Jan Geyer has known a few time zones in her life: born in the Bahams, schooled in New York City, employed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Saudi Arabia (graphic design and drafting), running her own jewelry retail business in Connecticut. But it wasn’t until made Palm Coast her home in 2012 that she experienced the luxury of experimenting in her passion. That happened after she opened a personal studio on the second floor of City Marketplace, a couple of doors down from what used to be Hollingsworth Gallery. She subsequently named it Studio Dow, and while art had always enjoyed a place in her life, for the first time she could call herself a full-time artist.
The local encouragement she received and the response towards art in general since she set up shop has played a role in winning the honor. “It’s nice that the people around here appear to be pretty interested,” Geyer says, putting some emphasis on her willingness to experiment.
“I think that most artists probably would like to be able to do that if they can— experiment,” she says, adding how easy it can be to become a slave to one style of art. Whether it’s because you imitate someone you admire, or because it sells but it’s not really a true reflection of you, to be able to try something you really like is the goal. “I’m lucky to be able to do that.”
Before moving to the area to be closer to family, Geyer had clung strictly to realism, which is still apparent in elements of her figurative work. But it doesn’t go beyond that: it’s only an element. In many of her paintings she leaves the underlying, or skeletal crayon drawings, exposed. They remain as ghosts. She doesn’t brush them away under layers of either acrylic or oils, her preferred mediums. It’s Geyer’s way of inviting the world to look in at her process. Alternatively, it’s her way of experimenting.
Some things remain consistent across her work. Her aim is to ensure that “the characters and the figures in the paintings develop personalities,” she says. “I try to get that if I can. I don’t always.”
A murky, almost acidic yellow that nearly makes your eyes tingle is a distinguishing feature of what Geyer considers to be the poster child for her Artist of the Year reception, which was held last Friday at Salvo Art Gallery, where her work is on display for the rest of the month. The subject, shaded in streaky, strong green tones, is a dancer and paid model. The girl is an attention grabber or “entertainer,” she says—“if that’s the right word for her.” The strong color is representative of her personality.
Not far from the girl with the manic aura is a painting of a man in a ball cap and glasses. He’s flanked by a couple of stronger, more self-assured looking men, judging by their posture. The man in the cap is with them yet separate, his hands warm and safe in his pockets. In his case, the mood is set by a calm, tepid blue.
In another pair of complementary paintings are two Flamenco dancers, whom Geyer observed while in Barcelona several years ago. “They’re so intense when they’re dancing,” she says. That much is clear from her colors, if the dancers’ ultra-dramatic poses and expressions aren’t enough.
She likes depicting dancers because Geyer is one herself. If she were to paint herself dancing, she says (almost evoking words Linda Solomon, a former Artist of the Year, would use in her dance-rich paintings), “I’d try to evoke the feeling of movement, of the stability that’s required, the balance. It’s very difficult to dance.”
The biggest difference between the two art forms is that dance is so much more social, she says. Therefore, “It’s a good alternate.” The hardest part of being a full-time painter is the solitary nature of it. Sometimes she finds herself dancing around her studio.
Most of the dancers Geyer paints she photographed at the Valencia Art Center in Florida. Her penchant for life drawing is clear. One can also see the imprint of classical influences, including Renaissance figurative painters like Cranach, Van Eyck, and Veronese.
Flagler Artists of the Year:
That said, there are abstract works in the show, too. One such piece is a bold, almost blood orange-colored piece Geyer calls “My Mom’s World.”
Geyer’s award reflects an evolution of its own for the arts in Palm Coast and the county.
Peter Cerreta, a frequent presence at Salvo, was the foundation’s first Artist Of the Year in 2000. “We only knew of about five artists who would’ve been worthy of this award,” Tom Gargiuolo, the foundation president, says. “What I’m trying to say is that it’s getting more and more difficult to select the artists. There are so many good artists that we didn’t have before.” However, Geyer was nominated on every ballot by the selection committee.
“When we select the Artist of the Year, we’re looking for someone who isn’t only a good artist, which Jan certainly is. We’re looking for someone who’s made contributions to the arts community,” Gargiulo says.
In the three years she’s been in Palm Coast, Geyer has assisted in hanging art shows at Hollingsworth Gallery, where Second Saturdays for the past four years served as Palm Coast’s monthly art event for Hollingsworth and its neighbor in City Marketplace, the Flagler County Art League. That was before Hollingsworth founder J.J Graham, along with his partner Petra Iston, recreated and expanded his gallery at Bunnell’s Nature Scapes this past summer, renaming it the Salvo Art Project.
However, the thing that stands out the most regarding in Geyer’s artistic generosity materialized when the foundation encountered issues with their annual July Bike and Poetry themed show. Hollingsworth Gallery had always housed the work, but Graham was having difficulties with new landlords at City Marketplace and it was uncertain whether his gallery would still be there at the time of the show.
Geyer immediately stepped up and volunteered her studio. The art league also stepped up. As it turned out, Hollingsworth remained a viable location for the date, so the foundation ended up with three venues for the show. It became a bigger and more successful event than ever before, Gargiulo says.
In addition to the exposure and recognition, which could lead to other show opportunities for artists, the foundation purchases some of each Artist of the Year’s work and puts the pieces into a public collection. Most Artist of the Year artwork has ended up at the Palm Coast campus of Daytona State College and the Flagler County Public Library. “It’s also history,” Gargiulo says. “Years from now, when people will be looking at the Artist of the Year public art collections, it’s going to show what art looked like in 2014.”