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,  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.