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Elise Weinrich Geary

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32963 Magazine, VeroNews.com

January 14, 2016

Elise Geary: Imagery that's more than skin deep by Ellen Fischer

What do art and dermatology have in common?

“More than you would think,” says retired dermatologist-turned-fine artist Elise Weinrich Geary. “Dermatology is a very visual practice.”

“In dermatology you see everything that you’re dealing with, 90 percent of it, anyway,” Geary explains. “It’s got nothing to do with lab tests, nothing to do with something that you detect with X-rays or MRIs. You look at it, and you’re looking for patterns, colors and textures.”

It could be said that Geary’s childhood interest in art led her to a career in medicine, and that her specialty in dermatology helped to refine her artistic vision. After nearly 30 years in private practice, she has come full circle to her first love – painting – and she has taken it up with the same passion with which she approached the healing arts.

A resident of Vero’s barrier island, Geary keeps an art studio on the mainland in Sebastian. The airy studio she shares with artists Margaret Goembel, Gail Fairweather and Andrea Lazar is in the Village Square shops on U.S. 1, just south of Main Street. Appropriately named “Working Art Studio,” the space is not a gallery, although many of its artists’ works in painting, assemblage and mixed media are on exhibit there. Visitors are welcome by chance or appointment and the studio will be on the Sebastian Art Studio Tour Feb. 13 2016.

In Geary’s corner a dozen or so acrylic paintings, most of them abstracts, are currently displayed on easels and the walls. Another 25 works are at the framer’s in preparation for her February solo exhibition at The Artists Guild Gallery in downtown Vero.

In general Geary favors a subdued palette of black and white and the range of grays that can be mixed from them; burnt sienna, yellow ochre and umber also predominate in the canvases. Blues that range from almost black to a bright, cold azure stand out against the muted tones.

She gestures toward a work in progress whose rocky forms and fissure-like lines suggest a structure of geologic proportions.

“That one is probably going to be called ‘Fruition,’” she says.

Behind it, a canvas featuring flame-colored, vaguely human shapes against a vaporous blue background is called “Conversation,” while on an easel adjacent to these, an as-yet unnamed work evokes a dark netherworld where passages flow with white-hot magma.

Geary admits to hesitation when it comes to titling her paintings. She reasons that if she gives an art work a specific title, it will limit her audience’s perception of what the work is about.

One of the things that fascinates her about abstract painting is “how much the viewer puts into whatever they’re seeing.”

In other words, people are wired to make visual sense of the arbitrary or the unfamiliar.

As Leonardo de Vinci would have it, the imagination is stimulated by gazing upon, say, a stained wall or lichen-covered rock, and seeing “reefs, seas, clouds, forests and other similar things.”

If the human mind will find imagery in the coincidental blots and blemishes on a weather-worn surface, how much more readily will it attempt to read familiar imagery into the disconcerting brushwork, drips and happy accidents of the abstract artist’s canvas?

Geary says that she has witnessed the phenomenon often in people who view her work.

 

“I will be a fly on the wall listening to people, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, that looks like a bird,’ or ‘Can’t you see? There’s a face over here.’ Or ‘There’s a horse galloping through there.’”

Far from being dismayed by what another artist might interpret as an inadequate response to her oeuvre, Geary expresses delight in these untutored remarks.

“I say great!” she says. She also appreciates viewers who do not see specific imagery in the paintings as much as feel they “could go whirling into the picture.”

Geary was attracted to art early on. Born and raised near Detroit, she attended art classes for children at Cranbrook Academy.

“I wanted to go to art school when I was 14. My parents said, ‘You might want to keep your options open,’” she says.

Nevertheless, after Geary graduated from high school she chose to attend Bennington College in Vermont because of its strong arts program.

“Midway through college I decided that I wanted to make a radical change, because I wanted to do something more tangible – fix things. So I went to pre-med.”

She continued her studies at the Medical University of South Carolina, followed by a residency in dermatology at Duke University in Durham.

Dr. Weinrich-Geary and a female colleague, Dr. Patricia Mauro, then founded Durham Dermatology Associates, where she spent a satisfying 28 years in practice.

It was not until after her father died, in 1993, that Geary found a way to get back into artmaking. Both of her parents had long since settled in Durham and Geary and her widowed mother decided to sign up for their first watercolor class together. The mother-daughter activity continued for the following 15 years.

Still engaged in her full-time medical practice, Geary eventually began to show and sell her work. At that time the artist was firmly established in the representational camp: She painted landscapes and the occasional portrait of a child or a pet for friends.

Her semi-retirement in 2010 brought Geary and her husband Leon, a retired pulmonologist, to Vero Beach during the winter, where she worked part time with dermatologist Patrick Ottuso. (The couple’s summer home is in Hendersonville, N.C.)

In Florida, Geary’s art took a turn for the abstract.

“When I came here to Vero it was one of my priorities, in my retirement, to really start painting again. I was trying to push the envelope a little bit with watercolors, because I had gone from representational to increasingly non-representational. I felt that acrylics would allow me to do that in a more dynamic, more experimental, more interesting way.”

She soon found direction in contemporary artist Deborah Gooch’s advanced painting classes at the Vero Beach Museum of Art School. Geary, who considered Gooch a “mentor,” continues to study at Gooch’s studio in Vero.

Geary’s painting career has also been given a boost by her newfound freedom to paint “six Saturdays and one Sunday a week.”

“I am now officially, as of Nov. 2, 2015, completely retired,” she says.

As to where she wishes to go with her art, Geary has as high a standard as she did for her medical career.

“I would like to have a couple things happen. I would like to have artists that I respect recognize and respect my work; whether that’s through juried shows, exhibitions, or just word of mouth,” she says.

Her second goal is to sell her art.

“My ideal would be to have a local gallery where I can paint things, bring them in, and have the gallery deal with the business side, which most artists don’t want to deal with,” she says. “For that matter, most doctors don’t want to deal with business management either.”