While attending the Laguna Beach Arts Festival this August, I was introduced to the work of Eric Gerdau. A Rhode Island School of Design alumnus and New Yorker gone rogue, Gerdau is now a Laguna local. He was displaying two paintings at the annual Laguna Beach Arts Festival, held in an outdoor venue that is nuzzled into the bowl of a canyon with the ocean only a short distance away. The large oil paintings stretch vast across the small space allotted. From afar, they appear as simply bands of rich color, fusing with one another at the edges. However, as I approached I saw that they were paintings of the sea. The sky in both works is in the moment of transition from day to night—the water reflecting the horizon’s transformation.
The two pieces on display, “Late Bloomer” and “Marmalade,” show a calm ocean; the ripples in the foreground catch the last gleams of light. In “Late Bloomer,” the ocean extends into the background, becoming a deep blue that strikes the intensely vibrant magenta of the horizon so that the meeting point of the two seems to vibrate. I was reminded of a Rothko.
“Marmalade” is the same composition, but an entirely different experience. The ocean in the foreground is dark, shadows accentuate the small ripples spanning the length of the piece; burnt orange light licks the peaks. As the eye moves up the painting, the ocean turns from rose to a light apricot hue, and rather than the horizon clashing against the water, they fade into one another seamlessly. The sky at the horizon is pale, for a moment yellowed and then a muted blush, which melts into periwinkle blue by the time you’ve reached the top of the painting.
At a glance, Gerdau’s paintings may be just simple seascapes. However, odd distinctions arise that diverge from the norm of reality. The scenes portrayed are beautiful, but there is something unsettling about them. In both, it seems as if the light emanating from the sunset comes from the entire expanse of the horizon rather than one point. There is no saturation of color in the sky that indicates the location of the sun; it is equally distributed across the horizon. The sensation of viewing the works is a strange one, the subconscious seems to pick up on this unnatural uniformity in light and color before the mind can catch up. The pictures are too pristine, the chaos induced by the sun’s dipping below the surface has been cleaned up, smoothed out so I almost feel like I’m looking into a scene from The Truman Show. Upon the surface, everything seems just fine, but if you pay attention, you’ll see something is rotten in the state of Denmark.