Considered one of the "Nuevos Tres Grandes," along with Carlos Mérida and Rufino Tamayo, Gerzso pioneered abstraction in postwar Mexico, recasting the indigenismo of the Muralists into a universal reflection on cultural and personal identity. "I look with my feet on the ground," Gerzso emphasized, and in anchoring his abstraction firmly within the national context he expanded the horizons of Mexican modernism, revitalized through critical new encounters with the international avant-garde.(1) A self-described "European with Mexican eyes," Gerzso evolved his expressive language of abstraction with the benefit of firsthand knowledge of modern European art, acquired during an adolescence spent abroad under the tutelage of his uncle, a noted art collector and connoisseur. Born to European parents in Mexico City, Gerzso returned to Mexico in 1931 well-educated in the classical humanist tradition and with an eye trained on the paintings of modern masters, from Paul Cézanne to Klee and Kandinsky.
The visual lessons of the European avant-garde would slowly incubate over the following two decades, in which Gerzso worked primarily as a set designer and painted on the side. Vitalized during the 1940s by the wartime exodus of many Surrealists to Mexico and the emergence of the Mexican intelligentsia, Gerzso devoted himself full-time to painting in 1962, refining his mature style of abstraction over what would prove to be the most prolific decade of his career. Azul, verde, naranja is classic example from this period: the iconic single square, an eloquent focal point among a constellation of subtly irregular geometric shapes, stabilizes the deeply recessive, enigmatic space of the image. The underlying architectonic order, built through a Cubist faceting of space and Constructivist geometries, defines what Octavio Paz has described as "a space which extends outward and unrolls itself or rolls itself up, unfolds itself, splits in two, and in two again, and meets itself once more. Every picture tends toward the immobility, not of repose but of tension: It is a covenant of many hostile forces, convergences, magnetic centers."(2)
The poetics of this integral and metaphysical space is intensified by the meticulous color and radiant lyricism of Gerzso's palette. In the present work, he balances his favored blue-greens--in tones ranging from the shimmering iridescence of the square to the deep azure of the floating planes--against warm reds and oranges that hover near the bottom of the canvas. The fluid harmonies of complementary colors, arranged in overlapping strata that penetrate deep beyond the picture surface, metaphorically evoke the diversity of the Mexican landscape, distilled in the earthen desert tones and verdant jungle greens. "I am not an abstract painter, but a landscape painter," Gerzso explained. "I am a great admirer of this country--of its culture and landscape-- that is what influences my painting."(3) Drawing inspiration from the rich textures and colors of the land, Gerzso's abstractions penetratingly channel the spiritual state and psychic imagination of the Mexican landscape. The expansive and resonant atmosphere of the land permeates the pictorial space of Azul, verde, naranja, even as the artist's affirmation of the native past becomes, through his signature spatial configurations, a universal expression of cultural identity. The intercultural language of Gerzso's abstraction, drawn evenly from the indigenous and the international, ultimately reflects both the cosmopolitan horizons of modern Mexico and, no less, the personal history of Gerzso himself, at times seemingly a foreigner in his own land.
1) G. Gerzso, quoted in Gunther Gerzso: Paintings and Graphics Reviewed, Austin: The University of Texas, 1976, 23.
2) O. Paz, "Gerzso: The Icy Spark," in Gunther Gerzso: Paintings and Graphics Reviewed, 25.
3) Gerzso, quoted in D. C. Du Pont, Risking the Abstract: Mexican Modernism and the Art of Gunther Gerzso, Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2003, 114.