Jonas Gerard is a world-recognized artist currently living in Asheville, North Carolina. Born in Casablanca, his family emigrated to America when Jonas was just thirteen years old. His earliest memory of creating art was copying postcards and calendars. With encouragement from his mother, Jonas continued to focus on his art and hone his skills. Jonas is entirely self-taught with no formal training.
At just 16 years old, he participated in his first art festival held in Greenwich Village in New York. During this festival, Jonas earned his first pay as an artist, bringing home $350 in 1957. This was the start of 52 years of festivals up and down the East Coast featuring many styles and ways of painting. During these early years, Jonas’s work was primarily figurative.
Though he struggled with dyslexia, Jonas Gerard earned a degree in mechanical engineering after being rejected from art schools. At 18, he also served in the military, becoming a citizen while in uniform. This is among his proudest moments. After college, he worked as a junior engineer but continued to attend art festivals. The art was where his heart belonged and it soon became obvious that art would be more profitable, financially and emotionally, than any degree would be.
As he grew, Jonas Gerard began to transform from a results-oriented artist to a process-oriented artist, finding satisfaction in the painting itself and not the finished product. His choice of bold colors draws the viewer in and creates an emotional response. His galleries are not just for viewing, however. Jonas is proud to be the only gallery he knows of where patrons are able to actually touch the canvas, creating an atmosphere unlike any other in the art world, where touching the art is frowned upon. Jonas believes that the textures are as important as the colors; together, they bring joy and an ocean of feeling.
How did you get started with your art gallery? What inspired you to start this business?
Opening a gallery was the obvious thing to do. I saw other artists in Greenwich Village open their own galleries and I knew I wanted to do that. I had galleries in New York City, New Hampshire, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami before coming to Asheville. I know how to sell my art. I am a good marketing person for my art. We know how to set a display to draw attention to the art. Part of my philosophy is if you allow the work to come through, they will come. Making art or expanding a business is the same thing. If you do what you love, you will bring in people. Whenever I am able to, I reinvest into the business.
I believe in the Law of Attraction. I am into developing a life based on abundance as opposed to lack of abundance, which is based on fear. This belief has provided for me and I am able to return this abundance. This is my community, my city. I want to be the best part of this community. We have helped with many causes including veterans’ networks, domestic violence survivors, orphans, and other things supporting those in need. We have donated paintings and money when we can. I believe in giving a hand up, not a handout. You never lose when you give!
How do you make money?
I am so lucky to make money by sharing my love of art and expression with the world. For me, it’s not about looking good, it’s about sharing art that has come from my heart.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
The first time I was paid for my work was at the art festival in New York in 1957. I made $350 that day. In those days, $350 would buy a 3 year old car!
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted yourself? If so, how did you handle that?
All my life, I’ve been blessed to never have doubted myself. I have been doing this since I was 16. This is what I know. It was a pretty obvious way for me to make my living. I did try to get into an art college, but I was told I didn’t have enough talent. I went for mechanical engineering instead. I very quickly realized that was not what I wanted in life. Art was my life and it is what has brought me joy.
It has also brought national success. In 1975, my painting called We the People was presented to President Ford at the White House. It was selected as the bicentennial portrait for America and it was hung in the National Museum of American History for 40 years.
New artists will talk to me, ask how or where to start. I tell them: let the art come from your inner self, like a 4-year-old, rather than from your brain. There are few artists who approach it from this perspective.
Results-oriented art is when you know the final picture before you begin. With process-oriented art the whole idea is not to have a plan, to just allow the creative energy to flow through. The energy comes through by itself, without known intentions and the story you didn’t even know you were going to tell. It is the latter that I use most often. This is why people respond so well to my art: they can feel it.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Being myself, talking to the people about how my art is created is the best marketing strategy I have. Every painting has a story and I love to share it with people. The art speaks to them, especially when they know the story behind it. This gets shared in multiple layers.
Being accessible is part of our marketing. We exhibit my work in places people visit like airports, hotels, and hospitals. We have gotten letters from people who have been traveling. They were tired or had had a long day going through the process at the airport and our display took them away to another state of mind. I’ve been told by customers that when they’ve come off their plane, this display was such a warm welcome. They have jumped in a cab and come straight to us. We have displays in hotel lobbies, in local medical facilities.
The paintings can have a real deep connection for people. The gallery has been called a healing place and we have been able to share that with people who may be dealing with major issues in their world.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The toughest decision I’ve made is choosing not to let what has happened recently in the world affect my work. I stay away from the news and politics and keep being true to who I am, no matter what may arise.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
The work itself makes me successful because it’s a gift. The work has to be genuine, authentic. My work shares my energy, which is none other than creative energy from the Universe, which is very powerful. Imagine a hurricane coming through your studio. When I feel that, I stay up all day and night because it is too much to stop. On top of that, I am an outgoing person. I am expressive and friendly. My gallery is a joyous place.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
There are so many. Just yesterday, there were people in the gallery and I was able to speak with them about a painting they were considering. It’s not about the sale, it’s about how the art speaks to you. They really loved a painting, but wanted to think about it. I explained that art is not about thought, but about the feelings it brings to you. That got them to be open to the art regardless of mental opinions. I left for a while and when I returned, they told me they were honored to have purchased my painting. This is one of the most satisfying things I have experienced. For someone to thank me for sharing a part of my heart and taking it home with them, that is the best payment. It makes me feel so honored.
What business books have inspired you?
I am actually extremely dyslexic. I struggled in high school and college. The books that I have read are spiritual books. I meditate more than I read. There are many books on my shelves, but most are art books. Because of all of this, it is difficult to suggest a single book to be read.
What is a recent purchase you have made that has helped with your business?
We recently invested in two vans that I painted, which have been helpful for the business. We have also recently updated our computers, but really the most helpful purchase is always the wide variety of high quality paints I use. I don’t accumulate other things, I focus on the art.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
My gallery is a space where people can come and connect with themselves. It’s the equivalent of therapy. Often, they have an inner experience when they are here. I would like to open another gallery downtown and possibly in Charleston. Spreading the word is exciting. We look forward to spreading more love and more color. I’m 77 but I feel like I’ve just gotten started!