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Artist of the Month - October 2007

The Many Landscapes of Rod Galer
by Annabelle Numaguchi

Rod Galer & sonRod Galer lives an uncompromising Bohemian lifestyle in one of the world’s most beautiful spots, a natural choice for a painter who specializes in breathtaking landscapes. Both Galer and his paintings are colorful and could easily become pigeon-holed into simple categories, which unfortunately would cheat the subjects of a deservingly more complex analysis.

What I realized after talking with him and his twelve-year old son, Andreas, about art, music and living in Moab is that Galer seems to have achieved a quasi-Utopian lifestyle combining freedom and responsibility to just the right measure.

There is a children’s story entitled Harold and the Purple Crayon, in which a boy creates his world by drawing it. Galer has achieved the same feat by pursuing his music and art through this unstructured lifestyle. The result is a body of work that reflects an intuitive ability to represent his perception and love of nature.
Galer has taught himself how to paint by looking at books, visiting galleries and talking to other artists. Ultimately, he has mastered this form by doing. The variety of styles in his portfolio reflects his ability to embrace things untried; fear does not impede his experimentation. He paints primarily in oils, and his use of strokes, layering, scratches or “whatever works in the moment” has resulted in a myriad of representational and abstract pieces.

Some of his landscapes are so realistic that they appear to be photographs. My first encounter with a series depicting red rock landscapes against perfect cloud strewn azure skies was at the Desert Bistro, the upscale restaurant in town and one of the places where Galer’s work is displayed. I found myself doing the one-step-forward-one-step-back dance trying to figure out whether it was a painting or photograph, and then admiring the effect.

Galer’s ability to depict skies, stormy and calm, so vividly and accurately is one of his signature trademarks. Even in some of his partially abstract works or dreamscapes, he paints a realistic sky as the background. In “Nightflight,” a black and white crane soars poetically through a cloud strewn starry night. The elements of the painting, moon, clouds, sky and bird, all look so real; it is the composition that imbues this work with fantasy.

Although the majority of Galer’s paintings depict recognizable landscapes, he obviously enjoys tricking the eye and playing with the viewer’s expectations. In one painting, he depicts the texture and color of the rock so realistically, yet the rest of the work is more stylized. In another, the sky is represented in photo-like precision while the foreground reveals brush strokes.

Shapes play an important role in Galer’s compositions, evident in both his landscapes and non-representational paintings. In many of his rockscapes, he depicts triangular arches and jutting spires or cactus limbs. These same shapes reappear in his abstract works.

By using various shades of indigo, he created several works that appear completely abstract on the outset. On closer examination, the viewer can discern in one painting the bony vertebral ridge and wings of a dragon, who blends into the misty background. In another painting, a world of miniature flora appears to emerge out of the abstract swirls. These works reflect Galer’s intuitive approach to art, and ultimately life. He describes the process he uses by revealing that “I let the paint run and I follow.”

Galer is clearly not a laissez-faire painter in the Pollock tradition of bringing paint to canvas and letting physics take over. Although he may not have a preconceived notion of how he wants his paintings to turn out, he does exert his will while allowing the paint and his ideas some free reign. This exertion reflects some of the influences that play on Galer’s art, including Asian and Native American elements.

He has a penchant for early Chinese paintings, particularly evident in a recent series of small landscapes depicting arches in limited tones. The black-and-white effect combined with the strong spontaneous strokes he created by using a palette knife imbue the four works with a Zen atmosphere.

Another series he continues to create is realistically reproducing pictographs of the Anasazi. He creates his own rock slate out of glue and other unexpected materials and reproduces the ochre colors of the red rocks and the stylistic Native American symbols so accurately, he has received accolades in the form of criticism, berating him for “chipping off these panels.”

Galer is a perpetual student of art and music, always drawing inspiration from what he sees and hears. He claims that he approaches art by “evoking the Muse and then getting out of the way,” but that description shortchanges the mastery of painting he has earned, not through formal training, but through practice and study on his own.

I cannot imagine Galer pursuing traditional schooling in art because he not only has so much natural ability, but also because he has such a keen intuition. Formal classes would have probably stifled that awareness more than brought out other skills. By renouncing the traditional acquisitions most adults encumber themselves with as life advances, Galer has freed himself up to pursue a simplified life where art and music take center stage.

Rod Galer displays his work at Petra Gallery, 83 E. Center Street, (435) 259-7002 and at The Desert Bistro 1226 Hwy 191, (435) 259-0756.

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