Lenz Geerk’s Moody Paintings Make the Mundane Feel Cinematic

Lenz Geerk‘s figurative paintings evoke cinema in their reliance on ambience, their depictions of movement and stillness, and their ability to connect with audiences. Geerk generates mood and emotion with compositions and hues that feel inspired by memory. The artist’s muted palettes capture ineffable, everyday moments that are fraught with ambiguity and angst.

Melancholic beach vacations are the subject of Geerk’s latest solo exhibition, “Arrival,” which is on view through July 30th at Roberts Projects (which represents the artist in Los Angeles). Geerk, who was born in Switzerland and is based in Düsseldorf, is also included in the group exhibition “Uncanny Interiors,” up through August 19th at Nicola Vassell Gallery. Anne Buckwalter curated the show, which also features established painters Toyin Ojih Odutola, David Hockneyand 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 conflicts and psychological vagaries that defy language.

Although Geerk’s work feels personal, it is not autobiographical. The artist uses source materials and often paints over his own compositions. A single finished canvas might feature many unfinished layers beneath, a technique that generates its own sense of memory and time. “I never know how the work will look when I start it,” Geerk told Artsy. “Sometimes there’s a photograph or a painting that’s in my head from a book or a museum that carries a certain pose or mood which I try to pin down when starting a new work, but often it’s the muted color field that sets the atmosphere, and I begin from there.”

Take Beach Couple V (2021), for example. The painting’s foreground is dominated by a reclining young femme in a cool, blue one-piece swimsuit. She reads a book, her heavy eyelids tilted down towards gleaming, white pages. Behind her, another young femme in a similar bathing suit is suspended in mid-flight before she plunges into a scenic lake surrounded by mountains. The color palette is shockingly muted for a beachside scene. Muddy blue, brown, and green tones reflect more melancholy than the bright pinks, tans, yellows, and blues that typically infuse summer beachscapes. Geerk manages to depict the turmoil, as he wrote to Artsy, of “feeling anxious on a beautiful day.”

Geerk assembles such compositions and conveys his themes through what he described 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 ways that the body expresses desire. “I do think the longing for being relaxed, being on the beach with a loved one and enjoying being young and beautiful while experiencing internal unrest has 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 the void. In Untitled (2019), for example, a woman in a floor-length black dress grips one of her arms, gazes into the opposite corner to avert the audience’s gaze, and presses herself against a wall so bright and yellow that it might induce a headache. The stark color contrast radiates with emotional intensity. Viewers get lost in the figure’s psychology, curious what’s going on with this morose character. In such instances, Geerk chooses ambiguity over clarity, suspending his audience in a mysterious moment. He aims to make art, he wrote, “that highlights beauty in dark places and vice versa. Paintings [that depict] a desolate situation that is nevertheless full of hope.”


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