Photo-Text Collages

<i> Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times. </i>

About two years ago, German-born artist Jochen Gerz took photographs of several friends who live on a small Northwestern island, a place he discovered by chance 10 years ago. He and his wife, Esther, who is also an artist, leave their Paris home to spend about two months out of the year there.

Gerz said his friends have one thing in common: All changed their lives in a radical way, leaving their urban and commercial backgrounds to re-create themselves on this island, which lies between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island. Among these men and women are a former stock market president from Vancouver, a philosophy professor from Berkeley, a gallery director from Toronto and an architect from Marseilles, France.

In his first solo show in Los Angeles, the artist’s portraits of his friends, and five other works, are on view at the Pascal de Sarthe Gallery. However, don’t expect to see ordinary pictures of smiling faces in these unusual homages to people who built homes with their own hands--"an act of belief, of confidence,” Gerz commented.

The black-and-white images, most of them in negative form, have been imposed with other images, often of nature or the portrait subject’s house. Gerz has added text to them and fragmented them in numerous rectangles, framing each segment separately. Turning elements every which way, arranging the fragments in varied shapes, he has liberated the images from the borders of the conventional piece of paper or canvas.

“I want to take away the idea of completeness from the work. I can’t finish it. I am leaving the possibility for change, leaving something to the future,” Gerz said. “Identity has been transgressed and given up. I think identity issues make us sick. I introduce some riddles, questions, doubts, open spaces, some degree of inefficiency, because that is us.”


In “Quality. Or,” images of the island’s recycling depot interplay with such art-world lingo as taste, shape, structure, didactics, theory, and meaning. One 1990 photograph declares in bold, broken but energized red letters on a black background, “Free Coca-Cola”; another states, “Free Adam Smith.”

“Sleep My Soul 1" says, “To all who like to be remembered for nothing material.” This dedication appears upside-down and backward.

“My upside-down, crossed-out images are not perfect images, nor are they comforting or a conformation,” Gerz said. “They are just a possibility for you to visit with yourself.”

Born in 1940 in Berlin, Gerz has been living in Paris since 1966. In the late ‘60s he wrote books and poetry, and did street performances before he began doing photo and text work in 1969, with no formal training in photography or art.

“Writing and photography are normal things to do, commonly shared among people. I like to do the things that people do,” he said.

“He was one of the first conceptual artists in Europe to do photo-text,” said gallery owner Pascal de Sarthe, who opened his first gallery in Paris in 1975 when he was 17. “A friend of mine had a space and couldn’t rent it, so he said I could open up an art gallery.”

De Sarthe met Gerz there three years later, when the artist attended one of his shows. Currently, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Newport Harbor Art Museum are preparing the first North American retrospective of Gerz’s work, set to begin in 1994.

“Photography with words, video and performance art and installations didn’t exist when my generation started in art,” Gerz said. “It’s just going on now. Art is about communication; it’s about exposing, taking risks. The best thing you can do about borders is to know them, but not accept them.”

“Jochen Gerz: Photo/Text, at Pascal de Sarthe Gallery, 640 N. La Peer Drive, Los Angeles. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, through July 18. Call (310) 289-1012.

ATTRACTING OPPOSITES: Multimedia artist Kathi Martin also challenges the boundaries of art world conventions in her solo show at the Brand Library Art Galleries, “Rocky Road Peep Show and Paperhanger’s Directory Point-of-Purchase Dreams.”’

Her work shares the gallery space with the solo show of new paintings and drawings by Jeanne Lamosse. Despite the exhibits’ vastly different concepts, tones, and mediums, they complement each other. Lamosse’s work conveys decidedly personal notions about following one’s own path; Martin’s installation and three mixed media series are politically charged calls to do the same.

In her installation, “Artist of the Month,” Martin has created a point-of-purchase display with a wall full of mass-produced, distorted images of a few familiar scenes in Vincent van Gogh’s work, and a floor area littered with take-a-number tickets. “Vinnie Van Go,” as he is known in this work, has won the monthly honor.

Cardboard shipping boxes labeled “Vinnie Van Go!” sit on either side of four wooden panels that present etchings and poetry decrying our submission to paths of least resistance and to maxi-malls where we lose ourselves little by little. Mass-produced portfolios titled “Masterpieces of Modern Painters” and “100 of the World’s Most Beautiful Paintings” have been strewn about the display.

“Corporate America has stripped us of original experience and has made decisions for us,” Martin said. “Buying warehouse art prints identifies just how far we have gone in letting corporations water down our direct and passionate experiences. We don’t have choices, and it’s all artificial.”

Martin’s “Grab Bag” series of etching collage diptychs speaks to that issue, playing with advertising jargon as well. “Bonus Question” ponders whether we can still choose to do things for their own sake in the face of a technological society that has been categorized, quantified and processed.

“Second Skin” is a group of 20 life-size female torso wall pieces. Wearing various clothing styles that have been fashioned out of handmade paper, liquid plastic, found objects, photographs, stitching and etchings, they reflect standard notions of beauty and Martin’s call for women to burst out of ties that bind.

Unlike the satirical, confrontational approach in Martin’s pieces, Jeanne Lamosse’s new paintings and charcoal drawings contain a calm yet powerful presence. The nine paintings and nine drawings were inspired by her residency fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation, an artists’ colony in Lake Forest, Ill., during the winter and early spring of 1990. There, she received support for doing her work, and a reprieve from the phone and other daily interruptions of urban life.

Her studio was in a meadow on the edge of a woods, and at times, she said in an artist’s statement, she felt cut off from humanity. “The privileged seclusion from the world allowed me the concentration to confront my ideas and feelings about painting and image-making in a way that I have never done before,” she said. “This was not always comfortable, and there were times when I would wish to be rescued by an interruption.”

Lamosse’s oil-on-canvas paintings resonate with rich colors, such as in the diptych “Passion Flower.” From its yellow center, colors radiate out to the edges of the canvas, turning to shades of pink, then to orange, red, magenta, periwinkle, blue-green, and finally a deeper blue.

“Primavera’s” rolling waves of color include luscious greens, pinks and blues. There seems to be a sinewy figure moving through water in the primarily blue “Passage”; however, flashes of green, purple and white add to the painting’s aura of mystery. “Deer Tracks,” with a bluish tone to its predominantly white painted canvas, clearly communicates the chill of a winter scene.

Her charcoal drawings, including “Chasm,” “Bula Shell” and the flowerlike “Betrothed,” are no less dramatic because they lack color. One cannot help but think of Georgia O’Keeffe when viewing Lamosse’s work, which often illustrates similar content and a kindred spirit.

“Kathi Martin: Rocky Road Peep Show....” and “Jeanne Lamosse: New Work,” at Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale. Open 12:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 12:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday through July 7. Call (818) 548-2050.