Jonas Gerard died peacefully at his home in Asheville, North Carolina on Friday, September 25th, 2020, after a period of declining health.
Jonas Gerard (né Gerard Jonas Schlouch) was born in Casablanca, Morocco, on June 27, 1941 to Simone and Josef Schlouch. French was his native language, and he loved to spend time with his mother in her embroidery studio as a little boy. After being given a paint set for his 8th birthday, he taught himself how to paint by copying postcards of impressionist paintings and landscape photos from magazines. In 1955, he immigrated to New York City with his mother and older sister, Lucette. As a teenager, he started to do street portraits in charcoal for a few dollars each, and later sold his paintings in Washington Square Park.
In 1959, Jonas enlisted in the United States Army, later transferring to the Army Reserves and starting his art career in earnest. By 1963, he had established his first gallery at 88 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. In 1966, after reading “The Razor’s Edge” by William Somerset Maugham and some experimentation with psychedelics, he learned about the teachings of Kirpal Singh, a spiritual master within the tradition of Surat Shabd Yoga (aka Sant Mat). This led him to the Sant Bani Ashram in New Hampshire, where he learned about principles of nonviolence, meditation, karma, and self-realization through the teachings within the Sant Mat tradition. While there, he met and married his first wife Judith Swart, and deepened his spiritual practice. Soon, with a baby on the way, they moved to Florida, where he knew he could sell his work successfully.
In 1968, Jonas rented a gallery space on Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale and co-founded the Las Olas Arts Festival; in that same year his daughter Mira was born. The following year, Jonas, Judith, and Mira went to India to live in a small compound for several months with Kirpal Singh and a few other spiritual seekers. His path as a meditator and an artist was solidified, and he devoted the rest of his life to those two pursuits.
Jonas achieved rapid success in the seventies, with portraits quickly becoming his main source of steady income as he developed a method of doing multi-view composite images. He and Judith painted those together, taking turns with various steps including extensive photo shoots with clients. During this period, he developed a style which was vivid, luminous, airy, and elegant by drawing images such as figures, animals, or other scenes directly on the canvas with charcoal, and then layering acrylic washes and glazes, geometric forms, and other painterly elements. Of particular note was an unfolding series of narrative, mystical images of children playing and running in cosmic spaces or lush meadows, done in collaboration with his wife Judith, and often utilizing Mira as his muse. They created limited edition lithographs of these works, which he added hand-colored details to, and he expanded that repertoire to include landscapes, dancers, gestural abstraction, collage, and mixed media work.
With much success and a plan to travel back and forth to sell work, the Gerards were able to move back to the Sant Bani Ashram in the woods of New Hampshire in 1973, so that Mira could be raised and schooled in that spiritual community. With America’s Bicentennial approaching, Jonas created a circular painting, 8’ in diameter, entitled “We the People’ which was later selected for an official Bicentennial exhibition held at the Smithsonian. President Gerald Ford accepted the piece in a White House ceremony in 1975, just 20 years after Jonas immigrated to America.
Over the next decades, Jonas split his time between New Hampshire and Florida. With more than 50 years of arts festivals, art fairs, portraits, and commissions behind him, he stopped doing portraits and devoted more and more time to abstraction in both painting and sculptural form, which he loved the most. He would explain that the essence of inner light and sound coming from spiritual realms within are expressed most palpably and directly through the act of painting. He was married and divorced a total of three times in his life. He traveled regularly over the years to India to meditate with his guru Sant Ajaib Singh, who was a successor of Kirpal Singh.
Jonas moved to Asheville, North Carolina after visiting in 2006 and falling in love with the Appalachian Mountains, the charming downtown, and the proximity to his daughter Mira an hour away in Tennessee. He rented a huge warehouse space across from an abandoned steel mill in what was then the yet to be revitalized (now famous) Asheville River Arts District, later adding a second location in Asheville’s Riverview Station. In his years there, he was featured on the television news magazine 20/20 and was written about in numerous local, regional and national publications including the New York Times. His late work included vivid, energetic, loosely calligraphic and gestural abstractions, painted with fluid acrylics and utilizing custom-made trowels and other painting tools, often done as live painting performances for large audiences in painting studios located within each gallery.
Jonas was also well known for his exuberant, booming personality, infectious enthusiasm, and massive generosity to individuals and organizations in North Carolina, New Hampshire, and beyond. He was affectionately described by many as a force of nature. He maintained a childlike sense of wonder in virtually every moment, and aspired to paint with the unselfconscious exuberance that young children have. For Jonas, painting was the antidote to suffering, loneliness, and pain, and he often openly cried when he could share that sense of joy and bliss with anyone who felt it emanating from his radiant canvases.
Jonas Gerard is survived by his daughter Mira Sushila Gerard, of Johnson City, Tennessee. A memorial service was held at his burial at the Sant Bani Ashram Cemetery in Sanbornton, New Hampshire on October 12th, 2020. An online celebration of his life was held Saturday, November 7th, 2020.
Memorial gifts may be made to Pyareo Home, 333 Brook Road, Sanbornton, New Hampshire 03269 or online at https://pyareohome.org/ or Asheville Breakfast Rotary Foundation, PO Box 18117, Asheville, North Carolina, 28814.
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