It's not often that I write on the work of a living artist. There are a number of good reasons for this, but the most important one is that there are so MANY of them. A short time ago however, I came across one who made quite an impression on me. I must confess, until I saw his work, I'd never heard of him. He's not exactly rich and famous...well, rich maybe, most of his work is sells in the five digit range, but in any case, he's no household name. Speaking of names, his is Stephen Gjertson. (The "G" is silent.) He lives with his wife and children in Minneapolis where he paints from his home studio like so many of us, enters juried competitions, and deals long distance with the gallery representing him in McDonough, Georgia. He is also a founding member of the American Society of Classical Realism. And if you thought all realism was cold and harsh like Wyeth, or cutesy sweet like Kinkaid, be aware that there is a happy middle ground somewhere in between, and Gjertson occupies a fairly good portion of it.
I guess one of the prerequisites I, and perhaps most artists, have in choosing the work of others to admire is that the artist easily and consistently does that which we have tried to do but cannot. In many ways, Gjertson's style and subject matter are in line with my own. He paints still-lifes, a few landscapes, some genre, portraits, and religious scenes. He was born in 1949 which makes him about my age too. Unfortunately, there the comparison ends. His educational background is as classical, as his style. It includes studies with Minnesota atelier of, Richard Lack, where he also taught for a time. He has also spent several years traveling and studying in Europe. If one were to describe his work, the word "timeless" comes to mind, though many of his genre depictions are very much those of the 1990s. By timeless I mean that his portraits and still-lifes have a nineteenth, and even eighteenth century quality about them--quiet, refined, gentle without being sentimental.
Gjertson paints in oil in a manner so traditional one might think he doesn't even OWN a camera. Every work is thoroughly developed in pencil on paper, then enlarged into a cartoon, before being transferred to canvas. One might almost think he'd studied fresco. He uses live models at every step of the way, often imposing upon his wife and children, all of whom appear at regular intervals in his work. A devout Lutheran, his Biblical work ranges from a painfully UNtraditional crucifixion to include an expulsion from the Garden of Eden, "So he Drove the Man Out," "Rachel Weeping for her Children" based on an antiabortion theme, and a colossal, and somewhat frightening, "Maranatha, (The Return of Jesus Christ)." Gjertson children, however, are amongst his best work as he captures the rich fantasy life of his sons and daughters in paintings such as "Reflections", "The Late Show," and "Admiration." Excuse me for playing favorites, but as of October 11, 1999, Stephen Gjertson stands apart in my mind as the living artist I most admire.