Gerber, Andrew (1943-2002)

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 8/19/2005
  • Essay 7442
Andrew Gerber was an influential painter in Seattle's burgeoning Belltown art scene of the 1980s and early 1990s and a member of the staff of Center on Contemporary Art (COCA). He is best known for his “Rubble Without a Cause” series of drawings and paintings of demolished buildings, which commented powerfully on the destruction of low-income hotels and apartments in Seattle.

Belltown Pioneer

Andy Gerber was born in Peoria, Illinois, on January 16, 1943, and spent his childhood in the Los Angeles area. After a four-year hitch in the Navy during the 1960s, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of California at Fullerton in 1977.

Gerber moved to Seattle in 1981 and took a job in decorating. His early paintings depicted the brutality of social conflicts in South America and “urban decay” in Seattle. He became a fixture at the avant-garde Center on Contemporary Art and was a leader in the artistic renaissance in Seattle’s Belltown and Denny Regrade neighborhood during 1980s and early 1990s.

Rubble Without a Cause

Angered by the destruction of low-income housing structures such as the Ace Motel in North Seattle, Gerber began documenting the “rubble without a cause” in stark, nearly abstract drawings and paintings. Critic Lyn Smallwood commented in a 1992 Seattle Weekly review that “Gerber’s huge canvases make monuments out of splintered wood...” and project a “vivid, almost photographic sense of three-dimensional space.” Despite the seriousness of his subjects, Gerber displayed a wry sense of humor and would diffuse tense situations with his finger puppet “Bob.”

Fellow artist and former COCA director Larry Reid saluted Gerber “for his tenacity in the progression from topical realism to subtle masterpieces with political underpinnings,” although the latter element limited Gerber’s commercial appeal. Regardless, his work was exhibited by leading gallery owners such as Linda Cannon and Cliff Michel, and purchased by the Seattle Arts Commission and the Microsoft Corporation, among other major collections.

Gerber died on August 19, 2002, after a long battle with lung disease. He is survived by his sons Derrick and John (by previous separate marriages), his brothers Jeff and Greg, and longtime companion Catherine Bell, and he is missed by his many friends in the Seattle art scene.

Sources: Kit Boss, “For Gerber, the Picture Isn’t Pretty,” The Seattle Times, April 13, 1989, p. D-5; Lee Goss, “Here lies the Ace Motel,” Eastsideweek, May 27, 1992; Lynn Smallwood, “Visual Arts Spotlight,” Seattle Weekly, March 25, 1992, p. 51; Larry Reid, “Rubble Without A Cause,” The Rocket, August 30, 1995, p. 28; Linda Cannon Gallery press release, December 1998; Walt Crowley interview with Milo Johnstone, August 20, 2002.

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