P. Timothy Gierschick II: Patch and Plot (a contemporary artist and practicing Mennonite conjures the legendary Jewish golem)

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As a longtime admirer of Tim Gierschick's art, I was flattered and excited when he invited me to write an essay in conjunction with his exhibition Patch and Plot (see tigerstrikesasteroid.com). Tim happens to be a practicing Mennonite of Pennsylvania-German descent. I have a strong personal and academic interest in the encounter between Pennsylvania Germans and Yiddish- and German-speaking Ashkenazi Jews in from the late-eighteenth through early-twentieth centuries. Tim's work Golem (2009; courtesy and copyright of the artist), illustrated here and discussed in this essay, is a most unexpected and unusual latter-day manifestation of this encounter.

 

    Thumbnail image for Gierschick Golem ver 1 11-12-09.JPGA picture may be worth a thousand words, but a symbol--the product of rigorous forethought and an ever-streamlining design process--conveys just a handful of essential words. A car with squiggly lines below it warns of slippery road ahead. A heart-shape says "I love you." Although like written language, a well-conceived symbol is more immediate, eye-catching, and universally understood. Each of Timothy Gierschick's creations contains at least one motif boldly presented in solid, carefully delineated, and vibrantly colored lines and shapes. Emphatically frontal and flat, they remind us that we are, as Gierschick says, "encountering a symbol." But Gierschick's motifs and tropes, unlike symbols, are not so definitively read. They take each of us, in Gierschick's words, "into a different place by different means, depending on our personal inclinations and needs."

 

Gierschick's paintings, drawings, and sculpture are purely abstract (although Gierschick, like Ellsworth Kelly, often finds inspiration for abstraction in the observed world). Yet they encourage symbolic reading, tickling our consciousness, cognition, and memory with the sense of something familiar but just past the reach of our ability to remember or understand. They, as Gierschick says, "impart a sense of reality beyond our immediacy."

 

These symbol-like motifs are distant kin, but not necessarily akin, to the hex-signs and quilting patterns of Gierschick's Pennsylvania-German heritage; to highway signs with their thick, arrow-headed lines indicating curving or merging roads; or the seemingly endless proliferation of smiling, winking, and frowning emoticons of digital culture. Gierschick's retinal delights capture our attention and engage our minds. They beckon our will to interpret, to discern meaning. They are luminous in palette and lucid in composition. They hold for us the promise of revelation--or, in Gierschick's words, "a quiet revolution." 

 

The heart-shape, with its pair of symmetrical soaring swells atop a downward-pointing triangle, is a recurring motif in Gierschick's work, albeit one he typically alters through intent or intuition. What is at the heart of Gierschick's sensibility, what is the manifesto of his quiet revolution? Tim would likely protest that a quiet revolution requires no manifesto. I respect this (anticipated) protest, but offer these thoughts. In form, he is aiming for--and reaching--a sense of purity, timelessness, and universality that is the essence of his conception and experience of the spiritual. As for content, I venture that the core of every Gierschick creation is an exhortation to collective and individual human decency, to awareness of self, others, and the world we share--to lead a life well examined and well lived.

 

Gierschick's art is positive, optimistic, and ambitious--it patches and plots, it aims to revitalize, to repair, to heal. To wit: Gierschick often paints on found wooden objects, bringing new life to demolished homes and discarded furniture--the settings and furnishings of our lives. And there's wit: Gierschick creates drawings on unfolded take-out containers for Chinese food. In doing so, he transforms--with a wink and sly smile, but always with purpose--a humble, mass-produced piece of packaging, meant to be used once and then discarded, into a unique and persisting work of art.

 

Earlier this fall, Tim Gierschick led a class titled "Investigating Art and the Spiritual" at the Barnes Foundation. Most of the words quoted in the paragraphs above were written by Gierschick about other artists--but they are true equally of the author and his own art. Following on these matters of spirit, Gierschick has introduced a Golem into the confines of Tiger Strikes Asteroid. In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated being created from inanimate matter. According to tradition, golems are brought into and out of action--in and out of existence--by words, the expressions of thought. The symbol-like central figure in Gierschick's Golem is built from his characteristically manipulated heart-shapes. It is painted atop pages from a Hebrew School primer. Not intelligible to most viewers, the Hebrew letters are abstractions that tease us, for we know they are meant to communicate something. And so they will--and so will all of Gierschick's Patch and Plot, in each case "depending on our personal inclinations and needs." Perhaps all successful art is like the golem: material brought to life by thought. In that spirit, we begin our experience of Patch and Plot with Gierschick's words and thoughts about his own art, statements that are as incantatory as they are illuminating.

 

Shape is important, but edges

even more so.

Colors are important, but their relationships

even more so.

Ideas are important, but their execution

even more so.

Answers are important, but the questions

even more so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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