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Lynn Maliszewski

Subliminal Introspection: Fred Gutzeit and the SigNature Series

Fred Gutzeit is an artist obsessed with motifs. The duality of the word, defined simultaneously as an insistent idea and a repeating pattern, is an acute reflection of his current practice. The SigNATURE series, birthed in 2011, spiraled into existence after Gutzeit's abstracted investigation of landscape. He channeled the plein air painters, situating himself in upstate New York for several years. The intricate compositions featured mathematical forms such as spirals and the Calabi-Yau manifold in tandem with globular renderings of waterfalls and foliage. This “transformed realism” captured the essential identity of his surroundings and inspired Gutzeit to return to the question of human consciousness. Forever a realist, he assumed the lines of one's signature could recollect identity like amoebic fingerprint grooves. He began acquiring signatures from close friends and artists but completed the first piece in the series, [2659] FG sig. (2010), utilizing his own script. Characteristics from this primary work can be found throughout: a vibrant color palate, an overall-ness to the line-form, and a desire to unify the background and foreground by way of pattern. Light, scale, and space allowed Gutzeit to develop a language merging separate realms into cohesive portraits.

Gutzeit's quandaries from yesteryear are the closeted skeletons from which the SigNATURE series blossomed. His first forays into artistic creation in the 1960s were abstractions. Dancers, for example, was a series of four ballerinas respectively rendered with lyrical grace in a tight pirouette. From the beginning, repetition, which allowed him to conflate and reinvent representation in each incarnation, was essential. Each version battled the entropy of reality and worked toward simplicity. This early series highlights Gutzeit's unique insight into the ephemeral and his penchant for color studies. Dancers was generated in 1968 for the most part, the same year he struggled to integrate pattern into his practice. He eventually left it for dead when the tropes of Minimalism rolled into New York in the 1970s. Youthful defeat defaulted his practice to realism. The SigNATURE series marks his triumphant return to the studio, ruminating over ideas from years past that thus fuse with his current aesthetic insight.

The series began with watercolors on paper, which served as doodles. Their fluid backgrounds and warped lines are meditative and serene. Each signature is a tendril of an anemone, assuming a life of its own in a swamp of pigment. The gentle contrast between cool and warm colors implies a momentary vision of depth, a regular banter with flatness that emerges throughout the series. KK sig. (2011), for example, places a navy-blue section alongside a mustard section within the same signature, allowing a subtle twist to materialize. The aesthetic satisfaction of these watercolors, however, did not remedy the distinction of planes. Foreground and background would have to fuse in order to embody the totality of identity Gutzeit desired.

The contradictions within the picture plane led Gutzeit to Adobe Illustrator, transforming the watercolors into plotted points with commanding edges. The process felt akin to his training in engravings in its painstaking specificity. This was an opportunity to furthermore experiment with Josef Albers' color theory, undermining the uniformity of color, with efficiency and ease. He acknowledged the falsity of control in this phase, finding consolation in his attempts to create a potent “color buzz” in the painted works. He has likened the process to drawing with a mouse, allowing him to experiment with innumerable grades of color and background options enroute to another painting. Illustrator allowed Gutzeit to revisit successful compositions via print-outs where he could indulge in color combinations more thoroughly. He strove to eradicate any emphasis on gesture, rather allowing the color to function as “a musical chord,” a harmonizing element. The sharp lines produced by the mathematical functions in Illustrator provided a new foundation for the series – one based on creating a dimension for these signatures in contrast to their human counterpoints.

The frames of the series developed organically out of the desire to situate the signatures in space. From a two-dimensional standpoint, they dictate the cadence of the line. These works, however, have always been based in reality for Gutzeit. He likened the segments, dashes, and fades along the border to binary code signifying the interior action. The line thus functions within and outside the canvas, spawning a contradictory space that is both two and three-dimensional. This paradox brought Gutzeit to assimilate holograms into his model of the series with the frame being the final element in his conceptual rendition. Despite the flat surface, the frame and signature were coded to render the totality of its subject.

Acute moments of incongruity are innate to holograms nonetheless, and the mechanics as such transformed Gutzeit's backgrounds. Interference is inevitable when laser beams pass through several diverging lenses and mirrors in the process of creating a hologram. One's eyes hardly notice the tension, however. The backgrounds thus become a meditation on pattern, on deranged regularity, that mirrors the routines and habits one balances daily. YINJING sig. 5 (2011) situates an acrylic technicolor signature upon a houndstooth arrangement that varies in shape and size across the canvas. The colors of the pattern reflect portions of the dominant line, implying they exist in the same universe yet teeter between dimensions. The viewer must adjust to dueling fluctuations, viewing the work like an autostereogram where the foreground and background mingle seamlessly. Like the subjects they represent, the signatures subsist amid literal and figurative noise. Gutzeit explains, “I don’t just want to highlight the pure essence. I want to show what it came out of, what it relates to... We have to have our identity against everything else that’s going on, everything we see with an identity against everything else.”

Each signature is a equation – sifted through a strainer and relayed into muscle memory, it is tested by time. It walks a delicate line between conscious and subconscious, “the ego fit to the limit of the body” according to Gutzeit. Each hypnotic, ebullient rendering relies on a spiritual connection with the subject rather than direct illustration. Like the graffiti tags on the Bowery near his studio, each stylized representation is enlivened within Gutzeit's “energized field.” Some compositions and combinations are more successful than others, reflecting the daily variations in tone we expel into the world. The phenomenon of connecting, sifting through the turbulence and digesting the work in one bite, is a rare moment of clarity. Simultaneously cerebral and completely grounded in composition, one inhales the full complexity of the roaming, forever evolving, psyche. Such a search for the soul's representation, melding the subconscious intentions of artist and subject, is a departure from traditional portraiture that rests in an echelon all its own.

Marvin Cohen

Working out the Unexpected

Painting for over a half century and exhibited in 43 solo shows and 135 group shows, including 20 museums, Fred Gutzeit tries to imagine what he's been up to.  Recent develops, finished works, are here shown.

For example, he asks people to sign their names.  The starting theme is "sigNATURE," which is a concrete thing.  He plays each signature into an "abstract" work, in which every colored mark is deliberate and intentional;  and a "process" is culminated into painterliness.  Going into the signature theme are remembered themes like chain link fences, dog portraits, people portraits, nature landscapes, work gloves discarded on sidewalks, stopped clocks.

Gutzeit uses memories of former works to shape the concrete signatures into the abstraction of people's psychic identities, brashly presuming that a habitual signature shows character through like a recent haircut.  The way someone walks is prefigured into dance revelation, as the painting evolves.  Swirling signature lines, enhanced by background colors, reveal special "movement light" assembled into music rhythms, unfurling drama.
It's his private language attempting a public language, trying to make the public "bite."  He doesn't want to express himself.  He reads science like string theories of physics to get an objective slant into the world.  Addressing the painting, he works through, in an attempt to find out what it's going to look like -- growing into its end form, as elegant as possible.
His whole life unfolds into each final image, as a work goes through its personal phases with the hope that impersonal observers will experience something of the impact that the painter, with self-imposed or accidental difficulties, manages to arrive to:  the point of finite satisfaction.  The triumph would be the sense that the convincingly unexpected gets itself somehow made.

Klaus Kertess

The Realism of Seeing

For over twenty years Fred Gutzeit has been exploring the ways and means of representing nature starting with representations of what he saw and experienced in nature and moving ever closer to a kind of linear fantastic that may or may not reflect advanced scientific theory and the patterned structures underlying natural events.

Gutzeit started as a keen and skilled observer of the seen, ranging from funky workman’s gloves to bucolic nature – with a group of dog and cat portraits inbetween. In 1984 he drew increasingly closer to the bark of a large Lacoste oak tree he had regularly been painting in watercolor and ended by painting a six part work charting various closeup areas of the abstract flow of the oak’s bark. He continued to paint seen nature throughout the 1990s, often making composite works that stressed the difference between three dimensional seeing and two dimensional painting; and again created the occasional abstraction, such as the ink on paper water pattern works he created in 1997. These later works hover on the border between observation and imagination – as to a lesser degree, of course, do all paintings based on observation.

As a series of works initially based on the observation of Otter Falls, in the Catskills, progressed into 2002 and on, they became more complex in configuration and process. Digital manipulation and printing on paper mounted on canvas began to turn into linear deliriums meticulously structured and ever denser. Organic forms allude to nature rather than represent nature and occasionally call to the paper cut out forms created by Pierre Matisse late in his career; and these works also bristle with a horror vacui akin to Celtic manuscripts like the Book of Kells and Tibetan Tantric painting – and occasionally to the flickering luminosity of stained glass.

In the last two years, Gutzeit has, on occasion, turned to exploring the imagined space of science, an abstract mathematical space with a global structure more complex than Euclidean space. Some physicists have conjectured what is called superstring theory that posits six dimensions of spacetime that assume the form of what is referred to as Calabi Yau manifolds. The imagining of extra dimensions of space performed by physicists is an apt metaphor for an artist to work with. The physically unseen forces underlying nature that Jackson Pollock sought to embody in his work grew out of shamanistic conception, whereas the unseen forces Gutzeit seeks to embody grow out of the science of physics. Scientific and shamanistic conceiving may not be as far apart as previously believed.