Artist Peter Geise has boxes of paintings ready to hang at Planet Rooth Design Haus (3334 Fifth Ave.) in Bankers Hill. He's been out of work for awhile, so he's had time to make even more art than usual.
“I think we'll have about 66 pieces total in the show,” he says, thumbing through his paintings. “It'll be work from 1990 through now, so it's slightly retrospective and my biggest show to-date.”
Over the past few decades, the prolific painter's recognizable work has become an important part of the city's cultural landscape. A self-taught abstract artist with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of art history—especially when it comes to modern art made between 1920 and 1960—his work is packed with references to other artists, genres and styles.
Geise walks up to one of his paintings, “Random Legends,” and describes it the way an art critic or experienced curator might.
“So, see this, I'm now mixing folk art with the modernist stuff, and I never used to do that,” he says. “I just started doing folk recently and it pops up now. This particular one has a little bit of everything I do, actually. It's got non-objective abstract biomorphs, it's got figural abstracts, abstracts based on art from the '20s and '30s, folk art…You can even see traces of street art here. I'm sort of an outsider artist, I'd say, because I am self-taught, but outsider artists don't have all this art history in their head.”
In 1987, Geise entered two juried shows and got best-in-show awards in both. They were the only two paintings he did that year, so he dug in his heels and abandoned his other art practices for paint.
“Now, of course, I'm painting all the time,” he says.
Geise's solo exhibition, Flora-Dora Babylon, will show the progress he's made in painting over the last few decades. It opens from, at Planet Rooth, which has been an on-again, off-again art gallery since its owner, Gustaf Rooth, moved from Ray Street in North Park to Bankers Hill in 2010. One of the co-founders of Ray at Night, San Diego's longest running gallery walks, Rooth vowed to keep the arts alive in his new space, but he's since been busy with orders and demand for the custom furniture and culinary smokers he crafts from reused wine and bourbon barrels. He recently asked his girlfriend, artist Daphne Hill, if she'd help curate shows in the space and she said she'd try.
“I'm new to this,” she says, pointing at Geise. “I'm on your side usually—just showing up to hang my work. So, I'm not a curator but I said I would do what I could to help.”
Hill's got several shows lined up for upcoming months. After Geise, whose work comes down firstname.lastname@example.org)., comes another prolific painter, Larry Caveney, from Sept. 11 through Oct. 10. There's a nude survey show curated by Eric Minh Swenson opening and other exhibitions already in the bag (artists interested in showing at Planet Rooth can email Hill directly at
Hill looks through the box of work Geise has with him then prods the artist to tell me about the time Rana Sampson, wife of former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, bought his work.
“That was so cool,” says Geise, who's recently resorted to selling his art by setting up on sidewalks and busy street corners in order to pay his bills. “Rana has a whole wall of me now because she drove up on a motorcycle, pulled off her helmet and shook her hair and she says, ‘Hey, I know your work—I've seen this before in galleries…She wanted all of it and wrote a check for everything. It's a soul-sucking experience selling your work like that on the street, but, being out of work, it's sort of something I had to do.”
Hill says stories like these are what's motivating her to dedicate her time to getting art back inside Planet Rooth, but before she can tout Geise's work and explain why she picked him to kick things off, he steps in himself to succinctly analyze the value of his work.
"I think my work works for a couple of reasons,” he says. “I think it's because of my sincerity—I'm really into it. Also, I'm self-taught, so there's a naive quality. I always want my work to look like it was done by a heroine addict possibly in the street, but there's also a whimsicality that comes across that negates all of that so...Basically, I just want it to be tougher than it is, but ultimately I've gotten 10 best-of-show awards in San Diego—I've been selected for the Athenaeum annual juried show more than any other artists; this year makes it 17 times—so I know I'm doing good.”