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Gerald Wasserman (1920-2011)

  • Gerald Wasserman (1920-2011) was a Monterey/ Carmel painter.  He studied at the Chicago Art Institute, and in Mexico City and New York City in the 1940s.  Wasserman was a longtime member and exhibitor at the Carmel Art Association.  He lived and traveled extensively throughout Europe, painting traditional scenes through a Modern lens.

    Gerald Wasserman was born in Texas in 1920 to Russian immigrant parents.  His family owned local businesses in the Texas Panhandle before his father passed away and they relocated to East Texas, where Gerald spent his childhood.  Wasserman had a penchant for art as an adolescent, and took Fine Art and Art History classes throughout high school.

    In 1938, Wasserman enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute.  His aunt found him lodging with a Jewish family and at 17 he was on his own in a big city for the first time.  Wasserman was incredibly inspired by the museum atmosphere, his professors and classmates, and being surrounded by some of the 20th Century’s greatest artists - Renoir, Cezanne, Rembrandt, El Greco, and Monet.  Also at that time in Chicago, the Three Arts Club was featuring more avant-garde exhibitions; Expressionists like Oskar Kokoschka and the Modernist Alexander Calder.  Wasserman felt “as if the world had opened up.” One of Wasserman’s most influential professors was Russian painter Boris Anisfeld.  Anisfeld taught Wasserman the art of figure painting, using the Masters (Goya, El Greco, Rembrandt) of the Art Institute as supplements to his lessons.  This more classical education certainly made its mark on Wasserman, who turned to traditional themes throughout his career.

    Wasserman was called up for Army duty in 1942.  He served in the Medical Detachment for two years in the Pacific and at a hospital in Tacoma, WA for another year.  He created some paintings and drawings during his service, but was glad to be discharged and returned to the arts in 1945.  In 1946, Wasserman was in Carmel, CA visiting army buddies and fell in love with the rugged coastal scenery and settled in for good.  He began painting landscapes, becoming involved in the local art community, and had his first exhibit at the Haggin Memorial Museum in Stockton.

    In Spring of 1947, Wasserman enrolled at Escuela de Pintura y Escultura de la Secretaria del Educacion Publico in Mexico City on the GI Bill.  Part of the appeal of this particular school was the faculty, which featured well-known muralists Diego Rivera, Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, and Guerrero Galvan.   Wasserman studied with the two latter artists, perfecting his understanding of the figure during night classes alongside some of Mexico City’s most talented artists.  Galvan and Lozano taught Wasserman key lessons in composition and proportion. This academic training allowed Wasserman the freedom to later develop his own style, and taught him how to feel satisfied with the entire painting by perfecting the first piece - the head or face of the subject.  After nearly a year in Mexico City, Wasserman decided to use the last of the GI Bill to study in New York City.

    In New York, Wasserman lived with his brother Eddie, a Jazz musician.  He enrolled at a very small institute led by a few artists who, with approval from the Veterans Administration, opened a small GI-funded art school.  Wasserman’s focus during his time in New York was less academic but rather centered on the fantastic art galleries and museums.  He took in the collections at the Metropolitan museum, MOMA, and the Frick, and concluded his formal art education by returning to Carmel.

    In 1948 Wasserman married Barbara Blair, a ceramicist.  Together they opened a studio in Seaside’s Fisherman’s Wharf; creating papier mache figures for shop window displays, signs and murals, theater and ballet set painting, and even parade floats.  The Wassermans were able to buy a house in Monterey which Gerald used as a studio until his death.  He was a bit disappointed that these early ventures weren’t “fine art”, but was comforted by the idea that his fine art education qualified him to make a living.  He gained experience in a variety of mediums, some of which he would later pick up in his own practice.

    Through the early 1950s Wasserman was painting on his own time, especially portraits of the workers and fishermen who worked near his studio on the Wharf.  Many of these portraits are in the Lost Art Collection and show the culmination of Wasserman’s Modernist tendencies and the influence of WPA Project murals of the 1930s.  He was exhibiting regularly and was enmeshed in the Carmel/ Monterey art community, friends and colleagues with local artists like Ephraim Doner, Richard Lofton, Sam Harris & Dan Harris, Margaret Millard, and Sam Colburn.  Wasserman and his contemporaries founded The New Group,  “a loose association based on interests that were different from the tenor and character of the Carmel Art Association, though some were members [of both].”  Although Wasserman was to soon leave Carmel and travel abroad, he participated in one successful exhibit with the group and it was an exciting and formative time for the young artist.

    In 1951, the Wassermans moved to Casablanca, Morocco as employees of an air base design firm.  Gerald enjoyed painting the North African subjects; the people, their activities, clothes, and the local landscape.  He loved the architecture and customs of Morocco, but after a year the Wassermans moved on to Europe.  They traveled around France, Italy, and Spain, taking in the art museums, palaces, and churches.  Wasserman fell in love with Europe during this trip, and he returned consistently throughout his life, calling himself an “ex-patriot, living at home.”

    Back in Carmel, Wasserman began exhibiting his European and Moroccan paintings.  He became a member of the Carmel Art Association by submitting a selection of landscapes and still lifes.  This marked a turning point in Wasserman’s painting, when he moved from nature scenes and models to painting from memory and imagination.  Gerald and Barbara returned to Europe in the late 1950s, living in Paris, Florence, and Majorca, Spain.  He kept a studio in Paris and painted scenes from Majorca, experimenting with less-realistic figures and borrowing primitive themes.  He exhibited twice in Paris, at the Galerie Prestige des Arts and at Galerie Rene Drouet.  The Wassermans returned to Monterey in 1961.

    Wasserman rented a studio in Cannery Row and produced a series of work based on his new neighborhood.  In the early 1960s, Cannery Row was “a ghost town,” with few restaurants, empty canneries, and nearly no tourist presence.  It was the perfect setting for artists to work and exhibit.  This was a prolific time for Wasserman, and he exhibited outside of Monterey as well; in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco (San Francisco Museum of Art).  This period marks Wasserman’s full exploration of one of his most beloved compositions- the balcony and table scenes that he executed in drawings and large-scale oil paintings.  He also dabbled in filmmaking and sculpture, drawing on his past experience in papier mache. He enrolled in a metal sculpture class and began working with cast bronze.

    In 1969, the Wassermans returned to Italy and settled in Rome.  Gerald began casting his bronze sculptures at the Bruni family foundry, creating small abstract pieces.  During this period, the Wassermans spent several summers on the Yugoslavia’s Dalmatian Coast.  The local boating culture influenced Gerald’s painting and he developed a series of abstract Madonnas against the Croatian landscape.  He took a group of these pieces back to California to exhibit at the Carmel Art Association, and was regularly showing at Galleria Schneider in Rome.

    Gerald and Barbara returned to Monterey in 1973 due to Barbara’s illness, and she passed away in 1976.  Gerald moved into a new studio and worked on a series of smaller gouache paintings and large drawings of his Madonna and Child motif.  From the late 1970s through the 80s and 90s, he continued to make annual trips to Europe, most often with his friend Marilyn Farrar.

    Wasserman continued to explore artistically; his drawings became more realistic and he experimented with oil monotypes and sculpture inspired by Hellenistic art.  Wasserman’s deep connection to the arts never slowed down and he made art into his 80s.  He passed away in 2011.
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