Center for Spiritual Care

Integrating Body, Mind, Spirit & Creativity

Center for Spiritual Care 20th Anniversary

Elise Geary

Transitions and Transformations

Through February, 2020

Force Fields and Energy Orbits:  

The Art of Elise Geary


            When the dean of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, the esteemed Michigan school that has produced such major arts figures as Duane Hanson, Nick Cave, Eero Saarinen and Harvey Littleton, saw the petition on his desk, he chuckled.  A 13-year-old junior high student wanted special permission to enroll in the Academy’s nude life-drawing studio.  Then he opened the portfolio that accompanied the request.  And his chuckle turned into a whistle of disbelief. The drawings enclosed were a revelation -- a revelation of exceptional talent that had captured meticulous, perfect renderings of the local landscape.

            Those drawings were the work of Elise Weinrich (now Elise Geary), whose outsized ability belied her age and saw her incorporated immediately into the highly selective Cranbrook program, albeit on a part-time basis.  She continued to make rapid progress, her hyper-realistic style loosening up under the influence of her new teachers, while her work remained fully representational. When it came time for college she opted for the school one of her personal heroes, Helen Frankenthaler, had chosen:  Bennington College in Vermont.

            Geary chose well.  She excelled in her classes, but endured a crisis around the end of her second year. One of Bennington’s credos is that a good education prepares you for a set path but a great education prepares you to change direction.   Her education clearly had been great because she found herself switching from art to pre-med.

            It was a life-changing decision, because now she had time for nothing but science. Through medical school, residency and the beginnings of a thriving dermatology practice in Durham, she was able to think about nothing outside her chosen field.  Then her mother, a talented watercolorist in her youth, moved to North Carolina to be close.  They decided to enroll in watercolor classes to spend time together, and the passion to express herself through art was rekindled in Elise. 

      When she finally retired and moved to Vero Beach she was determined to transform her life from one of scientific analysis to one far more open to the intangible.  “I have two favorite quotations,” she says. “One is from Albert Einstein, one is from Carl Jung.  Einstein said, ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and all science.’  Jung tells us, ‘The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.’  I couldn’t agree more.”

            Deb Gooch, whose teaching touched countless artists in this area, first nudged Geary toward a still looser, more abstract approach and then guided her earliest efforts, which led to real breakthroughs.  More recently, she has worked with Marianne Mitchell, a nationally recognized painter who functions with Geary as a kind of personal trainer. Mitchell’s critiques and insights have been pivotal.  

            “If you’re going to be a complete artist, you not only have to have the intellect and the technique.  You have to have the emotion. And that’s Marianne’s whole thing. Five years ago I would have said my inspiration was nature.  Now, ‘nature’ is too confining a word for me.  I’m more into the energy field of whatever I’m painting.  It’s this dynamic force or flow: which way is the energy moving… or is it just mysterious?  

            “And I’m not saying that I don’t go on the beach and feel the beauty of what’s happening there.  Before, I might have wanted to paint the wave.  Now I’m just trying to remember the feel of being there.  Now, it’s not about nature per se. It’s about the inner energies.  

            “I have an urgency about my painting now. It’s as if I’m making up for lost time. And I want to keep going.  I want to learn more and explore more. There’s no question in my mind that there are energies out there that we know nothing about, that you feel but you can’t explain.”

            It’s those energies that Elise Geary has set about to capture in her striking paintings in this exhibition.

--Warren Obluck