Press release from Jonas Gerard Art:
It is with great sadness that we inform you this morning of the passing Jonas Gerard. Our galleries will be closed today in respect to him as we plan how to move forward from this great loss. He was someone who was truly larger than life and we will miss him dearly. There will be a reception announced at a later date.
Asheville artist Jonas Gerard died Friday, September 25, 2020 peacefully at his home after a period of declining health. Gerard was internationally known for his art, both abstract and representational. His galleries remain a tourist destination for Western North Carolina.
Gerard Jonas Schlouch was born in Casablanca, Morocco, at the time a French province, on June 27, 1941 to Simone and Josef Schlouch. From an early age, he showed a natural artistic talent by painting copies of old post cards and calendar pictures as his mother worked in her embroidery studio. Gerard later legally changed his name to Jonas Gerard when people mistakenly pronounced his name “Slouch.”
In 1955, Gerard immigrated to New York City with his mother and sister. “One of my fondest memories was passing the Statue of Liberty as the ship pulled into America,” he remembered, “None of us spoke a word of English.”
Within a year, Gerard began sell his paintings in Washington Square Park. While still in high school, he traveled each Saturday and Sunday from the family’s apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to New York street fairs and supported his family with his art.
After high school, in 1959, Gerard enlisted in the United States Army. He later recalled, “It was what every good American did and Elvis had just joined up. I took my oath of American citizenship in my Army uniform. I had never driven a car and they assigned me to drive a tank.”
A year later, Gerard transferred to the Army Reserves and resumed his art career. By 1963, he had established his first gallery at 88 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.
In 1966, Gerard abandoned his Jewish roots and embraced the teaching of Master Sant Kirpal Singh. Singh was part the tradition of Surat Shabd Yoga which involves a path of personal spiritual attainment under the guidance of a living spiritual master. Singh’s teachings consist in opening the inner eye or third eye to develop vision of inner light and inner sound with the practice of meditation on the Divine Word, or the Yoga of the Sound Current. This practice is considered at the spiritual base of all religions. Gerard attributed his religious shift to having taken him to new levels in his art.
With newfound enlightenment, a new wife and his daughter on the way, Gerard’s young family relocated to South Florida where the art scene was exploding. In 1968, he rented a gallery space on what he speculated was an up and coming art district called Los Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale. Shortly after his arrival, Gerard and a few other local artist founded the Los Olas Art Festival.
Even before the move to South Florida, Gerard had begun selling his art at the summer art festivals along the eastern seaboard. “I went to the collectors,” he mused in a 2018 interview.
Known for his bold colors, at this point his work was mostly representational. With America’s Bicentennial approaching Gerard began working on a piece for Ft. Lauderdale Magazine’s Bicentennial edition. “It was intended to be a portrait of America and at that time I was known for my portraits”. We The People turned out to be so prolific that it was selected as the Bicentennial portrait for America. President Gerald Ford accepted the piece in a White House ceremony in 1975, just 20 years after Gerard immigrated to America.
Later known for his raspy voice, few knew that it was due to a bout with cancer on his vocal cords in the mid-1990’s, after which he ended a long portrait career and embraced abstract art. “It was what I wanted to do all along,” he said.
After 54 years on the festival circuit and seven months a year in his Florida gallery, Gerard decided it was time for a change. When he drove into Asheville on the way to visit his daughter in 2006 he said he knew it was the place for him. He rented a huge warehouse space across from an abandoned steel mill in the yet to be revitalized but now famous Asheville River Arts District. He added a second location in Asheville’s RAD in 2013 at Riverview Station. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was one of the most visited galleries in Asheville by locals and tourists.
In his years in Asheville, Gerard was featured on the television news magazine 20/20 and in WRAL’s Tar Heel Traveler among many feature articles in local, regional and national magazines.
In 2017, a small group of anonymous protestors began a smear campaign in the wake of the “Me Too” movement as a result of three workplace harassment lawsuits against Gerard settled a few years earlier. “This group needed a prominent Asheville figure as a rally for their cause and they felt Jonas was an easy target. They caused property damage and several of the group were arrested and convicted for property crimes. The group was never able to produce any evidence of their claims and no alleged victims ever emerged,” said Allen Brasington, a long time employee of Jonas Gerard Fine Art.
Jonas married three times. His first marriage to the former Judith Swart produced his only child, Mira S. Gerard, of Johnson City, Tennessee. He always said Mira was the apple of his eye.
A memorial service will be held later at Sant Bani Ashram, in Sanbornton, New Hampshire with interment in the ashram cemetery. A reception will be announced in the coming days at his Riverview Station Gallery.
Memorial gifts may be made to Pyareo Home, 333 Brook Road, Sanbornton, New Hampshire 03269 or online at www.pyareohome.org or Asheville Breakfast Rotary Foundation, Post Office Box 18117, Asheville, North Carolina, 28814.
Asheville Area Alternative Funeral and Cremation Services are serving Gerard’s family.